It’s easy to fall into a routine. In fact, in some ways, I believe it’s necessary to live a normal life. I also feel equally convicted that the routine needs to be interrupted for the sake of our sanity, too.
Do you ever have those moments where you realize the cycle has been interrupted? It’s like a small waking up, and you notice you’ve arrived in a new place, had a conversation you didn’t expect to have, were surprised by something.
It always hits me when I’m somewhere I’m not supposed to be. I don’t mean that in a sketchy sense, like a teenager sneaking out to go to a party. I did have an example recently, though, where I consciously felt out of place and had that “break the cycle” feeling.
I ended up in Tuscaloosa on a Tuesday night, which is out of the ordinary for me to begin with. I attended a recruiting event, and as I was leaving town I decided to drive by a small tavern we frequented in college, The Alcove.
I’m driving down the road that would take me to the interstate. Something in my mind thought, “Oh yeah, I just remembered I’m near The Alcove. I’ll just drive by.” I turned on the next cross road and shortly arrived in front of a place that mostly just lives in my college memories now.
I immediately felt a little more alive. The narrative of the path I was on had me merging onto the interstate right about the time as I was pulling into a spot instead. The cycle was briefly interrupted.
As I pulled up, I I could hear faint music coming from inside. Even through the walls, I could tell what it was. I remembered Tuesday nights were jazz nights. I had to go in, if only for five minutes.
As I walked in the music grew louder, and I took a seat. The band, the bartenders, and the patrons were all different, and I felt just a tiny tinge of sadness just from the simple reminder that life moves on. I understand why so many turn the past into the “glory days.”
More than anything, though, I felt grateful. First for the memories and second for this tiny pocket of time, hardly a blip in light of a lifetime, that I could sit and enjoy a completely unplanned, unexpected moment.
A few short minutes later, I got back in the car and resumed my routine: go home, go to sleep, wake up to go to work the next day. But...this time, I rejoined the routine with a fresh reminder to be always be ready to let it be interrupted.
I woke up early the morning of my 29th birthday with some, let’s just say, bad symptoms. My initial thought, “Must be food poisoning.” My optimistic self still saw myself playing out the plans I had been looking forward to all year. I had all day to get over it.
As lunch rolled around, I came to terms with the fact that bed rest and a good attitude wasn’t going to stop the decline my body was insisting on having. I forced myself to get up and go to the doctor. Two hours later I was hearing, “Mr. Butler, you have the flu, type A and B, actually.”
I’ve had the flu before. It’s not ideal, for sure. But worse than the symptoms and the days you’re quarantined from society, I was about to miss my birthday. For the last fifteen years I’ve gone to eat hibachi to celebrate. I don’t think I’ve missed one year. Two brain-scraping swab flu tests later, the verdict was in. I wasn’t going.
When I got home I was still in the stage where you don’t feel like doing anything but burying your head in a pillow. Periodically, though, I would check my phone and various forms of social media as friends and family members sent well wishes and kind words.
I was reminded just how life-giving words of affirmation are to me. Everyone was essentially saying, “I’m really glad you were born, and this is why.” Even through a fever, an achey body, and a lot of disappointment, I couldn’t help but fill with gratitude.
I have grown to love words and writing. I cherish those spoken, typed, or written out just for me. So to all those who took time out of their day to make sure I knew you are glad I was born, thank you. Despite circumstances and missed parties, I was reminded why I matter to you, and that’s the greatest gift ever.
A few days later, I almost feel myself again, and I’m reminded that so many others don’t get to receive a health diagnosis that has a definite timeline for getting better. For many, the symptoms, the medicines, the doctor visits, never end.
In those long hours of staring at the ceiling, watching the light change as the day dragged on, wondering what my friends were doing instead, wishing I wasn’t making Lacie’s weekend so boring, I still had the assurance in the back of my mind that this was temporary.
Barring the unforeseen, many more occasions to celebrate will not be missed. Life will go back to normal tomorrow, and I’ll commit to getting the flu shot next year. I’ve learned my lesson these last two times.
