Several nights ago now Odin had the distinct pleasure of eating sausage for dinner - one of his favorite things. And by the time it was over he was crying in great heaving sobs.
Allow me to ‘splain.
I had made the mistake of cutting up roughly half a sausage into bite size bits and placing the small pile of meat on the high chair in front of him. In what is a relatively new behavior, he started playing a pork filled version of chubby bunny - stuffing bits of sausage into his gob as fast as he could without bothering to chew or swallow. Seeing the approaching problem I put my hand between his and the additional meat, effectively stopping him from choking, but also breaking his heart.
The incident would be sort of laughable except for the very real pain Odin suffered through the misunderstanding. In his mind I had put a good thing before him (what's better than sausage?) and then arbitrarily kept him from enjoying it. In his mind I had taunted and betrayed him in that moment. He didn't understand that I was protecting him. He didn't know his zeal was leading him rapidly toward the Heimlich maneuver. He just saw the sausage that he wanted and me stopping him from eating it.
I quickly recognized what had happened and tried to tell him 'slow down' as I lifted my blocking hand, but that only caused him to dive into the pile with renewed vigor as if it might all disappear entirely in a moment - which caused me to intervene again - which lead him to burst into bitter tears...and start to choke on the first raft of meat he still hadn't bothered to chew. Now he's sobbing, and choking and Rebekah is there looking at me like 'what's going on here?' and I'm both trying to keep him from still more sausage as I try to comfort his clearly wounded heart and none of it is working. I barked at Rebekah, glared at Odin, and dropped things all over the floor. It was horrible.
Eventually he calmed down and in an ill advised effort to salvage the moment I set his food back before him. But now he looked at it and me with a kind of suspicion that I've never seen on his face. It was like for the first time in his life, my son didn't trust me. He'd asked for bread bread and I'd given him a scorpion so to speak...at least that's the way he saw it. He reached tentatively toward the sausages again as I nodded in encouragement, but once he got one in his mouth his hell bent mission to get every stinking piece in his mouth simultaneously resumed at double speed. Needles to say, I had to intervene again and dinner ended with Odin wailing in emotional misery, deeply wounded by my efforts to save his life from himself.
Between this incident and a discussion with #5 I've been thinking about disappointment and God. Yes, there is an obvious object lesson here in how we can sometimes find ourselves deeply resenting the hand that acts to save us from ourselves, totally missing the help and only seeing that something we want desperately has been striped from us, but that's not really what I wanted to talk about here. Yeah, Odin misunderstood what was happening - but he's 18 months old, that's to be expected and it happens every day. What really got me churning was the distrust that rose up later - the fear if I can use that word - fear of being hurt again by his daddy.
A while back I was musing on how I had started to glimpse how powerful fear is but at the time I was thinking in he context of how fear can stop us from stepping out when God’s invites us forward. What if He doesn’t catch me? What if something goes wrong? What if I didn’t really hear His voice? It’s that ‘what if’ fear that paralyzes us and turns faith to inaction. This incident with Odin was in many ways the converse of that. It reminded me of how fear can also drive us to rash action. In Odin’s case you can see that urge we get when things look dire and feel compelled to grasp at something for fear of losing out. This would be like Satan’s first temptation for Christ in the wilderness. “You’re starving to death. Provide for yourself. Take what you can because clearly God is holding out on you.” Poor Odin got scared that I would take his precious sausage away again when in fact I wanted nothing more than for him to eat it, but his fear and mistrust literally put his life at risk and in the end he was unable to have what he most wanted because of that fear.
Needless to say, the other place we se this is when fear drives us to ‘get to safety’ as quickly as possible. It’s the fear of abandonment when we find ourselves in unknown and threatening territory. “God has forsaken me. I’m on my own. I must find whatever safety I can...anywhere but here.” It’s the brand of fear that makes us quit school or a job, the kind that makes us turn from relationships that cause us pain...come to think of it, maybe it’s best understood as the fear that makes pain intolerable, unendurable. We can endure great bolshie buckets of pain, physical and emotional, so long as we believe there’s a point to it. But when this kind of fear creeps in it whispers that MacBeth was right – life is just a tale full of sound and fury...signifying nothing. And from that precipice, devoid of any larger purpose, we feel like getting away from pain is indeed the highest and most natural calling.
I recently heard a pastor say that the largest barrier stopping folks from experiencing a deep and powerful walk with God lay in unresolved disappointment. The thought punched me in the gut as I started to ponder the implications. In essence, we all experience things in our life that feel as if God has let us down – a prayer for healing that never happens, a personal tragedy, or just the daily erosion of minor disappointments from tension in our marriage to the promotion that never comes. Of course we deal with things in several ways but if I’m honest with myself I have to admit that at least some of those linger long after. I may be unwilling to openly accuse God of failing, but my mind returns over and over to wondering why Odin’s throat wasn’t healed when I prayed my hardest prayer. I think that unless we make a very deliberate effort to settle those kinds of things in our deep hearts, that disappointment can’t help but morph into a kind of subtle fear.
It’s not to suggest that God abandons us when we fear, by no means! I certainly won’t abandon or chide my son the first time he backs away from a diving board...or the second time. But it’s when our trust in God is undermined by those disappointments, especially by long patterns of disappointment, we can turn away in fear from the very best things God has for us – and we learn over time to be satisfied with far less than He wants to give us. We decline the offer or glory He gives because we fear it can’t be true, or that He can’t be trusted, or that we just can’t abide the cost. And so we cling to the crumbs under the table and wonder why our lives seem decidedly less than we had hoped they would be.
It reminds me of a thought about adventure. I’ve been encouraging men to seek and accept the adventures God has for them because, you know, adventure is cool! It’s fun! Who doesn’t love adventure? And yet in that Hurrah moment we generally fail to remember that Sam and Frodo suffered great sorrow, endless days of hunger, insurmountable risks, all on their journey to Mordor. It’s like Sluss II says, people don’t actually want to have an adventure, they want to have HAD an adventure. Something under glass to put on the mantle and wax nostalgic about. We want the memory, but not really the experience. And I’m not saying that’s wrong in any way – to seek after pain is creepy in a whole different way. But the unavoidable truth is this: to walk with God is to expect heartache. Bonheoffer says the offer of Christ is “to believe and to die.” (or something like that...)
OK, I’m hopelessly rambling now. The point was just this: I’ve seen a lot of examples recently where fear lead folks to do things they didn’t need to, and in many cases really shouldn't have. I’ve always thought of fear as a kind of secondary sin but I’m starting to wonder if it isn’t more foundational to the way we screw our lives up. And I’m increasingly aware of the ways in which I’ve stuffed disappointment with God into deep holes where it festers and turns putrid instead of approaching the throne of the father who I KNOW loves me to say, “I know that you are good, but right now it looks from here as if you let me down when I really needed you and it hurts so very, very much I feel like I’m going to die. Please help me understand this so there isn’t any weirdness between us.”
...and then patiently...
Wait for Him to speak and heal.