Sunday, May 27, 2007
"Look mom!” Two inches from my eyeball was an open hand belonging to a triumphant Elijah. Peering into my eight-year-old son’s outstretched palm, I struggled to identify the ridiculously tiny object worthy of such exuberance.
“What is it?” I asked.
“My tooth! I finally lost my first tooth!” Sure enough, I glanced up to see the gap in his smile we had all been waiting for.
“Congratulations!” I said, relieved.
“I’m going to need $7.99 for it from the tooth fairy,” he let me know casually.
“Whoa,” I said, “that’s pretty steep.”
“How about $4.00?” He asked instead, knowing full well that I was the one who would tip toe in and pull out his tooth from behind the pillow, replacing it with a monetary reward.
“I think the going rate is $1.00, and that is for the first tooth only.”
Disappointed, he cut through our round about dialogue to state his case directly. “It’s just that there’s this really cool book I want from the book club (darn those school fundraisers!). “Ryan got to place an order, practically my whole class did! Can I get one mom, please?”
“We simply can’t afford it, Elijah, I’m sorry.” It’s true, and I feel stretched even more as the kids get older. We, as a family, will never keep up with elaborate birthday parties, extra-curricular activities, or the styles from this current season. My children will never have the toys, gadgets, and gizmos, taunting them from the backpacks and bedrooms of classmates with their super coolness.
“Are we poor?” Five-year-old Priscilla, who’d been watching, listening, and evaluating our conversation, tried to wade through the subtleties and get to the bottom line.
“We’re rich in happiness,” I responded predictably, annoying the two of them with my optimistic answer that was not really an answer at all. “Look,” I said, “we have enough to eat, we have clothes to wear, we have a house to live in, and that is a lot to be grateful for. Besides, the more stuff we have the harder it is to stay dependent on Christ.”
“Oh-h,” said Elijah knowingly, “Rich people aren’t Christians.”
“NO! No, that’s not what I mean at all!” I could tell immediately I had opened a door that should have stayed closed, at least until my husband got home from work to rescue me from my fumbling attempts at tacking on a moral to this verbal exchange. I tripped over myself to explain that these were just our circumstances, and we can be thankful for them because they keep us in prayer. But of course, my long-winded speech had fallen upon ears with an attention span of 45 seconds. “Oh great,” I thought, ”wait till he spreads this new revelation to his friends and teachers. Rich people can be Christians!” I called after them one more time as Elijah and Priscilla exited the living room with heads full of ideas about life, God, and money.
This past Sunday, Elijah had another big “first.” After howling in the bathroom that his hair was sticking up, he and his dad left early to get to Church. The girls and I arrived twenty minutes later to find my eldest son dressed in gold vestments and standing ever so seriously by the priest’s censer. When I walked in he lit up, and then remembering his place stiffened and stared straight ahead. After countless past liturgies of crying in frustration because Elijah as a toddler and preschooler could not stay put or quiet, I was elated and proud to see him participating behind the altar. And not just on any Sunday, this was Pentecost. For a little over two hours he stood without fidgeting (not too much, anyway), glad I think for the kneeling prayers when he could bend down and stretch his back. Watching Elijah take in the service from his new, up close, vantage point, I was reminded again of how inept I feel to clarify all of this, the theology, the mystery, the miracle that is life in Christ, when the Troparion we were singing repeatedly finally penetrated my thick skull, and comforted me with its message of hopefulness.
Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast revealed the fishermen as most wise by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit - through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of Man, glory to Thee!
How do any of us figure it out, we with heads full of our own ideas about life, God, and fulfillment? When I agonize over developing reasonable explanations for heaven, the Trinity, and salvation, I am essentially overstepping my bounds. The disciples were not wise because someone had finally presented them with a well-written definition of Christianity. Pentecost celebrates the gift of wisdom found only in the receiving of the Holy Spirit. My job as a parent is not to make our faith concise enough to fit into imperfect minds, but rather to open hearts by living, breathing, and offering love – Christ centered love through which the Holy Spirit can work His wonders. My job is to talk less and to show more.
