I ate all three meals alone today.
Well, I was accompanied by the Schnauzers, so I suppose that’s not completely true. Ginger has gone to see her folks on the way to our adult mission trip to Biloxi and I had things to do around the house, so it was a fairly solitary day with the exception of my trip to Weight Watchers for the weekly meeting (I lost two and a half pounds!). As I have mentioned before, I’m close to being a serial weight watcher and my downfall the other times was deciding I didn’t need to go to the meetings to lose weight: I could do it on my own.
That has proven to be untrue over and over. I can’t lose weight alone.
On more than one occasion, I’ve thought the weekly communal weigh-ins are a pretty good metaphor for church: the accountability, the community, the shared purpose, the encouragement. Faith is not a solitary endeavor. The connection crossed my mind again today because Rita, our group leader, talked about dealing with failure, a familiar word for anyone who struggles with his or her weight. Hell, for anyone who is alive.
Part of what the pups and I did this evening was watch the Red Sox, who are playing incredibly well right now. I’ve been a Sox fan for as long as I can remember and they have taught me a great deal about failure, from waiting eighty-six years between World Series wins to just playing the game on a daily basis. Kevin Youkilis, one of my favorite players, is on a roll right now. He has hit safely in twenty-one games and had more than one hit in nine straight games. He is second in the league in batting average, hitting .358. Yet, even as well as he is hitting right now, he doesn’t get a hit almost two out of every three times he comes to bat. Most players are lucky to get a hit one out of four times at the plate. That’s not the way baseball teaches us to interpret the stats, however. They talk about what he’s accomplished, not how often he fails. There’s a metaphor the church could use more often.
Paul understood what baseball knows when he wrote in Romans, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Not hope in the sense of “I hope I do better next time,” but hope as informed confidence in our Creator for whom failure is never the last word. God is personally acquainted with failure, I think – as strange as that may sound – because of God’s relationship with us. From wondering why Adam and Eve didn’t show up for their evening walk in the garden, to see Abel’s blood in the dirt, to telling Noah to build the Ark, to the people wandering in the wilderness, to Peter’s denials and Judas’ betrayal, all the way down to some things I’d prefer not to share, I don’t think the world has gone quite the way God imagined it when God looked at things and said, “That’s good.”
God is acquainted with grief, with failure. If that were not true, the hope we’ve been promised could not hold the weight of the world. Redemption requires a Redeemer who abides on both sides of the equation.
To know God knows what failure feels like strengthens my faith because I’m reminded that what lies beyond failure is love rather than success. I’m always going to strike out more times than I hit it out of the yard. What will keep me swinging for the fences are the folks in the dugout who go out for beers after the game regardless of the score or my batting average. The meetings matter at Weight Watchers not because we all lose weight every week but because we keep showing up and pulling for each other. When you gain weight (like I did last week), the primary message is keep trying and come back next time.
Jan pointed me to this song by The Gena Rowlands Band that says what I’m chasing in both clearer and coarser terms (parental discretion advised). To live as Jesus calls doesn’t mean to live perfectly but to fail brilliantly – “lose your life to find it” is the way he said it. Then get up and go again.
No one is keeping score.
PS — there’s a new recipe.