I went to bed irritated the other night and I woke up with the same irritation. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say this irritation is chronic and unavoidable, or so it would seem. I’m not certain what to do about the cause, and I don’t like the helplessness this engenders.
Call it serendipity: before I headed out the door, I glanced at an open book on the kitchen counter and happened to read this quote from Harry Emerson Fosdick, a renowned preacher of the first half of the last century—the first to occupy the pulpit at Riverside Church on the Upper West Side. “The most extraordinary thing about the oyster is this. Irritations get into his shell. He does not like them. But when he cannot get rid of them, he uses the irritation to do the loveliest thing an oyster ever has a chance to do. If there are irritations in our lives today, there is only one prescription: make a pearl. It may have to be a pearl of patience, but, anyhow, make a pearl. And it takes faith and love to do it.”
Initially, the sentimentality of this bit of folk wisdom irritated me further. But as the day wore on, I found that by letting go of my attachment to the irritation, I was on my way to creating, if not exactly a pearl, a much healthier frame of mind.
A small-scale matter. Often, I’m preoccupied with larger frames of abstraction of seeming greater importance concerning justice and church and moral character and the demands of following after the way Jesus blazed while ignoring the details of making my way through a typical day. But sometimes if the circumstance is just right, a window of insight opens on a matter very close to home, something personal and, oddly, when viewed in the proper light, much more consequential than I realized, having tentacles into all sorts of conduct and thought patterns—an aha! moment of self-discovery.
That’s the way this process of growing up happens, I think. And Fosdick is right that it takes faith, because most of us much of the time are not all that keen on addressing the blocks and bad habits and behaviors that junk up our mental, emotional and spiritual households. Part of the work we’re invited to engage during Lent involves seeing the junk for what it is. That’s step one. Step two involves hauling it to the dump, and humbling asking for help from the One who knows us best.