Love God. Love others. That my dear children, is the very best I can offer. Through obedience comes revelation. And now that I think of it, there is quite a bit I need to forget in order to remember this myself. There is even more I need to be emptied of, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Wisdom is like spotless glass behind which Truth is visible. Intelligence that claims to understand through self-interpretation is like fingerprints smudging, clouding, and obstructing one’s view. Keep your vision clear, keep your thoughts unencumbered, keep your souls open wide in humility. I will try, really try, to lead by example, and to not run up and tie your shoe when the laces fall loose, down beneath your glittering robe as you soak in the incense spiraling beside you, as you grow with lightening speed into a man.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
“I am terrified,” someone finally admits because not saying it is like trying to write a sentence without a verb, or attempting to paint a picture without a canvas. The entertaining of possibilities, as haunting as they are, remains integral to the process of handing over a loved one in faith. The fear of loss gives context from which emanate the long embraces, and the stabs of anxiety piercing hearts all linked by this one soldier, sibling, nephew, cousin, and son. When his parents begin to speak, I am mesmerized. Their conviction that no place or circumstance is outside the hand of God radiates from faces moistened but not anguished, from spirits fragile but not broken, from wishes hopeful but realistic for a future no more certain than an unmapped road leading who knows where from here. Their belief that a soul can float through open spaces within the tightly clenched fists of evil, to freedom, to goodness, to light, is infectious with that hopefulness and determination. The same determination that lines the eyes of this boy turned man who’s stepped up and grabbed his chance to serve our country.
This battle has crossed an ocean, and landed in the kitchen of an old and creaky house in Indiana. The abstract troops enduring heat, death, hatred, and loneliness have separated into individuals with friends, wives, and children, straddling two diverse existences while trying not to rip from the tension between the opportunities and the sense of foreboding in each new day. Updates in my morning paper soak through me like a sponge instead of sliding down distracted thoughts more concerned about the weather than the fate of lives so far from their reality. The prayers once forced become outright reflexive when a face, a name, a voice that you recognize is thrown into the danger that is war. “Does he have to go?” whispered my five-year-old daughter, alarmed by adults who had let down their guards to claim a fleeting moment of significance, who wept openly while clinging to one of their own. “Yes,” I answered. “But he is brave and ready. We will miss him, and it is good to let him see how much we care.”
“Of course, it would be easier,” said the Elder Anthony of Optina, “to get to paradise with a full stomach, all snuggled up in a soft feather bed, but what is required is to carry one’s cross along the way, for the kingdom of God is not attained by enduring one or two troubles, but many!” It seems altogether backwards to garner strength from disappointment, a diagnosis, an encounter with violence, or from saying good-bye. It is excruciatingly difficult to think beyond the grave. But if earthly comfort is like cotton balls stuffed into ears, than trials are the megaphone grabbing our attention by force. For this family, my family, life has been clarified by deployment. One member’s departure is like an ice cold shower, waking us from a spiritual stupor and invigorating our senses with an awareness of heaven. For this family, and for every family who loves, who worries, and who wants more than anything to rest in the promises of Christ, trials are the glue that unites us one to another, and to our original calling so easily muffled by coziness and satiety. “Lord,” we call out, like the father of the suffering child desperate for the intervention of Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief!”
And to all of the men and women, sacrificing much more than I can even comprehend, may the Lord God bless you, and keep you in His perfect peace. May we all wake up more aware of your presence, more in awe of your courage, and more inclined to intercede on your behalf. May those you have left behind be granted serenity that defies explanation, and may the crosses that you carry, hazy, sweltering, and grueling as they are, keep foremost in your thoughts the unconquerable Resurrection. “For I am convinced,” says Paul in Romans, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Friday, May 18, 2007
Clean out refrigerator
Two loads of laundry
Make grocery list
Assign age appropriate chores
Make chart for keeping track of those chores
Read books with five-year-old Priscilla
Cut letter “B’s” out of magazines with four-year-old-Ben
Sometime after 7:00am it is obvious that there are ominous forces working against me, and my surefire plans for becoming a super-mother. 20-month-old Mary has the sniffles and would prefer not to unwrap her scrawny legs from around my waist. “O.K,” I think, “I can still do this. I’ve been productive with only one free arm before.” And I start removing mysterious Tupperware containers hidden behind the milk, trying not to dwell on their moldy contents. Fifteen minutes later, heavy sighing interrupts me.
