I can hardly sit still. My spirit is jittery, anxious, chattering away with irrelevant noise. I am afraid of not being able to do what I have committed myself to do: too much work, too many projects, too much responsibility, too many obligations.
I shudder before the altar to Should. Great God Should, my master, my hard taskmaster. High and lofty Should – you are an altar made of my own fashioning, covered with my dreams, like sheets of pounded gold – strong, overbearing, threatening my doom. My own hands have made you, but I cannot find a way to take you down.
My mouth has spoken you into existence with ideas which charm and twinkle, but whose execution is eating at my soul. Who will rescue me from the bondage to my own creation? Who will set me free from the good I intended, but cannot do, from the obligations that I set upon my own shoulders?
I do not make a good master for myself. A good master protects and nourishes the servants so that they can provide work at the right time. I have exhausted the supplies in early exuberance and obligation. I have left family, self, and community behind in my quest to serve the Should. Now, collapsed at the feet of that altar, I seek deliverance. Where is my hope? How can I become free?
A leaf floats down in front of the idol. Drifting slowly, it lands just in front of my crumpled form. It rests there a moment and then is blown away by the wind. The roof of the temple of Should has cracked, revealing the sky above. Another leaf falls down through the crack, and another, and another, until I am covered in a blanket of leaves. Yet the idol Should still towers above me with a stern face and unwavering eyes.
Then a spark ignites the pile of leaves. It rushes through their fragile structures and engulfs the floor in a flash of light. I, too, am burned, although the quickness of the fire carries it away from me before I am consumed. My skin is scorched, and I am smudged with ashes, but I am unharmed.
The leaves at the base of the idol, however, continue to burn. They are stacked close together by the wind and provide a stronger, more intense flame. The gold overlay begins to melt and slide down the statue. The stern eyes are distorted into a look of desperation, then of desperate failure. The mouth opens in a wail as smoke pours out of the crevices in the wood.
The idol is consumed . . . but at the base, when the fire has cleared and the stump has cooled in the breezes, there is a lump remaining: a stone, uncarved, without specific form, and blacked by the fire. I crawl over to the stone and reach to touch it. But a hand reaches out and stays my hand.
“Wait,” he says, and Jesus himself sits cross-legged on the ash-strewn floor. He takes me into his lap. He strokes my head and I rest it against his chest. I hear his breath, in and out, and feel the slow rise and fall of his chest. He rocks slowly and begins to softly sing to me…
I am your should.
I have accomplished all.
Seek me and your purpose will be fulfilled.
Seek me and your work is done.
Deeds are not the way to righteousness.
Deeds are not the reason to be.
Deeds flow from our playing together,
When we move forward after rest.
But you have wandered far,
Have labored hard in fruitless effort,
You must now lean your head upon my shoulder and rest.
“But if I rest, I will cry,” I say quietly. “Only effort can hold back my tears. Only concentration can keep away the pain which is waiting for me just beyond my failures.”
He smoothes my hair and rocks me, humming softly. He makes no quick reply to my complaint, but his quiet holds me.
“Oh God, save me from my pride, from my fear, from my shoulds.”
“I am saving you,” he says. “Rest and cry, put down your shoulds.”
My heart, in its secret chambers, is already trying to rebuild the idol. I struggle against the effort but it is so strong within me. He knows my struggle and holds me close. I am not quite able to relax in his arms, like a small child, too tired to relax into sleep. He holds my arms, restraining movement ever so gently. “Rest. In rest you will find both strength and vision to accomplish my love, my love’s desire. Only that will last. Only that has meaning. Let go the paper-mache dreams of your own creation and relax in what I am making in you.”
I hardly notice that I have fallen asleep in his arms. As I sleep, the lines of care, the smudges of the ashes, slowly fade. He picks me up and carries me to a large stone basin filled with warm water. As I sleep, he bathes me, folds me in lamb’s wool and rocks me some more.
The true God is merciful, full of pardon and full of strength. God does not need my efforts to accomplish anything, but if I will rest in faith, we can play together in this journey of life and good will spring from my footsteps . . . mercy from my actions . . . light from my heart, because it reflects God’s presence and overwhelming love.
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[photo by Milan Rubio per cc 2.0]