Tag Archives: freedom

The Rats in Our Lives

One of my housemates gives them names. The other one can’t bring herself to kill one if she has the chance. I throw water bottles at them.

They’re a constant problem at our house, these rats and mice. One morning a little over a year ago, I woke up at 3 in the morning. In my groggy, half-awakened state, I heard an odd rhythm, the scraping sound of furniture moving, belongings being shuffled around rather frantically, and a methodic thumping. I lay there for a good 3 minutes, trying to gather up enough mental energy to make a conclusion of what was happening. Finally, it dawned on me and I croaked as loudly as my 3 AM voice would allow.

“Brit, are you killing rats?”

A weak answer floated back, “Yes.”

When I got there, her room looked like a war zone. Everything was on the bed that could possibly be there and whatever couldn’t be was arranged in a path to channel the said mouse (not actually a rat this time) into a trap. The sad part was she couldn’t bring herself to kill it, so she handed me the broom.

At that time of the morning, you say odd things. I am told that I said, “I can’t kill them unless I’m really mad at them” and then went ahead and savagely killed it.

We’ve had them long enough that we’ve become calloused to them. They create material for good stories to freak out moms and sisters at home. Like the time one of them ate a snack on the drying rack and had the audacity to leave shreds of mango on my newly washed underwear. Or the time I heard one in my closet and as I was hunting for it, I leaned my hand against some blankets and it came squirming out from underneath them. Or the time they chewed up an entire cloth runner since butter had melted on it and they craved the flavor.

We’ve found ways of coping with them. They come in from the kitchen, so we close the door to the rest of the house so they can’t get in there. That doesn’t actually work since they can climb through the open window that goes from kitchen to the hallway. We’ve learned to cover up or put in the cupboard any food that is edible, even if it’s in a plastic bag because plastic bags are barely barriers to chew through. Lately I’ve started to put out poison. We found the smelly results under the couch a few days later.

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About a year ago, some friends of mine were here. The guys in the group had pity on us and went out and bought some dry cement and filled up the holes in the kitchen so the rats couldn’t come through again. It worked!

For a while. Then they learned that they could come up the washer drain. And the dry cement began crumbling and a little hole appeared large enough for them to come through again. Now at night we hear skitterings and crashings and all sorts of noises coming from our kitchen. And in the gutter, we can hear dreadful squeakings and shriekings. For some time I was sure there was one in the agonies of death, either that giving birth to another generation of unprincipled rodents. (Do rats have labor pains? I wonder.)

Every time another episode in the rat saga occurs, we look at each and shake our heads and say, “Guys, we really need to do something about these rats!”

But no one does anything. We get used to them. We work from Monday to Fridays in slightly stressful jobs and no one has the energy to do anything about them when we get home. They are a nuisance, but not a constant pain. And most of all, we don’t really know what to do about them. How do you fully plug up those holes anyway? We helplessly ignore them and secretly hope that eventually they will go away. Either that we’ll do something about them tomorrow.

But they don’t go away.

In a way, each of us has rats in our lives too. Rats of a different ilk.

It’s that niggling feeling that you get when talking with someone else and you’re not sure exactly what is niggling. It’s that sense of dread that comes over you when you’re listening to a sermon or reading a book and something is said that suddenly takes you in a deep, downward spiral. It’s that feeling of inadequacy. Shame. Anger. Bitterness. Fear. Or a feeling you can’t even name.

Sometimes the feelings are so quick and passing that we don’t even realize they exist. We rush on through our day, intent on doing our job right, so intent on getting to the next thing that when we have time to sit and reflect on what happened, it’s burrowed itself down deep enough we don’t feel it anymore and it takes too much digging to get it up again and deal with it. Or we forget that it even happened or we don’t have the energy to deal with it.

Sometimes it’s more obvious than that. Sometimes it overshadows whatever we do and we struggle to put one foot ahead of the other, because of this feeling of dread that hangs over us, but we feel helpless and overwhelmed when we even think about doing something about it

Usually these rats come stealing in at our lowest points, when we stretched thin, when we’re facing stress in our daily lives, when we’re dealing with raw pain, or when we’re  lonely.

And what do we do with them? Sometimes we put up walls. We put everything edible into cupboards so the rats can’t reach them. Or we only close the kitchen door to certain parts of our lives so they can’t enter into the living room. In reality we are saying, I will only be bitter about this part of my life, but I won’t let it affect the rest of my life. But eventually it does affect that part.