“I don’t feel good, mommy,” says Priscilla, coughing into her elbow like she has been trained to do by her kindergarten teacher.
“Oh …all right then, why don’t you lie on the couch with a blanket,” I suggest to her, “I’ll come check on you in a second.” By now the countertops are completely covered with empty salad dressing bottles, expired yogurt, and inedible leftovers.
“But mommy,” Priscilla whimpers, “I n-e-e-ed you!”
With that, my throat begins to tighten. “You go on, I’ll be right there,” I smile, masking my growing irritation.
Mary and I leave the rapidly evolving kitchen clutter, and walk into the living room where Benjamin has had free reign for the last half hour. Glitter glue caps littering our hard wood floors start my heart rate soaring. “Oh good grief,” I say to no one in particular, “where is he?”
That is when I notice the rainbow of sparkling, sticky, mounds circling my coffee table like a painter’s palette. Someone (who is certainly old enough to know better) had been making glitter glue portraits of himself, sans the paper.
“BENJAMIN LEONARD SABOURIN!” I scream impulsively. “GET DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW AND CLEAN-UP THIS MESS!”
Thus ensues the downward spiral, high jacking my good intentions, and stripping my resolve to stay calm, cool, and collected. By 3:00 pm, after two refused naps, four temper tantrums (three of them by my children), and a checklist of unchecked tasks, I am drowning in failure and exhaustion. By 3:10 pm, I am quite certain that this day, this horrible, non-productive, anger tainted afternoon, is going to last FOREVER.
In perilous circumstances such as these, I have learned that I must act quickly lest I go under completely, unable to retrieve even a single positive moment from this once in a lifetime, 24-hour-period with my family. On the brink of total hopelessness, I take an enormous breath, close my eyes to the chaos, and devote all my dwindling strength to the truly nonnegotiable priority of redeeming the day. Redeeming the day is like boarding the lifeboat on a sinking cruise ship. When all looks lost, your only thought is to save the ones you love; everything else becomes irrelevant. When those waves of frustration threaten to sabotage your peace of mind, it is essential to ignore the peripherals and salvage the relationships most at risk. If it is all my children who have fallen victim to my overtired wrath, redeeming the day can involve lots of M&M’s, a bowl of popcorn, and a family movie, with the six of us snuggled on the couch. If just one of my sons or daughters has pushed my buttons, and I theirs, I find a book and a quiet corner for us to share and reconnect.
It doesn’t take much to refuel, I have learned. A bath, a new library book, a walk, a closed door and good long cry, are all examples of emergency procedures to help you stay afloat. The key here is not letting the sun go down on your discouragement. To not forgive oneself is to deny God’s mercy; accepting His grace takes a lot of discipline. “I am sorry,” I pray every night in bed, “I really screwed up this time.” And then I rest, trusting in the heavenly compassion spurring me on to another morning, where fresh opportunities for earning new patience are available in abundance, and where the great ideas still lurking behind sleepy eyelids are anxiously awaiting their second chance. “Look out tomorrow, this humbled super-mother may appear a little frazzled, but she knows how to weather a storm, and she will survive this rainy season out of love and devotion for her riotous, rambunctious, and irresistible crew!”
