The Mathematical Theologian

I got about fifteen pages into “Desiring God,” by John Piper last night before I got sidetracked. Piper and I have studied–and been influenced by–the same man, but for very different reasons.

Blaise Pascal was a prodigy mathematician that lived in 17th century France. His thoughts influenced many of our modern branches of practical mathematics. His work in probability theory influenced how we think about modern economics and social studies. He was also one of the first people to invent a mechanical calculator. He lived an incredible life, albeit a short one–he died before he turned 40. I undoubtedly use principles he discovered every day even without thinking about it (I work as a sales analyst) as do countless others.

What I did not know about Pascal was that he was also a Catholic theologian, and a key proponent of the idea of Christian Hedonism, which is the main thrust of John Piper’s entire life’s work.

Hedonism by itself sounds sinful, and in most contexts it could be. It is the pursuit of pleasure through satisfaction of urges. In fact, when most people talk about self-control, that is exactly the type of thing that they’re trying to avoid. Theological Legalism is the implementation of divine “laws” to curb unbecoming and lustful appetites and behaviors.

The phrase “Christian Hedonism,” therefore, sounds counterintuitive at best, and oxymoronic at worst. At first glance, don’t those two terms seem opposed? Don’t they seem mutually exclusive? How can one hope to be a good Christian, and also pursue satisfying pleasures? The word “urge” even sounds sinful.

The answer seems obvious once it’s laid out in front of you: that satisfaction and pleasure can be derived in God. Piper quotes “Pascal’s Pensees” in Chapter 1:

“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

(As a side note, it appears Pascal probably felt the same way about altruism as I do: there is no such thing as pure human altruism if part of the reason someone is being altruistic is to feel happy. He argues that literally every action we take is our will exerting its desire for happiness.)

One common reason that people say they turn to God is that they feel a void in their life. Feeling unrest, feeling unhappiness, and feeling anxiety are all symptomatic of the same thing–they are different ways of expressing that something indescribable is missing from a life. My best friend (who is my brother in every way but parentage) and I often discuss feeling this void, or feeling the symptoms of it. That well feels infinitely deep and infinitely wide, and the problem feels impossible to solve sometimes.

Pascal’s argument hits this problem exactly on the nose: Our soul’s main pursuit is happiness, and in doing so we are constantly trying to fill an infinite void. There is only one thing, he says, that can fill an infinite void: the infinite Himself.

“There once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.”

If you have a twenty-thousand-gallon swimming pool, you’re going to need 20,000 gallons of water to fill it. If you have an infinitely deep hole in your heart, in order to fill it you’ll need another infinity. Like I said, the answer seems obvious when it’s laid out in front of you by a mathematician.

I love you for free

I watched a (surprisingly decent) romantic comedy last night, called “Sleeping with Other People.” The movie stars Jason Sudeikis as Jake, and Alison Brie as Lainey. They’re college “friends” that reconnect as best friends later in life. I don’t need to give many details here, because it’s a pretty formulaic rom-com. Anyone that’s reading this already knows how it ends. But, there are two fairly profound moments that struck me–where I felt a connection with Jake.

The first comes when Lainey tells him, “If you want someone to fall for you, you gotta be you.” To this he replies, “I don’t think I like me well enough to introduce him to other people.”

I’ve written here before that finding God in my heart was easy when I put my mind to it, and that’s true. What’s more difficult to describe to people is why I sought him in my heart. What was the genesis of this change of heart? What made me do it? Why was I one way, and now I’ve chosen to be another? Because I knew in my heart that my truth was that I didn’t like myself well enough to be that person around other people. I knew the reason I was floundering was that I didn’t even like myself well enough to be myself. My heart was constantly heavy, and I always felt like I had to hold myself back from being true.

This week’s message, delivered by Pastor Beth, dealt with Chapter six of Galatians. In that chapter, Paul revisits one of the great proverbs (and one which I’ve addressed here in this space before): we reap what we sow. He goes a little further, though. He writes: “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). Here, Paul speaks to what was wrong with my heart, and what was holding me back from becoming someone I liked well enough to be happy being. I was sowing of my own flesh, and doing so only for me. That’s why I loathed myself. That’s why I needed this change. I needed to become someone I could respect well enough to be that person around other people. I knew that I needed God to do it.

