AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 5
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; 10
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins, who lived 45 years.)
Some times we pray the oddest things, we really do. A few months ago, I remembered a prayer I prayed right before I started college. I prayed that he would use me to help some other struggling student. I guess I figured that while He was handing grace out, it might be nice if He handed some out through me. I figured–well, I don’t know what I figured; I’d never been to college before. But I figured that I’d be okay, I’d be able to hold my own acceptably. But there was bound to be someone else who needed a little extra, that little line that gives you enough to keep going. It seemed like a safe prayer, to be honest.
So come a year later, and this is what we see: I have tutored more students than I care to count; nearly every student in my class studied off my notes; there are reports of people I don’t know using my notes; my physics teacher recommended me to his entire class as a tutor; I have coached people through more pre-test anxiety than I can measure. . .in short, yeah. I forgot I prayed that, but I guess I was the only one.
People tell you, “you can do it, you can do it!” Well, three semesters into school, I guess I ‘did’ it. 4.0, 4.0 and 4.0. Including the tutoring and the hours of worked crammed in somewhere. I was also a complete and total Basket Case. Yes, with capital letters. Waking up in the morning feeling like puking and crying by the end of the day, and not really having a reason for any of it. The next school year was rushing toward me, and I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to pick up the pieces before it started all over again. One thing I had learned from the first year:
I can’t do it.
Around then was when I remembered my “let me help someone else” prayer, and you know what? Ha, ha. It was funny while it lasted, but the joke’s getting kinda old now. Never mind helping someone else. Help me. Prayer for the new school year is “Let me see You.” (Which, yes, also sounds like a safe prayer. Most do, before retrospect.)
The thing is that the first step to trusting Him is to stop trusting yourself. And it’s one thing to say that you realize you can’t, and another thing to stop desperately and frantically trying anyway. . .just in case, I suppose. But that’s not trust. Trust is realizing that it never did depend on you, and it wasn’t really you that did ‘it’ last year, either. It’s remembering that walking through the water except only on dry ground and marching around a city while blowing horns was ludicrous and far-fetched and didn’t make any sense toward achieving the goal either. It’s remember that God is the Author of all knowledge and the maker of my very being. It is all of that, and yet it is none of that.
Because something happened. When this all got started, it was God’s idea, and I never imagined any of it. And so I knew that since He had gotten me into the mess, He had to get me out, too. And somewhere along the line, it some how turned into my idea, and I was imagining too much of it. And now it’s my mess, and I don’t know how to get out of it.
Before my most recent exam, I got to school about 2 hours early, as usual. I went to the library; it’s one of those new-fangled ugly buildings that puts windows in weird places, including right in the corners. So if you turn your chair to face the window-corner, you can’t see the library; you can only see outside. . .the red trees and the pines, and the morning fog getting thicker before it burns off. All my school stuff was in my knapsack, but I didn’t get any of it out. I tucked my feet underneath me and looked out in the world it didn’t feel like I was a part of, and I plumbed the depths. There was utter apathy due to complete loss of respect for my teacher and the superficiality of both the subject being taught and the test that would soon be administered. And there was rising panic due to the fact I hadn’t studied at all for the test and I still couldn’t bring myself to even reach into my bag and do a last minute review. And if I could keep the panic and the disappointment at bay, there was a part of me that kinda really liked just sitting there and knowing that God was, and nothing else mattered.
And suddenly you could hear Him say, “Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things. But Mary has chosen that good part, and it will not be taken away from her.”
And that lasted until through the test, and then everything went to crap again.
If the lovely, lovely facebook is any indicator of the rest of the world, all the other students are doing the ‘sensible’ thing, and freaking out and studying like crazy. I feel like I should be. Because if I did, I could go into those tests with confidence that I knew my stuff and was going to do well–self-confidence. Instead I am sitting here, trying to keep down my rising panic. Because, as last year will attest, so-called ‘self-confidence’ also leads to curling up into the fetal position and trying not to cry and hoping it will all be over soon. I can’t do what I did last year again, so this year I have to do something different.
Do you know the Sabbath? The Sabbath pre-Little-House-In-The-Big-Woods, or whenever it turned into some scary awful thing, instead of a beautiful, blessed chance to rest? Actually, it is kind of scary. Because you had to trust that God would make it all okay. That even if it looked like it would rain and ruin your hay, you rested anyway, ’cause you believed God would take care of it all in the end and that He wanted you to have a chance to put your feet up. God was so set on this resting thing, He even went so far as to create left-overs the day before, because who wants to cook on their day off? But if you don’t believe that whole ‘resting in God’ thing, then it’s stupid. Who lets their hay get rained on just because of some arbitrary 7th day? And what kind of idiot doesn’t study for her exams?
I don’t know; but I’m trying to find out. Didn’t it say somewhere, “Your father knows you need all these things, but seek first the kingdom of heaven?” I would so badly like to see Him, but I think first I have to stop looking at my stupid test scores, and that’s very hard for me to do. I want to stop speaking ‘myself’ and I want to be one of those ten thousand places.
I can’t do it, and I kind of know that. What I struggle so much with is believing that He can–or rather, that He would. It is not enough to simply say, “I am exhausted, I can go no further,” and collapse into a heap. That’s not rest, not rest in the truest sense of the word. You don’t go into the Sabbath saying, “Well, I guess I will observe this here day, seeing as it is physically impossible to do anything else. Might as well; nothing else to do.” It is voluntarily giving up the striving in the confidence it is God that provides, almost, one might say, in spite of your striving. To acknowledge that what one is doing is a chasing of the wind, the wind that some One already owns.
And it’s a really good theory, but it’s one thing to say “He’ll catch you!” and another thing to actually let go and fall. And I’m scared, because I can feel my grip weakening, but I don’t have the trust to let go. My head says He’s there, but my heart won’t believe me. If I really knew He was there, it would be nothing but a relief to let go. It hurts to hold on. But falling seems terrifying; holding on impossible. I try, by force of will, to make my fingers uncurl, to demand the motions. That makes another war, but it doesn’t fill me with peace. Peace doesn’t leave you with black circles under your eyes in the morning.
Love, it is said, casts out all fear. Fear I know. What is love? And can loveliness play on my features?