Getting Unstuck

[Rd. Col. 4] Today I woke up at 6:30 and thought, hooray, it’s Monday and I’m going to leap out of bed and get SO much done. But for some reason, instead of writing the next chapter in the novel I’m working on, I drank coffee and wandered down research rabbit holes on 23 and Me. It was super fun. I was trying to figure out which DNA relatives in the family tree were descended from which relatives.

It wasn’t that fun.

I knew they were rabbit holes. But instead of doing what I actually wanted to do–and needed to do–and think I enjoy doing–I kept diving headfirst down one useless rabbit hole after another. I was stuck.

By 11:30, I decided that I absolutely had to return the vacuum robot I’d bought online last week, riding that Quarantine wave. I’d been so excited about this vacuum. It’s a hybrid. It’s supposed to clean AND mop. However, when it arrived, I discovered to my chagrin that its promised Wifi capabilities are not compatible with 5G. Countless attempts to hook it up (time that I could have spent vacuuming) ended in bitter defeat.

So today I organized returning it (okay, fine: I confess. I bought it from Amazon. Yes, I’m that person, the one who is contributing to Amazon taking over the world). In order to put it back in its box so FedEx could pick it up, I pressed a button.

It sprang to life. “Cleaning,” it said. Startled, and extremely pleased, I stepped back. I watched, mesmerized, as it darted under the dining room table and wove its way around the chair legs. Wow, I thought. I don’t even vacuum under there.

I couldn’t stop watching it. Far from freeing me up, I found myself stuck all over again.

I watched as it bumped into chair legs, wheeled around, tried another way, bumped, pivoted, advanced, got stuck. That robot seemed determined to stay under the table. I lifted it up–while it spun its little legs like a crab and its dead-sounding computer voice complained about the indignity of my treatment–and put it down near some dirt by an ottoman. It went right back under the table and wove between the chair legs again.

I kept watching it. Oh no, I thought. I’m stuck again. Ironically, this time I was stuck watching a little robot vacuum get stuck. It was very meta. I felt like a failure. But the way it moved was so fascinating. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I look away?

And then I remembered something my husband had said on our twenty minute WFH walk when I told him about my 23andMe stuckness. “Someone wise once told me,” [me, me, me!], “that when you’re a writer, dreaming is not a waste of time.”

Okay, I thought. Maybe this isn’t a total waste of time. Maybe I’m not the world’s biggest failure. So how can I use this moment? And then I realized that what the robo vacuum was doing was exactly how we usually try to solve our problems. We go over and over the issues. We bump into obstacles, wheel around, try a different direction, encounter another chair leg and pivot.

It’s fine for vacuuming. But for the Big Problems of Life? It’s frustrating and too often leads to nothing but dead ends and defeat. We feel like our wheels are spinning and we’re going nowhere. And a mechanical, dead voice inside of us is saying, this is not working. And it’s because there’s a problem inside of you.

I remembered then that there was a better way. Instead of rabbit holes and robot-vacuum maneuvers, I could ask for God’s help. I wish I could say that prayer was my first line of attack every time I get stuck. But it’s not: obviously. Instead, I somehow fall back into remembering as if for the first time the more excellent way each day–all over again. I hope you’re more resourceful than I am–and more humble. I think pride is the problem. Pride can’t ask for help.

But who wants to be like a robot vacuum? As Paul puts it in today’s letter to the Colossians, we’re supposed to “devote” ourselves to prayer, being “watchful and thankful”. No wonder Paul says to be watchful. It’s all too easy to get stuck in a dry prayerless condition.

And once we pray for God to open a door–He flings it wide open. Instead of focusing on our procrastination techniques, God changes our hearts. We discover that we are looking not at our To Do list to define our sense of worth but instead are thankful for His love. We remember our worth comes from God loving us so much He sent His son to die for us: or, as Paul puts it in today’s reading, we become thankful, all over again, for the “mystery of Christ.” It is a mystery. It’s a divine supernatural mystery and a whole different way of living.

And right there, in the moment of realizing we’re going at it all wrong–we are transformed. We find ourselves asking not how we can feel good about ourselves but what we can do for others. How, God, we ask, can our conversation “be always full of grace, seasoned with salt”? Help us, we ask… and we find that our day has begun in earnest: even more effortlessly than that robot vacuum cleaned up a few dry leaves. He makes us sparkling new–every day. And somehow everything becomes more seamless.

Did I write that chapter? No, but I worked on it. I found it was stuck, too. There was a reason for my procrastination. Because once we’re thankful and watchful and praying, we discover that God is kind… far more kind that we can even imagine.


Our worst enemy is more obvious than we think: Galations 2

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(read Gal. 2):  Suppose you opened a book and read that Satan attacks us warriors like this:

The warrior walks quickly down a narrow dark alleyway.  She is wary.  She treads lightly.  She listens.  What’s that?  A sound causes her to spin round.

HISS!

The cat’s eyes glow yellow.  The car snarls. The warrior bends down to pet the cat.  It purrs.  It presses its bony body along her ankles.  The warrior feeds the cat her last meal.  She straightens and continues.  A rattling sound causes her to jump, fists ready.  No, it’s only a garbage can lid, disturbed by the retreating cat.  The warrior breathes and listens.  Nothing.

An enemy in black silently glides toward her, sliding down a rope from above.  His face is concealed beneath a black hood with slits for eyes.  Slowly, he slides down the rope.  He draws closer. He hisses softly under his breath.

