And of all of us having fallen down to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
A goad is a spiked staff used for driving cattle.
My first reaction to the idea of being goaded at all is anger. Authority and I have some issues. I’m going to fight like hell if I don’t trust the person with the spiked stick. As a general rule people with spiked sticks are assholes and not-to-be-trusted (that’s why they need spiked sticks). However, what if the spiked stick talk is simply God’s way of acknowledging the transitions in life that you have no control over? What if the goads are just the hard things that come along with being alive in the world that you cannot fix. The lost job, the lost marriage, the new job, the new marriage, online-dating…ever? Hard transitions take time.
Remember that Dr. Seuss book, the one that is over-used in graduation ceremonies because, by in large it is a nice abbreviated take if your life seems to be headed in an upward direction?
And when you’re in a Slump,you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.
I take issue with the un-slumping Seuss because I have gone through the bullet-point personal un-slumping strategies. I have been trying to compensate with managements, which in and of themselves are fairly solid. I run in the evening for endorphins to manage depression. I rest and watch movies to allow for relaxation, on occasion I pick up beer, I cook dinners. Then I repeat the process and try more.
the odd thing about management is that it makes life begin to feel like a hamster wheel.
Instead of simply breathing and allowing for the confession of difficulty, I double down on the un-slumping strategies in life. However it is not the management strategies in life that give life it’s Life-ness. It is the pockets of life between strategies or performance when I quit the fight that I see that the fight wasn’t the point. The kicking against the goads of location, of being newly married, of having to leave a good community for something else entirely.
Sometimes fighting is only the effort to control uncontrollable change. The thing about controlling is that it leaves a huge blind spot where all of the joy of life is found. It seems that joy might have less to do with effective accomplishments, people liking me, or whatever Godforsaken goal I have turned living into and more to do with recognizing the richness of life even when there is shit and exhaustion.
This is where I have to address that we are discussing a verse about a God-type interruption. A God that is not disruptive and doesn’t use obnoxious metaphorical devices that make me uncomfortable is not a God at all. So sometimes I see the word “goads!” in all red letters and miss the gentle and empathetic “It is hard for you”.
There is an acknowledgment that takes place where God aligns himself with difficulty. He is not turning a blind eye or saying try harder! accomplish more! climb a new mountain! Un-slump!. He simply states the obvious and leaves it alone, then says something else.
This running thing that you are doing to manage reality? It’s really hurting you and taking away the life that I want to give you. Look, you are going to be where you are right now and that other thing really sucks but it is not indicative of absence. I will be with you in the impossible lightless places of the world too. I can carry hard things if you will simply let them be what they are. The only thing that you have to surrender is your effort to manage your life through some kind of easily labelled performance.
Since I’m verging awful close that bloody Footprints poem here I have to do some cleaning up. To allow for intervention is not to leave your body and float above the pain while Jesus magically carries you through difficulty (it could go like that, but generally it doesn’t). I always found the Onion Point/Counterpoint article to be much more relatable “Bullshit Jesus, Those Are Obviously My Footprints”.
“It appears that in my darkest hour, instead of carrying me, you sat on a stump and had a couple of smokes. Real helpful, Jesus. Real helpful.”
Leaving the possibility of a new way to see means seeing all of the broken glass and the dump-fire dreams for what they are and feeling utterly sick with need.
Oddly enough pain, when you let it, has a tendency to sharpen the richness of life to a razor point. Sunsets and music are just pretty color and sound until you have run out of money, or the loneliness has hit a fever pitch. Bad, failed, washed up, tired, and burnt out are all the water that grace swims in. Needy is still needy even after all of the un-slumping efforts have fallen through. Needy is the human condition. Un-slumping might be the denial of that condition…man I hate that Footprints poem….