Monday, February 27, 2017

Baby Steps

I love the movie, What About Bob. I love how goofy Bill Murray is, how self-righteously too-dignified-to-mock Richard Dreyfuss is. You can see the gag coming a mile away, but it's still just funny. The movie also gave me one of my favorite sayings that I whisper to myself a lot. Because it's a kind way to give myself the message; it comes with a chuckle. Baby steps. And if I really do whisper it and not just say it in my mind, it works even better. I can't say it without smiling.

If you haven't seen the movie, you need to. It's part of our cultural experience. Then you can add this fabulous Baby Steps mantra to your self-help arsenal. Richard Dreyfuss plays a pompous therapist in love with himself. When Bill Murray's neurotic goofball character attaches himself to Dreyfuss, following his family on vacation, the antics are howlingly funny. Running through the dialog is this advice Dreyfuss gives his patients (just out in book form!), how to manage their recovery by taking appropriate actions in small doses- baby steps.

Another way to say it comes from some great 12 Step literature. They call it doing the next right thing. Because recovering addicts know better than anyone that it can be too overwhelming to attempt to quit whatever they've been turning to for solace. But anyone can do one thing. The next right thing. Just one. I haven't heard or read anything in the 12 step rooms that I didn't hear growing up in the church. But somehow, people whose lives and well-being depend on recovery from their addiction have found beautiful ways to couch the wisdom in a plan of action. Not just "thou shalt not" or "you should", but hey! here's some help for your spirit, mind and body that will make a difference. You can do it like this.

I said I am giving up fear for Lent. And since fear is really, really addictive, I'm making a plan of action. Doing the next right thing to keep me turned toward God and away from fear will be an experiment in humility. It isn't even Ash Wednesday yet, and already I've fallen into the fear pit a few times since deciding I'll give it up. Fear just could be the small pox of the world right now. It's contagious. But unlike small pox, I do get to decide whether or not to subject myself to those germs of mass hysteria. And I would be remiss if I choose to think that I can avoid fear because I'm smarter or more whatever than anyone else. That's where the humility comes in. My go-to admission that will help me remember to take these baby steps is that I don't know. I don't know. But God does. Can I sit with that type of humility, and trust that things beyond my control are not beyond God's notice?

I don't believe that God is arranging world events. Because I believe in free will, I believe that things happen that break God's heart. But I do believe that there is nothing and no one beyond God's compassionate grace. What does that mean, exactly? I have an inkling, but I can't really know yet. I'm willing to take the chance that it is true, and let it keep me from fear. By doing the next right thing. By seeing fear for what it is.

To borrow some great church words, with an edit or two, I admit that I am in bondage to fear and cannot free myself. But God, who is faithful and just, can set me free from my own regret, and my own fear. It's a small thing, admitting our character flaws. But it's a powerful one. A really big baby step.

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