Monday, May 14, 2007
There was a poem I loved in college, most of which escapes me now except for the first line: I am the keeper of unusually small spaces. The meaning I originally assigned to that phrase was probably wrapped in allegory, but now I find the literal interpretation to be understatedly beautiful. My entire world is encompassed within 2000 sq ft. The borders of my kingdom are invisible on a map, or on the pulse of current cultural trends declaring what is relevant and worthwhile. But the unusually small spaces that I keep, as anonymous and unglamorous as they are, I guard with ferocity. These spaces provide the soil in which my children will develop roots and blossom, according to the nutrients provided. As their keeper, it is up to me to tend to my tiny slice of earth with diligence, and a firm conviction that no other profession in the world is of greater importance.
I will never forget the claustrophobia I felt when the walls initially began to close up around me. My husband, Troy, was heading back to work for the first time since Elijah was born. He kissed me on the forehead, and walked through the door to join the human race. I watched him out the window from the rocking chair motherhood had nailed my backside to, and fought back tears of loneliness. During my last few weeks at work I had daydreamed about that moment (me in a peaceful, quiet house with my newborn baby). In my softly lit imagination, I was completely tranquil for the first time in my life. I hadn’t realized that the stress of going, going, going, had come to define me, had become the context out of which I most naturally functioned. Up until that point, stillness was something I had enjoyed immensely doled out in small pieces at a time. I splashed around in it for refreshment, and then headed back to the quicker pace I was accustomed to. But this kind of stillness, one without borders, was like being dropped in the middle of an ocean with no view of land in sight. My only choice was to start treading water or to drown.
I always loved the mornings. Freshly brewed coffee and daylight signaled new beginnings as Elijah and I snuggled close and listened to the radio. In the morning, my head was swimming with ideas and hopefulness. It was later in the day, when the sun’s rays felt stale and stifling, and when the hours till evening stretched on for miles, that the panic would set in. My ambitious plans for organizing, getting in shape, and baking from scratch crumbled under the stop and go pace of bouncing, washing, and changing the baby. How was it possible that absolutely nothing was getting done, that one tiny child could take up so much of my time and energy? I would dream of getting out, of wearing jeans and make-up. The night before a scheduled excursion, I could hardly sleep from excitement. But when I stepped back into my old world, I felt like the girl who went on vacation and came home to find her best friend had replaced her. I was a third wheel now, struggling to maneuver my stroller through aisles designed for pedestrians only, and folding my arms over the circles of leaky milk saturating my carefully chosen sweater. Things had sure changed since I’d been gone.
No matter how much you thought you hated your job (of course, it's worse if you loved it), there are aspects of being in the workplace surrounded by people that make staying at home a real adjustment. Getting up at the same time each day, taking a shower, putting on clothes with zippers and buttons, leaving the site of an unmade bed behind, occupying your mind with projects, deadlines, and phone calls: all of these things became as familiar as a well-worn glove, and their absence makes life feel strangely bare. By removing conversation from my daily routine, that which prevented my thoughts from turning inward, I suddenly became aware of previously hidden aspects in my character. This experience was very disorienting.
The stillness surrounding stay-at-home motherhood represents in this day and age a “road less traveled.” Our modern society encourages speed and constant busyness. By occupying our minds, bodies, and senses with outside stimulants, it is possible to avoid for a lifetime thinking even once about the state of our souls. For instance, I would have never listed impatience as one of my many character flaws until I discovered how easily unglued I could become over spilled juice, a distracted three-year-old, or a needy infant. Every responsibility we have as mothers is a priority. Whether it be cleaning the house, making meals, nursing the baby, reading to a preschooler, doing laundry or yard work, or keeping up with friendships. Wanting to accomplish all these tasks in a single day is commendable but hopelessly impossible.
When your six-month-old has a cold or fever and needs the security of her mother’s arms, you sit with that stillness for hours on end comforting your child, an act of love for which you will never be publicly commended. Quieting those voices in your head, berating you for getting nothing else done, takes great courage and mental tenacity. Most stay-at-home mothers do not have the luxury of pacifying their internal restlessness with a movie, shopping, or a lunch-date whenever the impulse presents itself. Instead, when at the peak of our frustrations, we have one choice: to either stew in our anger or evolve into a more flexible and forgiving individual.