The other moment that struck a chord with me was perhaps the most profound moment I’ve ever seen in a run-of-the-mill rom-com. It went like this:

Lainey: “Are we in love with each other?”

Jake: *Nods head affirmatively*

Lainey: “What do you want to do about it?”

Jake: “Nothing. There’s nothing to be done about it. I love you for free.”

This is an idea that is almost untouchable and unknowable: that we could possibly love another person without expecting anything in return. I wrote a little about this idea in an earlier post about altruism, and the idea that every relationship and interaction is somehow transactional–many of us go our whole lives feeling that way. I’ve certainly had trouble wrapping my own mind around the concept of altruistic love.

But when you think about it, that’s what God’s love is. It is free. We don’t have to do anything to earn it. No action is required. Even if we could earn it, would any of us be capable of being worthy of such a gift? Unlikely. But, it is free. God loves me for free. All I have to do is accept that love. Christ sacrificed himself for me for free. All I have to do is accept His love and sacrifice. That’s it.

When I talk about being as much like Christ as possible, I think perhaps that altruistic love is the highest ideal realization of that principle. I must strive to give love for free.

This song has nothing to do with anything, except that it is profoundly beautiful, and was from the movie. It doesn’t have a religious connotation or bend–it’s entirely instrumental. Even so, it’s still something wondrous to behold.

Puzzle it out

I can solve a Rubik’s cube in about a minute and a half. This is nowhere near any kind of record, but it’s a neat party trick. People that see me do it tend to consider it to be some kind of magical power, and they are invariably impressed by the intellect required; they treat it with an almost mystical reverence.

The thing is: it’s not a big deal at all. It doesn’t require a genius IQ, or any special magical powers. When I was in high-school, I just decided that I wanted to learn how to do it, and broke it down into components. The first two layers I puzzled out over the course of a long weekend in a cabin in the woods. The rest (the hardest part is finishing the last row) I sorted out move by move over the course of several weeks. It’s one of those things that looks much harder than it really is. I’m a mechanically inclined person that’s intrigued by puzzles, and I’m a pretty clever guy, but this is not something that is outside the capabilities of an average person on the street. I just did it, and they haven’t yet.

The revered Renaissance sculptor and painter Michelangelo is credited as having once said “If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius.” Sometimes I have to remind myself of that on my walk with God. I speak with people who are further along their path, and I see how easy it sometimes looks for them. They can recall scriptures at will. They can relate lessons from the Word to practical life lessons without the use of Google, or even without the use of the Bible itself. I have to remind myself that even though it doesn’t come as easily to me, there is nothing mystical about these abilities. What I’m seeing may look like genius, but in reality it’s nothing but behind-the-scenes hard work. These people can recall scriptures because they’ve been reading their Bible longer and with more dedication than I have. They can relate lessons of the Word to this world because they’ve lived those lessons, and I am still growing into them.

If someone were to read this blog, they would quickly discover my affinity for Paul’s first epistle to Corinth. This verse comes from there: “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:8). What I have now is the Spirit, and what I seek with all my heart is the wisdom of God. What I need to do, though, is simple: I need to put in the work.

I have three books lined up for the coming weeks. One, “Desiring God” by John Piper, was given to me as a gift from my dear friend Brendon. It’s a treatise on understanding our relationship with God through the lens of Christian hedonism. The second, “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” by Marcus Borg, I first read about twenty years ago, and was a gift from a Pastor I respected greatly. It’s time to revisit it. The third, “3 Circles” was a recent gift from my friend Pastor Mark, and I’m looking forward to internalizing the concepts therein.

It’s time to get to work.

What Happened

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about God’s plan for me. Despite my best efforts, this means that I’ve also spent some time looking into my own past.

I know it seems like it’s completely unrelated, but a movie quote from “The Matrix: Reloaded” keeps resurfacing in my mind. Morpheus tells Neo and Trinity “What happened, happened, and could not have happened any other way.”

It’s painfully easy to look back at mistakes that I’ve made in the past and second guess decisions. Words I’ve said, or left unsaid. Things I’ve done or left undone. People I’ve let down, and people to whom I clung for too long. Regret is a very human enterprise; we can imagine how things could have gone differently if we had changed one thing. Such an exercise can be at once liberating and maddening, but ultimately it’s futile. What happened, happened. No amount of longing or wanting or praying can change it.

