On Monday morning of this week, I was savoring my day off, which included a trip to my favorite used record store in Atlanta. As I was getting in my car to leave, my dog, Neko, ran past. Since she’s not allowed outside of the house or the backyard fence without a leash, I was alarmed. How did she get out? The gate to the backyard was closed.
I surveyed the chainlink fence. Sure enough, there was a gaping hole where a large tree had fallen. Among other things, a part of the trunk needed to be removed in order to repair the section of the fence that had collapsed.
So I needed a chainsaw. Only I don’t own a chainsaw. And I’ve never operated a chainsaw.
And suddenly I’m in a dark, familiar place: I’m cursing myself—literally cursing—because I perceive that I’m missing some bit of genetic code that most men seem to possess: that part that enables them to be handy with tools. I have no aptitude for them. I have little interest in them. Repairing fences and sawing logs is something that someone like me has to pay someone to do. Which only makes matters worse, because then I tell myself that I’m about as good at making money as I am at working with tools! Why am I like this? Where did I go wrong?
I feel as if I’m not equipped to be a proper man!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m right to feel this way; only that in these moments this is how I feel.
Coincidentally, in my sermon last Sunday on Psalm 42, I talked about the importance of healthy “self-talk,” in reference to the distraught psalmist, who literally talks to his soul, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you in turmoil within me?” I used as a counterexample something Donald Miller said about himself in Blue Like Jazz: that he talked to his own soul in a way that he would never talk to his worst enemy, much less a loving neighbor.
So here I was, one day later, doing the same thing—with so much anger toward myself. And it’s nothing new. Like I said, it’s a familiar place for me.
It is helpful, as I’m sure both Donald Miller and the psalmist would agree, to try to understand why we speak to our souls this way. “Why are you cast down,” the psalmist asks. Why?
Here’s what I know for sure, after years of working on the answer: It’s not only anger at myself; it’s guilt. In fact, it’s mostly guilt. Some part of me, you see, believes that I wasn’t a good son to my father.
My dad, after all, was not only handy with tools—he had been a mechanic in the Air Force—he was also a successful businessman and entrepreneur. If only I had spent more time with him, if only I had shared his interests, if I only had been more like him, I think, instead of constantly defying and disappointing him, I wouldn’t be this way! And I would have been the son that he wanted.
I would have been the son that he wanted.
So the fact that I feel helpless when a tree falls and breaks my fence is a reminder of this psychic wound that I carry around—which goes back to my childhood. “The child is the father of the man,” indeed.
But healing is possible, I promise! What happened Monday happens far less often than it used to. Thank God! And I mean that quite literally. God is healing me, slowly but surely.