There are many acts of bravery that can characterize an individual as being strong. Staying home to raise a child requires most of them, but these are performed without accolades, medals, or standing ovations. A mother who can endure the stillness—accept her doubts, come face to face with her biggest fears and not look away—must watch her world unravel. She will find out she is not perfect, she has limits, and her love alone will not guarantee the safety and happiness of her family. Accepting weakness requires bravery and great faith. It forces us to enter into each moment, task, and conversation with a prayer for guidance. Stillness teaches us, through self-sacrifice and humility, to let go of expectations, unclench our fists, and open our hands and hearts to a broader reality and a bigger purpose.
Yes, many of our maternal tasks seem mundane. Our battles can feel small and trite when compared to those doing more “worthwhile” work—like fighting hunger, defending freedom, or protecting the poor. There are days you will want to scream, “This is pointless, useless, a waste of time!” But this is where real courage begins! We quietly sweep the floor, braid ponytails, pour the milk without complaining, and to the best of our ability send a silent message to the little eyes always watching that they are more than worth every effort we put forth on their behalf. In her autobiography The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day writes, “most of our life is unimportant, filled with trivial things from morning till night. But when it is transformed by love it is of interest even to the angels.”
Thursday, May 10, 2007
It's not that my kids aren’t capable of interesting conversation, or even occasional displays of empathy, it's just hard to consider them good company when I know that they view me as a representation – of boundaries, of safety, of dinner. They cannot fathom that I would have needs and insecurities, or be weighed down by solitude. Mid-week, after going three straight days without adult conversation or changing my juice-stained shirt, my children may sense a bit of melancholy clouding the eyes of their cereal, milk, and pretzel producing mother, but that is where the pondering ends. And that is where it should end, I believe, for they are still too young and fragile to be wincing at the pangs of isolation.
I remember when I first felt it, at the age of ten or eleven. “It’s like I’m homesick,” I tried to explain to my preoccupied parents “except the weird thing is that I haven’t left for anywhere.” Over time I would grow to recognize that gnawing sensation as loneliness, as an inability to feel at peace in my surroundings. Marriage couldn’t fill it - the gaping hole stuffed to the brim with high expectations that suddenly, and without warning, would chew up those ideals like a garbage disposal, leaving nothing but the familiar emptiness I had carried since adolescence. Motherhood, even with its constant exposure to other human beings, tiny and needy as they were, did not distract me from the underlying awareness that sometimes my skin feels too tight, and my heart too boxy for beating comfortably within its temporary encasement. My spirit, like a caged tiger, paces with the suspicion that it was created to run faster, jump higher, and travel further than is possible behind these hard as metal barriers of skin and bone.
Participating in Divine Liturgy at my neighborhood parish on Sunday mornings is not only refreshing because I get to sing, to worship, to commune, to wear shoes that clap instead of squish when they walk across a floor, but also because of my place within the center of its community. What does a stay-at-home mother of four have in common with a fifty-year-old businessman, or a harried graduate school student facing midterms and 20 page papers? What could she find so fulfilling in cups of coffee with fellow parishioners, as varied as the colors in a rainbow? What, you may ask, is so thrilling about a bunch of normal people listening over the shrills of nap deprived toddlers to a pointed homily from a priest, who is also normal yet miraculously exceptional in that he has been blessed to offer from his imperfect hands the untarnished flesh and blood of our Savior? Everything I tell you, and the only thing that matters!
Beneath the nearsighted eyes, graying hairs, and wrinkled dress shirts standing in line for the Eucharist, I find God, Himself, burning in the souls of the ordinary. I find an eternal connection through shared prayers, and longings for something greater, something purer, something tangible in this world of illusions, where reality is as foundationless as a snow fort melting in the heat of the sun. Only when I cease to view myself as an entirety, when I accept my place as a toe, or a knuckle in the greater body of Christ, can the life force of heaven pulsate through me, warming my insides with purpose. Only here, in the Church, where mingling with saints and angels is also normal, yet miraculously exceptional, can my spirit get a taste of liberation. Only here, within the context of absolute Truth can my identity become solid and defined.
