I need a jacket

“Mommy: I cold! I need a jacket!”

My daughter has it hard-wired into her little brain that the cure for coolth (yes, it is a word) is a jacket. I can offer socks, sweaters, jerseys, scarves, woolly pants and more – but she declines all these. “No Mommy,” she says, “I need a JACKET!”

As with so many interactions with my daughter, it sheds some light on my interactions AS a daughter with God. I considered today how often I present a need to God: “I unhappy. I tired. I frustrated. I broke.” But then I also proffer the solution. “I need chocolate. I need a nap. I need a change in circumstance. I need a windfall.”

I wonder how often my parent looks down on me, sympathetic to the need, and offers better, tailor-made, higher-wisdom solutions to my presented needs: vertitable socks and sweaters to meet my felt needs – and yet I look at these and think “No! What I need is a jacket!” I think sometimes He does even more subtle things: he doesn’t just offer an alternate item to wear, sometimes I think he does the equivalent of ‘turning on the heat’ in the house; by which I mean he actually changes the climate so that need is met in a much more subtle way.

And yet still, so often, I feel that all I really, really need is a jacket.

It reminds me of something I learned from a godly, wonderful septuagenarian who faithfully came an hour early every Sunday night to make tea for the young college-student church plant I was part of in the 90’s. After setting out the tea, Uncle Arthur would join the prayer meeting. I will never forget one thing he prayed week after week. After long prayers in perfect grammar with a vast vocabulary and crafted cadences, he always ended his prayers thus: “Lord, answer not according to the poverty of our asking, but according to thy bountiful riches in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Excuses excuses

Tiredness is no excuse for selfishness and sinfulness.

Just yesterday I wondering how much to correct and discipline my whiny, disobedient, unhappy child – given that I knew that she was over-tired, still recovering from a cold, and had suffered a nasty bump to the head which I suspected had given her a headache. Given the mitigating factors, should she still be given a time-out or smacked for blatant disobedience? Should I give in to the tears for raisins? Will I be helping her by indulging her while she’s not well, or actually make things worse by being inconsistent?

I don’t know.

But it occurred to my over-tired, self-indulgently petulant self this morning that the answer is probably not all that different for my kid as it should be for me right now. Just because I’m tired and grumpy doesn’t mean I can snap at My husband, complain all the time, sulk while making breakfast, and exhibit horribly self-centered and impatient behavior. Tiredness, just like illness, does not excuse sinfulness. It may call for compassion, but it doesn’t exempt evil.

So no extra raisins for my daughter. And no pity parties for me. At least not this afternoon, so help me God.

Of course, it’s already broken

Amidst the pages of adverts for kiddo gadgets and gizmos in my parenting magazines, I came across an article yesterday which was well-written and surprisingly thought-provoking. The author was discussing the chaos that comes with children (and their toys which come in many lose-able pieces), and confessing her OCD-must-clean-now tendencies. Her suggestion: maybe the answer is to be a little ‘zen’…

She writes, “There’s a lovely Zen parable about a meditation master, Achaan Chaa. When his students came to him and asked how he could be happy in a world of such impermanence, the master held up a glass and said, “For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and my elbow brushes it and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

The author concludes that it helps her a lot to think that “the puzzle piece is lost before you tear off the shrink-wrap, and the action figurine is down the toilet or lost under the ficus even before you’ve paid for it.” Every moment before that is, in its own way, precious.

I like it. Even as a Christian, I think there is great wisdom in not seeking to try and maintain perfection and control in a world where, unavoidably, things fall apart. There is wisdom in recognizing the fallenness of the world when it comes to all things pertaining to having kids: discipline, naps, toys, sickness and much more. One day my children will leave the house (and leave this life!) – in fact, they are closer to leaving and closer to dying every day… every day before then is indeed a gift.

And yet I think the Christian faith offers more than the Zen-realism. Where as Zen very wisely counters against a false desire for control and perfection in this life in favour of realism… the Christian faith tells us that the desire for perfection is still not wrong. It’s not that we deny our desire that toys never break, houses never get dirty, children never get sick, and people never leave… Those desires should not just be denied: they reflect part of our human nature! It is a good thing that we long for the perfect! Surely then the answer is not to eliminate desire, but to keep somehow working at locating our hopes in the life to come. Easier said than done – but that’s the path I’m working on. I long for the perfect – but this life, of course, is already broken.

My peanut butter epiphany

When I was in High School and college, it often troubled me that I didn’t feel that I loved God. I found that whole days would go by without my even thinking about God, and I questioned whether I could truly say that I loved God if I often wasn’t even consciously thinking about Him.

And then, on an average day, during an average trip to buy groceries, I had an epiphany. To poorly paraphrase an ancient hymn, “twas peanut butter my fears relieved”. This is how it happened: despite the fact that I prefer crunchy peanut butter, I reached for the smooth one – because that’s what Jeremy prefers. And suddenly, it was as if the heavens opened and light poured down! I realized that I finally understood that you know you love someone not because of consciously felt emotions, but when you choose what THEY prefer, to please them rather than yourself.

This may seem a rather obvious thing, but it was a spiritual turn-around point for me. I realized that I don’t think about Jeremy for much of the day as I’m busy and meeting other people etc… but I know I love him because, at a deep level, I arrange my life around him and have his preferences, desires and hopes tucked away in my subconscious. I may not actively be feeling mushy smushy things for him, but when I buy smooth peanut butter, or call up friends we’re dining with to remind them that he doesn’t eat cheese… I show that I do love him. How freeing to see this parallel with our spiritual walk! I may not think about God every moment of the day, but by choosing to tell the truth, or quiet the judgmental voices in my head, or to say something encouraging – I show that I DO love Him and that what He desires is important to me.

I just about did a little jig… right there in front of that jar of smooth peanut butter.

Breathe in, breathe out

Sabbath
The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways that it cannot intend:
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord, thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours. And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it.

Wendell Berry (1934-)

I have been thinking subversive thoughts of late: why do Christians put so much emphasis on a “daily quiet time”, and yet neglect the weekly practice of setting a day aside to rest, remember, reflect and be re-created?

This morning Wendell Berry’s poem reminded me of the gift of rest that is given to us. Just as the changing seasons allow us to appreciate each one (what would the joy of spring be without winter?), so too the gift of rest allows us to appreciate work, and work allows us to appreciate rest. So today I’m breathing in, and breathing out (a mini-sabbatical). And tomorrow, I will rest. For hurry is the destroyer of time.