"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Perfect Eruption

By Micky Wolf

It all appeared innocent enough. Preparing the Thanksgiving feast, oven filled with assorted dishes, all stove-top burners on the gas range fired up, including one with a very large stockpot two-thirds full of a delicious mixture of turkey broth and seasonings, awaiting the perfect moment to add the packages of special Kluski-style noodles.

I slit open one end of the first bag with no more than a dozen noodles dropping into the liquid when, without warning, the entire contents exploded, a three-inch high flash of foam erupting over and down the sides of the pan, cascading into the recesses of two burners, instantly quenching the flames.

Momentarily stunned, I looked around at everyone standing near the stove. Thankfully, not a drop of frothing stock had touched a single person. Springing into action, we had everything cleaned within a few minutes and the pot refilled with broth and noodles, gently bubbling away.

This was the first time [hopefully the last] this kind of almost-cooking-catastrophe had ever occurred. The best we could determine was that a light film had formed on top of the broth, beneath which the temperature was boiling, so that when the few noodles penetrated the surface breaking the tension, everything was released, full-force.

As things settled down, I couldn’t help but see the incident as a metaphor for some of our human actions and reactions.

It wasn’t about the noodles…

The noodles were never the problem. It was everything going on beneath the surface of the broth that was the issue. A similar reality can apply to you and me. At any given moment we may be carrying around some ‘hot stuff’ that resides just out of sight in our thoughts, feelings, or emotions.

And then along comes a few noodles—or in relationship parlance the innocent person—who makes a comment or says something that pierces our outer defenses and boom, we erupt. The more unresolved stuff we have buried, the greater the potential for ugly and messy consequences.

The perfect fuel…

The fire necessary to heat the stock is not unlike the anger or fear which fuels our personal explosions. Think about the last time you were afraid or angry. Until we learn to work through the issues that trigger or engage these emotions in a healthy and productive manner they build, layer upon layer, the perfect medium for an unpleasant and unloving outburst, often without seeming reason or explanation.

Anger and fear share similar roots—a perceived need to control or manage the most finite details of one’s life, usually based on past experiences of being in unpredictable or hurtful, or even potentially dangerous situations. It may only take a single word or gesture to ignite and release the pent up pressure beneath them.

When things are not be going the way we would like them to, or when we feel threatened or challenged by another person, anger and fear are at the ready. The only problem is the noodle—or in this case the other person—never knows which button is the one that will set off our reaction. Push the right one and our stuff slams into everything in the vicinity.

The stirring solution…

After the fact, we realized that a simple stirring of the broth in the stockpot would most likely have prevented the eruption. The film would not have been able to form a thin, albeit effective barrier over the boiling action.

And so it goes with our anger and fear. We try and convince ourselves we have everything under control. Because we are able to present a reasonably peaceful exterior, it is easy to believe that whatever is buried underneath isn’t going to be an issue for either us or those we encounter. If this were really true, none of us would ever raise our voices, spit out a few choice words, or yell at the ones who are nearest and dearest to us. Sadly, the space between the outward calm and the inward turmoil is often a hair’s breadth from being blown wide open.

Messes God manages…

The solution? Making a commitment to pay attention to the movements within our soul that alert us to the presence of anger or fear [or any of the darker emotions such as sadness or despair] before they reach a point of deadly volatility. 

When we allow God to use these stirrings to help us discover what troubles and concerns us, He is more than willing and able to heal our broken places, transforming us into more whole and holy people. What better promise could we lean on as we persevere and stay the course to being and becoming more Christ-like?

Have I developed a ‘film’ over the emotions of anger and fear? Why?

Can I cooperate with God’s grace as He stirs my emotional being?

What are some of the darker emotions I struggle with?

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