The fact that your face lights up with recognition when I say, “sinfulness,” “redemption,” or “eternity,” that you come and participate with the “great cloud of witnesses,” when you could have slept in or cleaned out your garage, that around your neck I see the glimmer of a silver chain from which dangles a cross silently claiming your allegiance to the death and resurrection of Jesus, gives me courage to keep walking forward. Within a Trinity is how God chose to manifest Himself - three in one, distinctive yet impossible to pin down and separate. This is our example, our justification that the overlapping of joys and sorrows from your life into mine, binding us together through salvation, is holy and right. This is why every self-serving pursuit will undoubtedly disappoint us. Midweek, after dabbling in my share of worldly cares, melancholy calls me Home – back to the body of Christ, where the ordinary become extraordinary, where heaven touches earth, where you and I entwine our lives with faith.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Before I had children, before I had a clue about the ins and outs of gnarled hair, snotty noses, “washable” markers, and the improbability of finding two matching socks on a Sunday morning, I vowed that when I was a mother my kids would be neatly pressed and sufficiently scrubbed, to the point of sparkling. I had visions of my future daughter in a gingham-checked dress with two auburn braids hanging perfectly straight, and tied with slender ribbons. We would be adorable, she and I, best of friends walking hand-in-hand, repelling dirt and bad taste with our Teflon like resistance to tacky trends and media plastered apparel.
Fast forward two-and-a-half years later, I had long since eaten and swallowed those foolish notions. With the introduction of spit-up, I was humbled. By the time I experienced potty training, I was full on laughing at myself, the old self who was certain that a toilet bowl was plenty wide to contain those first erratic attempts of a preschooler trying to hit his mark. “Don’t change those pants!” became my standard order, “I’ll just get a washcloth.”
With the birth of our second-born, Priscilla, however, old dreams sprung back to life. There were ponytails, sparkly barrettes, patent leather shoes, and bibs to keep dribbles of juice off her floral jumpers. There were the appropriate “oohs and ahs” from relatives, neighbors, and cashiers at the grocery store. Days of cuteness turned into months, months turned into years – three to be exact before my power to choose which coordinated outfit would be wriggled over her dimpled legs and cooperatively raised arms, came to a screeching halt. “No mama,” she said, pointing to the tasteful blouse poised above her head, “not that one!”
Firmly, I insisted on maintaining some semblance of tidiness. Every morning we both stiffened, arranging our game faces in front of her dresser. She’d hold up a pleated skirt to be paired with jeans, and a polka dot sweater. “Sorry,” I’d say, “That’s not going to work.” And her wailing, the sobbing, the grieving over the loss of control would effectively dampen both of our moods for hours. Eventually, I figured, the dust would settle and she would come around. Later on, when it was obvious to an older and more practical Priscilla that I was only trying to help her, the madness would simmer down and peace would once again return in the form of preplanned ensembles, we both could agree on, laid out the evening before.
Months of tension turned into years – two to be exact before I questioned the legitimacy of my stubborn stance on such an external issue. “Please mama,” said five-year-old Priscilla, searching for ways to express herself, pleading for a chance to take ownership of her body. In a culture where the self-esteem of little girls is battered and bruised by a societal dictation on what equals “pretty,” did I really want to deny my daughter an opportunity to feel comfortable in her own skin?
I was embarrassed by my three-year-old all decked out in a pajama top and sweat pants. I was self-conscious accompanying her, as a four-year-old, to a birthday party to which she insisted on wearing a gaudy 1990’s hair bow. I had tried my best this morning to smile approvingly at Priscilla as she bounded out of her room in jean shorts, leggings, and snow boots, to keep my mouth shut while she downed that one last reckless swig of chocolate milk before the bus arrived to pick her up for afternoon kindergarten, resulting in a brown puddle that soiled her favorite unicorn t-shirt. When her disappointed eyes turned watery and red, however, I instinctively jumped into action. “Don’t change!” I called out with conviction. “I’ll just get a washcloth.”