But for those whose sick day turned into a season that turned into what seems like a never ending nightmare, my heart goes out to you. The flu for a week is nothing but a weak metaphor compared to the suffering so many endure day in and day out.
If that happens to be you, and the serendipitous nature of the internet and life led you to this post, then this is what I hope you hear...
I choose to hope in a day when all of this will be restored, where healing occurs, where true peace is a reality, where all that is wrong is made right, where suffering and fear are no more...
I can’t prove it, but I’m continuously compelled, drawn in, carried forward, sustained...The often quoted C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
I remember the first time I prayed for something that wasn’t answered. I was four years old. I saw a green Power Ranger watch at the mall. In my mind, there was nothing I needed more.
As I went to sleep that night I closed my eyes and prayed it would be under my pillow the next morning, in true tooth fairy fashion. I don’t recall the exact case I made before God, but I felt strongly enough to remember this twenty-five years later.
It’s no surprise the watch was not under my pillow the next morning. It’s a good thing I didn’t express to my parents how badly I wanted it. A moment of generosity on their part might have reinforced some strange notions about prayer at that point in my development.
I’ll never forget that feeling of, “Well, I guess that’s not how it works.” I’ve felt variations of that throughout my life. Prayer can be a complicated concept when we try to fathom our interaction and even influence on who or what we call God.
For those of you who grew up in a faith tradition, do you recall a time where it seemed simple? God was always listening, concerned with our deepest desires, needs, longings, hurts. God’s response to any petition was simply “yes, no, not now.”
Have you heard the common retorts when questioning the purpose and power of prayer? His ways are higher than ours. God has a plan and a purpose. He doesn’t give us what we want, he gives us what we need.
You acknowledge those things are true, but there is still the nagging feeling in the back of your mind, “Is anyone out there?” The mending of a relationship, physical healing, the ending of suffering—these are good things to ask for but are more often than not met with “no” and “not now.”
And how often are the “yes” answers for far less noble requests? I saw a sign on the back of a truck the other day that read, “This business runs on God’s blessings.” Ask and you’ll receive, name it claim it—they’re all concepts that are easy to accept when they coincidentally result in good fortune.
But why would God inject prosperity into the lives of those business people and ignore the pleas of a single mom who is struggling to support her family, working tirelessly and never seeming to get ahead? Did she not say the right words? Does God not love her as much?
I’ll be honest, the concept of God “answering” prayer challenges me in a very deep philosophical sense these days. Why answer mine and not others? Why answer others and not mine? Why answer any? If some suffering can be relieved, why not all? “How long, O Lord?” the Psalmist questions, too.
Confession—this would typically be the point in the post where I’ve built up enough pain and tension and defined the problem to the point where you’re wondering what the answer is, where to go from here. Then I provide a concise answer, and we all move on. To be very transparent, I really just don’t know.
If I did know, I would probably be an international best-selling author. I haven’t solved the problem of pain. I haven’t worked out the mechanics of the mystery of God’s interaction with our world. But I did recently come across a piece of wisdom that has helped me greatly,
“Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It is, rather, a stance. It’s a way of living in the Presence, living in awareness of the Presence, and even of enjoying the Presence. The full contemplative is not just aware of the Presence, but trusts, allows, and delights in it. All spiritual disciplines have one purpose: to get rid of illusions so we can be present.”
Richard Rohr writes in his book, Everything Belongs, about a different perspective on the way we primarily think about prayer. The idea of being present resonates with me, particularly when I think about Jesus being incarnated. He didn’t come in a powerful, militaristic fashion to overthrow the oppressive government.
He came in humility to be with His people. He came to suffer, to walk in a human shell, to be limited, to experience pain. To feel loss and to have an upset stomach. To heal the blind but to weep from his own eyes. All of divinity and all humanity resided in one being. Emmanuel—God with us—fully present.
I think one of the “illusions” I am shedding to be present is the idea of prayer as anything but “trusting, allowing, delighting.” There are things I’ve wanted to change. God hasn’t emerged like a genie from the bottle I keep rubbing.
