Friday, July 22, 2005


Through Mud, with Lead Shoes

At first it was easy, like stepping up onto a bus. I just rode along and God dropped his life into my lap. I figured it would never last. Nothing ever had, so why should this be any difference? Just hold on and don't think about falling off or being ejected. It'll happen soon enough. It always has.

And if it doesn't happen, if by some miracle the bus keeps going and I stay on board? What then? Well, I'll just take God's place. If he won't throw me off, I'll just jump off before he gets tired of me.

Self-judgment is a wonderful defensive mechanism. Why bother starting anything when you know it will end? The constant drag of unworthiness is less painful than the sharp disappointment and agony of having something good taken from my grasp, so I'll just stay away. I also won't become attached to anything good because my touch will make it evaporate or simply come apart and run out of my hand like dry sand through my fingers.

Here I am, almost two years into this experiment, and God's bus is still rolling, and I'm still aboard. That my life isn't very joyous has more to do with how I respond to God's grace than with anything He has done.

It's simple. All he has asked me to do is follow him. I have learned that his demands aren't extreme, and are always within my capability if I keep hold of his hand. Why would I let go? Because I predict. I can see where the path leads. It's steep, long, impossible, and God will be very upset with me when I can't get there.

If someone had shown me one of my modern sand sculptures back in 1984 and told me to make one, I'd have quit on the spot. "No way. Sand won't do that. I certainly can't do it." I'd have been so discouraged that the process wouldn't have been any fun at all. I'd have been looking toward what I should be instead of enjoying what I was. But in 1984 I had no idea what was coming. It was a new path, unpredictable. I expected each sculpture to be the last, but I kept finding new ideas, and here we are 21 years later and I'm still finding new ideas. I look back and see that I've climbed quite a hill. Looking forward, the sand sculpture track disappears into a nearby fogbank. I don't know what's beyond it, but the process of making sculpture is still enjoyable, still a challenge I like to take, and I'll keep walking.

Walking with Jesus is, in principle, the same. I don't really know what's coming. The problem is that, like readers of a new book who can't wait to tell someone else about it, churches and speakers are constantly telling me where I should go. I know the standard by which I'm measured. I'm very small on that scale, incompetent, and always have been. Starting when I was a kid I was never good enough.

God is my great Father. Sometimes he actually convinces me that I'm good enough, that his Son made me clean and beautiful in His sight. He doesn't see the road ahead and how short a distance I've climbed. He sees who I am inside, and calls me beautiful as I am. I try to short-circuit this, believing that it can't be true. Too many people have told me too many times that God is very demanding... and so I end up looking back at Egypt.

It's really no wonder. Life seems to be so demanding ahead that slavery looks good by comparison. Slavery to old ideas, to my way of directing myself. Slavery to judging myself if God refuses to do so, so that I won't be disappointed and hurt one more time when the bus driver finally gets tired of me and throws me off because I'm not pulling my weight.

Life turns into a long plod, and then circumstances turn the ground to mud. Sticky mud, and everything just gets heavy. Jesus came to set the prisoner free. Well, I'm a prisoner, all right. Where's the freedom?

Freedom is in his glorious hand. He touches me, guides me, tells me I am loved and that I am loved as I sit. He wants me to do things but is willing to take the time to teach me well. His touch burns when I'm trying to hide, but it's more my extreme sensitivity than the heat of his fingers. I'm just looking for any slight hint of the coming cut-off.

So, there are rules. One is never to be ebullient. Happy people get shot at. Keep your head down; acting pleased is just asking for too much attention, and my life has depended on being invisible. But why shouldn't I be happy? God is good to me. His constant push is out of the hole of depression. I resist. I don't know how to be happy. I tend to get giddy and silly, perhaps because it's so rare. Let the dogs out of the pen and of course they go nuts with freedom. I'm supposed to stay in my straitjacket.

Lead shoes are standard equipment for adults. We can't have them jumping around like kids. I'm quite a mimic in the name of survival. God is trying to teach me a new way of life. It's more than just trudging heavily along through the dry days. I look ahead and see difficulty and problems. God looks back and sees a path through the wilderness that he will lead me on if I just keep looking at him and holding his hand.

Where will we end up? I don't know, other than I will end up in some unique way looking like Jesus. How can millions of followers of Jesus be like him and yet themselves? I don't know, but the God who designs all of our details can do it without breaking a sweat. I sweat, yes, and swear too when it gets to be too much. That's my sign that I'm looking ahead, not at him.

And that path ahead isn't even God's path! It's a path laid out by people who think that one or two paths are enough. Only God knows the multiplex weavings of life. We try to standardize. God works at restoring uniqueness. It's quite a tension, and I end up trying to remain invisible. This upsets God. Only he can break into the cycle of self-punishment, remove the lead from my feet and put a spring in my step that hasn't been there in years. If I let him.

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