Thursday, May 03, 2007
The Samaritan woman took a lot of flack, I’d assume, while going about the business of her day. I am sure she was accustomed to the whispered comments and the disgusted expressions on the faces of those familiar with her indiscretions. How jolting, however, to be confronted by a man she had never seen before, over stepping socially correct boundaries by asking her to draw him water, and then speaking quite bluntly and authoritatively about the most intimate details of her life.
I try to put myself in her position, to apply that odd encounter to my contemporary existence, but I guess I don’t know how I’d respond to a stranger at the grocery store asking me to fill up his cart. I can’t say what I’d do if he accurately exposed, to my horror, that right before leaving for this errand I had torn into my son with excessive sternness for childish behavior unworthy of such wrath. After picking up my jaw from off the linoleum floor, would I stay for more of this uncomfortable conversation or just hightail it to the nearest check-out line for a quick get away? In this day and age, pointing fingers at anyone (unless of course they are narrow minded) is equivalent to putting a cigarette in the lips of a baby. Being called out on account of your sins is an assault that no one, in this great and civilized nation, deserves to be subject to. And besides, with the definition of sin being so hazy and all, who’s to say what is right or wrong?
Trying to infiltrate modern culture in order to redeem it is a bit like pouring dish soap in the ocean. Not only is that enormous body of water too turbulent and pervasive for being purified by such inadequate means, but also the soap itself becomes contaminated by the very filth it was trying to clean. To dress the part, speak the part, and play the part of progressiveness with the intent of appearing relevant, is more dangerous to the actors than inspiring to the real life characters they are trying to lure into the faith by spoon-feeding a message of feel-good love and approval. Over time, that “seeker sensitive” approach to evangelism will have no choice but to become broader, and even less offensive if it is to keep up with the ever-softening morals of our society. Even if one does accept Christianity based upon the image of Jesus presented, the image of a deity who will accentuate your comfortable lifestyle without actually demanding it from you, will they truly experience the Christian faith as described in the New Testament? By offering a sanctified version of what they have already, we deny them a chance to transcend this rat race entirely, to find themselves by losing themselves in Christ.
The Son of God, who met the Samaritan woman at the well for the purpose of transforming her soul, did not bring with Him kid gloves or a watered down version of the Truth. He rose above bigotry and chauvinism, yes, but proceeded to lay out the demands, nonnegotiable, for attaining His Living Water. Her many mistakes and foolish choices were forgivable; it is our will, not our sins, that keep us trapped in darkness. But the ball did lie in her court, so to speak. She was not pulled “irresistibly,” into Salvation. She had to act, to choose, and to change. The Samaritan woman, also known as Photini, is called “equal to the apostles” by the Church because she did not let a sinful past keep her from responding to Jesus. She accepted His disapproval of her transgressions, and then trusted in His mercy by turning from them. Immediately she departed from His presence, full of gratitude and enlightenment, devoting the remainder of her days to offering anyone within earshot an opportunity for a heart-mending conversion, unlike anything they had ever experienced before.
I compare myself often with the proverbial Jones’s, grumbling when I fall behind. I want Christ to fit in somewhere between my ever accumulating possessions and my rapidly filling calendar. I want to blend in, and claim my inalienable right to a piece of the American pie. Other times, however, like on this rainy afternoon, I am deeply aware of how shallow, how disappointing, how unfulfilling, is every accomplishment, every thing, and everyone (myself, most certainly included). It is times like this that I am most receptive to the witness of the Samaritan woman. “Tell me my shortcomings, expose all my wickedness, shed light on the secrets that are eating me alive! I am parched, and in need of refreshment.” It is times like now that I could toss aside everything, regardless of the consequences, and live fully for my one and only hope at being satisfied.
My shopping cart is full, and yet my neighbor’s is empty…whose thirst will Christ quench through me?