"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.
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