Lately, I prefer to take a different tack, and view the past through the lens of God’s plan. Once my vision is colored by that lens, it becomes easy in hindsight to look back at the confluence of events that led me here and say that I was on a path, even if I didn’t recognize it at the time. The Grand Clockwork of which we’re all a part, the Invisible Machine, continued to turn even though I was unaware of its machinations, and the invisible hand of my Lord was guiding me towards Him.

That can be a great relief if I consider it in the right context. Some people consider that to be fatalism, as if saying that I am part of a “Plan” means that I have no agency. I disagree with that interpretation; I know that I am responsible for my own actions, and that I can make choices to stray from God’s path. I know this because I have done so. But the relief surfaces when I consider that a thousand tiny stimuli guided me towards the path that I’m on now, and that those stimuli were no accident. When looking at only two or three points on a data plot, coincidence can make it easy to identify false trends. When there are hundreds of congruent points, a best-fit line no longer represents coincidence; that is called correlation. When those data points lead me to a decision, that is called causality.

For today’s two verses, I turn again to my dear friend Paul the Apostle. In his letter to Philippi, he emphasizes the importance of forgetting the past. Paul, once a sinner and blasphemer himself, would know better than most the import of releasing oneself from past infractions. Dwelling in that past, he says, will not make us better in the eyes of God. Only moving towards Him can do that. “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

In his second letter to Corinth, he exclaims the joy of having shed the old skin of the past: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is another source of relief: the old me is gone, and all the decisions he made have been molted away. The result is a fresh me, tender and raw, but born anew.

May your efforts be your own

The most beautiful thing about really good poetry is that it is both personal to the author, and personal to the listener or reader. Like all good writing, the purpose of a poem or lyric is to share a specific experience or thought in a way that makes that experience universal, but in a way that is not cliché or general. It’s a really tricky line to walk. When it’s done right, a poem, lyric, or line can be internalized by a listener in the context of their own thoughts.

Since realizing my own relationship with God, I’m sometimes surprised by the spiritual bend of some secular bands and songs within the context of my own spirituality. One of my very favorite bands is The Killers, a Las Vegas Americana/Dance-rock band (I also love coming up with names for new, imaginary musical genres specific to only one band.) I don’t often explore secular music here, but sometimes a lyric will strike me in just such a way that the music no longer feels secular. I want to touch on two songs today from the above-mentioned band.

The first of these is “Be Still,” from the 2012 release “Battle Born.”

The overarching theme of the song is that life is short and hard, and the dusty, material world can break your spirit. We are caught “in the belly of the beast,” and only spirit and heart can overcome the tempestuous storm surrounding us. The main thrust of the lyrics is just the titular two words: “Be still.” To me, in the context of Christianity, this means being a fixed point, and letting the Lord’s guidance calm the storm in my heart. Think of all the distractions and temptations that set upon us in a single day: television, work, music, sex, and money swirl around us like a hurricane.

One of my favorite stories is Christ calming the storm in the book of Matthew: “‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (Matthew 8:26). The story ends so matter-of-factly. He just did it. No description of mystical gestures, no words railed against the storm. Just cause and effect: faith, then stillness. Be still. Let the Lord be your true North, and stop the compass that guides our hearts from spinning wildly.

The second song I want to explore is “A Dustland Fairytale.” It’s a modern folk-rock song–it tells a testimonial story instead of relating general ideas. It is easily my favorite song of theirs, and I hope you enjoy it, as well.

There are two specific lyrics I want to call out. The first one comes with the chorus: “I saw the devil wrapping up his hands/He’s getting ready for a showdown.” I’m not sure that I have much to say about this one, other than it is a beautifully written image. It gives a weight to the devil that we don’t usually imagine. He’s not some horned demon or serpent slithering in the grass. He’s a gritty fighter right in front of us, and he’s preparing for a battle.

The next lyric is a wonderful testimonial that has always had special appeal to me, but that affection is amplified now that I have lived through it. “Change came in disguise of revelation/Set his soul on fire,” he writes in the second verse. “Disguise” is absolutely the perfect word to choose. When I first made the decision to accept Christ in my heart, I thought that it would add to me, and make me more than I once was. I thought maybe if I was lucky, it might even multiply me. But what I didn’t really expect is that it would completely change the way I saw the world. I am not only more, but I am also very different; I am truly changed, and I didn’t really necessarily see that part coming.

