I’ve just finished reading Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor and general bad-ass. This isn’t meant to be a book review. I liked the book – okay, I loved it – but that doesn’t mean you will. She’s a recovering alcoholic and swears like a sailor. In fact, she reminds me a little bit of Anne Lamott (if St. Anne had gone to seminary and taken up Cross-Fit). The only thing more fascinating than Nadia’s 6 foot-tall, tattooed body is her beautiful and gritty theology.
Nadia, like me, like all of us if we admit it, are slow-learners. We might have gotten straight As in school, have college degrees, be able to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle (at least the first half of the week), but when it comes to the really important stuff, like life and death, change, anger, love and just general human challenges, we generally don’t rise to the occasion. Most of us (all of us really, but if you want to keep pretending this doesn’t include you, that’s okay) just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again – whether its going out with the wrong guy, losing our temper, saying ‘yes’ to too many things to make ourselves feel better, or having “just one more drink” when we should have stopped two drinks ago.
Chances are that at one point in our lives, we learned our lesson well; we made the mistake, faced the consequences in an emotionally, physically, or fiscally painful manner, and thought, “I am never going to do that again.”
And we don’t.
For a while.
And then we do.
We let our guards down; we think we’re different people, or that the experience changed us on some cellular level. Sometimes it does, but often as not, when the pain fades away, the old scripts and habits resurface and we are back to where we started – dating the jerk, yelling at our kids, drinking the vodka, or handing over the credit card.
There have been seasons in my life when I have beat myself up over my apparent need to have certain “Life Lessons” repeated ad nauseam. They almost always have to do with how to love someone better (usually my husband, my kids or myself), or how to forgive more quickly and completely (usually my husband, my kids or myself). I seem to be continually enrolled in Love and Forgiveness 101.
Nadia’s book helped me understand that there is no shame in this repetition; it’s part of the human condition, but it’s not completely unavoidable either. We usually have a choice. We can race through life, insisting on learning our lessons the hard way, crashing and burning, leaving us, our loved ones, and even society scarred in the process, or we can watch for the warning signs and make adjustments. (Congress, take note. We’re in a downward spiral here.)
Now Nadia is not one of those crazy, “God directs everything I do” kind of people and neither am I. I do plenty of things that God isn’t directing and in fact, probably isn’t crazy about, but when I remember that I am still a student – that I haven’t, in fact, graduated to perfection just because I’m a grown up – I can be attuned to the lessons I still need to (re)learn. Throughout her memoir, Nadia describes the experience like this:
“God comes and gets us, taps us on the shoulder and says, ‘Pay attention, this is for you.’ Dumb as we are, smart as we are, just as we are.”
Unfortunately, it’s too easy to ignore the tap and miss the lesson. The universe is full of opportunities to learn, but we have to be open to the interruption. Every day, we hear and see things that could remind us who and how we want to be in this world. We encounter stories and people and problems, songs and articles and traffic jams and most of the time, we don’t pay attention to what they might have to teach us. We simply take them at face value, as entertainment, or annoyance. They go in one ear and out the other. They fly across our screens with a flick, or a click of a finger and they are gone, hardly registering. The moment is lost.
I hate that.
I hate that most of the time I’m too preoccupied to pay attention when God says, “This is for you.” Someone in my home loves to sing in the shower and I could share the joy, but instead I think about how much water is wasted. Listening to Kiko play the ukelele could relax my heart and soul, but instead I fret about the homework that still needs to be done. When Tim stops me for a hug after work, it could remind me that I am loved, but it could also annoy me if I’m in the midst of something else. I wish I weren’t too busy, too anxious, too wrapped up in my own little world to see the very things that could get me to slow me down, so I don’t crash and burn.
But I’m trying. Nadia’s stories have inspired me to stay in the classroom a little longer each day. Whether I’m in Love and Forgiveness 101, Silence and Stillness for Beginners, or Holding Your Tongue for Dummies, I’m trying to take more notes and listen when the teacher say, “Pay attention, this is for you.”