Speaking to My Soul
And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee... Luke 12:16-20
This parable has taken on new meaning for me lately. For a long time this parable has hung around in my mind for two reasons:
- It's a good reminder that everything we have is temporary, so don't get too attached to material stuff.
- It has a person talking to their own soul. That's the kind of thing I always find amusing.
I've always felt a little sorry for the rich man in this story. He didn't really do anything wrong. He has worked hard (presumably. I've always thought of him as a moderately prosperous farmer, not a slum lord or whatever), and now he wants to sit back and enjoy the literal fruits of his labors. But instead he dies. And gets called a fool in the process.
In early December 2019, I was looking forward to a luxurious two week holiday break from work. I had worked hard all year. I had graduated with an MBA. And now I was looking at my two weeks of free time and I said to my soul, “Soul, thou hast worked hard, so for two weeks, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.”
Instead my son went into Diabetic Ketoacidosis, which was a surprise to us because we didn't know he was diabetic. As I watched my son gasp, nearly comatose, unable to speak clearly, stand up unaided, or even feed himself, it felt like my soul was being required of me that night. My wise wife asked some diabetic friends to test him, and we got him to the hospital. He is Type 1 diabetic, but he's handling it with incredible grace.
And now I understand this parable on a different level. The rich man in the parable wasn't called a fool for collecting goods, or even planning on a bigger barn. He was a fool because he was relying on his wealth to bring him peace.
And so was I.
I was planning on somehow extracting peace from my time away from the office. I had designed a future by myself, without thinking about what God had planned for me. I couldn't have known that my son's pancreas was at the end of its useful lifespan, but instead of being grateful for each day I was putting my stock in tomorrow, in my stored up vacation days.
The Myth of the New Normal
In the early days (well, we're still in the early days) I started thinking about how we would re-center on a new normal with my son's condition. Things will never be the same as they used to be, but for a while I was planning on, indeed putting stock in, things getting to a new place of equilibrium.
But is that even a real goal?
The movie Ratatouille has the following line:
Change is nature, the part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide.
And, when I wrote that down, a few days before Christmas, It really resonated with me. I told myself, “Self, you get to decide when things change, and how they change.”
There is much that is in our control, but not all. Many changes will come, regardless of my decisions. I can seek all day long for a “new normal”, or a sense of equilibrium, but what good does that do? If a disruption of my day throws me out of alignment, because there is no more normal, what good is it anyway?
So if a “new normal” isn't the goal, what is my goal?
I've been thinking about that and writing little notes to myself in my pocket notebook. Here's the best I've come up with.
Faith is being okay with change. Either God will change us, or we will stagnate. Change will be scary, but it still has to happen.
For me, this is the best answer to my desire for normality. Normality in this context means stagnation. It means I'm not growing. God has a better plan for me than I have for myself, and it's up to me to let Him be in charge.
Al Carraway has had similar thoughts recently, it seems. In her article Why Trusting God is Hard she speculates on why it's hard to give our life to a perfect God who loves us perfectly:
...it could mean uncharted, unmarked, unwanted paths. Giving it to God means an unexpected outcome. It could mean giving up comfort or passions. It’s hard because we don’t know where any of it will lead us.
So what's the answer? What is the perfect, pithy thing that will fix all of this?
I don't know. Here's what's helped me, though:
- Don't be afraid to lean on people who love you. We have had so much love poured out upon us from people around us, both inside the church and out.
- Take it easy on yourself and accept that some days you're not okay.
And finally, Verse Two of Be Still, My Soul:
Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake To guide the future as He has the past. Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake; All now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.