From a journal reflection, after visiting someone with dementia.
Why aren’t we happier? Why can’t we be content, even amidst such relative wealth and comfort? Why do we always feel like we are being evaluated? Why are we always trying to prove ourselves to others, to ourselves, to God? Why can’t we just be?
Each of these questions represents a conversation I’ve had over the past few weeks and I’ve struggled with how to adequately answer them. I know all the theoretical answers, all the theological answers, all the places in the bible to look for the statements that will show each of the above questions to be misguided or sinful or whatever. But why, even with all the good theory and theology, do we have a hard time just being. Why do I?
Maybe we wonder if things will really be ok in the end. Maybe we are afraid that God is exactly as nasty as some of God’s loudest spokespeople imply that he must be. Maybe we worry that trying to love God and others isn’t really good enough after all, that at the end of our days it will discovered that we were not against enough of the bad things or for enough of the good things. Maybe we suspect that somewhere out there is a divine checklist that we are, with each passing day, failing to check important items off of… That life is a test that we are daily failing.
Or maybe our worries are of a different sort. Maybe we think that life is like a brain that gradually begins to betray its owner. That we are like lonely little neurons trying to navigate our way across a well-traveled map, but that one day the dendrites and the axons and all the other mysterious entities that do their strange work will stop working, that the synapses will no longer be traversable, that all of the plans we once had about how life would look, the way things would go, the places we would end up, are no longer useful, that they no longer make any sense. Maybe we think that confusion and chaos are waiting, menacingly around the corner, ready to attack all that is familiar, all that gives structure and shape and solidity to our reality. Maybe we worry that life will one day steal us from ourselves. Maybe we are scared that there is no goodness in our future, only waste and decay, sadness and madness, lonely confusion and regret.
We know what you say, dear Jesus, about the lilies of the fields who neither toil nor spin, we know that we can’t add an hour to our days, and that you have the hairs on our head numbered… We know all the words about godliness and contentment and great gain… But it’s one thing to know these things, to see them as little black marks on a page in a holy book. It’s quite another to experience them in this world where things inevitably fall apart.
Yes, we are fearfully restless and restlessly afraid, dear Jesus. We have such a hard time being because this world seems to us very poorly suited for such an endeavour. We try to prove that we are good enough, strong enough, smart enough, resourceful enough because we are so afraid of what this world might steal from us. We hear your strange words about not storing up treasures where moth and rust destroy and thieves steal, about storing up treasures in heaven, but we frankly have no idea what do with words like these. The moths and the rust and the thieves—this is where we live. We don’t know much about heaven’s treasures or how to store them up. And so we labour and toil and spin our wheels, trying to fend off the badness and the madness, trying to bridge the synapses, to keep the connections strong for when we might need to come back this way again. We try and we try. Oh, how we try.
Jesus, our burdens are many and varied, some of our own choosing, some which we could never have deserved. And you invite us to leave them with you. To cast them upon you, all these cares that we carry, and to leave them there. So help us to do this well. Give us glimpses of these treasures in heaven as we make our way in this land of moths and rust and thieves. Help us not to be afraid of the menacing things that lurk around the corner. Show us that the things that we cling to, the things that we try to protect and preserve, were never really ours to begin with. Help us, above all, to trust that you are who you say you are, and even the things that are stolen along the way are not enough—are never enough—to finally separate us from your love and your care.