He actually stopped scrubbing his sore shoulder with the Irish Spring soap bar. He looked in consternation for a second at the half-gone pellet of soap as if it had sprouted wings and was flying lazily in circles around his head. Soap doesn’t talk. Come on, Charlie. Get a grip.
Raising his eyebrows and shaking his head, he began – slowly – to scrub again.
“Lazy. . .”
God speaks in the strangest places, but usually when He knows you’re by yourself and will listen. Charlie stopped again, the soap forgotten in a big hand.
“Okay. God. What do I need to hear?”
“Charlie, nobody loves you more than I do. You and I have walked together through experiences that would weaken and cow other men. I have not shielded you, pampering and spoiling you by removing all possible hindrances and distractions from your path.”
He stood mute. The Voice he heard so plainly was not chiding. Not accusing. It was as if his own father was sitting down with him for one of those few times in his life they’d ever had a serious conversation. Resonant, reasonable, full of love–and softly forceful.
“I know everything about every one of those experiences. I didn’t cause them, but I used every one; perfectly shaped them to more perfectly shape you into the man I now need you to be.”
A trickle of shampooey water dribbled down into his left eye, reminding him he needed to rinse. Almost afraid to move, he slowly stuck his head under the shower while asking, “God, I’m listening. What are You telling me?” Charlie moved his head around under the stream of water and massaged the rest of the shampoo out of his hair.
“Everything for the past years has been used to build you, to strengthen and toughen you. You’re not the same guy you were even a couple of years ago. Aren’t you the one who’s always telling everyone else that I don’t waste my efforts, that I can and do use anyone who lets Me?”
“Well. . .”
“Then why have you gotten lazy in your personal life? You used to get up and shave and clean up before you did anything else. You picked up and cleaned up and spiffed up–you were at your best, and you and your surroundings showed it.
Charlie knew, all right. I’ve gotten into the habit of doing ‘okay’, but not putting my best effort into stuff. What’s the point? It never seems to be appreciated, I don’t really go anywhere to need to look real good other than church. . . I guess I’ve gotten used to thinking—-
“Who cares–why should you?”
Astonished, Charlie almost dropped the half-gone bar of soap he’d picked up to finish washing. At least that was automatic.
“Charlie, right at a time in your life when you may feel unused and unappreciated I need you right at the top of your game. I know your heart, son, because I created it. I KNOW your combination of personality, character, life experience and every challenge you’ve faced and with My help overcome. I KNOW how sidelined you feel, how unimportant life looks to you. I hear the unfair talk about you by those who should know better. I KNOW what your capabilities are because I built them into you. Life will change around you, Charlie–it always does. And as it happens, I need you to be being at your best, prepared at any minute to follow where I’m leading you–not just getting along and getting by. That may satisfy you–which I doubt–but it doesn’t satisfy Me!”
All right, so he hadn’t been quite as diligent in cleaning and spiffing up – Wait: does God really say, ‘spiffing up’? He’d give God a pass on that one, but – then he got to laughing at himself: “HeeYAuh. Like God needs my okay?” What was that shorthand thing a friend was always texting? Oh, yeah. “SMH”.
Even though God hadn’t been yelling, it felt like His voice was resounding all around the shower stall. Definitely not singing in the shower. . . What had He said? “I need you to be being at your best, not just getting along and getting by. That may satisfy you–which I doubt–but it doesn’t satisfy Me!”
Slightly frowning, Charlie considered: What can I be doing right now that is helping me be at my personal best and not just getting along and getting by? I mean, I’m standing in the shower, just finishing up. . . He glanced down again at the used bar of soap in his hand. Steady. Good ol’ Irish Spring. Been usin’ it for—
Reaching up to the coated wire shelf hanging off the shower head, he plunked the steady old soap bar down. Musing, he reached instead for the almost-new bottle of DIAL for Men – MAGNETIC. As he squirted a little on that spongy fluff doohickey and finished scrubbing, he thought, You know, I’d forgotten how good this stuff smells, and how smooth it makes my skin feel. His face went blank, then, and he sighed, pressing his mouth together in mute acceptance that nothing had changed. I used to call this ‘MORNING MAGIC’. . . Yeah. Right. . .
