Swag.

4.29.2020

Dear dad,

It rained incessantly today. Every time I thought it was letting up and there was an opportunity to go for a walk with the dogs, it would start pouring. It honestly made me kind of restless and annoyed. What business do I have being angry at the rain, though? Usually, I quite enjoy it. Rainy days are the best for cuddling up on the couch and watching movies. I thought this was something I could never get tired of. Not exactly so. I guess staying in and watching movies is more enjoyable when you’re not always having to stay in. It isn’t like I hadn’t done anything today. I worked out hard this morning. Read for quite a while afterwards. Then, this afternoon I couldn’t sit still.

Truly, the culprit of my frustration was not the rain. It was me. It has been happening quite frequently lately when I am reading, there comes a flood of thoughts and things I would like to write about. Connections I haven’t put together before and insights into areas previously unclear. All good stuff but then comes sorting it all out in my head. Figuring out how it all comes together or whether it is even related at all. It’s like being overwhelmed with choices and not wanting to choose for fear of missing out on the goodness of the others. Paralyzed by abundance.

There is a scene from, what else, The Hobbit, when the company of the dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo have just set out on their journey to the Lonely Mountain. Quite like today, they were riding along on their ponies in the pouring rain. One of the dwarves says to Gandalf…

“Mr. Gandalf, can’t you do something about this deluge?”

Gandalf is a wizard after all and has great powers.

“It is raining master dwarf, and it will continue raining until the rain is done. If you wish to change the weather of the world, you should find another wizard.”

At this point, Bilbo pipes up and asks whether there are other wizards. Gandalf explains there are five of them total, and the last one he mentions is Radagast, the brown.

“Is he a very great wizard or is he more like you?” Bilbo questions, probably wondering whether Radagast would be able to stop the rain.

Gandalf seems slightly insulted but goes on to describe how he thinks Radagast is a very great wizard in his own way, preferring the company of animals and nature over others.

I guess my point in bringing this up is there are some things not even great wizards have the ability to change. Surely, I cannot change the rain then either, though I should like to sometimes. These being the times I find it inconvenient or contrary to my desires, such as when I want to go for a walk. What is so awful about getting wet, though?

“An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; and adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.”

[G.K. Chesterton, All Things Considered]

Truly, the rain doesn’t deter a walk. It just changes my expectations of what the walk will be like. How do I know it won’t be better? I realize I am designed to be dry because after spending too long in water, my skin shrivels up, and I become more prune than human. Still, this isn’t exactly unrepairable. The rain will not melt or sting me. I cannot change the rain, but I can help myself stay dry as much as possible and renew my perspective on getting wet. And here is the point of the story.

I have always been a critic of the idea of self-help. For one. I am much too prideful to admit any need for help at all. Two, I am much too prideful to think someone else knows something helpful I cannot figure out for myself. And three, I am much too stubborn to change my mind. However, by some spark of curiosity or whisper of persuasion, I no longer see the harm in at least exploring the idea.

The best place I know to begin is, of course, you and me. I am a young, fatherless woman looking for help in being a little girl again, in blooming as a woman, in navigating how losing you affects my desires for a man and in continuing to live as a daughter. You were a handicapped father looking for help to live as normally and happily as possible, despite immense suffering. Not only were you handicapped but also endured a broken kneecap and prostate cancer. I remember the times I did rehab exercises with you. You were lying in bed, and I would bend your leg, slide your foot as close as possible to your butt. Put my hand on the bottom of your foot and push your toes toward your face while you resisted. Thinking about it now, it must have felt amazing to feel the little muscle you had left working. Ughh, woe is me. I was such a poor sport about helping you. Spit me out.

To what degree, then, could you help yourself? Your very body faded out of your control. The disease did not have a known cure. I’m sure you got quite tired of asking for help from others. But what else was there for you to do? You found the small amount of research and testing going on with the Myositis Association and volunteered to be a candidate. You talked to others who also had the disease. You continued to sharpen your mind with online reading and Sudoku puzzles. You stayed as social as possible scootering around the neighborhood when it was sunny and warm. You engaged with Adam and I over phone or watching sports. In all these ways and more, I would say you were able to help yourself. How far does this get you, though? How much can we, as humans, help ourselves and help each other? We can’t stop the rain for each other. Can we depend only on this sort of help?

C.S. Lewis talks of repentance in Mere Christianity as “unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years.” He says, “In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it…The same badness which makes us need it (repentance), makes us unable to do it.”