While I was doing a little research for this post, I read a bit about the band leader. Brandon Flowers–lead singer, ring leader and lyric writer for the band–actually is a Christian. (He’s Mormon, to be specific, but Christ is Christ in this context.) It’s not an accident that these two songs (as well as several others) have a spiritual connotation. In fact, I’m sure it’s intended.

On Tools

Tools are what we make of them. Anything that can be used for a good, productive purpose can also likely be twisted and used for evil.

I was thinking about this yesterday when listening to a podcast about wealth distribution and economic inequality. The keynote speaker of this podcast was Nick Hanauer, a tech billionaire with unusual views on those topics (for someone in his position of wealth). To paraphrase, he believes that a rising tide raises all ships, and that a more equal wealth distribution (i.e. higher wages) will increase demand, thereby increasing the wealth of every part of a supply chain. He calls this the ultimate realization of any “capitalistic democracy.” The other extreme, the one towards which we’re currently headed as a country, he deems a “neo-feudalist frontier society,” akin to 18th century France (we all know how that ended: the French Revolution). His views are closely aligned with my own, but this writing space is not really a platform for political views, at least not in this case right now.

The point is: he got me thinking a bit when he punctuated his point with the catchphrase “the pitchforks will come for us.” Even though I’m of an age where I’ve never seen a mob-lynching first-hand, that image rings clear. It’s an image that crops up in films and stories about darker times. Some of those darker times are well in the past, and others–such as those during the civil rights movement–are still fresh in the mind of this country. This is a great example of a tool turned into a weapon, and is especially apropos when considering the original purpose of the tool: spreading hay to feed livestock. Said another way, a tool intended to give is turned into a weapon to take.

As someone whose feelings for tools goes beyond simple affection, one of my greatest frustrations is when someone misuses a tool because they don’t understand how it’s supposed to work. Even greater yet is when they do understand how it’s supposed to work, but deliberately misuse the tool. Some of these may be obvious to a layman. A wrench is not a hammer, and a screwdriver is not a pry-bar. If a wrench was a hammer, we wouldn’t need hammers. Some of them may not be so obvious to someone that isn’t in-the-know. A razor-sharp paring chisel is not for scraping paint off an old door. A finely-tuned smoothing plane is not the right tool for rough-sizing a panel. That’s what scrapers and scrub-planes are for.

One of the greatest frustrations in my life–and one that persists today–arises when people misuse two of the greatest tools we’ve ever been given: the Bible, and the Word. They are meant to guide us, and to help us find God and each other. They are meant to instruct and inform us, and to help us build a foundation upon which a glorious, joyful life can be erected in His name.

But beyond that–and I cannot possibly overstate or overemphasize this–they are not weapons. In fact, I think that is part of why it took me so long to find God in my heart. For many years, I felt as though people were using the Word to tell me what I was doing wrong. Too often, preaching is done from a high horse, and congregations are scolded like children.

When I was nineteen years old, I fell in love with a beautiful girl. In all other aspects of her life, she was gentle and sweet. She had the most tender, giving heart I’ve ever known, even to this day. I adored her, and in many ways I love her still. But when it came to the Bible, she was rigid and unyielding, and she used the Word not to build herself and those around her, but as a shackle. The tool became twisted, and instead of making her heart more buoyant, it held her down. Perhaps worse, though, is what it did to me. When she broke my heart, she weaponized verses against our relationship. Forget for a minute how that might have made a nineteen-year old boy feel, and consider the long-term scars it left. I was embittered, and I became callous and angry against the Bible and those who used it to guide their lives. It took me almost a decade and a half to overcome the prejudice that caused.

That’s not an excuse, or a condemnation. It’s just a fact. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what it made me feel. That weaponization of the Word made me forget that it was supposed to be a tool, and in the end, whatever her intentions, what happened did far more harm than it did good. That is the danger of using a tool as a weapon.

On Loneliness

I could, with a quick search, find a dozen bible verses about how the Lord is always with me. About how He will never abandon me. About how I am never truly alone.