Then he stopped his hand reaching to turn off the water. Instead, with a little rueful smile on his face he reached up and grabbed another almost full bottle of hair conditioner. . . He had no idea why he was taking steps to look and smell great when he was sure it meant little. Yet he figured if God’s timing is flawless – and it is – and it was important enough for Him to collar Charlie right in the middle of his morning shower, he probably ought to pay attention.
You’re not the first person to encounter what looks and feels like one-way caring. Most of us have seen it.
First you level off, staying at the same altitude, making the same efforts, sometimes reaching out again and again for years. You think it’s noble and Godly so you keep it up, giving as you believe Jesus would do. You keep trying even while realizing it is making no difference, perhaps rarely even noticed.
At some point something inside begins to weaken at being taken for granted, even ignored altogether. You begin to lose altitude in body, mind and spirit, going into a long, slow glide. Still flying, but with not nearly enough thrust to remain on top of that relationship.
The more you have given, the more the other seems to take for granted. One gets lazy , and the other risks becoming more and more embittered and angry. Real communication suffers. More lazy attitudes, more bitterness–all the while trying to show all looking on that there’s definitely JOY in Mudville. To admit otherwise is to invite pesky questions to which there are embarrassing answers.
Then you get lazy. Why should I keep trying? It’s been so long, nothing’s changed and it doesn’t look like it’s going to any time soon. You get done what needs done, but the warmth has escaped. You go through all the proper motions. You see things with great clarity–from your perspective. You’re not trying to see from another’s point of view. Why bother? And this, by the way, is something both must own: the tendency to only look at it from their direction, not seeing or understanding that of the other. This makes it difficult to not use that same reasoning with everyone else.
The problem with that is that there’s always – always – somebody at every point in your life with whom God expects you to connect. And the problem with THAT is you rarely know who they are up front, and they’ll show up at the weirdest times.
I don’t know where you are here. You may still be exerting enough energy to stay at altitude with your relationship, still laying it out there, still trying and wondering how long you can keep it on course.
Or you may have already realized you just don’t have the heart-fuel to keep trying and you’re in the glide. You’re trying to honor the letter of your commitment even while realizing the joy’s pretty much dried up. You gamely keep trying to show outward signs you have it together, together–but you know it’s hollow, just vapor trails of what once meant so much.
The inevitable question arises: How long do you keep it up?
As long as respect lasts.
Love can die. Disinterest, unwillingness, lack of intimacy, disloyalty, abuse, neglect–any number of things or combination of them can be lethal to love. “What about unfaithfulness?” I know of marriages that are seeming paragons of faithfulness, but love? Respect, intimacy, interest or loyalty? That’s a horse of a different mindset. I don’t think it happens easily, but a person is a fool who thinks love, mistreated, will hang around forever. Respect can hang in long after love has bought tickets and headed for the airport. But even respect can eventually be frittered away.
What to do?
- If love remains, nurture it. You’ve invested an awful lot in it. There may only be a tiny spark of the fire that was once there. Yet it seems to me the height of foolishness to hold your position out of stubborn pride as something, someone precious to you is lost.
- If love has been snuffed out but respect remains, nurture it. There’s no such thing in this life as ‘the’ perfect relationship. They don’t exist. They’re built and maintained on purpose. They last because you want them to last. It’s possible to have more respect for the relationship itself than you do for the other person–but if love has flown, there needs to be at least a measure of respect remaining.
- If you’re like Charlie and have sluffed off on your style and gone with shabby chic or Goodwill, turn it around. Sloppy begets sloppy. The way you look eventually affects the way you feel, sound, and smell. And think. So what if you’ve been ‘disloved’? Even for years? That’s no reason to pass it on, to test out of ever bothering to love anybody else. God didn’t – hasn’t – done that. If someone’s ‘disloved’ you that’s on them. Do what you can to see where they are and why. It may not fix anything; too much time and emotional/spiritual capital may have been invested and you may have nothing left for them. That is no reason to turn around and treat someone else God may bring across your path the same way.
So. What do you say to a, ah, little ‘Morning Magic’ again? You and God will know. And that’s really all that matters.
Oh. Right. And, ah, God really does say “Really?” and ‘spiffed up’. He’s really pretty cool, once you get to know Him. . .
© D. Dean Boone, April 2014