Religious folklore tells a vivid story of a man who takes a tour of heaven and hell.

In hell, people are gathered around a huge dining room table, with the finest pot of soup situated in the middle.  Hundreds of diners are circled around, all trying to eat from the pot. But they are starving and miserable because their spoons are so long that they cannot deliver the meal to their mouths.

In heaven, the man encounters a similar dining room table, a pot of soup and long-handled spoons. But the hundreds who have gathered to eat are plump and happy, instead. The difference, the man discovers, is that those in heaven have learned how to feed each other.

Our faith, the words we hear from the pulpit and the lessons we glean from scripture, is much like a long-handled spoon. If we keep it to ourselves; if we leave it where we got it—on the church pew Sunday morning; and if we keep trying to feed our own souls while others go without, the spiritual nourishment we truly need will never materialize.

I, myself, have been sitting in a church pew since I was barely three years old.  My parents, in fact, were so involved in our congregational life that we often spent three hours in the church building each Sunday. There was worship, Sunday school and usually some meeting or activity that someone was involved in—and that’s just how it was.

Because church and Christ was so much a part of my upbringing, I can’t pinpoint some great life-changing moment where I accepted Jesus as my savior. I don’t have an adventurous story of sin and reckless abandon, turned pure and righteous.  And I’m not your girl, if you’re looking for stories about how many souls I’ve rescued from the depths of hell.

While the faith I know has grown from the many seeds that worship, Sunday school teachers, youth directors and little old church ladies have planted in me, the real journey has happened outside the safety of a sanctuary, beyond church walls and sometimes into places that I wasn’t sure that God existed.

My true appreciation of that Holy Book came as a five-year old, trailing behind my mother to serve a meal at the local homeless shelter. As a teenager, I found my love for God’s people under rotting floors and behind leaky ceilings of those who could not afford to fix them. And when I walked away from a guaranteed paycheck to accept a less-certain salary and work with Fredericksburg homeless, the words of my faith were all I needed to make me brave enough to believe I too could fulfill the Lord’s requirements of me.

Faith words are only as good as the actions they inspire.  Remember what happened to Jonah when he didn’t respond to God’s call? What if Moses had seen the burning bush and called the fire department instead? What if Jesus had realized his fate and chosen another town to visit?

The journey to the center of our faith is not for the faint of heart. Thankfully, we have words and wisdom of those before us to guide the direction we travel.  But whether or not we survive the journey depends on whether we know what to do with our long-handled spoons.

Survival is sometimes of the fittest, but on matters of faith we better know how to use the tools we are given to carry those words to the street.

A Word on the Street column is now appearing in the  Religion section of the Free-Lance Star every other week. This one appeared May 10, 2014.