March 13th, 2011 by Jonalyn Fincher
A maddening and sad little paranoia occurs every time we vacuum the Fincher home. As Dale and I whip out mops, buckets and vacuum, our eldest corgi, Lady Lucia, flees. Any movement of the vacuum cleaner turns her queenly strut into a cowl.
She skulks out of the room with her head low, tip-toeing for safer quarters. We’ve lost Lucy for hours, finding her in the farthest room, beneath the lowest bed hiding from the monster.
Hours after supplies are safely stowed, Lucy still creeps around the house in fear.
When Lucy is anxious she shadows our legs with hope that we might be able to do something about the vacuum. I imagine she thinks, “I know you are nice and kind and if I stay near you, I’m safe from the THING and nothing bad will happen to me, right? Right? RIGHT??”
One evening, after a cleaning day, I was sitting on a bench reading in front of the fire, when I found Lucy parked at my feet. I pulled the pillow from under me, fluffed it and lifted her squirmy little body up onto it, leaning her into a cocoon made by the crook in my knee. I alternated scratching her ears and turning pages.
After a few minutes she turned and slept peacefully. Several minutes later she roused. Standing up and leaning dangerously off the end of the chair. She wanted to get down.
I lifted her down and watched, expecting to see her disappear down the stairs to a safer zone. Instead she strutted to where the upstairs and downstairs meet with a wide open view of the house. She stood there, waiting in the crossroads. Then, she took her classic corgi position.
Often, when corgis are relaxed they will lie down and pop their hind legs out behind them-two short white paws, pads up. Because their legs are only a few inches long, it looks like they’ve flattened a rabbit and all that remains are the rabbit’s two feet peeping out.
Swiveled away from the fire I watched Lucy. She planted her hind paws into the ground, crawled her front paws forward and then, Plop!, out came the two rabbit feet. She relaxed herself into the floor.
I smiled and went back to my book.
All day I’ve been battling my own anxiety as I prepare for my next speaking trip. I find myself clinging to God’s legs, frequently checking in to see if he’s mad or sad or glad with me. I keep checking the clock making sure I have enough time. I realize that I’m acting like there’s a monster out there that might devour my good intentions, my organized notes, my neatly folded clothes ready to be packed up.
Like Lucy, I feel that my best won’t cut it. My worst fears might emerge no matter how faithfully I shadow the Master. The palm-sweating, stressful event will happen. I cannot control many things (my age, my flight, my reception, my book sales, my appeal) any more than Lucy can control the vacuum cleaner.
In this world I know I will have trouble; I may find myself darting for cover, feeling betrayed that my Master hasn’t kept the THING I fear most from me. Wondering what I did wrong I might dash away, until he coaxes me out from my hiding spot.
What I need is the same thing Lucy needs-time alone with the Master, sitting in front of the fire. Knowing he will not leave me gives me power to flex my spiritual gifts, to walk back to the crossroads and perk my ears.
In the Master’s presence I feel safe enough to notice my anxiety. Why do I feel afraid? Thomas Merton wrote, “Anxiety is the fruit of spiritual insecurity.” In the presence of God I find enough security to rest, even nap in his warmth.
The vacuum cleaner for Lucy is much like any fearful event for me or you. The Monsters in our lives are not brought to us because we have failed. Lucy did nothing wrong. The vacuum cleaner is not her punishment, but the natural, needed course of this fallen world where dust and dirt and sin must be cleaned away. Knowing I am not being punished, rather that I am loved even in the midst of the painful events, gives me courage to find the Father and the courage to leave the safe zone for the byways of this dusty world.
After all, I can sit next to my Father, at his hearth, anytime.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – Jesus, John 16:33