August 4, 2011


According to wikipedia (sorry, Webster) a coward is someone who "is perceived to fail to demonstrate sufficient robustness and courage in the face of a challenge."  Hmmm..... I find life to be vastly challenging, and some days I'd love to be rescued from it all.  

I think I might be a coward. 

Parenting, for starters, feels like driving in a high-speed race – the smallest actions fraught with peril & significance; one false move and you total the car. Marriage, and friendships in general, are likewise complex and easily injured.  Thanks to psychology, even cleaning and eating and simple pleasures are redolent of internal neuroses.  

If I have a finite task in front of me – change this diaper, say, or clean out this closet, or navigate with love this one conversation about mother-daughter relationships or welfare or faith vs. works – difficult or messy though it may be, a single task feels doable. The challenge in life's difficulties is not knowing their boundaries, how long they'll last.

I just read something recently on the subject of difficulty, and escape.  I've been worrying it in my mind, trying to find out the truth of it:
"The Christian walk is not a quiet escape to a garden where we can walk and talk uninterruptedly with our Lord ... The Christian life is going to God. In going to God Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, ... pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground.
"The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God; and therefore no matter what doubts we endure or what accidents we experience, the Lord will preserve us from evil, he will keep our life." [from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson]

I guess I've thought that "the Christian walk" could (or should) be a "quiet escape to the garden" ... in fact, that's what I'd like some days - deliverance from difficulty, not merely help as I walk through it.  (You could say that I appear to lack sufficient robustness and courage in the face of life's challenges.)  But, lacking a viable escape, I bluster on.

I wonder if this lack of robustness could stem from inaccurate expectations.  

Elsewhere in his book, Peterson says, 

"The world, in fact, is not as it has been represented to us.  Things are not all right as they are, and they are not getting any better.
"We have been told the lie ever since we can remember:  that human beings are basically nice and good. ... The world is a pleasant, harmless place.  ... If we are in chains now, it is someone's fault, and we can correct it with just a little more intelligence or effort or time.
"How we can keep on believing this after so many centuries of evidence to the contrary is difficult to comprehend, but nothing we do or nothing anyone else does to us seems to disenchant us from the spell of the lie.  We keep expecting things to get better, somehow. ... Convinced by the lie that what we are experiencing is unnatural, an exception, we devise ways to escape"

There's the rub.  If "life's good", if I alone in all the world am suffering, then the injustice, the loneliness of it burns more sharply than the suffering itself.  If all the world is wounded, though, then those around me are fellows in my grief, understanding sojourners helping and being helped in turn.

The optimist in me (despite it all) does not want to believe in a wounded world.  I want to see the blessings, choose to look at life with wonder and gratitude.  So is life good?  Or is it "but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage"?  [Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5]

Where to turn?  How to reconcile these two conflicting views?

The Master Potter, He who wields the clay to fit his will, reminds me of a verse I read this morning (the answer's always there):  

"let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith ....  Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, ... but let us encourage one another ..."  [Hebrews 10:22, 24-25]

The world is wounded, but life - together - nevertheless is good.  We have God's grace, equipping us to love in the face of libel, do good despite our weariness and lack of trust.  We have God, and we have each other.

Courage! then, my fellow cowards - onward and upward!  Let us link arms and spur each other on, and be "robustness" for each other, filling in the gaps.

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