The Matchbook Diaries


Secret Ingredient

Redemption is enigmatic.  Children necessarily see things in simple terms – if I do these 3 things, I will be rewarded with free time, a good grade, or desert.  But the human soul is infinite and occupies a realm that I am unfit to reach.  Since I am badly contorted by my personal history, I require a great deal of redemption, and unlike childish tasks, healing my broken heart is not going to occur via a series of steps that I can control and anticipate.  If it were possible to save ourselves using a set of steps, or a catalogue of rules, then diets would work, new year’s resolutions would work, promises would be kept.  They don’t and they aren’t.  These plans and pacts, and all others like them, are examples of human will trying desperately to control destructive inner forces that seem utterly impervious to even strenuous self-discipline.

The problem with all of these approaches is that they address the embarrassing or inconvenient symptoms of a broken heart.  These kinds of self-imposed laws attack the symptoms head on, thinking that this direct approach is most efficient when in fact it is utterly inefficient.  You can’t stop eating, or drinking, or spending, or lying, or fucking up relationships.  You beat the shit out of yourself but it doesn’t help.  The problem gets bigger, instead, and you are mortified.  You feel weak and stupid.  But you are neither; you are a wonder, a treasure, unique in the world and precious to God.  It’s not you that’s the issue, it’s the method that is commonly used that is the issue.

To attack symptoms of a broken heart with brutal effectiveness, attack them sideways.  Choose one piece of yourself and exercise your authority.  You can strap yourself to something that you can’t control, that will break you, and you can choose to make that task your master.  Then you use that task to master yourself.  It doesn’t matter what it is – from learning to dance to playing the flute to learning to make complicated cakes – so long as what you are not doing is directly confronting the symptom.

The symptom is a distraction, and likely extremely uncomfortable, even scary or life threatening.   But it remains only a symptom.  The locus, the center of the pain, is not inside of any of those destructive behaviors.  The core is something you can’t reach, define, even locate.  Your heart is broken someplace, and no one knows where but God.  So you reach towards yourself, hold onto yourself, by following the advice your heart continually provides.  What do you want to know, to learn, to understand?  Pick anything, so long as your choice is utterly divorced from money or symptom control, you’ll have no trouble attaching yourself to that new activity.

Instead of your pain being your master, your heart will be your master.  Pain produces slaves.  The heart produces liberated sons and daughters of God, people who know just how wonderfully made they are.

Choose to submit yourself daily to skills that you want to master.  Learn deliberately, rigorously, and you will emerge unleashed, uncontrolled.  The evil that deformed you, the evil that terrorizes and perverts your intentions cannot survive the real you, the unleashed you.  In a few years, the shit you couldn’t control will evaporate. Of course, you’ll still make mistakes, big ones even, but you won’t be defeated and humiliated every day.  You will know how beautiful and strong you really are and you will not have to submit to the cruelty of evil and failure because instead you have chosen to submit to the authority of some other task that seems utterly divorced from the things you wish you could start or stop doing.

Our greatest strength isn’t our cunning mind or our God-like will and consciousness.  Our strength is our heart.  Our heart leads us, and when it does, we are unstoppable.

The great task of conquering oneself is simple.  There is almost no magic involved.  Like approaching any big mess, you choose a corner and get started.  Follow your heart.  What do you want to know?  What do you want to learn to do?  Force yourself to do it, to learn it.  (I reiterate – Make sure it’s not something like exercise or a slightly altered plan to diet, etc,.)  One of the important things to remember, as I bind myself to actions and choices that make me extremely uncomfortable in their awkward newness, is that I am not doing anything to be good; I’m not doing anything to please God.  I can’t blame God for the torture I’m about to put myself through.  I am doing what I do to liberate myself, to unleash my power, to unlock some piece of me that is frozen by evil and fear.  I am not giving the universe a gift.  So my rebellion is only and always against myself, not against God.  God doesn’t need me to be good; God doesn’t need.

My son said, recently, that his new task of swimming alone with his father, isn’t fun.  My son is 12.  He is such an extraordinary swimmer that at the age of 11 he was selected to be part of the Tanzanian National Swim Team.  There are many faster swimmers in our host nation than my boy.  He was chosen because he is relentless; he will swim until he breaks, until he literally cannot swim anymore.  He never complains.  He never stops.  He fights and fights and fights.  Unless he dies, he won’t stop.  I’ve watched him in relays against much larger boys (he’s TINY), and if his team is behind, he roars into the pool like a fucking animal, tearing through the water like a super predator, eventually closing the distance between himself and his opponent, and then passing them despite the odds against him.

Singko can’t train, as he normally does, several hours every day before school, and then, after his homework, return and train for many more hours until long after dark.  Because of the virus that controls the world, my son cannot train with his team.  He cannot train except in the school’s Olympic pool, and then, only with a tiny number of others present.  Suddenly, for the first time in his swimming career, he’s not having fun.  He lives to compete.  He lives to push, hard, with the other top tier swimmers.  Now he has his middle-aged dad in the pool with him.  By day 2 he was phoning me, dismayed, “I hate this.  It’s not fun!”

My boy doesn’t swim for exercise, or for the social kudos.  He swims because God made him a swimmer.  So I told him he was welcome to sit beside the pool every day for an hour, the only hour we were able to book without interruption from others doing the same, but sit there he surely would.  By day three, after proving to his parents what we already knew, that he has an exceptionally strong will, he phoned me whilst I was still running and said, “It’s not normal, Mom.  It’s not normal.  But I might as well get used to it.  My two best friends who were swimmers have left Tanzania because of this virus.”  I told him yes, that his loss was severe.  In the flip of a switch he lost the core of his life and two of his best friends.

He’s a child, so he is uncluttered.  It only took him a few days to get around himself.  His heart isn’t broken, so he’s not compulsive.  He was stuck, and then he wasn’t.  Adults are rarely so simple.

Faith, for me, is often about power.  For 11 years, I was utterly helpless.  I had no territory I could call my own, no privacy at all.  I love to feel strong, to feel important.  So I have to exercise authority over myself daily.  When I do this, in several different ways, I unleash incredible power within myself.  So when I enter into the activities I use to get to my own strength, I know already, from long experience, that on the other side of that obscure door is utter liberty- my delicious wild, unfettered life.  And I want freedom like I want nothing else.  I want to feel the power running right through my fingers, my body.  I want to be able to look myself and others in the eye and to say exactly what I mean and what I believe.  I want to never run, to never hide, to never cower.  I want to be able to sustain any kind of attack.  I want to be able to stand beside any helpless, oppressed creature and impose safety for them.

Choose your masters using the dictates of your heart.  Obey whatever YOU choose to obey, but do so with rigor and excellence.  And you will find that you ultimately can obey yourself in every area of your life because your power is much too strong to be defeated.