I've noticed some patterns. I find patterns both comforting - in that there is consistency - and frustrating - in that we don't learn our lesson very easily. Psalmists were writing and confused about stuff that modern day songwriters are still writing and confused about. I'm pretty sure if you look closely, we're still making the same mistakes that Adam & Eve did. There are books written long ago that speak so true to the confusion of the present that it makes me feel like the authors somehow achieved time travel. (Seriously. I had that thought once. I underlined like a fool and drew impressively symmetrical stars in the margins and flipped back to the copyright date about 300 times to make sure I wasn't confused.) Things have changed, that is for sure, but there are some things that are just true about us.
A friend of mine told me that one of the reasons she believed that God was real, on a very basic level, was that she had never met a person who was fully content in this world. Jonah Werner says "that everything created cries out for something more." I think they're both right. Bottom line: we were created with these great, big, powerful desires. And here is where things get tricky. We consistently spend, spend, spend [money, energy, time, ourselves] on things that are not what they claim to be. (Isaiah 55: "why spend your money on what is not bread?") The pattern is that since the beginning, we have sort of been pansies. We freak out and create more manageable desires [idols, perhaps?] because the real stuff seems (and maybe even is) scary & unpredictable & like it might hurt us if we let it (and it might, actually).
Once again, I think of a C.S. Lewis quote (the one that I reference constantly as though Lewis' people are paying me royalties or something. What can I say? I love all things metaphorical.) "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink & sex & ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea." The mud is gross, but it's what I know. The slum is terrible, but it is predictable. I think that sometimes we are in the slum for so long that we, too, can't imagine how beautiful the sea could be. How beautiful freedom could be. How beautiful it would be to stop drinking, using, controlling, worrying, looking, eating, working, sneaking, hiding, lying, manipulating, shaming, being afraid, making mud pies, sitting in slums.
Henri Nouwen explains this beautifully when he writes about the old country v. the new country (the slum v. the sea, if you will, and you should): "You are very much at home, although not really at peace, in the old country. You know the ways of the old country... Even though you know you have not found there what your heart most desires, you remain quite attached to it. It has become part of your very bones.”
I think at some point or another we were hungry or bored or disappointed or hurt or confused or let down or empty or lonely - and [insert your mud pie(s) of choice] seemed like a good way to cope. And maybe it made us happy for 5 minutes, brought comfort for an hour, made us feel in control for a couple of years. For even a brief moment, what we chose as our substitution worked. But see, before we knew it, we were in chains of our own making. We became quite convinced that the mud pie was the best we could do. We stopped dreaming of the Sea because, quite simply, we forgot about it. Or maybe I remember, one day. I might even (in a weak moment) ask someone for directions. Maybe someone reminds me, even offers to take my hand and bring me along with them.
But I have been in the slum for so long.
My face is dirty & my shame is great.
I couldn't possibly be deserving of the sea.
I spent a lot of time thinking that if I could just work hard enough, I could break free from the old country, from the slum. But then I had this thought: What if I'm already free? What if I just stood up? What if instead of pleading for freedom, I accepted the freedom I already possess? What if I looked down and the chains that have bound me for so long had already been broken? What if I turned to see that the cell door was standing wide open? What if I’ve got it backwards – what if instead of having to do something to get free - because I am free, I can do something? It stands to reason that if I can understand that God is more powerful than I am, then Jesus is probably not waiting around for me to perform the magical combination of actions to unlock my chains. Again with the misunderstanding.
Regardless, the mud pie isn't enough anymore. It stopped working, because a lie is still a lie no matter how many times I exchange it for the truth. The slum is not the sea no matter how many times I am told that it is. There will be days when I still wake up there, probably. Sometimes we will sit there, sulking, broken, the chains will feel too heavy to move. There will be days I need so many reminders of the sea that it will make the people who love me feel crazy.
I am comforted by Nouwen’s words about baby steps:
"The new country is where you are called to go, and the only way to go there is naked and vulnerable. For a while you experience real joy in the new country. But then you feel afraid and start longing again for all you left behind, so you go back. To your dismay, you discover the old country has lost its charm. Risk a few more steps into the new country, trusting that each time you enter it, you will feel more comfortable and be able to stay longer."
Don't be afraid.
Risk a few more steps.
We're not slaves anymore. We can stop trying to free ourselves. We've been set free.
We can go home.