Living in the city has a way of bringing out the best and worst in me. One minute, I am joyful, super-navigator mom successfully schlepping 2 kids, a stroller, my Mary Poppins bag of snacks, drinks and entertainment, plus an out-of-town guest from our apartment all the way down to FiDi and onto the Staten Island Ferry for a glimpse of Lady Liberty. But when sudden, unexpected rain comes along, I become snappy, “get out of my way or else” mom who is impatient, pushy and not about to give up my seat on the bus that we made it onto just as the umbrella turned inside out, and we all got drenched. Ok, the rain wasn’t quite that bad, but my mood was!
My first instinct when situations like this come up is to blame the rain, or blame the bus driver, or blame anything! My inability to control the circumstances around me (slow subways, rude shop owners, pushy people) often makes frustration and anger boil in my heart, and the steam that rises is not very pretty. Sometimes I lash out at people I love (anger), or demand my own rights for the things that I can control (selfishness). Other times it builds and leads to exhaustion and withdrawal from the people I need and love the most (escape). And every time, without fail, my first instinct is to blame someone or something else!
But I am reminded of this quote I heard years ago from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, and becomes much harder to ignore the truth (yes, this is long, but C.S. Lewis is worth it, right?!):
“We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected: I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself.
“Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth?
“If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats; it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way, the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.”
So as much as we’d like to blame our reactions or our emotions on the problem at hand, if we are honest and real about what’s in our soul, we have to admit that deep down in the cellar of our hearts, we need more of Jesus’ grace and goodness to transform us! Although living in New York has its glorious moments and things that I’ve fallen in love with, I also think that living in the city creates a little suffering, sometimes a lot of suffering, that goes much deeper than a stalled subway…loneliness, isolation, fear, doubt, emptiness…
So could it be that God brought me here to face what’s in “my cellar”? Tim Keller says, “I need the city more than the city needs me.” I heard this quote not long before we moved hear. In fact, it made me want to live here even more. Having lived in Italy for a year and a half, I knew what he meant by this: urban living creates an incubator for growth, it looks something like this:
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
We are all in this “incubator,” but it’s not enough just to know this. We have to see the junk that surfaces, and call it what it is: sin. AND we go back to the cross, give it to Jesus, and ask Him to transform us!
It’s a slow process on this road of sanctification, but that is His great work in our hearts! So the next time I can’t find my metro card fast enough to get on the train that’s right there on the other side of the turnstile, I’ll probably see it again: the “rats” of anger in my heart (and maybe a few on the tracks). But I’ll take that broken moment of sin to Jesus and watch how He rescues me as the Holy Spirit pours out God’s love into my heart because “we all… are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” II Corinthians 3:18