It seems especially difficult to stay level-headed in the mundane moments of life. Last night, Rachel was out and I was responsible for washing up, giving baths to our four little ones, and putting them to bed. Doing this with her is hard enough. Alone, impossible. I say to her regularly, “I don’t know how you do this every day,” and that’s only after I’ve been home from work for an hour. She does the impossible, everyday.
Our children were playing, playing, playing while I was washing, washing, washing. They were having fun while I was brooding over the dullness of my day. An unfulfilling job, followed by the mundaneness of meal-making and dish-washing. So, I was ripe to lose my head when Annie flipped over the kids drawing table and smashed her toe underneath. Instead of nursing her injured toe, I firmly picked her up and firmly placed her on the couch, yelling in what felt like justified rage, at all of them. “Why do you guys have to keep flipping over the table? Can’t you just leave it alone?!” I slammed it right-side up. Besides, why do they? Tables were meant to stand on their legs. How would you like if someone kept turning you upside-down and jumping all over you?
Of course, it wasn’t the kids that had made me angry. I had been brewing all night, and Annie’s flip-over was a tiny pin in my self-pity balloon, which I had been inflating all night.
Before I had children, I never expected to yell at them. It seems a ridiculous thought. Just as marriage arguments seem impossible to the uninitiated. But the mundane moments of marriage and child rearing are an unexpected training grounds, it seems, for becoming more Christ-like.
Which sounds strange, now that I write it, because I certainly don’t feel more like a little-Christ. Like a Christ-imitator, follower, lover. I feel more like that vacillator, Peter, when Jesus washed his feet at the Last Supper:
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:6-9 ESV)
By this point we were all melting down. Not wanting to end the night in the present state of affairs, I quickly put Talia to bed, then sat down on the couch with the older three to read Madeleine L’Engle’s The Glorious Impossible.
Truth be told, I hate over-simplistic tellings of the Gospel story. I recently came across a board book which portrayed Jesus and his disciples as white, American, disproportionate cartoonish figures, albeit dressed in tunics and sashes. L’Engle, on the other hand, sets her retelling of the Gospel to Giotto’s frescoes from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. These paintings, while also not ‘accurate’ in the sense that they are not realistic, transmit more than just Giotto’s impression of what Jesus may have looked like. They communicate, rather, mystery, and just what L’Engle’s title implies. That Jesus was glorious, his life and message, impossible.
In over-simplifying Jesus, it seems we are inadvertently stripping him of his mystery. Of the impossible-ness of his call. We are attempting to make him understandable, when Jesus himself proclaimed that he spoke in parables so that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” He turned everything upside-down.
Before reading, I apologized for getting angry and yelling. It seemed insignificant to them, and Emeth just remarked that he wanted Annie to sit back on my lap, otherwise it’s hard for him to see the pictures.
The next chapter in L’Engle’s book was Jesus’ washing of the disciple’s feet. L’Engle observes that Jesus, knowing that Judas would betray him, washed even his feet. What an act of love! Washing the disgusting, filthy feet of one who had already turned on you for a sack of money.
It’s easy to look down on Judas through the long passage of time, with the perspective of two thousand years, and judge him for being so foolish. More than that, to think, “I would never do that!” But in that brief moment, reading that brief sentence, I felt more his equal than judge. I saw myself sitting at that table, dipping my bread in the same bowl as Jesus. Then yelling at my children. Wondering, “How can I call myself a disciple? How can he wash me?”
But the fact remains. He washed Judas’ feet. He washed Peter’s. He washed the feet of the Imperfect.