Mashed potatoes light up the pleasure circuits of my brain the same way a glazed doughnut does. At our house, we still mash them — potatoes that is — the old-fashioned way with that squiggle of wire mounted to a handle. Ladle on a pond of shimmering gravy — Midwestern Nirvana!
About this time in the extended season of holidays, I’m stuffed with food; you may be too. If I eat one more Russian tea cake or peanut butter chocolate ball, I’m afraid I’ll explode into a confetti of red and green muffin papers.
Yet February’s coming. February is a grim month. February is the month of reckoning. It is the month when the holiday excesses that we had invited over as temporary guests — that we thought we’d get rid of with a few quick-paced walks around the block — turn out to have moved into our bodies to stay. We have become what we’ve eaten. I’m no longer confetti, light and fluttering. I’m sated and weighted with food. And I know February’s coming.
But wait, I also know June is out there. Oh, and remember August? Ahhh, August. Those nights slept with the windows open, sun rising so early we finish sleeping with a pillow over our eyes. Grass is no longer growing because the summer sun has driven it back into the dirt. In August, we will once again stand on grass that crackles under our feet and survey our little brown patch of lawn. In August, we will once again be trim and fit, athletic and muscular!
That’s one of the secrets of life, isn’t it? Understand in January that there’s an August coming. Prisons exist because people chose the pleasures of December, ignoring the fact that February is steadily plodding toward them, unable to believe in August. Credit card debts accumulate when people chose mashed potatoes instead of celery.
Hell exists because lightning doesn’t strike in December; it strikes in February. That is, in His longsuffering love, God doesn’t immediately smack-down every offender the moment they say, “May lightning strike me if…” Instead He tenderly pursues them with grace, but their own concupiscence will eventually overtake them. Lightning isn’t necessary. February is God’s gentle teaching tool; August is His hope.
Do you have any of that? Of His hope? Of understanding that what we do in January will take us to a better February and a delightful August? Or has hope been beaten out of you by too many jaded memories of resolutions made and lost, of good intentions simply paving the road to you-know-where?
I remind you that you’re still alive. Reading is a good sign of that. I remind you that life is longitudinal. It’s not a moment, nor is it a cycle. What we do today writes the future. What we do today matters for ourselves, and it matters for others. We are not stuck in some “Groundhog Day” movie of failed January after January.
There is an optimism in God’s grace that overwhelms everything you have ever lived, every negative experience you think has become normative. Grace makes what you do matter. It matters more than you can imagine. Because you are not a pawn on God’s chessboard, to be squandered by His sovereignty in a propitious moment or to wallow in your own past failures. Neither are you just a slurry of genes and deterministic chromosomes that pop psychobabel says drive you to act in certain ways. All are just excuses. Truth: You are a man or woman, pinnacle of creation, made with complete and total ability to control yourself, to make your own decisions, to get to February and August a new person. Say it with me, “Pinnacle of Creation!”
Which story will you believe? The story of hope? That you sit right now capable of completely grasping the grace being offered you to live in triumph over the temptations that so insidiously have caught us in their short-term game? Or is the story of 2016 simply a rerun? The optimism of grace is that you are not alone as you face February. Because the pop psychobabblers are completely right if there were no grace, liberally offered to us by a loving God. If there were no grace, we’d all be doomed to be crushed by the inevitable forces of February. But there is grace. There is August. There is hope. Hope for our bodies, hope for our souls.
Now where’s that celery? Look on the bottom shelf under the Rice Krispies treats. You can do this!