Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Unwinnable Scenario

There are words in a woman's vocabulary, besides "we need to talk", that ought to send a thinking man screaming out the door. They are this: "I'm going on a diet."

At first glance, you would think that this would bring joy and delight into a man's heart. Yes, she has said it! And without him having to point out that she has blossomed past the blushing bride of yore! But no. As with most woman things, what is on the surface is farthest from the truth.

The truth is that this woman who sits by him in the car, steely-eyed, vowing that she is by gum NOT going to give in like those other times, no, she really is going to hunker down and do it - get that nasty weight off - is now the Enemy of Fat. Being a new Crusader, she hunts it down and makes it scream for mercy - but not just in her own life. Now conversations with friends and neighbors will focus on this topic, and with herself in the mirror ("THINK before you eat that ice cream bar, for heaven's sake!!"). So instead of enjoying evenings of comfort with his wife on the couch, watching harmless re-runs of "CSI" or "The Ghost Weeper" to make her happy - no, he's got to hear huffing and puffing as she flings his favorite drinks and snacks out of cupboard and fridge. These are grunts of anger and war, and though she may say it tactfully (she is a good wife), there will be sideways comments for him as well. "Do you know how many calories are in that soda?" or the educational kiss of death: "Did you know that in some cultures, tofu is considered just as good as meat? I think we should go international today."

For women are never content to do anything just by themselves. Men comment on this when women go in a gaggle to the bathroom, or when they can't even go outside in a simple dress without hailing a passer-by for an opinion.....if they can't get it at home, that's always an option. "HEY! You there! Should I wear the red flats or the black sandals?" Somehow, men don't realize that this togetherness trend never ends.

Unlike when she gets pregnant, there will be no great advantage when the diet ends, because it never does. Instead of a pregnancy giving way to a bouncing happy child after nine months of labour, the diet never ends and never produces anything other than a thinner wife. But even then, the future fear of putting the weight back on is ever-present. The child is at least a form of entertainment, whereas diets often mean that entertainment and jollity must be put on hold for extra mood swings and black looks at Burger King signs. Not to mention crying. ("I STILL can't fit into that dress!!!")

And men, you already know that you can't stop her. Even if you try to tell her that she looks fine and doesn't NEED to diet, she will counter with feelings ("but I don't FEEL fine!"), personal projections ("I saw you looking at that thin girl in the mall!"), challenges ("Are you saying you don't think I can do it?") or silence while she thinks all these things but refuses to say them. So as a female, I release you to give a hearty "Amen" to your wife's project: "I think that's great, honey, you go ahead and do that."

But don't you dare say that in my presence. Man, have you NO sense?! I'm going on a diet.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Scales Hatred

"I hate the scales. They mock me."

So said a good friend of mine today, when we were discussing the issues of non-svelteness. We used to be skinny, and the moan of the world has now become our tune: If only.

If only we didn't have to spend time exercising that feels pointless anyway, continually read Scripture just so we can forget the best verses in conversation (those ones that would force others to change their view), or do the daily disciplines of deodorant and dish-washing, we'd have a lot more free time. Of course, every time that I DO get all virtuous and go exercising, and then hop on the scale to See My Progress, I'm horribly disappointed. The scale's monologue goes something like this:

'Haha! See if you can move me! It's impossible! Now go eat an ice cream bar out of resigned indifference!'

Oddly enough, the same voice pops up when I want to read Scripture or engage in prayer. Only, instead of ice cream bars, the carrot that is dangled (what an incentive, if you're a donkey) is more like the Necessity of Projects. When I have my teeth brushed and my face washed and I'm all tucked into a holy posture for prayer - that's when it 'suddenly' occurs to me that laundry has not been done, thank-you cards not written, and by gum I need to make sure that the bank has really taken care of the bills on BillPay. None of these things can possibly wait until after I speak with the Lord of the Universe, who has plenty of time for creating new species and sorting out issues of world hunger, but none at all for my piddly details of existence. Sure, He loves me and all, but as a good Reformed sort I'm firmly convinced in my heart of hearts that there are limits to His love. "After all", I reason, "it doesn't do to tick Him off. Perhaps when I go to pray, He's feeling like incinerating me for aiming swear words at the minister in my head on the Sabbath. While I do these chores, I shall ponder the paths of my feet, and restrain the Lord from turning me into a pile of salt. Obviously if I go talk to Him, I've got to be perfectly prepared."

This idea of Perfect Preparation works really well until you have a real issue, such as confronted David when on the run from Saul, or Solomon's insights into the folly of his own building efforts (Psalm 127), or the captives in Babylon. Then all the piddly details of existence can go hang while you go talk to your Father, pouring out your heart to Him - and when that's over, somehow everything gets allocated to its proper place. Sure, you're still a slave, but you can at least sing a song of Zion under your breath and keep hoping for the day of the Lord when your enemies get paid back in full. (Those Psalms are especially satisfying after listening to political news reports.)

My minister said something of profound import this Sabbath about scales. Two of our church visitors are professional musicians, and they still spend significant amounts of time on scales - boring, repetitive, finger-limbering scales. He equated it to our spiritual disciplines: praying, reading the Word, listening to the Pastor speak. (We all had a laugh at this last barb to the children, who get a little restless in lifting their longing eyes to the clock, from whence comes salvation from long sermons.)

Repeated actions seem like a completely inefficient time-swamp. You can throw in hours of laundry and car repair and mending of clothes, the Time Swamp will swallow them all and greedily open its maw for more. (The horse-leech hath four daughters, crying 'Give! Give!) God requires us to wend our way through the swamp, just like Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor, occasionally staring at dead faces of those who got sucked into the swamp along the way. He requires us to throw tithe into the collection plate to pay for endless amounts of church supplies and salaries; He requires us to spend hours praying and reading His word, and for what? So that the wicked can keep merrily squashing us and then asking us "well, where is He?" And some of us sure feel like asking Him the same question, since He doesn't seem in a hurry to answer our neediest prayers.

But C.S. Lewis is right - pain is the gift that nobody wants - the pain of 'wasted time', the pain of year after year of weary playing of spiritual scales, the 'what's the use' feeling that we fight. After years of blows on our rock-hard forms like an artist's hammer-blows on marble, the things that hurt us so much (little or great) are those which turn our image to something resembling Christ. And that consummation is devoutly to be wished.