“the true joy of life is being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one;…the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” -George Bernard Shaw
Enter 12 year old boy with his mother to pick up his sister from our house.
“Wow, this is the best house I’ve been in all day.” Shooting a punitive look at his modest mother. “This is way better than our house. Wow, this is so clean unlike our house” again shooting a look of heated disapproval toward his mother, her housekeeping, her efforts , faults and failures and every sin he never knew she ever committed. Then he spoke silently to her, words that even I couldn’t hear tumbling out from the car ride here, through yesterday and last week, through the glare of his eyes and the whip of his tongue he was condemning her, shaming her, calling her a failure at least it felt that way to me.
At first I was flattered. “thank you, that’s encouraging, I don’t always see my house that way, I see the flaws and the faults, the unfinished walls, the money we dump into it, the dust and dirt hidden in the cracks of the wide pine floors, the cracks in the 200 year old walls. I see all the work that still has to be done.” I smiled politely at his mom, waiting for a return comment. But he went on, not hearing my words. I was out of this now. He’s twelve, and uninterested in social lubrication.
“This is our dream kitchen. Our kitchen has holes in the ceiling and the lights are way older, we don’t even have lights in our ceilings! What kind of floor is this? This is great. Our house needs way more work than this. And this house is way bigger than ours.” His words were sharp and quick and confident. His mother, careful not to scold or defend herself, instead chose to remind him ever so gently about being content and thankful for what he had. I tried anxiously to interject with lessons about other people’s homes having faults too. I walked him around showing him all our messes and unfinished walls and peeling paint. In attempt that he might see with whole vision that other peoples had “broken places” too. His long straight hair hung lifeless and uncared for down his narrow shoulders. His frail form slightly hunched. He held on to one arm with the opposite hand. His face almost pretty with bright round searching eyes and a small red rosebud for a mouth. I showed him the worst messiest room in the whole house… the storage room; he took one look,
“Still… not as messy as ours.” I tried to tell him that it’s good to have a dream and not have everything you want so that you have something to look forward to and work towards in life. But he wouldn’t budge, in the end I just patted his mom on the back and said, I’ll pray for you. Knowing this was not the beginning of her battle nor the end. I was probably more uncomfortable than either of them by the looks of it, trying in vain to redeem the angry words I perceived he shot at his mom and alter his very true and outspoken feelings. I was attempting in some way to reconcile mother with son, years of mistrust and resentment, perhaps, I thought could be undone in a few short minutes. So naïve.
I don’t think I’d ever heard this boy say more than two words, until now, until he had a grievance and a platform and a reason to vent his injustices against his mother, and when he spoke I recognized not that we have a bigger house, or a cleaner house, not a presumptuous determination that his mother doesn’t do dishes, or sweep floors or organize closets. I didn’t hear his subtle accusations. Although I wanted to, I wanted to gloat in my own self-righteousness, my “grand home” that was so ‘impressive’ to this twelve year old who I really didn’t particular know or care to impress. I truly wanted to but what I recognized in the end was ‘I am Him’. It would have been easy to use his unwitting flattery to add to my invisible trophies; pretending to win one more imaginary contest of materialism that decorates our society, but never truly improves the condition of our souls. But how could I? The truth is, secretly, I knew that he said out loud everything I feel when I walk into a new colonial with a great family room, master bedroom with private bath and everything finished. The things I don’t have, but want. He is my voice, my thoughts and my feelings when face to face with the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. I do what he was doing, but I do it quietly. I look around at what others have and I begrudge, and I complain, and I go on and on and on to my Father revealing my un-satisfactions. God held up a mirror, this child. In the mirror I saw myself.
I looked at this child, who wasn’t the neatest looking kid, he looked like he could have taken better care of himself, and I thought, for a split second ‘how does he contributes to the chore? What could he do to help turn his house into the house he wants instead of complaining about the house he has? I should ask myself the same questions. I am jealous and envious, and it’s not because I don’t have enough. Like this boy, I want something different, I blame God and I ooze my displeasure at His provisions like a foolish unfiltered child. I look around at what others do, or have, where they go, what they get, where they have been and what they have done. I’m always looking, like this twelve year old, at how unfair life “seems”, how difficult it is for me and easy and successful it is for others, as if I should have what they have but with none of the work it takes to get it. But how painful and real it is hearing it come from someone else, and how very telling it is really of my own faulty heart. He sang my song. Is that what I look like to God? I gather it’s not the flaws of those and that which is around me that needs to change, but it’s me who needs to see His Perfect enduring faultless love And be changed by it. Being then like the man who when he looks into the mirror and walks away does not forget what he saw.