But, that doesn’t really help me feel less lonely.

I can go to church on Sunday morning and sit with friends. Hug friends, shake hands with strangers, put on a smile.

I can call up my close friends, and meet up for dinner and a drink. We can talk and laugh and enjoy the company.

I can volunteer to help people, and put myself in a position to make new friends. I can join groups geared towards making new acquaintances. Singles groups, sports, shared-interest groups. I can be around people any time I want.

I can trust that I am on God’s path, and that He will of course give me everything I need, exactly when I need it.

I can do all of those things, and still feel lonely. I am almost certain that the loneliness I feel is nothing but a product of expectations I feel, and an echo of how I am used to feeling. In that way,  I sometimes feel like I am in a prison of my own making, and a simple change in attitude could change how alone I feel. But that is much easier said than done.

I’ve been thinking about Paul’s imprisonment. How must it have felt for him to have come all the way around? For much of his life, he was a sinner and blasphemer. Then, once he came to salvation and began to spread that word, forming churches and spreading gospel, he was persecuted by people no different than he had once been himself. Worse, as he tells us in his second letter to Timothy, he felt all but abandoned by his friends in the church. He must have felt tremendous loneliness.

He writes in his second letter to Timothy: “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth” (2 Timothy 4:16-17).

Paul’s circumstances, of course, were much more dire than my own. I am in no real, physical danger. No one is trying to actively strip away my freedoms, or keep me from expressing myself. But still, I can’t help but feel an affinity for Paul’s situation. During my worst times, I feel isolated, rejected, and abandoned. Emotionally, whether those feelings are justified becomes irrelevant. The reality is that even though I feel as though God is always with me, I feel as though part of my life is empty. And being certain that He will deliver me from this loneliness gives me heart, as it says in the Gospel of John: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). But I am human, and that shield is not impenetrable.

I think I understand on some level that when I am ready, part of his plan for me is to deliver me to my other half. The tough part is understanding that even though I want that to be now, part of the reason that I don’t have it is because it’s not what I need. I make this a part of every single prayer I say: Lord, please give me this day my daily bread, and help me to understand the difference between what I need, and what I want.


We live in a time where the word “mindfulness” is popping up more and more frequently. It’s bandied about and passed around carelessly, and I think people use it without understanding what it really means. I think mindfulness has implications for understanding our relationship with God, so I want to get into it a little. I know this could make any potential reader uncomfortable, but I’m going to do a little dive into mindfulness in the context of math–specifically, calculus. I’ll try to explain it in layman’s terms, and keep it as simple as possible.

Calculus is a math discovered and developed in order to calculate and understand the cumulative value of functions that were previously difficult to calculate. That’s a lot of baloney to say this: before calculus, it was difficult to calculate the area under a curve. Straight lines are easy! We can just use geometry and trigonometry–after all, any basic function is just rectangles and triangles. Any time a power of two or greater is added, however, and a non-geometric curve is introduced, the math becomes decidedly harder.

The main principle of calculus is this: hard math is hard, and let’s make hard math easier by breaking it down into smaller and smaller pieces until it’s not hard anymore. Think of a positive-value-only graph–everything to the right of the Y-axis, and everything above the X-axis. Now imagine a simple curve on that graph, like below. (As a side-note, please excuse my very crude illustrations–I don’t have access to a decent graphics editor right this minute.)


untitled (3)

Using simple geometry, it would be very difficult to calculate the area under the curve. But if we break it down into vertical chunks, we can get an approximation.untitled

This is not a good approximation–in fact, it’s quite bad. But if we take smaller vertical slices, it starts to look a little better.

untitled (1)

Let’s take it one step further for the purpose of this illustration:

untitled (2)

Now we’re getting somewhere. Our rough estimate becomes more and more meaningful, the thinner the slice we take. Said another way, as the vertical slice we’re using to measure the curve becomes more defined, the directionality of the curve itself becomes less and less meaningful. That is the entire point of calculus! All the fancy math and formulas obscure the point to a degree that most people have no idea how calculus works, but when you boil it down to it’s simplest concept, anyone can get it: Calculate the area under a curve using slices so thin that their widths approach zero, and you will have a great approximation of the meaning of the curve.

