(This is a follow-up post to "The Barefoot Legalist" in March; check out that story for context.)
My dad speaks of “the expulsive power of a new affection” as one of the surest remedies for a broken heart. It’s not necessarily a rebound crush, although that would probably work too, but love has its curative properties and this seems to be one of them. Honestly, it’s little comfort to someone going through relational turmoil that “Oh, it’ll all be fine when someone else comes along,” but I found Dad’s words ringing in my ears over the past few weeks when a cute girl—call her Amie—caught my eye.
Now, I had learned
my lesson a little about the legalistic tendencies of my own heart, especially as regards relationships, and so I really tried not to be the controlling perfectionist that I was on the last go-round (“scheming” is how I describe my heart when it tries to take over story-writing responsibilities from God). Ditching perfection turned out to be not so hard, because whereas with my last girlfriend I could’ve talked your ear off about how we were just right for each other and why she met every relational benchmark I had and then some, things with Amie were a lot messier. I knew that it would be wiser to get to know each other more as friends first. I knew she had just come out of a long-term relationship. I knew that on paper, the timing was ill-advised in pretty much every respect. When I sat down to tell the story to my mentor, I could only throw up my hands and laugh about just how chaotic, confusing, and unpredictable the whole thing was.
It became clearer and clearer that my interest in Amie was unrequited. I could feel the old controlling instincts and sense of entitlement rearing up in me, and I hated them. I prayed. I wrote. I talked to Tim, and he prayed too. Amie and I had a few long conversations, to the delight of my insatiably analytical nature. And I ran—a lot.
It was the first running I had done since my jubilant, guiltless runs over Spring Break. I ran completely barefoot, and there was no trace of obligation as I blasted my music, soaked up the sunshine, and dodged little pebbles on the sidewalk and cigarette butts in the grass. But I was absolutely running for stress relief most of the time, and my faced screwed up into all sorts of emotional contortions as I acted every inch like the strung-out endorphin junkie I am.
Today, I literally ran an errand and did a longer, harder route that would take me by the grocery store. My old injury showed up for a visit on the way back home; I’m writing with ice on my knee. I don’t worry that this is the end of running for another couple months, but as I walked the last half mile back to campus, I thought to myself, “Well, you pushed yourself too hard. That run was too long and the terrain was too tough and if you just hadn’t overdone it, none of this would’ve happened. You better not be turning back into a legalist about running!”
And then I laughed at myself for being a legalist about legalism. I had almost started believing that legalism caused running injuries, and that if I could just obey the “rule” against being a legalist about running, then everything would go well for me. I imagined some Wormwood or Screwtape trying to get me to hold that absurd contradiction in my mind and God chuckling as I blinked the scales out of my eyes like backwards contact lenses.
It was the same with Amie. I hadn’t exactly given up on “scheming,” and my heart still desired to be in control. I was more willing to admit that I couldn’t achieve relational success on the basis of how perfect the relationship looked, but I wonder if some part of me thought, “Okay, not being a legalist is the way to get what you want—that’s the trick!” I believe there was some genuine surrender and humility going on throughout the whole journey, and I’m not saying I’m against plans and preparation and hopes and dreams. But God’s graciously reminded me that I’m always looking for ways to manipulate him, even if my plan is to manipulate him by not manipulating him.
There! I figured out what you were trying to teach me, God! Now can I have a girlfriend?
But just kidding.
But just kidding. Seriously.