Waves and shadows (Part 1) – a lesson in standing on our own two feet


Something amazing happened the other day.  We went to the park, and I was persuaded to try and walk on a wobbly balance-beam…and I DIDN’T FALL OFF.  Balance is a tricky business, you see, and I’ve never been much good at it.

But beyond the balance beam, sometimes getting a balance right in life is a matter of holding two ideas in balance with each other.  It stops us toppling off at a tangent in either direction.  I’ve tried doing this before, where writing about the safari here and here.  In this post and the next, I’ll be trying to do it again.

This first post is a lesson in standing on our own two feet…

Fun with words

The late Douglas Adams is often remembered for the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series – the interstellar adventures of Arthur Dent: a man in a dressing-gown.  Occasionally people go further, and remember his creation of Dirk Gently: a private investigator from whom you wouldn’t buy a second-hand car, much less entrust delicate investigative work.

And then, once in a blue moon, someone remembers “The meaning of Liff”.  The premise of this short book is that too many experiences in life don’t have a word for them.  And there are plenty of good words to be found on – say – signposts.  Thus “The meaning of Liff” sought to borrow some of the more pleasing placenames from signposts, and assign them a meaning that sounded like it fitted the name.  The end result was a “dictionary” of sorts.  Don’t get it?  Here are some examples:

  • LIFF (From whence the title) is defined as “A book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover. For instance, any book the dust jacket of which bears the words. ‘This book will change your life.'”
  • SHOEBURYNESS – “The vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat which is still warm from somebody else’s bottom.”
  • WOKING – “Standing in the kitchen wondering what you came in here for.”
  • ELY – “The first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.”

For what it’s worth, I am deeply convinced that “Ely” is one of the most useful made-up words that the English language has seen  at any time in the last century.  And I was privileged to see a moment of “Ely” first-hand during my summer holiday this year.

shadow_1No escape

We were walking back to our apartment late one evening, with Marta (2) skipping happily from one lamp-post to the next.  Then she stopped and flicked her toe in the air experimentally. She put her foot back on the floor. Pause. Another flick. Foot down. This time the hesitation was noticeably apprehensive. The first, tiniest inkling that something had gone terribly wrong.  ELY.

As she frantically waved and jiggled her foot, she stared with increasing terror at…her own shadow. She desperately tried to shake it off, but like the antithesis to Peter Pan, her shadow was going nowhere.

Finally it was all too much. She placed both feet firmly on the floor, screamed “Mama!” and insisted on being carried the rest of the way home, in the safety of mummy’s arms, where the shadow couldn’t get her.

As the days wore on, a pattern emerged. Once it was dark enough for the streetlamps to cast a shadow, Marta would glance down, scream and that would be it for the evening. She would insist on being carried.

Now, Mónica and I have seen the Doctor Who episode with the flesh-eating shadows, and we are not convinced that it is in any way based on verifiable fact. And so we set about persuading Marta that her shadow was not able to hurt her.

  • Yes, it was there.
  • No, there was nothing she could do about it.
  • But that didn’t mean it needed to hold her back.

We were prepared to carry her for as long as needed, but it really wasn’t doing her any favours for us to keep carrying her indefinitely.  We were delighted when, a few days later, we were able to put her back on her own two feet, and watch her getting out and doing things.

The other shadows

God’s “grown-up” toddlers find ourselves paralysed by more abstract shadows: by our shortcomings and failings; by the things we feel we should have done and the things we know we shouldn’t have; and by a whole host of other shadows which send us running for the comfort of the father’s arms.

For some of us we might find this in the support of a loving church community. Others might find it in a place of tranquillity and reflection.  Whatever it is, it’s an important part of allowing God to restore and renew us. It’s part of allowing God to parent us, but it’s not the point of today’s blog. I’m going to focus on WHAT HAPPENS NEXT…

Our mistake can come when we assume that this place of comfort is the point of our relationship with the father.  It’s like Marta assuming that being held clear of the shadows is the point of being in a relationship with Mummy and Daddy.  In the same way as Marta needed to learn we weren’t doing her any favours by holding her off the floor, we need to let God teach us that, while the shadows may still be there; while they may not go away, they have no power to hold us back.

The purpose of God’s healing cannot be to keep us indefinitely in a place of comfort, waiting for the shadows to disappear. The bible is littered with imperatives to go and do things, from preaching good news to feeding the hungry.  We can only do this when we allow God to take us our of the comfort zone, and stand on our own two feet, in defiance of the shadows.


© Photo of shadows Jeremy Page

© Text 2013 Paul Brownnutt

Creative Commons License

Being God’s Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Today’s post is brought to you by Luke 8:38-39 – Read the whole story here

Theology of a five month old

I like games.  Particularly ones with no physical exertion whatsoever.  And for preference, they should fall into one of two categories:

– Games which are so simple that absolutely anyone can play them – This way I stand a fair chance of finding someone worse than me who I can beat, or

– Games which are so complicated that nobody with any sense would even bother trying to learn them – Meaning I stand a chance of winning purely by dint of the fact I know the rules.

So I rather liked the game I was playing with Elías the other day (it fell into the “Simple” category)

It went like this:  Elías would lie down on the bed, blowing bubbles of dribble at me, and I would hold my thumbs out for him to grab.  He would then pull himself into a sitting position, and look around proudly, before forgetting he needed to keep holding on.  Upon letting go, he would topple backwards and look hurt and betrayed.  I would then hold out my thumbs, and we would start again.

And no matter how many times we played this game, Elías could simply not remember that, in order to maintain his vantage point he had to hold onto daddy

Which is OK, because it’s a lesson I’ve yet to learn too.

The analogy is imperfect.  Elías will eventually learn to sit (stand, run, and wear me into the ground) by himself.  I will always need to keep holding out my hands to the father who, with unending patience and affection, will always pick me back up, and remind me of how good life is when I just remember to hold on.

© 2009 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally Published 9th November 2009]