How, then, does God expect repentance of us, whether we determine it is something we should like to go through with or not? By His help.

We speak often of loving ourselves, but I would argue loving ourselves does not mean helping ourselves in the sense of bolstering our own will and sufficiency. Rather if we truly mean to love ourselves, not merely indulge self-conceit and self-will, then we ought to ask for God’s help, letting “God put into us a bit of Himself.”

“We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it.”

[Mere Christianity]

Lewis explains using the scenario of a child learning how to write. The teacher holds the child’s hand while he forms the letters; the child forms the letters because the teacher is forming them. If the child seeks help from another child who is learning to write as well, it will be quite difficult. I think this same thing applies to loving ourselves. As we learn to love ourselves, we can only do so because God loves ourselves and is holding our hand. Can only love ourselves, truly, if God does it in us. God is obviously beyond our humanity, so how can He share with us His love? How can He put into us a bit of Himself? He becomes a man and sends a Helper. If we desire to truly love ourselves, it seems our attempts will only succeed if we share in God’s loving.

I wonder if our predicament with repentance and loving speaks to our predicament with self-help. The same person which makes us need help, makes us unable to do it. Such is our predicament as humans. We have half-baked thinking of how we help ourselves. It is not so much about improvement as it is “laying down arms,” not trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we are out of our depths in. One we were not meant to and cannot dig ourselves out of alone. There is much good in asking others for help. People can share their knowledge and experiences, graciously and lovingly so. Maybe we can give each other an umbrella or jacket for the rain. It is very helpful in the sense of understanding and extending empathy. Like the feeling in class when someone raises his hand and asks the “dumb” question the rest of us were afraid to ask. Learning to write as a child is more enjoyable if we are among other children also learning. They provide encouragement and community, but these other children are not the Teacher. We should not pursue help from other people to obtain lasting peace and unshakable love. Among the encouraging presence of our peers learning as we are learning, peace and pursuit can coincide, just not as the world gives peace.

“These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” [John 14:25-27]

The Holy Spirit has always been troubling to me. When Jesus says it will benefit the disciples when He goes away, I imagine they were quite confused. I would be. But He says if He does not go, then the Advocate, the Helper, will not come to them. Jesus will go, and He will send us the Helper. What if we would rather have Jesus, the Man, though? Sometimes I feel envious of the disciples. They got to literally walk and talk with Jesus. They could touch Him. But the same Jesus who loves them tells His disciples it will benefit them when He goes. How could this be?

Being white, I am often jealous of the swag a lot of my black brothers and sisters have. My white people, I’m sure there are some of y’all that do too. I know a couple, but I am just speaking from the majority of my experiences. I could spend a lot of time around my black friends, in hopes I learn how to be swaggy like them. Walk with them, talk with them, eat with them, etc. I might be able to pick up on some things and increase my swag little by little, but it seems like it would be easier if I could just take some of their swag and implement it in myself. Not so much a sprinkle of pixie dust as an actual transformation. My man Coleman Maxwell said this of his excitement about being a father, “I get to implement some of my own swag into my child.” Maybe this is the benefit of the Holy Spirit. It is the swag of Jesus implemented into my very being, transforming me so I share in His very DNA. Quite a benefit, indeed.

Even witnessing the miracles of Jesus in the flesh, the disciples were slow of heart, slow to believe. They often did not understand what Jesus was saying until He explained it to them. Jesus says to them multiple times in the Gospels, “do you not yet understand?” After the feeding of the five thousand and then the feeding of the four thousand in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and they are thinking He says this because they had no bread; they had forgotten it. This seems so silly to me, but if they didn’t get it, I know I wouldn’t have and often don’t either.

The Helper, sent in His name, Jesus says, will teach all things and help us remember all the truths He tells us. Namely, the truth of who He is. Sometimes we believe the tangible is better for us, more helpful. Maybe sometimes it is, but what is helpful is not to be confused with the Helper. An umbrella or rain jacket is helpful, but a renewed perspective is even more so. The pencil in my hand and the other kids with me are helpful while learning how to write, but they are not the Helper. The intangible benefits me, becomes a part of me. Remembering the truth of who Jesus is and who I am benefits me. This is the workings of the Holy Spirit, my Helper. Thus, my hand forms the letters as He forms the letters. I let Him, and He puts a bit of Himself into me.

A swaggy transformation.

I love you,

Lauren

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