So today I went for a run. It’s beautiful here. 70 degrees in February feels so much nicer than 70 degrees in the spring. As if the world has been holding back April and May in its giant hands for a year now, and a teensy, little bit slipped out between its fingers. Just for you. Just for today. A tiny, sparkly gift on an unassuming Wednesday in February. So I went for a run.
I put away my CPA books (because, as a recipient of a gift of this kind, one must make sacrifices), and I headed outside with Dr. Dog and a thankful heart. There’s a park a few miles from my house that tends to pull in the greater Auburn area on a day like today. I ran by and saw a sprinkling of Eno’s and retrievers and fraternity boyfriends – frisbees painting arches over sun-bathing book worms and rolled-up-jean hipsters. Just people being people at 3:00 on a gift of a Wednesday.
Behind the park are the very quiet streets of residential Auburn. Houses with swing sets and porches and yard-of-the-month landscapes. There were hand prints on driveways and honor roll stickers on Camry’s and early blooming flowers giving mailboxes a show.
At the end of one such street I slowed to a walk. Caught my breath for a few houses and then just stopped. I took out my headphones, breathed through my nose, and listened. Turned my face towards the sky and closed my eyes. The sun warmed my cheeks and the wind sashayed my hair and in that moment I started to feel something. I didn’t know what at first – not quite joy, maybe – but more like… fire – and then pain – and then like a hurried and furiously approaching horrifying death – and I realized I was standing in a giant ant hill. I scream a four letter word, which we will replace here with “ouch,” and start jumping around like the march of the possessed while hundreds of evil, unforgiving fire ants crawl up and over and around my sweat-ridden legs. They bit my ankles and calves and that spot behind the knee that is impossible to shave. At least three went straight for the scar and, I kid you not, one sneaky little bastard covered some serious ground in a hurry and crawled all the way up to bite me on the cellulite under my shorts. Talk about adding insult to injury. Or injury to insult, as the case may be.
“These f(lipping) ants!” I’d since dropped my phone and begun the well-practiced art of what I call the “two-handed fire ant slap-swat.” You’ve done it before. You know what I’m talking about. Until finally I was convinced that I’d floundered myself out of the last of them. (I’d find out soon that I was wrong. But that rogue, asshole of an ant is a story for another time.) And I started to head for home. Irate.
It’s like one minute you’re all sunshine and puppy dogs, and the next, BAM, hell has come for you. Ruining a perfectly good afternoon run. I begin to think of all the ways I’d like to see those ants suffer, all the different combinations of 140 characters with which to tell the story, all the other things about this day that didn’t suck as much as these ants. When suddenly, and much to the disappointment of my highly offended sense of entitlement, I realize, for the millionth time, how incredibly sinful and foolish and proud I truly am.
Initially, the thought was “I mean, I guess I AM the one who stepped on their little kingdom because I was so busy taking in mine.” But, follow me here, my sympathy towards them is not the point. (And, admittedly, did not last very long because ant bites hurt like hell and I hate insects even if they are “God’s little creatures.”)
The point is, how often I find myself so focused on taking in the things around me, making sure I’m happy, making sure I’m content, that I’m walking right into ant hills.
Or, more pointedly, how often I view the kingdom of God like the kingdom of ants. Burdensome, infuriating, and inconvenient in my personal pursuit of happiness. (May I be so blunt about it?)
I have such an inflated view of the life I’m desperately trying to secure for myself that I am deflating the will of God, which has already secured for me far more immeasurably than I could ever ask or imagine, to an ant hill.
I’m walking around grasping for anything that feels good and complaining about, even getting angry about, the things the Lord is doing because they’re “getting in my way.” It is not convenient for my dad to get sick. It is not fun to be faithful to studying all the time. It is a pain in my you know what to try to turn away from drunkenness or gossiping or just an outright lack of thankfulness because I’d much rather complain about whatever is bothering me in this very moment that remember that the gospel is true and that Christ is risen.
I am looking at what the Lord has put before me like an ant hill, folding my arms and stamping right through it like a four-year old in a temper tantrum, because it just isn’t comfortable. And then furiously complaining about the ant bites. How wicked can one girl’s heart be.
And as I ran back home, utterly disgusted with my sinfulness, and trying not to fall while inconspicuously itching my legs between steps, I wondered about grace. And how it was possible that for a people so fallen, we are exceedingly, staggeringly, graciously loved. In swing sets and frisbees and sickness and heartbreak and even death (or, its equivalent, fire ants). And in his willingness to continue to tear down the kingdoms we try to build to remind us of the relentless pursuit of his own.
God is gracious to us because he loves us.
Because he is good and merciful.
And because he is a God after his own glory.
No matter how hard we try to be after our own.
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” Psalm 115:1