Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Root Cause

This is my update on the fast:

For three and a half weeks it was going really well.  I didn’t even feel tempted to go to that grumbly, angry, negative place.  Then, Christmas traffic happened.

I was in my car at the stop sign at the end of my road one night.  My street T’s into a very busy thoroughfare.  As I waited for an opening in traffic, the person behind me honked.  I was surprised because there really was no opening for me to merge into, but I dutifully sat up straighter and inched forward – so this person could see that I was paying attention even though she had just seen me dial a phone number on my cell.  Five seconds passes.  Still no opening.  Honk.  REALLY?  I gesture in exasperation, look in the rearview mirror, and tell her to hold on.  She honks again.  I put it in park and fold my arms over my chest, staring her down all the while.  I almost got out and told her what I thought: “Seriously?  Don’t you know it’s Christmas?  What in the world could have you in so much of a hurry?”  After several seconds of making her wait while I sat there in park, I shifted into drive and finally turned off my street.

“Hmmm,” I thought.  “I’m pretty sure I just broke my fast.”

Then yesterday, swimming happened.  I swim laps regularly at my 24 Hour Fitness.  I’ve complained to management twice about this (before I started the fast, of course), but it happened again yesterday: a non-lap swimmer was taking up a full lane doing exercise jogging.  Let me explain: there are only three lanes for swimming at the pool – lanes which are always full; the other half of the pool is occupied by open space for non-lap swimmers to exercise.  I asked the woman if I could use the lane for lap-swim.  She graciously said, “sure” and then proceeded to slide over.  In other words, she kept up her exercise routine, simply confining it to one-half of the lane rather than moving out of the lanes entirely.  I was steaming.  I couldn’t concentrate during my swim (a time that usually allows me to clear my head of junk like this).  I fixated on how annoying this woman was and how I was going straight to management as soon as I finished my swim.

“Hmmm,” I thought.  “That would be breaking my fast.”  My whininess rebelled: “but, someone has to tell; I mean, she’s breaking the rules and causing inefficiency.”  (There were many other, less coherent thoughts in there, but that about sums it up.)

I did not go tattle on her to management, though part of me still wants to.

So, where do I stand?  Much to my disappointment, I’m not yet purged of my go-to, fleshy place of bitchiness.  I definitely still have it in me to whine about all the things I see as unjust (anything I view as rule-breaking is tantamount among them) and make sure the people in charge know how I feel. 

Predictable, understandable order makes me feel safe.  Therein lies the rub.  If I know the rules, I know what to expect, how to make sure I’m not upsetting or disappointing others, and simultaneously how to not be rejected and to not have to submit myself to the whims of other people’s perspectives, judgment, understanding of right and wrong.  Your understanding of how to treat others doesn’t matter if the rules are followed.  There’s no wishy-washy understanding; there simply is.  I can live in a world with brick walls, but a world with tent flaps and rickety poles, where the wind can shift the boundaries around me at any moment, terrifying.

Where am I going with this?  I think I’m realizing the root of my urge to complain.  Ultimately, the root is fear.  I use structure, order, efficiency as a way to keep myself safe.  When people step outside of those boundaries I become impatient and angry because I feel out of control.  It’s similar to watching a two-year-old throw a temper tantrum.  I’m not mature enough to respond to the chaos in a way that gives me time to adjust; instead, I let my emotions dictate my response (see Simmering).

Unfortunately for my flesh, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).  Yes, I serve the God of Truth, who created a world in which every part adheres to a know-able order.  Yes, I serve the God of Wrath, who judges man and deserves our awe, where justice will prevail (note the distinction between justice and judgment).  But I also serve the God of Mercy, who sent His Son to live among us and take His wrath upon Himself. 

The woman in the swimming lane may have deserved to be told off and forced to move.  The woman behind me in the car may have deserved to be forced to wait because of her impatience.  But it would have been better to gift them with things they did not deserve in that moment: mercy in the form of graciousness for the swimmer and patience for the driver.  There lies the way of life-giving Truth.  I do not find life in rules; I find life in love.  I have experienced that truth over and over again during this fast.

That’s what this fast is about – about transforming my flesh into more of His likeness, about living abundant life in Him and not a shadow-life in rules.  I want to “love for the day is near” but I’m, ultimately, horrible at it (Romans 13: 8-14).  I need His grace daily.  I need His Spirit to be at work in me constantly.  In short, I need Immanuel, God with us. 

This Christmas season, may He come again and again.  And may I come before Him as the Wise Men did, bowing before Him in his own rule-breaking humility: a King in a manger born to make a way for redemption.  Amen, come Christ Jesus, come.

Linking up with Soli Deo Gloria today.  Be sure to stop by and read what these awesome women have to say!


  1. Oh my goodness. What introspection and revelation this process has unfolded. I never thought about the root being fear, but it makes perfect sense. For me, I think it is a bit of fear, but then sometimes, just pure selfishness or self-righteousness. Either way, I'm pretty glad that God chooses mercy over judgment!

  2. I'm with Jen, mercy over judgement, a little bit of GRACE!
    It is so mind boggling when this is the season with which we give more than ever and people seem to get meaner than ever. I went to the store today and just to the store, to the parking lot, to walking in, to back to car, and home again, I got flipped off 3 times and honked at once. Honestly, I didn't do anything that I deserved this. I mean it's so weird! So, on the way home, I was saying the same thing here...grace and mercy, grace and mercy (on my part)
    First time over, and enjoyed!

    Merry Christmas, Marlece

  3. mercy over judgement...me three! I laughed when I first started reading because it would seem in the car is where many lose the battle! I'm sure we could all simmer down in that area:)
    thanks for the reminder that He reminded me off too....hhuumm:)

  4. This spoke to my heart as I very much want an orderly life with my plans going my way and when things don't I get all kinds of cranky and grumbly and want to complain so that I get my way.

    I forget that there may be a reason for why those others are doing what they are doing but it does not occur to me...at all.

    Grace and Mercy indeed.

    This stepped on my toes...but in a good way :) Something I definitely needed to read.

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    God Bless You :-)


  6. interesting reflection.
    fear and control are key players in my life as well. they manifest so differently in our lives though. i'm impressed that you were able to keep this up for so long. you've been so intentional and God has revealed a root. good for you.