Traveling in the Limp Lane

IMG_0699
No one can accuse me, once I get started on a metaphor, of giving it short shrift. (Have I mentioned before that short shrift comes from the ancient term “shrift” or the penance given to a confessing death row inmate? Since in the bad old days the sentence—usually hanging—was carried out almost immediately, the prisoner had, of necessity, a short shrift, or penance. Every cloud has a silver lining, no? Give the phrase a couple hundred years and it has come to mean “give cursory/little/no attention or consideration to.”)

Back to the metaphor (no one can accuse me of staying slavishly on topic). Everyone recognizes the one about life as a journey and all of us merely travelers. It should, I decided,  be expanded to an analogy. Add more body, more polish, more power, maybe a customized grille.
We may all be traveling the highway of life together, but most of those on the road with us will remain strangers. We barely glance their direction. Some, of course, catch our eye because they are fast and shiny, hurtling down the express lane. Some we watch limp to the shoulder hoping for roadside assistance, and we’re glad we aren’t them.SONY DSC

Some are fresh from the car wash and glistening in the sun. Some may be freshly clean, but the shine is camouflaged by a recent spray of mud and muck. A tune up lets even the most economy-ranked vehicles hit on all cylinders and make good time. For awhile. Soon comes a laborious lurching from one service station or rest stop to the next. Those with new tires guaranteeing 40,000 more miles learn that tires can sadly expire before the warranty does. The thing is, we are all so concentrated on our own journey, we don’t know what is going on with theirs. Except what we see—or think we see.

IMG_0997

We watch our speedometer and odometer and check engine light. When we aren’t scanning the dashboard we’re watching the rearview mirror to see who might be going faster than us, taking up more lane space then seems fair, who is getting caught by their misdeeds and who isn’t. Which vehicles do we want to avoid, or whose slipstream can we take advantage of?

But the shiny vehicle speeding in the passing lane may crash just around the bend, or limp along on a blown tire, or get in trouble with authorities because so much attention is paid to shiny speeding vehicles. The rusting jalopy we passed miles back gets a temporary engine boost and zips in and around everyone else for miles and miles before falling back to the far right lane with everyone honking in annoyance. Expensive conveyances don’t last forever. No matter how well they are maintained. Everyone traveling alongside us needs maintenance, needs to slow down or stop at signs of trouble or danger, runs out of gas. Then we move to the limp lane.

SONY DSC

No one stays in the express lane, at least not for long.
We’re all limping.
We may not see our counselor, our hometown hero, our mentor limp because they are too far ahead or behind us.
But it will happen.
We all need to slow down. Let others in ahead of us, give roadside assistance, be patient with the old, and the slow and the damaged. Avoid envying those racing in the express lane, flying along the passing lane, because the speed is impossible to maintain.

We all came from the same place.
We’re all on the same road.
We’ll eventually get where we are going, whether we want or not. Haste and road rage and rudeness won’t make life’s journey any better.
Only cooperation and kindness can do that.
Let’s limp together.

Version 2

Without Guilt or Gilt

SONY DSC

American primitive art, artist unknown

Some Christian women, at least in my circle, often suffer from two apparitions who haunt as persistently as the spirits plaguing Scrooge on the night before Christmas. These Christian sisters and I are heartily tired of the Spirits Guilt and Gilt. In spite of brandishing a plethora of women’s devotionals, cowering in prayer closets and covering ourselves in appropriate life verses, we can’t keep those troublesome specters from materializing at the most inconvenient moments.

Maybe you haven’t had these ghosts visit you. Aren’t you just the happy Christian? No, my beleaguered sisters and I aren’t jealous of you. Too much. And if we are, we feel really really guilty about it.

The Spirit of Guilt flutters about dressed as a conscience. Don’t be fooled. Conscience is a gift, guilt is a curse. The kind of curse that drapes itself across your shoulders and clings like a limpet. It drags you hither and yon. Hither into your deepest core, not only reminding you of every sin and slipped word, but insisting you examine yourself. Not healthy self-examination. Oh, no. This is the obsessive kind that makes you question your motives, your commitment, your love, your salvation. “Look there,” it hisses. “Isn’t that Anxiety? Aren’t true Christians anxious in nothing?” or “Your thoughts wandered during the prayer. Double-minded woman.” and too often—“Did you just sigh? You were weary in well-doing again, weren’t you?”

And because Guilt is a wily type it switches things up, whisks you away from hither and sends you yonder. It shows you other wives, other mothers, other daughters, other Christian women. They trust God so much. They love their families, they delight in doing good, they are patient in tribulation. You argue with the Spirit of Guilt. “I should be rejoicing that these women are honoring and glorifying God. It’s all about Him. Isn’t it just wonderful?” And just when you think you’ve shaken it off, Guilt slithers back to show you another scenario, and you think, “Terrific. Everyone is out there honoring God with their whole heart. Except me. Poor, pitiful me. Wretched worm that I am.”

See how Guilt works? Always and ever taking our eyes off Jesus. It whirls us through well-chosen glimpses of a degenerate past, a present filled with indecision and a woebegone future. The louse. Even though we are on to Guilt, even though we’re forewarned, even though we know Guilt’s tricks, it always has one more up its flapping sleeve.

Don’t even get me started on the Spirit of Gilt. That’s the one who tells us we need to at least look good. “Come on, ‘Christian Woman”’”, it says. “How can you glorify God if you aren’t happy? Smiling? Making a joyful noise? Put on the Ritz, lady. You’re a Proverbs 31 Woman! Shine. Now!”

So we slather on the gilt. We really do love God. We really do want to honor Him, show the world that God is good, that a Christian is a good thing to be, that a life lived for Him is our chief delight. We want to be winsome and attract people to God. What can be more attractive than a layer of sparkly gold?

Gilt isn’t hypocrisy. We don’t think so, at least. Believe me, if we do whiff hypocrisy on ourselves we immediately experience great guilt. It’s just us trying to get our light out from under a bushel and polish it up. It’s us worrying that God will look bad if we look bad. How could anyone be attracted to the Christian life if they could see how grubby we are?

So we smile brightly. We do good things, because good things are necessary. We say good and important things, and these things we believe with all our hearts. But what happens when we run out of energy to reapply the gilt? When something hard or sharp whacks us and chips our brittle layer of polish?

My sisters and I don’t want to whine. We don’t want pity— everyone we know is fighting a hard battle. We don’t even want attention. We aren’t trying to earn our salvation or be gold-washed hypocrites. We want to support each other and encourage each other, we want to be honest with each other, we want empathy when life throws slings and arrows at us and gentle loving correction when we start to believe a lie. Any lie, that is contrary to the Truth.

My Christian sisters and I want to traverse this narrow way without Guilt or Gilt. If we could just get rid of them, maybe more of us could squeeze side-by-side instead of walking single file. Feel free to walk next to me, sisters. I’ll be the grubby, apologetic one.