I distract myself.
It’s either that or a life-long case of undiagnosed ADHD, and given that I feel like I have the energy levels of a narcoleptic sloth I feel I can pretty much rule that out.
I distract myself.
To be fair it’s not in a narcissistic, “Oh I just caught my reflection in the mirror, and I’m captivated!” way either, because that would be just plain weird.
I distract myself.
I know I’m doing it too … it isn’t like I snap out of a daydream or some other displacement activity and find myself astonished that I haven’t been paying attention to something important!
I distract myself.
I do it on purpose.
I do it so I don’t explode.
If I don’t distract myself, I start to think. If I don’t distract myself, I start to niggle away at things. If I don’t distract myself, I notice something in the Gospel of Mark, say, and then end up with 46,000 words sitting on my desktop that nobody else is ever going to read!
There’s a bit of Scripture I’ve been looking at recently – it’s entitled Jeremiah’s complaint in my version – that has a phrase that is starting to bug me … “his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
I preached on it a few weeks back … part of a larger series the church I’m in is doing on prayer, and I sort of thought and hoped it’d get it out of my system … no such luck!
That “fire shut up in my bones” is driving me mad.
Because it rings true … or at least it rings familiar.
I distract myself to try to get away from that ‘fire in my bones’ – to get some relief from the incessant itching of my thoughts, to stop myself from irritating everyone else around me who doesn’t seem to think about the same stuff I do … or at least not in the same way I do …
For instance, recently someone entirely unaware of the toxic levels of my irritation – someone deserving of an entirely more gracious response than they got – talked about Matthew 5 as the “beautiful attitudes” and I then ranted about how it was a terrible way to look at the Beatitudes. Now, it wasn’t their fault that I took off on them, in fact I’m still mortified about it … but it’s this type of thing I have to distract myself from doing. (For the record, this “Be attitudes” thing, this dominant notion that Jesus is standing up on that Mount and telling a bunch of folks who are already full of the idea that there’s a whole crushing edifice of rules and regulations that they need to abide by to be considered ‘righteous’ that there’s a whole new set of ways that they need to ‘be’ and behave like, attitudes and ideas that they need to cultivate and behaviours that they must adopt before God will bless them is just plain wrong … and (insert swear word of your choice here) all to do with the message and ministry of Jesus. See!!!! Ranting!!!!)
So … I distract myself.
The problem is the distractions don’t help. And, I fairly certain they don’t help you either – because I’m damn sure I’m not the only one who feels like this.
It’s that fire thing … the ‘fire shut up in my bones’ that Jeremiah talks about.
When I read this, I immediately thought about another fire that gets ‘shut up’ in some way; I thought about the way that charcoal is traditionally made – my old art student background asserting itself maybe. Anyhow, when they make charcoal in the traditional way, they control the way the wood burns by restricting the flow of oxygen to the fire, by sealing it in with earth and prolonging the burn.
That’s how I feel sometimes – scratch that, it’s how I feel all the time! Frustration may well be fuel but there’s a point where the prolonged burn … well it starts to burn!
But Jeremiah, he says something that has really just lit me up, like I’ve just seen it for the first time, like I never knew it was there, and I hope it lights you up too. Good old Jeremiah says about this fire, “I’m weary of holding it in, Indeed I cannot!” And, if you read on from his rant, it transpires that Jeremiah doesn’t hold it in … Oh boy, Jerry, that’s like a permission slip to tear away the earth from the oven and break into that charcoal …
Things may well get messy.
Charcoal is something I’m fairly well acquainted with, and not just from the barbecue cum cremation that we all engage in at the first sign of a warm weekend in what passes for summer in my part of the world. I was an art student, I used charcoal a lot – to create art, to sketch things out, to lend a depth of tone to my drawings that only those rich darks could ever really give you. Charcoal is a creative thing.
Charcoal, in its activated form, also gets used in our water filter – amongst many different types of filters that you can buy; it will filter smells, gasses, liquids and even absorb poisons. Charcoal is a purifying thing.
Charcoal is also part of the fuel element of black powder based blasting powders. Charcoal is an explosive thing.
Charcoal is also used in various chemical reactions, either as a source of carbon, or to speed thins along. Charcoal is a catalyst.
And, of course, charcoal burns! Apparently, charcoal burns hotter than wood it’s made from – I’ve seen temperatures claimed of up to 2,700 degrees Celsius/4,900 degrees Fahrenheit, which is at least twice as hot as the best temps I’ve seen claimed for a wood fire – so it seems to be able to survive this prolonged burning of its creation to produce a more intense heat than was originally available. Charcoal is a burning thing.
And, that’s what’s got me … this burning, catalytic, explosive, purifying, creative thing has got into my bones, or is emerging slowly out of that fire shut up in them …
And when you stop and think, I reckon you’ll recognise that somehow, in some way, it’s in yours too.
There’s the things that itch at you, maybe the sense creativity that has just been ground out of you by the day-to-day slog, or the feeling that maybe the things or the calling you first felt when you came into a life of faith just haven’t come to fruition (Captain of that club right here!), or that desire to be a catalyst for change in whatever sphere of life you’re caught up with – in your work, in your family, in your friendships, in your community – that you just don’t feel you can commit to right now as things are just too busy, too cluttered, too hard …
Well, I’m telling you – things are always busy, cluttered and mostly they’re hard, but that won’t stop the fire from turning your bones to charcoal.
The thing is, I think I’m supposed to stop with the distractions – I think we’re all supposed to stop with them – and just let our charcoal bones filter out some of the crap in us and around us, let our charcoal bones be a catalyst that fires up others, let our charcoal bones be creative and reach beyond our usual apathy and self-imposed limitations and irritations.
I think it might well be time to let the charcoal bones burn a little.