The warrior pauses.  She senses something.  She looks up.

The enemy attacks.  He drops onto her.  She cries out.  He flattens her.  He slits her throat.  The warrior gurgles. She dies in a pool of her own blood.  The End.

What a horrible story.  Who wants to read THAT?

We want our warrior to struggle, to be overpowered, but to recover through a miraculous use of one of her gifts.  Perhaps her intelligence causes her to grab the garbage can lid and bean the enemy.  Maybe her kindness to the stray cat cause the cat to lick her awake, giving her time to dial 911 before passing out.  Or maybe her warrior’s sixth sense causes her to leap out of harm’s way in the nick of time.  Our hand goes to our mouth as we read of her struggle, but we exhale, breathing loudly, as she makes a narrow escape.

Is the devil the enemy in the above story?  Is the devil like the slick stealthy hooded guy who drops down on us while we’re unawares?  Jesus said the devil prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour.   Is the devil too strong for us?

I think that’s the wrong question.  Because even conceptualizing ourselves apart from God is where our problems begin.  “Apart from Christ we can do nothing,” the Bible says.  “With Christ, we can do all things.”  It’s everything and nothing.  So no, we can’t defeat the devil on our own – because we can’t do anything on our own.  So with Christ, how do we battle our biggest enemy – pride?  I think that perhaps the way this story really goes is a lot more like the following, and this time the enemy described isn’t the devil but our own pride:

The warrior turns down a dark alley.  Spotlights switch on and flood every corner.  A huge man lumbers toward the warrior.  His every footstep thunders.  The huge man leers at the warrior.  The enemy gives an evil sneer.  The enemy laughs, maniacally.  He fumbles toward the warrior with hands like frying pans.

And the warrior drops her weapons, lies down and waits for the enemy to step on her.  Then the warrior cries out in horror when she’s flattened like a bug.  “Wow!  I never saw that coming!”

The attack of pride, I fear, is pretty much that obvious.  And we are pretty much that blind and that stubborn.  The nuance is that the devil is like the enemy slipping down on us from a rope, but the weapon he uses isn’t a knife but a blindfold.  The devil essentially slips near us and blinds us to how ridiculous our pride is.

The attack of pride reminds me of the “stealth” attack by pirates in a production of the Pirates of Penzance I was involved in high school.

“With cat like tread,” our pirates whisper-sang, “upon our prey we steal.”  Then all ten of the pirates stomped as hard as they could on the stage deck.

“No sound at all,” they whispered.

BAM!  They stomped louder.

“We never speak a word,” they whispered.

SMASH!  They stomped again.

It brought the house down.  Our pirates were so earnest in their quest for a surprise attack and so oblivious to their utter failure.

It would be nice if pride were a farce rather than the horror it is.  It can help us to defeat our pride by conceptualizing it as a farce because, let’s face it, taking ourselves too seriously is one of the hallmarks of pride.  But in fact, pride isn’t a farce.  It’s tragic.

It ruins our lives.

It steals our joy.

It causes us to hate others.

It causes us to hurt others.

It ruins the lives of those who love us.

It is evil.

The biggest problem with pride is spiritual.  There is always a spiritual quality to wrong-doing.  Pride causes us to tell ourselves we can live without God and others.

Pride is, in short, a lie.

And like all lies, it distorts us, our reality and our perceptions.  It causes us to try to impose our own distorted vision on other people, to try to force them to see our lies as true, to try to make them see us as all that, and them as all nothing.  We hold up a set of rules – maybe the ten commandments, maybe ones we’ve made up ourselves – and persuade others and ourselves we can actually keep them, all the way down.  And we say that makes us “good”, and therefore that we don’t need help.

Paul invites us here to instead “know” the grace.  He implores us to recognize that salvation through a perfect God suffering for our imperfections is the only means to heaven.

We can never be good enough to earn heaven.  Instead, Paul invites us to be like him – crucifying our pride – and no longer living the lie.  Instead, it is Christ who lives in us.  Grace is everything.  Christ “died groundlessly” if we could observe the law perfectly.

Hypocrisy is another word for pretending.  God invites us to stop pretending.  He asks us to throw off the prideful idea of perfection and join the party. The Red Sea will part all over again.  God will unhorse us.  That’s the true horse and rider He will throw into the sea.  And after we stand tall on the gospel of grace alone, God will reveal to us the love we need, long for, were made for, and have always wanted.

Filled to the brim with a supernatural understanding of God’s love, God will show us the way to start obeying the Mosaic law from the inside out.  God will say: Why lie, when the truth sets you free?  Why cheat on your spouse to recapture the ooey gooies, when God gives you a honeymoon all over again every time you forgive?  Why steal, when God changes your heart to want His presence more than any thing?

Know the grace, Paul says.  Grace already knows us.  That’s why Paul dealt with Peter’s hypocrisy so firmly here.  So, too, must we address and root out every time we see ourselves pretending we’re saved by some rule – which is another way of saying every time we imply by word or dead we’re saved by “being good” (even though that’s impossible for humans) instead of by God’s goodness.

The thief approaches in broad daylight, lumbering, fumbling.  He wants to knock us flat.  Let him.  Pride goeth before a fall.  Falling hurts, but we stand up humbled – by the love of our God for someone as stubborn and prideful as me.

And that is how I made myself let go of my dream of traditional publishing, started self-publshing in earnest, and discovered how much fun the writing life can be.  All over again….

posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day on December 10, 2014.