Sometimes we put out poison for the rats. This works to some degree, and there’s a need for this. But after a while we get tired of cleaning up the smelly mess and always dealing with new ones coming in again.

We need to plug up the holes. As long as the holes are there, rats will come in. And we will need to deal with them.

Those rats, those ugly thoughts and feelings that come twisting out of the woodwork when we’re not looking, aren’t really the problem. The problem is the holes in our lives.

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Most of those holes were created when we were very young, between the ages of 0 and 8. These are the formative years of a child’s life. Forgive me if this sounds cliché. Sometimes I myself get tired of people harping that you have to dig into your childhood to find the roots of all the problems that are present in your life currently.

But often the most cliché things are cliché because they actually are true. The painful things that happened when you and I were young and the way we reacted then becomes a pattern for how we twistedly deal with life presently on a daily basis.

That’s why if we don’t deal with that point of paint that happened when we were six, it becomes a building block for future patterns of “fixed” thinking.

Recently I heard it explained in this way. Painful or traumatic things that happen to us in our lives are like hooks that are thrust into our hearts. As long as we don’t forgive or don’t deal with that pain or issue, we provide a hook for future events to hang on to.

We can clean up the mess from the rats every morning (and believe me, they leave a mess). But until we plug up those holes and remove those hooks from our hearts, the rats won’t go away.

The rat analogy can only go so far. In truth, we shouldn’t stop short of just plugging up the holes. In a perfect world, we should go outside and kill all the rats in the field behind us. But anyone who’s lived in Southeast Asia realizes the futility of that. And we don’t live in a perfect world. (Duh.)

Here are a few thoughts that might help with the finding and plugging up of some of those holes.

  1. Find out what you are feeling! This is easier said than done. Our souls are intricate and our emotions a mess. Sometimes we don’t even know we are feeling something when in reality we are feeling it deeply. Ask God to help you become aware of emotions you feel daily. Sometimes He will give you a little push to help you see what you’re feeling, and it can hurt. Be prepared to be hurt. When we open our hearts to actually feeling, it is astounding how painful something can be.
  2. Write down what you’re feeling and find out where it comes from. The writing down part doesn’t have to happen—that depends on what your best way is of processing things. But for me, writing brings clarity and a new viewpoint. And most importantly, it helps you remember. But however you do it, keep track of what you’re feeling and when you feel it. Become aware of the world that goes on inside of you.
  3. Take it to God. Ask Him to show you where these feelings are coming from. Why do I feel inadequate when someone else can do a job better than me, even if I do it well? Why do I get angry so easily when one of my students disobeys me? Why do I feel like hiding in the bathroom when I have to be a part of a large group of people that I don’t know?
  4. Talk with someone about it. There are several reasons for this. Talking with others about it can bring clarity. Recently I emailed someone about an issue I was facing that I couldn’t quite lay my finger on. After the email, I felt like I was able to see the problem from a different angle and much more clearly. But even more importantly, talking about it brings healing, especially when done face to face. Recently I was a part of a group that spent time together talking about issues we were facing and walking through those issues with each other. There is something terrible and humbling in discussing our core pain with each other, but something freeing and healing as well. God can bring deep healing through true interaction with brothers and sisters. Like someone in the group said, “I didn’t know God can kick you in the butt and give you a hug at the same time.”
  5. Remember that it’s not a onetime fix all. I know, technically once you get those holes plugged up, and once you get those hooks out of your heart, it’s supposed to fix it all. But we live in a fallen world. And analogies can only go so far. Even though we do rid ourselves of the hooks, sometimes our old ways of living life, our old patterns of expressing still want to shine through. They are habits. It’s like someone whose been in the hospital and been on morphine for a long time. Once the pain of the health issue is no longer there, the craving for the morphine still exists. In the same way, we sometimes crave for our old patterns even though we have found something much better.

This is by no means an exhaustive look at rats in our lives. In fact, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I’d like to hear from you. What kind of experience have you had with rats in your life? How have you dealt with them?

This My Son

                   This is a fictitious retelling of Luke 15

 

I am the younger brother.

I left home in a mixture of emotions, angry because of various reasons, mostly because of the realization deep down that what I was doing was wrong. Yet I did not see or want to see any other solution to life. Perhaps feeling inferior because I never felt like I could match up to my older brother. Discontented. Oh yes, discontented. Confused. Proud.  Guilty at seeing the pain and tears I was causing my father.

