I’ve been thinking about a line in Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, ‘The bitterer the medicine, the quicker the cure’. I’ve been wondering if that’s why God puts us through the things He puts us through sometimes.
Perhaps He starts by giving us unobtrusive home remedies for sickness. The equivalent of jack fruit grime and chicken soup. If that doesn’t work then he moves us on to the less ideal, the equivalent of putting an onion into a pair of socks and wearing it throughout the night (apparently this stop you from coughing). And if that fails then he moves us on to the toxic and bitter stuff. The ones that taste like we are swallowing mangled road kill dipped in detergent. It will cure us in the end but in the meantime it will feel like hell on the sharp end of a barbecue skewer.
I’ve been thinking about these things because I’ve been trying to reconcile why some people’s lives resemble the Alamo’s last stand while others get to cruise through their existence on butter wheels fastened to a bubble bath. I’ve been thinking about the friends I love who have been put through a painful ringer and contrasting them to the laughter of those who have fashioned an existence of little concern and is allowed to continue to be unconcerned with a lot.
I know, it’s a slippery slope, especially for one with as active an imagination as me. It’s a road that can lead to an infinitely dark place. In fact, I’ve been down this road before and I very nearly did not make the trip back.
Christianity has always assigned, through theological learning and personal experiences, a parental posture to God. It’s one of the things that makes us unique. That we begin our journey to discovery not to avoid punishment, but to receive grace. But this lends itself to a massive assumption – that God always has our best concerns at heart. Without this assumption, most of us would experience something akin to having the religious floor boards we’ve always stood, on being ripped out of its hinges and us along with it. Because what is left then? A god that plays favorites? Or worst, one that does not exist.
My feet are still planted on those boards. They creak at times, their hinges look fatigued and their facade worn. But I am still standing on them. Which is why I am currently exploring the possibility that most of our misery is really just a product of us carelessly contracting a sickness so stubborn that this is the only way God can cure it.
So I have a mind that behaves like a three-year old.
Mind you, it’s clearly not actually three, it just behaves like it is. How so? It goes where it’s not supposed to go without remorse and then expects everyone to have a laugh about it when it’s caught. It drops dung when it needs to and expects someone to clean it up. When it doesn’t get its way, it ensures that everyone knows it’s not happy by flinging toys around and making an obvious good old-fashioned racket. But unlike an actual three-year-old, it actually knows better not to behave this way. It’s experienced the pangs of adulthood and the scarring that come from growing up and having responsibilities. It just sometimes decides it doesn’t want to be an adult.
I’ve tried the hard way to get it to behave, to discipline it into submission by either spanking it with the Bible or shouting logical reasoning at its face. I’ve also tried the softer approach by appealing to its happy side through a combination of cute ‘I-come-in-peace’ monkey faces and the gentle cooing of sunny thoughts.
But it’s futile. It still continues to behave like a three-year old when it wants to.
Perhaps like all petulant three-year-olds, you just have to give it space and years and pray hard that it develops into a reasonable adult. Perhaps. But at this moment, I am growing weary at slugging and jousting with something that has purposed so intently to not listen to what I have to say. I wish I could literally just drop everything, pick up my car keys and just drive off for a few hours, away from the madness. But alas one can’t divorce oneself from a bodily appendage.
So instead I pull up a chair, and start making cute monkey faces at it again …
I can still vaguely remember the moment.
It was within the first week of Standard Three. I pulled out my pencil box and there it was sitting in there, a blue and red pen. It was all pencils for the first two years of schooling life but the time has come to graduate to the big leagues. To have your thoughts, right or wrong, dry permanently on to a paper with no eraser to help you. Well, technically there were ink erasers but those things are like paper dozers, rub a little enthusiastically and you’re going to be a page short. There would no longer be a clean erase of your past. It felt exciting. It was like stumbling on to your brother’s porn stash without him knowing or finding a box of coins your dad has forgotten about at the bottom drawer that would serve you super at the local arcade. A lot of the ‘naughty’ when I was a kid was centered around being at places you were not supposed to be. But this was school. I am supposed to be here and yet, I am now encouraged to do something that was wrong just a year ago. The ‘pencil’ box was no more.
While this scenario would suggest we afford more grace to our young, it also suggests just how hung-up adults are about permanence. Like how our belts go from having adjustable clasps (which are honestly, insanely practical as a design) to leather ones where you have to punch gnarly holes through, as we get older. Woe is you if you decide to drop some weight or forbid, gain some. What then? Bring it back to the store to have them re-punch new holes or purchase a new belt because that’s what adults do. We are meant to make things nonadjustable and terribly inconvenient.
But there is a flip side to that coin. That perhaps permanence also means having to own up to one’s mistakes. No magic eraser to make things peachy again. If you talked it, you better be prepared to walk it as well. But the less-than-ideal byproduct of this is that a lot of us get muddled up in the guilt and shame of our failures and mistakes with seemingly no reset button to bring things back to zero.
But that was what initially attracted me to the idea of grace. Not that we can do all the wrongs we desire and have God come in and backspace everything to oblivion. But that without it, even in the light that I was able to change, I would still have to drag guilt and shame around like a corpse, and that just filled me with such hopelessness.
I would like to think that God’s idea that we should have child-like faith is not just linked to the idea of acceptance, but also that every situation we find ourselves ditched in is not meant to be permanent. Like how a kid takes every situation at a time and if they did stumble, they only focus on dealing with the physical hurt at that moment and not the lingering guilt and shame that comes from failing.
Or at least they do not deal with it for long.
The sun streaks through the exposed window, bathing the room in glorious brightness. I’ve always loved exposed windows, how unfettered and aesthetically clean they look. It’s a Saturday morning and the time is 8.45. She’s still in bed. I get freshened up, thinking about what exactly do I have in the refrigerator that I can make breakfast out of and just why I can’t grow a beard like Sam Beam.
I walk into our work room, pick out a Clientele record and put it on. ‘Isn’t Life Strange’ gradually swirls throughout the apartment. The water’s come to boil in the kitchen and I make my way there to put together my cup of coffee. I catch a whiff of it but leave it on the counter and open the refrigerator door. Some slices of bacon, eggs, leftover rocket, garlic butter and bread. Sandwiches it is. I fry up the bacon and eggs and start toasting the bread. The counter top is now bustling with food items and utensils. I pick up my cup of coffee and take a sip and I go back to the pan. She’s awake. She hugs me from the back and heads into the bathroom to freshen up. I finish up the fry and plate the sandwiches.
I pick up my cup of coffee, settle on the couch and take another sip. The record’s moved to ‘These Days Nothing But Sunshine’ now.
Everything I do today I do for the day above, that’s hopefully to come …