My Bad Bug

May 2015

Yesterday, my four-year-old daughter Madeline was asking about sin. This is because she is exceptionally bright, spiritually advanced, and concerned with acquiring justice for her brother who had been ignoring her.

“Is sin like a bad bug in your body?” she asked. Except she said, “ ‘YIKE’ a bad bug,” because she cannot yet say her l’s.

“Yes,” I said, “Sin is like a bad bug. But Jesus died to take away your sins.”

She thought about that for a second.

“Well, it didn’t WORK.”

It just so happens that Madeline has a complicated relationship with bugs. Not just sin bugs. ACTUAL bugs. She delights in them; she despises them. She is obsessed with the horrible shapes of their legs and eyes and wings; with the fascinating sounds they make; their unpredictable, dangerous behavior, and the way they do not ask her permission to EXIST, how they go right along their bug-gy way despite the fact that she has so many questions to ask them. She has an overwhelming desire to welcome them and rejoice in her co-existence with them, but the truth is, there are just some BAD BUGS. Even the nice ones are sort of awful.

Ladybugs, with their haphazard, sudden departures.

Butterflies, with their spider-like, hairy legs.

Bugs are either bad or just a LITTLE BIT bad. She wants to like them, she really does. There’s just a lot of unresolved tension. She pushes her hair behind her perfect, tiny ears, and soldiers on through the dying St. Augustine.

There’s tension inside of me, too. Tension with myself, with other people, with the world. The tension of living in a not-yet life where Jesus has taken away my sin fully — but not yet.

Sure, I say, Jesus “paid it all,” and when he looks at me, he sees perfection and a white robe and childlike innocence. But when I look at me, I see a six-eyed Sort-of-Awful who maybe deserves to be crushed by a plastic princess shoe. Like what Jesus did for me didn’t work. It didn’t take. Even if I’m not bad, I’m at least a little bit bad. And even a little bit bad can be bad enough to feel useless and defeated, especially if my issues SHOULD be relatively easy to overcome or avoid; easily shattered like inconsequential nothings-at-all over the bedrock of God’s real-ness and grace.

How on earth will God ever really use me in this life when all I want to do is shop online?

How will I ever really leave a legacy for my kids when, day in and day out, when I’ve spent more emotional energy being concerned about how I look in these jeans?

These are tame compared to the dark, actually Bad parts of me I could share.

Brother Lawrence, that potato-peeling monk of old, said this:

“I regard myself as the most wretched of all men, stinking and covered with sores, and as one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Overcome by remorse, I confess all my wickedness to Him, ask His pardon and abandon myself entirely to Him to do with as He will. But this King, filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite. He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways; He forgives me and relieves me of my principle bad habits without talking about them; I beg Him to make me according to His heart and always the more weak and despicable I see myself to be, the more beloved I am of God.” (“Practicing the Presence of God”)

God outdoes our determination to wallow with his own brand of stubbornness: his determination to delight.

Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not being totally honest about Madeline. There IS one bug for which she has true agape love, and that’s a roly-poly. She is uncannily in tune with his/her whereabouts — assuming there are roly-poly hims and hers. In her mind, there is nothing to condemn in a roly-poly, except perhaps its tendency to die without the proper permits.

She pinches it gently and lets it crawl all up and down her arm, its disease-y little legs whipping back and forth across the pristine plane of skin.

She laughs and thrills and tries to find another one, and then another; collecting them like jewels for a crown.


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