Kate wants to remodel the family room. So she’s been going to furniture stores and fabric stores, bringing home swaths of fabric and wood samples, holding them up before my eyes and saying bizarre, esoteric things like, “Does the houndstooth pattern clash with the mahogany stain?” I can no more answer these questions than I can flap my arms and fly to the moon. It is a foreign language, and I don’t even have the vocabulary to enter the conversation.
It’s the story of my life these days. I’ve been to seminary, and I can read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew and Latin, but I scarcely know my own heart. There are spacious, empty rooms in there, and I keep the doors closed and locked and the window blinds pulled down tight. No entrance except by special permission, and no remodelers allowed. You won’t find any light there; just stubborn, recalcitrant sin, in all its ugliness and destructiveness, the kind of sin that threatens to beat you down and undo every good thing in your life. And I don’t even have the vocabulary to address it What do you call a simultaneous desire to surrender fully to God and a stubborn refusal to open the door? Oh, yeah: you call it an addiction. But knowing the term doesn’t seem to help.
In our kinship meeting last night Jeff Cannell talked about different types of prayer, one of which is the “flash prayer” – the quick, in-the-moment prayer where you dialogue with God in the midst of busy life. My flash prayers have been quite repetitive of late. They sound like this: Help me, God. When my manager says “You understand data warehousing, don’t you?,” and I say “No,” and think “why in the hell would anyone in his right mind want to understand data warehousing?”: Help me, God. When my daughter Emily says, “In eight more months you won’t have any control over what I do,” and I can think of about a dozen clever retorts, all of which begin with “As long as you live under this roof …”: Help me, God. When I am sick of work, sick of rain, sick of grey, lowering skies, sick of endless responsibilities: Help me, God. When everything within me screams out Fuck it, all of it, just get in the car and drive away: Help me, God. Here is your mighty prayer warrior, Lord, muttering the same three words under his breath, again and again. And sometimes I don’t even make it that far. Sometimes it’s just a wordless cry, what the apostle Paul calls “groanings too deep for words.” And I find myself groaning to God with all my heart. Or maybe two-thirds of it. I want to let go. I don’t want to let go.
You can’t put a new fabric over this. A new stain isn’t going to make any difference. It’s the old, old stain that needs to be stripped away. The doors need to be opened, the blinds raised, the light shining in to reveal all the dirt and scuff marks and nicked human hearts. I need a new vocabulary. But for now, this is all I have: Help me, God.