In 2011, only five weeks before the end of what had been a difficult semester of grad school, I pined for finals week. Being in that place reminded me of what it feels like to aim for the finish line on a dragon boat.
Several springs ago, I spent a season on a dragon boat team and a day competing in the Tampa Bay Dragon Boat Races. It is an art to paddle in sync with 19 other people, which you must do in order to stay on course. It is exhilarating. And exhausting.
The easy part — once you’ve trained — is starting strong. The hard part is staying strong for the rest of the race. Your job is to throw your arm into the air and put the paddle back into the water, over and over, in unison with your teammates. You get splashed and you get blisters. Sometimes your whole body hurts.
I am in Manhattan until Friday and had lunch at Chef’s Street at Macy’s a couple of days ago. I shared a table with a stranger who suggested gelato from a restaurant on the store’s sixth floor.
I do enjoy gelato but told her I’d pass, that I’m cutting back on sugar (that day’s breakfast — Nutella Packed Jacks — had enough of it!). But she urged me: “Get the gelato; enjoy your life.”
I smiled and didn’t say what I was thinking: that I do enjoy my life, when I make food choices that don’t end in sugar comas or bad moods or food babies.
But how often we pick fleeting pleasure without discerning first whether fleeting pleasure is worth enduring what may follow, which is likely to last longer than what caused it in the first place.
And this isn’t just in dessert. It’s not just gelato and sugar coma versus no gelato and having a body that functions. It’s in relationships. It’s in who we pick and how we spend our time with each other.
So today, I urge you:
Think ahead a little; enjoy your life, not just brief encounters with fleeting pleasures between longer periods of having to undo what didn’t have to be done.
A book called Let Yourself Be Loved: Transforming Fear Into Hope has gone down in history as the book I was reading when a red pen exploded in my hand on a flight from Tampa to Atlanta.
But whatever I underlined when the pen exploded was worth the trouble because this book — which is short and easy to read — rocked my world. It is written by Phillip Bennett, a clinical psychologist and Episcopal priest who dissects the fears that get in love’s way and reminds us: perfect love casts out fear.
Here are eight of my favorite quotes you need to read from the book (which, let’s face it, you also need to read):
This CS Lewis quote has stuck with me since I saw it the other day:
“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
I am suddenly aware that lots of my decisions to pick TV or a snack or a book over prayer probably are not rooted in laziness, or in malice, or in anxiety over whether I will hear from Christ when I sit with him, but in anxiety over what he’s going to tell me when I do.
What project or vocation or choice or change will he invite me toward? What wherewithal will it require that I don’t think I have? How painful is the transition to it going to be, whatever it is?
I wonder if a lot of people who avoid God avoid him not because they are busy or lazy or unbelieving but because they are comfortable — not because they don’t think he is real but because deep down they know he is.
Loved As I Am by Sr. Miriam James is, as its subtitle states, “An Invitation to Conversion, Healing, and Freedom through Jesus.” As a bonus, it’s a fast and easy read.
Sr. Miriam James shares the story of her own journey to freedom in chapters that challenge us to pursue the purposes for which God created us, to let love transform us, and to trust that God knows what he is doing.