(In the sort of inonic twist that seems to define my life, the post I wrote on Saturday about not freaking out about the flu has resulted in me getting it three days later. Not H1N1. Worse. Like H10N30. And since I’ve been trying lately to go from three posts a week to five or six, I promise I tried to sit down and write something. But then my eyes blurred, my computer seemed to melt into my lap, and I gave up. So I decided to instead open the vault and give you a post from way back when, just so I can feel as though I’ve accomplished something today. Your prayers that my eyeballs won’t fall out or my throat doesn’t explode would be appreciated. But on the other hand, I get to spend all of today on the sofa watching Steve McQueen and Humphrey Bogart movies. Becase even if you’re sick, turning lemons into lemonade is fun.)
I am standing in aisle eleven at Wal-Mart next to a fortyish woman who is both smartly dressed and a bit frazzled. Both of us are contemplating the correct choice among the dizzying array of what may well be the most important technological advancement for anyone trying to protect an innocent home from the ravages of children.
I woke up this morning to find a blotch of spaghetti sauce on the sofa. How’d it get there? No idea. But as the blotch was in the shape of a small handprint, I have two suspects.
Such events are common in the lives of parents. There are messes and spills and catastrophes both large and small. And there are stains. Many, many stains. So many, in fact, that I can’t seem to walk through my own house without glancing behind me to dwell on them all.
So. A trip to Wal-Mart.
I don’t know this lady beside me. I don’t know if her issue is child-related or not. I don’t ask, and she doesn’t tell. We piddle through the bottles and packages and cans of cleaner, pondering to ourselves.
Stain fighting has come a long way. Whereas past generations had to make due with soap and elbow grease, we are fortunate enough to possess the fruits of science. As I scan the shelves I see products that promise to eliminate stains completely, to restore damaged goods to immaculate condition, and to do both with a minimum of effort. After careful thought, I choose the bottle that promises to clean deeper than its competitors and even disinfect while doing so. Excellent.
The lady beside me makes her choice as well, opting for the industrial strength cleaner that promises to eradicate not only stains, but staph, strep, and E. coli as well. I raise an eyebrow and offer an appreciative nod. She must have a bigger family.
She turns to leave and chuckles, partly to herself and partly to me. “Wish they could make a stain remover for your life, too,” she says.
What a wonderful idea! I think to myself. After all, there is even more to clean up in a life than in a house, children or not. There are plenty of messes and spills and catastrophes of varying degree. There are surely more stains. In my own case, a lot more. And like my own house, I can’t seem to walk through my life without glancing back to dwell on them all.
I’m sure I’m not alone here.
It would be nice if we could all just stroll over to aisle eleven at the Wal-Mart, grab a bottle of miracle goop, and rid our stains with one quick spritz and wipe.
But we can’t.
Cleaning up failures and regrets is a lot harder than cleaning up spaghetti sauce. Those stains are deeper and more permanent. That’s okay, though. Because those stains remind us of what happens when we try to go it alone, when we think we can do things our own way, in our own time, and with only our own interests at heart.
Walking through this life is more like walking through the woods than a house. It’s tough and hazardous and it’s easy to get lost if you’re not paying attention. And no matter how carefully we step or how experienced we believe ourselves to be, we all get a little filthy in the process.
But there is a secret to getting through those woods and safely back home. It isn’t to look down in shame at the stains we’ve managed to get on ourselves, it’s to look up to the God who can take those stains away.
The God who put our eyes in front of us so we can see where we’re going, not where we’ve been.