This morning Marcia, my spiritual director, sent me this quote from Hannah Whitall Smith’s A Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.
Marcia is hoping this bit of humor helps me, based on a phone conversation we had last night.
We have established by now that I have a great deal of trouble with St. Julian’s ideal of our soul’s being “one’d” to God.
Intellectually I’m all for it. But emotionally I invariably get anxious when the Holy Spirit invites me to get closer. I have a recurrent dream in which Christ stands inside a beautiful blue cave, with his hand outstretched, inviting me in.
The first time I dreamed this, I came close to the edge of the cave, saw that there was a little ledge to step over, and took one step inside before I ran away/woke up.
The second time, I took three steps inside, but no farther.
Then last week, when I was working on a new idea for webcasting Morning Prayer five days a week, which might really grow my website dailyoffice.org even more than its current 2.5 million hits, I got both excited and scared. So I called Marcia, and we talked last night.
She suggested that I try having a conversation with my childhood self; I’ll call us Big Josh and Little Tommy.
I have a photograph of him on my desk, taken by my grandfather when I was about 4. My parents had just driven from our home in north central Ohio to my grandparents’ house in Northwest Indiana. I was so glad to be out of the car that I ran around the outside of the house 3 times, then crouched down in the front yard, watching these people, waiting for what would happen next.
This was apparently remarkable enough that Granddad went to the house, got his camera, fiddled with the gear, came outside and took a snapshot. In the time it took to do all that I hadn’t moved.
In the photo Little Tommy doesn’t smile. It’s summer, obviously, because he’s wearing short pants overalls and no shirt; big head, big eyes, big ears, button nose, little mouth, short blond hair. His forearms are on his knees and he holds his hands together. All he does is watch for what happens next.
He looks anxious. That may be because of how he’s wired, but he’s also afraid of his dad.
One would think that the ultimate reassurance for a scared little boy is the protection of Christ himself. But that’s intellect talking.
This boy doesn’t trust.
I do, but he doesn’t. And when I get excited/scared about the most important relationship in my life, he runs the show. I have the dreams, but he’s the one who runs away/wakes up.
So, I told Marcia, this kid’s kinda messing up my life. She said, Talk to him about it. Then listen when he answers back. (Be both sides of yourself, like gestalt therapy’s “empty chair” technique.)
I didn’t do it right away. I’m trying to do it now.
Josh: I love you, little boy.
Tommy: I love you too. Gee, am I gonna look like you when I grow up?
Josh: Well, when you’re 62, yes. Sorry! I was cute when I was younger!
Tommy: That’s okay, I guess.
Josh: Do you know why I keep your picture in my bedroom-office?
Josh: To remind myself. You are me and I am you.
Tommy: I don’t understand.
Josh: That’s okay. You will someday. The thing is, child, your fears keep holding me back from getting closer to God.
Tommy: I don’t mean to.
Josh: I know. It’s my fault in a way, not yours. You were right to be scared then.
Josh: My fear of the blue cave is that once I go inside, I’ll get lost and never come out.
Tommy: I’ve never been in a cave.
Josh: I have; a guide was with us. And there were lights inside, steps, a path. And signs, “This way out.”
Tommy: That would be good.
Josh: In another part of that cave, there were thousands of bats!
Tommy (covering his eyes): Ooh!
Josh: I know. I still don’t like bats much, but these were good bats. We sat and watched them fly around, while a hunky Park Ranger told us all about them.
Tommy: I don’t know that word hunky.
Josh: You will, buddy. I guess the point is that sometimes we get afraid when we don’t have to. When we’re with someone who’s safe and knows about bats, we don’t get so scared.
Tommy: Like a friend?
Josh: Yes, a friend.
Tommy: I don’t have any friends, I don’t think.
Josh: No. Which makes you twice as scared. But it’s all right. I’m your friend now. Will you be mine?
Tommy: I guess so.
Josh: I don’t want you to ever be afraid, baby. I want to hold you and love you and keep you from being afraid.
Tommy: Nobody holds me.
Josh: I know. But someday you’ll meet people who will.
Josh: When you grow up you’ll get really good at taking a risk. Even when you’re afraid.
Tommy: How will that happen?
Josh: Some very nice people will teach you that being afraid prevents you from getting something you want a lot. And you want that thing so much, you’ll decide to try it in case they’re right. Because you know you won’t get what you want if you don’t try.
Tommy: What is it I want that time?
Josh: You want to help other people, at a place called the Crisis Center. Those adults run the Crisis Center, but they won’t let you work there if you can’t take a risk, and be honest and open. Which isn’t as hard as it seems, but you have to be willing to try it. Since you already know what it’s like to hurt so bad, like the people who need the Crisis Center hurt, you decide to do what your adult friends are telling you to do. It turns out great, baby. You change overnight, and become an open, honest person. The whole world opens up for you, because you took a risk to try and be like what they said.
Josh: That’s how you started making friends, and helping people. And they helped you too; they liked you, they loved you, they held you.
Tommy: Does it take a long time?
Josh: To a kid, yes. It takes surviving, first of all, which you’ll turn out to be good at. See, I’ve always kept you with me. I am still that child you are. You’re the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten.
Tommy: I like you.
Josh: I’ve always kept you safe, baby. We’ll always be together.
Tommy: That might be nice.
Josh: Now we’ve got to see what’s inside that cave, ’cause Jesus asked us to come in and explore it with him. He won’t let us get lost, baby. He always finds us and brings us back. And it’s this really beautiful cave, I’ve seen the inside of it. A little; but I want you to come with us. If you don’t come, I’ll never get to see all of it.
(Tommy thinks about this.)
Josh: I won’t make you. But Jesus is the one who will hold you forever, and keep you safe and warm.
Tommy: I don’t like being cold.
Josh (smiling): I know, baby. I don’t like it either. But we’ll be safe and warm with him. And we’ll see all these beautiful sights!
Tommy: Will we ever get to come back home?
Josh: Yes. Although Marcia says we won’t be the same as we were before. We’ll be better than we used to be, before we took the chance. Would you like to see a picture of this cave?
Tommy (nodding up and down): Yes!
Josh: Here it is, then. What do you think?
Tommy: It’s pretty!
Josh: Let’s go, baby. Hold my hand, okay?
Tommy: Okay. What if we get lost?
Josh: Stop trying to control everything. You trust me, I trust Jesus, we’ll be all right.
Lord, we’re ready. Keep the lights on for us; show us some of that pretty stuff you’ve got.
Jesus: Hey, guys! Nice you finally showed up.
Tommy: Don’t blame me, I’m just a little kid!++