No, God is better than a wish granter, tooth fairy, Santa Clause, Daddy Warbucks. God is God—mysterious, never fully known but only loved, with us, in the stillness when we trust, allow, delight. And to me, that’s better.
I hit Lacie’s car in our driveway a few weeks ago. It was 5:30am and darker than I can ever remember when leaving in the morning. I felt and heard my back wheel graze her bumper as I turned in the bend of the driveway.
I jumped out hoping it wouldn’t be bad and I could somehow rub the scuffs off so it wouldn’t be noticeable. You know that hot feeling when something bad has happened but you aren’t sure how bad it’s going to be?
My iPhone flashlight revealed what I was dreading—this one wasn’t rubbing off. I think if a repair person happened to be in my driveway at that moment and could have magically fixed it before Lacie left for work, I would have paid them and left.
Why? Because I seriously hate the feeling of letting someone down or looking stupid. I still worry about what people think about me.
In my mind I’m a responsible, considerate person who is good at driving. I’m not the kind of person who would hit their own vehicle in their driveway like an idiot!
The negative self-talk erupted: “You’re so stupid. You should have been paying more attention. This is going to cost money to fix. You could have used that money for something else. Blah. Blah. Blah.”
I think we often cut ourselves down in our own heads, so we won’t be vulnerable to the lesser critiques outside of us. I am always my worst critic. I can punish myself in my head more than anyone else so they can’t hurt me.
Given the chance, I would have been tempted to cover it up to avoid the embarrassment. Bypass any conflict. Protect my reputation. Keep life going as if nothing happened.
People-pleasing, perfectionist, performance-based, insecure, proud, non-confrontational—I’m still unwriting some of the operating scripts I’ve had running for too long.
There was a time in my life I might read a post like this and think one of a few things: too much information, too heart on the sleeve, weird. It’s taken a lot of years to be comfortable with looking inside.
The reality is, it’s all there, whether you’re willing to acknowledge it or not. It’s a matter of whether or not you can move past the awkward introspection and throw it into the light.
Someone called me “wise” the other day, and I laughed deeply. It wasn’t a self-deprecating laugh. I’ve learned to take a compliment, even though I used to really struggle with that.
I laughed because all I’ve done in the past few years is commit to being as honest, vulnerable, and thoughtful as I can. And like all “wise” people, I’ve learned that the more I know, the less I know. The more I understand myself, the further I see that I need to grow.
I’ve just learned to love the journey, even on days when you can find me cursing at the rear of my car at 5:30am in the pitch black darkness. If I’m wise, it’s only the wisdom to know that I’m a serious work in progress.
Our dogs are never more vocal than when another dog is on the other side of the fence from them. I’m reminded of this every time we visit my in-laws’ lake house. Poor little Copper dog who lives near their house always gets verbally assaulted upon arrival.
There’s something about the idea of him being “out there” that drives our dogs crazy. Let him inside the gate, the barking stops, the dogs adjust, and they soon forget the supposed threat from moments before.
When I’m in here and you’re out there, when I am part of “us” and you are part of “them,” fear always controls the situation. Remove the fence, blur the divide, the fear goes away.
We still struggle with identity as a whole. We are tribal by nature. Without a “them” we have a hard time understanding the “us.” How easy it is to define who we are by who we aren’t.
We drove out one evening to watch the sunset. A large house right off the water has a #TrumpHouse sign on the edge of the property. As we waited for the sun to go down a boat full of people pulled up in front of the house and in unison shouted, “Build that wall!”
I laughed at the time, because it caught us off guard and was obviously a perfect caricature of the right wing motif (expensive boat, huge mansion, all-white, animosity towards the “other”).
It wasn’t until I sat and watched our dogs the next day erupt in barking towards our unfamiliar furry friend outside the fence that it clicked for me. “Build that wall” suddenly made much more sense. We fear the “other,” but the reality is that we are them and they are us.