I didn’t know how many feelings were boiling in my heart that day I left, because I didn’t stop to think about them. Instead I stuffed them into the furthest cobwebby corners of my soul, determined not to think about them. I only delved the surface of my emotions and rode on the crest of them- anger, excitement about the future, and pride. Pride, that I was finally breaking loose from the chains of my home and the life I was expected to live, a life pleasing to my father who dearly loved me. I loved him too, but not half as much as he loved me. I called him the dear old man, and thought he was quite tame. Not nearly as exciting as the world ahead of me. So I left. I didn’t expect to come back- ever.

At first life seemed smooth and delightful. I was my own boss, my own decision maker, the manager of my own affairs. I was my own person, and I could live life doing the things that made me happy. Quotes like “live your dreams,” and “do what makes you happy” were my mantras.  I had friends all around me and my natural people-pleasing tendencies let the money flow loosely from my hands to treat my friends to the life I was learning to enjoy so much. I loved people and people loved me. Naturally, they flocked around me.  I loved the attention and reveled in the glamour, the sensual pleasures so long denied me, the social whirl, the feeling of being rich and important. I was finally someone.

But suddenly the music faded. As my money departed, so did my friends and somehow, somehow I ended up sitting in the muck and mud of a sow pen, a solitary figure of broken hopes and dreams. The filth of my surroundings mocked me, and depression and hopelessness set in. I was the offscourings of a world I had given my all. I had jumped on its merry-go-round, and it had used me, dizzied me, ruined me, spit me out in rejection, and had gone on its own never-stopping way without regard to what ever happened to me. As I sat, memories assailed me, and would not stop. Memories of regret and pain, of mistakes done and right decisions undone. And worst of all were the memories of home, memories of younger, happier years that seemed to assault me, while something whispered, “Remember? See what a mess you’ve made out of your life? You were this kind of person back then. But now? Look at you. You’re one messed up person who could never succeed in life even if everything were handed to you on a platter.”

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For days I listened to these thoughts, agreeing with them and not bothering to fight back. It was true, wasn’t it? I had made a mess of my life and where I was now was my own fault. I cowered in the pigpen, helpless to make anything better of my life without the help of someone else, but too confused  and worn and dizzy to do anything. Finally, one day, when I was at my lowest, in the rain-soaked squalor of the swine pen, I knew something had to change. Either my life had to go, or I had to leave the pigpen. I chose to leave the pigpen. What caused me to do it, I wasn’t sure, although I do now.

It was my father calling me home.

I am the Father.

             I loved my son dearly and I cried unashamedly when he left. For days, I watched the streets as I walked through them in hopes of catching a glimpse of his face. I knew he did not love me. He thought he did to some degree, but he had spurned my love and protection, and forsaken all that he was entitled to for only a slice of sensual glory. The day he came belligerently to ask for his inheritance I knew exactly where he was going. I begged with him to stay, but he refused. So I let him go. I knew I could force him to stay, but I could never force him to love me. So I let him go, but I did not give him my blessing. And he left the next morning, not even saying goodbye.

I do not know how often I cried in the next months and weeks and years. In the morning, I awoke and listened to the song of the birds beside the window, but my lips could not move to the song. During the day, I did my work faithfully, but my heart was not in it. Whenever some little joy would steal its way into my hours, I would smile with delight at its appearance, only to think the next minute that my youngest son was not there to share it with me and again my heart would wince with the swordthrust of missing him. At night, in bed, I lay awake, unable to sleep, the dull ache in my chest made worse by the darkness of midnight, longing and crying for him to come home. Oh, how I missed him!

Every day I climbed the castle stairs to the roof where I could see for miles around, including the road that stretched out in the direction he had left. Every day, I stood and shaded my eyes with my hand and watched for a glimpse of him, my son.

I am the older brother.

For a few days after my brother left, I accompanied my father to the roof of the house to watch down the road. Yet my heart was not in it, for I was sure he would not come back. I went to humor my father, and because I was a good son. When my brother left, I was sad, but I decided to put it behind me and move on. I had too much to accomplish to mourn long over his decisions. I spoke with my father in the same way, especially when I saw the sorrow that seemed to multiply day after day. “Father,” I said. “You must move on. You must forget about that ne’er-do-well and move on. You still have me here on the farm, as well as many servants. He has done too much wrong to be mourned over like this. You must move on.”

That was my mantra, “move on.” Get over it. I had “moved on”, or thought I did , and on the surface it appeared like I had. Life was comfortable and quite nice without the tension of working with my brother.

