It can feel like he bursts awake; that going from sleep to wakefulness involves crossing a painful threshold of sorts. This is exacerbated by awakening strapped-in in his carseat. Total silence, then piercing wail. His bald head turns tomato-hued and his nose breaks out in a sweat. Then the hands, the flailing.
I go to him all murmurs and soothes. I go about unfastening his five-point harness, threading his flailing arms through the straps, worming him out of his winter coat, all while he protests the event of waking, the nature of straps, the empty feeling of his belly, and all griefs in general. It would be a very quick maneuver if he wouldn’t flail about. Sometimes he flails his arms right back into the straps and sleeves like some magical reverse Houdini trick.
“Be still and know that I am God.” -Psalm 46:10
It’s an easy verse to remember, but easy to forget too. I flail.
Have you ever seen an adult flail? Maybe they were trying to ward-off a piece of wedding cake to the face or a dive-bombing bee. When we are surprised or frightened our arms jerk about wildly, like they learned an awkward form of kung-fu while we were sleeping. I find it more amusing than I probably should. Also, people tripping, that too is funny. I digress.
How about an emotional or spiritual flail? Have you seen that? Have you experienced that? I know I have, and I know in my bones that it isn’t the slightest bit funny.
“Flail” has two meanings, one a verb and one a noun. To flail is to, as we would expect, wave about like mad. As a noun, a flail is a stick with a swinging part on the end; used agriculturally and, notably, as a weapon when used with a spiky iron ball on the end. Both cause punishing impact; one for separating wheat and chaff, the other for brutal violence.
How do you respond when you’re falsely accused?
How do you feel when you discover a friend has betrayed your trust?
How do you react when that diagnosis comes in and it is the very worst of news?
How do you feel when “I do” turns into “I don’t anymore”?
Do you flail?
Do you sort of wish you had a flail of the weapon-variety for exacting some revenge?
“Be still and know that I am God”.
My prayer bench.
Some people just really need to have the fire extinguisher right on the kitchen counter. Or the pepper spray in the purse. That’s what having a place for prayer right in my home feels like. It’s where I can go and be safe, be covered, be held. Be still.
We hauled that old bench home from Chile in a cargo crate. It isn’t pretty. It’s all sorts of mismatched-whatever-from-wherever boards. It was clearly a utilitarian piece; in fact the man I bought it from was using it as a workbench (atop it sat a respectable dresser with its varnish drying and also pooling onto the bench). When I told the man I wanted to buy the bench you could see him try to smother the confusion that someone would want the old bench and not the shiny dresser atop it. “Gringas…”
I need that place, I need it to be in my visual orbit. Because even if I’m not leading a busy life, I am perfectly capable of living an ignorant one; not tapped-in to God, His whispers, His shouts, His love and leading. I can go about my own way in an alarmingly easy fashion.
A dear friend once said words so very wounding. And they weren’t true words, they were sort of flailing words themselves, weapons and wild swinging, meant to hurt. I flailed right back; dark anger poured up my throat from a boiling heart, and words that sliced flew out my lips and struck back. If I could have been still after she had wounded me, if I could just have sat with my injury and let God hold me…if. But I flailed and we both bled and the wounds never healed right and the friendship was a broken thing, no matter how we tried to avert our eyes from the scars.
If Henrik knew on waking that I would come for him, that his belly would be filled, and that there was no reason to panic, would he still flail, would he still turn red and cry out?
If I know at those moments of horror/offense/anger/fear that He will hold me, that He will guide me, that He will fill me and heal me, why do I yet find my arms flailing and my stomach dropping, and my faith so very fragile? How much easier for him to draw me close if I weren’t thrashing about?
“Be still and know that I am God”.
When I get Henrik out of his carseat, and I scoop him up into my arms, and his cheek lays plush against my shoulder, and his last shuddering cry fades to peaceful breathing, right then he remembers, he remembers that I came before and I came this time, and someday he’ll learn that I’ll always be there and will no longer fear.
And when all the worsts rear their ugly heads and my forehead comes to rest on my prayer bench, I remember the same and dare not to fear.