Going by the smell, something small and wild has died in the garage. But not, unfortunately, before it got into the garbage.....

There are days like this--days like stale cole slaw or the shank end of an elderly ham, lurking on the bottom shelf of the fridge, that you can't bring yourself either to eat or throw out. There are days during which each and every supermarket aisle is blocked by two old acquaintances, carts side by side, catching up on the gossip; days when the mailbox has nothing but income-tax stuff; days when you find that last bit of dirty laundry only when the last load is in the spin-dry cycle. There are days when focusing is unwontedly difficult, and when you finally manage it, you find you don't much like what you're looking at. I woke to a list of stuff-to-do absolutely none of which I like doing, and to a house that has slid a little further on its descent into squalor. Tragedy is one thing; it's awful, but at least it gives you something to rise to. But this feels like being nibbled to death by mice. It's *annoying*.

Self-pity isn't particularly helpful, I find, when the mice are chomping away. Self-indulgence, on the other hand....

I decided that given the way the day was going, the hell with the calories, I'd treat myself to hot dogs for lunch. And instead of bottling wine in the afternoon (a job I do not much enjoy), I would take myself over to Martine's gallery and see her new stuff; she says she's into enamelling these days, as a change from her work in fused glass. I love Martine's work, and I haven't seen it for months. I'd meant to visit Martine tomorrow and do the wine today, but nothing says I can't switch the two.

It didn't work. At lunch I found myself heating up some vegetable soup and eating it with unbuttered bread and cheese. After lunch, the boxes of empty wine bottles sort-of walked themselves out to the car and waited patiently for me to take them to the U-brew shop, because I'd told U-Brew Susan I'd bottle this afternoon and there was really no reason I shouldn't, except that I didn't feel like doing it.

"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate," Paul wails (Rom. 7.15). Sometimes I don't understand my own actions, but in the opposite direction. I give myself permission to misbehave; I decide it's time I let myself off the hook. And then I find myself automatically putting myself back on the hook for no reason other than sheer force of habit, because I was brought up to believe in Responsibility and Delayed Gratification.

Sometimes our gods are chosen for us, and we don't even really see what they are, except that they determine so many of our actions and choices. Did Paul choose to be a Pharisee, or was he brought up to it? Do our kids choose to be materialists, or is it something so built into the culture that they don't even realize that it's something they could choose not to be? I don't think I ever consciously elected Responsibility and Delayed Gratification to my personal pantheon. I think my parents put them up on the family altar, along with Good Manners, Goal-Orientation, and Consideration for Others (but not Tidiness, Paperwork, or Worrying About Health). These are our lares and penates. I do their bidding automatically, without any conscious volition.

But there is one god who does not want to be automatically elected to your personal pantheon. There is one god who could win you, heart and soul and mind and body, who could command your blindest obedience, just by displaying the smallest fraction of a whisker of his attractiveness--oh, such a seducer! But that's just exactly he won't do. He wants you to choose him freely, and that means choosing him blindly, or with only a few hints or clues, because if you could really see him, you wouldn't have any choice in the matter. And to be thus freely chosen is the one and only thing he wants from you.

You may be introduced to this God when you're young, but ultimately, you must choose the Kingdom way purely on faith. That strange man Jesus does not make the choice any easier with his riddling comments, his outbursts of sternness or rudeness, his moments of brusque tenderness. "Woman, give me a drink," he says to the Samaritan at the well, without even a "please." He makes it clear that the Kingdom way is not going to be an easy one, especially going by his own example. Our obedience to our personal godlets is pretty much automatic, a matter of water running downhill over well-worn streambeds and rocks from which all resistant edges have been worn smooth. Not so the Kingdom way, which is going to be hard scrambling at times, with lots of edges and corners and bouts of enormous suffering. You will not be let off the hook; instead, your sense of inner integrity and authenticity will grow stronger and tougher, hooking you more and more tightly. You progress in the Kingdom way not by ridding yourself if your sense of your own insufficiency and wrongness but by becoming more and more aware of it, as Paul did.

But strangely, the pain and the labour are shot through with joy --totally irrational joy that you've done nothing to earn; it's just *there*. At the very breaking-moment when you realize what a wretch you truly are and how much you really do need saving --at that moment, God's most with you, and you're flooded with happiness. It's okay to be a sinner because we all are. And the consciousness of it is an unspeakable relief.

No mere godlet can give you that, not even the nicest of them. Godlets take (and sometimes take and take and take) but they don't give much back. It's easy to confuse godlets with the real God, but they won't be there with you in the crunch. Responsibility and Deferred Gratification have been very good for developing some of my spiritual muscles, but the most they can give me is a sense of satisfaction. It is, unfortunately, all too easy to let a taste for satisfaction slip over into a taste for feeling self-satisfied, which gets a person nowhere, spiritually speaking. God never gives you that. Instead, he gives you everything you didn't know you needed, filling unsuspected hungers, slaking unacknowledged thirsts.

The godlet Responsibility says that I should really go out there, clean up the garage, and find and dispose of that tiny aromatic corpse. But right now, the goddesslette Deferred Gratification seems having a postprandial snooze, so maybe I'll leave it for another time. I don't think I'll sacrifice at either of their altars again today. Time to put my feet up and have a cup of tea.

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 19 Feb 2000
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