I was the good son and had always been. I was naturally gifted and organized, and became easily frustrated with my brother’s wild and lazy ways of doing things. I could do a job well, and often rejected my father’s offer to help, sure that I could do it as well by myself.

I never realized that my father was hurt by my rejection of his help and that he longed for me to ask him for something. I never knew the privileges that were mine as a son of his.

All I had to do was ask.

We are the servants.

When we heard of the youngest son’s return, we gasped in surprise. “Is it really him?” we asked. “Are you sure?” And then we came to see for ourselves and to rejoice. We helped kill the fatted calf, and set the table for the feast, and then we sat down amidst the music and the feasting and celebrated the return of the son.

You may ask why we rejoiced. Why would we rejoice the return of our master’s son, who had never done anything to ever make our life easier? If anything, he had only made it harder since we saw our master’s sorrow every day, wearing deeper and deeper. And our master’s sorrow was our own as well, because he was as a Father to us and we loved him dearly.

But when he came home, we rejoiced because the ache in our hearts had been ceased, and the crying of our souls had been answered. For we were the ones who had joined hands in prayer, rising early in the morning and interceding for him, as well as late at night. We were the ones the Father sent out into miles of the surrounding countryside to search for him for weeks on end and to speak to him when we found him. We were also the ones he rejected and laughed at when we did find him and pleaded with him to come home.

Because we loved much, we hurt much. But because we hurt much, the joy of his return was so much greater.

For the reward of love is joy, and to avoid the pain of loving is to kill the nerve of joy.

Which one of these four are you?

I Wonder

This poem is not a new one for me. I wrote it several years ago after a long, dark struggle. I came across it tonight as I was looking through some old files, and again it spoke to me.
We are free. 

Flying Butterfly

I wonder….

When the butterfly struggles

Out of the clenching confines

Of the dark cocoon

If it flies right away

Without a fear

Or a looking back over its wing

With a shudder, at the prison?

 

I wonder…

If without hesitation

It stretches its wings

And flutters away

No more to think of the long dark struggle

That lasted interminably

In that age long moment of not knowing

If daylight would ever be seen?

 

I wonder…

If it  ever thinks

It is still trapped back there

And forgets it has the means to fly

But struggles wingless in the dust

Trapped in a cocoon of the mind

Remembering the darkness?

 

I wonder…

If the butterfly ever fears the cocoon will come again

Or if it knows the freedom it has been given

Will last as long as the turning seasons

Bring out their shades of blue and gold and green?

And it goes dancing over the meadows

Free and unfettered?

I wonder….

 

March 2014

 

Freedom

God, I just want to live.

Right now, I feel like I am living in one of the best times of my life. Or what could be the best time of my life. I’m living out a dream, a God-given one, in another country, learning to speak another language and interacting with people I love.

I live with a native family. I love them to pieces and they love me back in more pieces.

I get to teach English to two delightful Catholic nuns 3 times a week at an HIV orphanage.

I have a pet monkey.

I get to walk beside new believers and see their faces light up at learning the simple, yet amazing truths of God’s Word.

I get to tell the story of Jesus to those who don’t know him.

I get to watch the passion of native evangelists as they seek to bring their own people back to their Creator.

I get to watch the potential of young children being unlocked and blossoming.

There is so much joy in every day.

Opportunities abound. It seems like no door is left unopened. Except one. So many others are open that I find it difficult to know which door  to walk through.

The one door I want to walk through the most leads to deeper freedom.

Healing.

Belief.

Hope.

Freedom from a tangled, messed up belief system that is self-focused, confused, forgetful and ungrateful, fearful, carrying guilt and expectations and “shoulds.”

Not the kind of belief system that a follower of Jesus should have.

Sometimes I wonder if in this journey of seeking and searching for a deeper communion with my Father, if God might want me to stay in  this bondage so that I continue to thirst so badly for Him, because I know I didn’t used to be like this.

And yet, God never wants us in bondage. It is for freedom that He has set us free.

It is His passionate desire that we can experience that freedom.

Freedom from doubt.

Freedom from past mistakes and regrets.

Freedom from double- mindedness.

Freedom from anything that strangles or smothers or suffocates that connection with the God Himself who created the world.

Just think- the God of the universe wants you and I to be free, and free, not just for the sake of freedom, but that we would be trees of righteousness that He might be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)

God, I just want to live.