Biting Your Tongue

You don’t indulge me and for that I should be grateful.

I sometimes feel like an overly eager pet, tending to overwhelm newcomers with nearly violent affection and pleading for love, benefiting greatly from the restraint of its owner. I’m still an angst-filled child at heart, so afflicted with imaginary turmoil…

Afflicted with imaginary turmoil,
Abandoned in an un-mandated exile,
Distracted by the products of the epoch,
Distrusting of the motives ‘neath the get-up.

If only I could obscure it all in figurative expression. I find emotional thought mediated by symbolism much more comfortable than the immediacy that happens when I admit to you what it was I wanted to say, before I remembered to catch myself. Well, ‘remembered’ isn’t the right word, because it’s instinct now, not thought: an ancestral fear that my confessions won’t be well-received. For good reason. Have you ever detoured through the shanty towns on the internet’s outskirts, where the bad confessional poets try to console each other with bad rhymes and bad ideas, like the meth-infested small towns of the Rust Belt?

The darkness is my only friend,
And won’t you call me back again?

Get through there quick, it’s not pretty. The ugly part of the highway between sexier cities. Thus I feel right about biting my tongue, and you’re right in your lack of indulgence.

Biting your tongue, got a mouth full of blood
And they ask you what it is you’re thinking of.
Bad jokes, that’s it, move on, get a grip —
Don’t let them know that you’re fading away.
Chances are they’ll let the moment dissipate (instead).

But these are such tired moments. I know you think so too. I’ve got to either say it or get over it. Blood in the mouth has got to be spit out or swallowed; otherwise it stains your teeth and metallicizes everything. Rambunctious pets have got to be loved on or trained out of it, lest they jump on the folks at the door. Either hear me out sympathetically or call me out for acting pathetically…

While my pathos competes with your logos
and your ego competes with my id,
then my pneuma will duel with your psyche
till you meta find out what I did…

Ah, dear. Once again I longed for originality, only to find I was a product of my age.

When You Left

When you left, I could hear you from across town.

Sure, she was a stinging drink that smacked you awake —

some girls are like that —

but slurring, stumbling is no good for steering.

When that door closed, it was you who closed it;

you, or God.

Not us.

 

Ten months later and I watch you at the coffee shop.

How are you, fine, I miss you, dear —

some words are like that —

but halting, hesitant is no good for hearing.

When that door opens, it’s you who’ll open it;

you, or God.

We’re waiting.

Plans

My plans are wilting, petal by petal.

I never should have planted them in you.

Perhaps you were a seasonal soil

not meant to host a plunging root.

I thought your garden was eternal,

and that my plans were bearing fruit;

but we were becoming autumnal.

Winter was but coming soon.

 

Now wilting, withering, shrinking some,

less flowered and with duller shading,

my plans need help from the green thumb;

if something’s growing, something’s fading.

There’s strong temptation to succumb

to frost; these winter winds are blazing.

Yet I’ve been told of kingdom come

and gardens made for re-creating.

 

I’m all uprooted, dangling, vulnerable,

still waiting for that other garden;

meanwhile, blooming, flourishing, comfortable,

your plans grow up, your roots dig in.

It’s good. In fact, I know it’s beautiful,

this fertile ground that you’ve been given.

My plans are wilting, slow, unnoticeable,

but from their death, new life is rising.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

Think About Me

For Kenia & Maria

Think about me, at night, when you’re the last one awake

And all the loves you take for granted are sleeping within arm’s reach.

Imagine me, behind your eyes, as you hold what you want most,

And greet the ghost of me in your dream world like a familiar friend.

Pray for me, as you thank God for the ones who need you

And for the one who freed you from your loneliness and searching.

.

I think about you.

Your life brushed up against me and encircled me and I was a child in its arms.

The hug ended

And I kept reaching

For something bigger than your little life of kindness and love to envelop me.

Like a crumbling tower I collapsed into the everlasting arms of eternity.

.

Remember me as the one with the awkward embrace

And the metallic face, rusted over from too much time in the rain.

Come to me with your greatness, with your service, in the morning

After a night of yearning and we will eat as one to end the hunger.

Think about me, at night, when you’re the last one awake,

And you recall the ache you felt in me when we brushed together.

“being there”

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. Job 2:11-13

If you’re familiar with the story of Job, you probably remember how greatly he suffered. Within a few days, raiders murdered all his employees and servants, destroyed his livelihood, and stole all his possessions; a house collapsed and crushed all of his children to death; he contracted a horrible, painful disease; and his wife left him. You may also remember that his friends kind of sucked. They told him he must have done something to deserve everything that happened to him. They presumed to have a handle on his problems, and they responded mostly by offering explanations, solutions, platitudes, and even accusations. God later rebuked them for their presumption (Job 42:7).

Yet, his friends were not all bad. God rebuked them but did not punish them, and forgave them soon after. These verses from Job 2 demonstrate the depth of their friendship with Job. Can you imagine sitting beside someone, silently, for an entire week? A few minutes of silence go by and I can hardly hold myself back from speaking, if just to break the quiet. In that way I am even more presumptuous than Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They came to Job with a deeply felt respect for his pain, a deeply shared grief, and an amazing solidarity with him as his friends. Seven full days went by, and still, they allowed him to be the first to speak.

There is something beautiful about just “being there” for someone. It says: I’m not here to fix you. I am hurt by what’s hurting you but I don’t fully understand what you’re going through, for ‘each heart knows its own bitterness’ (Proverbs 14:10). You are not a project to me. All I want you to know is that I’m here, I love you, I respect you. I want to help carry your burden (Galatians 6:2).

That kind of friendship can speak volumes more than a flat “don’t worry, God is in control” or “what do you think God is trying to teach you?” Is God in control? Yes. Is he using our circumstances to teach us about himself? Yes. Is it real love to respond to someone’s pain with an easy generality, which, if they are anything like me, they will promptly ignore? Not so much. That’s just the way Job’s friends let him down. Does God oppose the wicked and bless the righteous? Indeed. Is that the truth Job needed to hear be extrapolated upon for some 40 chapters? Certainly not.

In hard times, I don’t want friends who run, and I don’t want friends who preach. I don’t want friends with all the answers. What I want is friends who love me “steadfastly,” as the Bible puts it. I want friends who mourn with me while I mourn, and who let me grieve with the kind of honesty of a Psalm 88 or 137. I want friends who, through their own rock solid trust in God’s goodness, remind me who my King is.

Outside Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus was one-hundred percent confident of his own power and glory. He knew exactly what he planned to do. Yet when he saw Mary’s weeping, he felt her grief deep in his spirit and wept right along with her (John 11:32-36). He did not preach at Mary and Martha, though he did gently remind them of who he was (vs. 26-27). He gave great dignity to their sorrow simply by sharing in it as a friend. The King of Glory felt the pain of the human condition more deeply than any of us.

That is the kind of friend I want to be. I want my faith in God to be so unshakable that a suffering person can see it even when all they are thinking is “why me?” I want my compassion to be so real that they take my faith seriously. I want to refrain from quoting Bible verses or sermons long enough for the person to actually desire the wisdom found in them. God help me to know how to point to the Redeemer not with a finger, or a lecture, or a cliché, but with the steadfastness of faith expressing itself through love.

At this,  Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.” Job 1:20-21

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18