Saturday, July 23, 2005


Learning to Care

It turns out that, as a defense, self-containment is really about being very sensitive to surroundings and responding in kind. In other words, reacting.

Given nothing to react against, do I have a life? There's this thick, strong shell, and nothing inside? I doubt that it's really that clearly defined, but it feels that way. Who am I, if I'm not reacting?

Usually there's plenty to react against. For every action... but lately I've just had a hard time caring about anything. Well, I care about falling, so I hold onto God's hand, but beyond that I'm not very concerned. What has always defined me has evaporated.

This might be the definition of an ideal Christian. Completely empty, so he can be filled by God. That doesn't seem to be what God wants; he has put considerable time and effort into pointing out to me where I'm lacking and how that affects the way I live. The Holy Spirit seems to be leading me to shed various ideas, or to follow the threads deep into what makes me, me, and start caring about that.

I resist.

It turns out that writing is a way of caring. It's a way of learning. My memory runs shallow, but writing imprints events, gets them out of me where they can be seen, and allows God to use the ideas and move me onward. I've not written consistently in the last couple of months... and haven't learned much. The overheated pace of life slowed.

I've been drifting. I needed a break, but that may be the wrong kind. I think I've given God a bad rap: he's supposed to be cracking the whip all the time, so I don't go to him for comfort. He is called, for some reason, the Comforter, however, and maybe I need to learn about that.

He knows I could use it. There has been very little comfort in my life. I don't allow it. It's habit-forming and weakening. In walking through a hostile world there can be no softness allowed. To resist the world's grinding gears I must be a stone. A hard stone.

God wants me to be something else. I resist the idea, but know that he is a better guide than I. He knows me completely. He wants me to be brave, soft and flexible. Reaction allows no time to develop any of that, nor admits of any need to become such a person. Action is the way. To produce a life like Jesus' I have to allow the changes.

Jesus cared. He was open to all who came to him, even the Pharisees who plotted his death. Can you imagine the strength that took? There's no way I can do that, and I can't even conceive of climbing the foothills to that mountain. Naturally, I'm disappointed. I'm supposed to follow Jesus, so just hit the road. Nothing to it.

React to the rules by following them, so as to stay out of trouble. That's not God's goal here. He doesn't want me following Jesus as a step-by-step rulebook-bound process of staying on his good side. He wants me alive, argumentative and resistant as I am. Iconoclastic too, rebellious, and cloaking it in such high-minded church-approved terms as "Berean."

What happens when the rebel has nothing to rebel against? God's leadership is hardly slave-driving. I find freedom whenever I look at Jesus, but soon after that comes the internal judgment to keep me from acting in that freedom. If God won't judge me, I'll do it myself. That means I can go on being irritable and cranky, because nothing makes people cranky like being judged unfairly.

Self-judgment is a killer. You'd think that God's alternative would be so attractive that I'd drop everything and run, but the truth is I quail. The thought of freedom terrifies me. Free to love, free to know the pain of missing love, free to actually see the results of my actions on the world around me. I've always ignored this because I knew the effect had to be bad, but what if there's some good in there too? I resolutely ignore it. I ignore everything but the bare task of survival, and there is no room in survival for caring.

So, God reaches deep, deep inside to find the remnant of caring. The wide-eyed child who watched cats walking across the back yard, and wondered how such a small animal could be made so perfectly, and move so beautifully. Crocus flowers coming up through the last snow; how could this happen? What told the trees to make buds in the spring? What told them to shed the leaves in the fall? There wasn't much room for wonder amid the facts: spring meant we had to work on the garden, fall meant we had to rake up all the pesky leaves.

If I wanted to feel wonder I had to do so alone. I could care then, out by myself on my bicycle or walking, just looking at things. It was a compromise that worked well enough: some wonder amid the year-by-year drudgery.

And now God has a hold on my life, and he is always there. I have no privacy any more. He sees every mistake, and my judgmental imagination sees him ready to toss me off the bus after finally losing patience. The fear is very deep-seated. So I do my best to make the grade, plodding up the mountain, not looking to one side or the other, ignoring the flowers because they distract from the simple act of moving on. That's what he expects. Run the race, climb the mountain, gain approval. Or at least do well enough to be ignored.

Under the surface the Holy Spirit does his work, reweaving what makes me able to stand. Most of the time I don't know what he's doing, and don't want to care. The news is bound to be bad: more mistakes, more shortcomings, more echoes from the past. It's just too much for me to believe that the rule book has really been thrown away, the past removed utterly, and the only rule now is love. I guess I do care about that because otherwise I would have quit.

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