Monday, March 23, 2015

Lessons From the Stairs

Guest post by KG:

Several years ago we purchased a house. My wife was sold on it the first time she saw it. Little did I know that half of what she saw in the house was not what anyone else could have seen. When I looked at the house I saw what needed to be done. When she looked at the house she saw what COULD be done. What could be done involved, among other things, removing all the lath and plaster walls. I knew very little about home repair/improvement when I started and debatably more when it was all said and done. Anyway, part of the project of removing the plaster involved removing the plaster along the stairway. 

It was just those stairs that provided me with a trip… all the way down. It started at the top. About half our time on the stairway starts at the top. But this time was unique. Rather than traveling by foot I used a variation of back, bottom, and head. Now, the way I see it, some experiences are so powerful that they need to be thought through - things like marriage, raising children, surgery, IRS audits, auto accidents, angry exchanges, investing in a house, and on occasion falling down a flight of stairs. So as not to waste a golden opportunity, that is just what I did... think about it.

On the way down, I can assure you, I was not rethinking the color scheme for the bathroom. It was just crack, thump, bump all the way down. By the time I had reached the bottom I had lost my interest in how painful line 32 of that year's income tax form was going to be. I was mostly interested in where parts of my body were in relation to other parts and whether or not most of them came along for the ride. Almost nothing else mattered! Life on the stairway, for the moment, was screaming at me and that's about all that I had time for. Mark Twain was right; a man who has had a bull by the tail (or in my case has fallen down a flight of stairs) knows four or five things more than someone who hasn't.

There was a second reason that this particular moment would get my undivided thoughts. "Why fall down the stairs in the first place?" That's a pretty good question and in my case there was a pretty good reason, but to tell why would only add insult to injury. One thing I will say is that whatever my reflections may amount to, the short of it is that I only had myself to blame. Even if I didn't have myself to blame for what happened it had all happened just the same. Gravity worked! A fall is a fall. You can say "I'll never do that again" or "Man, I'm glad that's over with" or of course a variety of other things that saints just shouldn’t say even if the heat of the moment suggests them. In the end I had to conclude this one thing: It's just like life. We are constantly asking questions of it like, "Why did this happen to me?" or "What's the meaning of that?" We can bless it or curse it, but still, what happens happens. But more often than not and despite the needling questions we ask of it, we still get the silent treatment. When we ask "why?" we the typical response is the silent treatment.

If we change the frame of reference from ‘it’ to ‘you’, from addressing ‘life’ to addressing ‘God’ we may get some work done.  As it turns out we may not be asking the right questions of our disagreeable encounters with the sharp edges of life. More to the point, we may not be asking them of the right object. If we think about it and listen hard enough rather than being the interrogator we will realize we are being interrogated. So often it turns out that we sit in the seat of the questioner throughout the experiences of our lives. Despite the fact that it is not just an idle enquiry. Meanwhile he demands an answer - an answer in deeds, not just words: "What do you live by? What makes you tick? What/who do you trust?" ‘Life’ will not say a thing. It will remain mute. Whatever questions come will come from the one who is not silent. ‘Life’ is just God’s a sock puppet. All things play into his hand.

Poor pathetic Job had plenty of questions that he needed answered. He was up to his 'potsherds' in questions. But when God finally spoke he didn't answer one of Job’s questions. Don't misunderstand. He didn't address one of Job's questions directly, but what he did say satisfied all of his questions. He turned up asking questions of Job, dozens of them. His questions weren't malicious or angry. It's not until Job began to listen that he finally understood himself. (see Job 42:4-6) The most important questions are not our serrated “why’s!?” rather the questions God is asking us.  More often than not he asks us through our struggling encounters with life.

There comes the time, and it's more often than we think, when we need to listen. We talk too much. Whose side of the conversation do we think is more important anyway - ours or his? Admittedly, sometimes life "gets in our face" demanding our attention. But the counsel of the sages is, "be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10) My lesson/advice? Use the stairs, and life with caution. And always, through thick and thin, "be slow to speak and quick to listen."

- KG

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