The metaphor for my life this week has been scraping the mineral deposits off my new counters in my newly-rehabbed condo. We noticed when the light shines just right we can see stuff left on the counter we just wiped off. Come to find out, if we leave water or juice to dry on the counter, it will leave a crust that cannot be dissolved by a cleaner! One of the ways to be rid of it or diminish it is to scrape it with a razor blade. Some advisors say, “Just get used to it (and have a life, already!).” So far, I guess I am not the “get used to it” kind of guy. I’m scraping, and meditating as I do.
Now that the nearly-year-old rehab project and move is nearing some finality, I am finding some blessed room for feeling my post-transition life. Scraping my counter is an activity that slows me down and teaches me lessons. I’ve been scraping paint residue from floors and now mineral deposits from counters and it feels like my soul is getting a good scrape, too.
Failures like mineral deposits on my soul
It feels like a failure to have mineral deposits on the brand-new counters! Quartz is expensive. Finding out quartz is not really indestructible hurts. It all begs a lot of questions: Why didn’t I read everything on Google about quartz counters before I messed them up? Did I buy substandard stuff and get ripped off? Did I saddle myself with a maintenance job I will never do? Am I just the world’s worst consumer and should have stayed on a lower level of American household splendor, since I can’t get enough obsession going to take care of things?
I was telling Rachel last week that my life seems like a series of failures. I feel like a poster child for Falling Upward at times. My spiritual gift might be getting myself into trouble, or in over my head, or in a situation that will require reconciliation at best or miracle at worst. As I scrape the counter I have a familiar choice: am I going to meet Jesus on this counter or get back to him when I feel a little better after fixing the problem? – if that ever happens.
Scraping my life has also been a meditation on race, like for many of us these days. I have certainly been committed to failing at racial reconciliation in many ways since I moved to Philly. My dried up relationships are like mineral stains on my past. In a certain light they make me wince a little.
The passing away illusions of the perfect present
While I am scraping the counter I am tempted to damn the counter and condemn myself for having one. “Why did I buy this nice thing to oppress me, anyway?” I have a very strong inner Franciscan. The other argument goes, “Why are you worrying about scraping the counter? Just do it. Be in the moment of this scrape. Or don’t scrape and be there.” That’s the side that usually wins (thus this blog post).
We were talking over successes and failures the other night with some friends (with whom we were not successful at social distance, so I’ll add “catching Covid-19” to my failure list, shortly) and began to ponder the reality that we can’t understand the next stage of our development, spiritually, until we get into it. The tipping point moment of development usually feels like we’re in the fog, upended, even headed in a wrong direction. The future feels like an illusion, maybe even an apparition – something to be feared. Sometimes we get so scared we won’t even go, even though we are ready for what’s next.
Scraping my life right now feels like part of that kind of foggy transition. I begin to see the deposits on my counter like deposits of the past on my soul, dried up relationships that feel like scars, dried up work that left a mark, memories of goodness that are fading. For some reason, the old slogan of the much-maligned Robert Schuller keeps coming to my mind. He used to preach “turn your scars into stars.” The illusion of the perfect counter and successfully buying just what I want in a new home is a new scar in the night sky of my development. Every time I look at that counter, and myself, in a certain light, I need to get saved.
Gratitude really is the beginning and end of seeing clearly
I am scraping, scraping, scraping my condo, which was supposed to be all perfect long before the pandemic started. It is tempting to have my only prayer be, “Oh my God!” That is a prayer in the spirit of, “Now what?” as if I were Job, or something – albeit a Job scraping in his high rise looking out over a shining city. Eventually, my loving friend, Jesus, gets down on the floor with me, or sits at a barstool fingering a water stain and says something like, “Isn’t it great you are healthy enough to do this?” or “Remember that pilgrimage we took to Africa and were invited into some homes?” If I resist temptation, my prayer graduates to “Thanks.”
Gratitude is a good scraper. I keep talking about my recent experience with some wonderful people in my small-group “hub” connected to the Jesus Collective. The getting-to-know-you time was a blessing. One of my takeaways from our first meeting, however, was to get a better picture of the church in which I live. The leader of our group offered us some of the recent development in his spiritual life to use in our prayer together. It was a nice gift and I used it. But it was at a level I thought our pastors and all of our Leadership Team, maybe most of our cell leaders, had probably surpassed. I shouldn’t compare people, but I thought I knew maybe thirty people in our church who were much better prepared to lead this “hub,” which was culled from great people from all over the world! Like Paul, the “scales” fell from my eyes — the dried-up residue of not seeing my situation with a Jesus lens (or maybe seeing it with a Covid-19 lens). I was grateful. Maybe I should say I was reduced to gratitude.
Even pop stars tell us they are learning gratitude. It is not just a cliché; gratitude makes everything better. If we are grateful, we exercise humility and don’t fall prey to the dark side of our reality: the hubris of autonomy and rapacity of greed. Some time ago, I decided to start every day in my journal with a list of thanks. It is often amazing how hard it is to settle in to the blessings of my life. Often, especially in the depressing time of the virus, I need to force myself to see the wonders in and around me. I try not to wait for Jesus to open my eyes, or for the weight of creation to tip my scales. I need to be honest about what I feel. But I also need to be honest about what God feels. I need to go through a process of confession and restoration. But I also need to learn how to do that in the presence of Love, with trust and hope. Dwelling on the good with gratitude is a very effective soul scraper.
I think I’m learning. How are you doing? Got any scraping going on in your territory? Or what is your metaphor of the week? I would love to hear some more of your story about how Jesus is leading you through your troubles.