Here’s where I’m going with this: that is also the exact purpose of mindfulness. Dwelling on the past and worrying about the future make the slice of what we are observing too wide, and we are unable to find the meaning of the curve of our own path. The directionality of that curve matters too much, and it can affect how we feel and think. By making that slice of our life thinner and thinner, we start to appreciate the moment, and we can more accurately understand what that moment means to us.

I think a lot of people consider mindfulness to be an Eastern philosophy, and therefore mutually exclusive from the idea of Christianity. I disagree. God wants us to be happy, and bask in the sunshine (literal and metaphorical) in every possible moment. Solomon the wise writes in Ecclesiastes: “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20).

On Routine

Military-grade routine and discipline are two of my great comforts. Lately, I’ve been meaning to evaluate why those things soothe me, because I wonder if they’re really helping me be the best version of myself.

Every morning, weekday or weekend, I wake up at the same time. I don’t even need an alarm; I almost always awaken ten minutes before it rings. I make the bed even before the sleeping indentation I left there has smoothed out. I brush my teeth, apply deodorant, and fix my hair, and always in that order. I showered the night before, and I don’t need to waste water to wake up. I put on the clothes I laid out before bed: pants, socks, shoes, undershirt, overshirt, and always in that order. Then I feed the two cats, freshen their water, and give them their morning treat. I grab my lunch, which I pre-made the previous day, throw my laptop messenger bag over my shoulder, and I’m out the door. If everything goes smoothly, and I move swiftly, I can comfortably get from out-of-bed to out-the-door in ten minutes flat.

Years ago, I heard a phrase that has stuck with me. I think part of me aspires to it, even though on the surface it has a pejorative ring: “Ruthlessly efficient.” I don’t consciously make choices ruthlessly, or deliberately eschew joy for that efficiency. However, I still know that I’ve turned down opportunities for joy, or turned away from a chance to make someone happy, because something about the opportunity didn’t fit into my routine. I don’t really know why such a concept would appeal to me, but in retrospect, it’s easy to see why something like that would get in the way of interpersonal relationships. I know it has done so.

So the question remains: why? Why did I seek comfort in routine, in efficiency, and in muscle-memory? I think it’s because I had no peace in my heart. My mind was loud, and my heart was taxed and troubled. Routine helped quiet the churning thoughts, and I thought it would help ease my roiling soul. I think I believed that I simply had too much on my mind, and too many things to get done, and the only way to quiet myself was to tackle the mundane and monotonous tasks of everyday living with that ruthless efficiency.

Now, however, I wonder if all I really needed was faith in my life. My discipline and routine could only calm my inner turmoil so much. When I was thinking about this yesterday, I was reminded of Jesus calming the sea in the book of Matthew. “Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (Matthew 8:23-26).

Part of the purpose of this story is to illustrate that all things are possible through God. In the story, Christ calms a literal sea. I think that what I’ve missed about it in the past, though, is how that metaphorically applies to my own soul. Faith has had a calming effect on me; I don’t feel as anxious or uneasy as I used to, and I have God to thank for that. I am still somewhat dedicated to my routines, of course–there’s a reason that they’re called habits. But now, I think that I adhere to them because they are simply an efficient way to live my life. That discipline is less of a crutch, and I think I’ve lost the “ruthless” part.

Right the First Time

Recently, I bought a waffle iron. I delight in a well-made Belgian waffle, thick and fluffy and full of carbohydrates. I love waffles even without the myriad accoutrement–butter, syrup, berries, powdered sugar. Whipped cream? Fried chicken? Ice Cream? Nutella? Good heavens. There’s a quote–paraphrased and misattributed–from Ben Franklin where he allegedly said something along the lines of, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” I think waffles are on that same list.

On day one, a reality set in that I’d like to share here. For those who have tried it, you may know this truth. For those who have not, heed this warning: owning a waffle-iron does not make one a waffle chef. Waffles are not pancakes; any literate doofus with ten minutes can whip up a little fried Bisquick and call it breakfast. I mistakenly thought that a waffle would be the same principle, and that just changing the proportion of the ingredients would yield brilliant results. I could not possibly have been more wrong.

The first batch was thick as a brick. It was literally a biscuit made in a waffle iron.

The second batch tasted . . . like I had smashed four or five pancakes together. Still too dense.

The third one I tried something different: I used egg whites only, and cut down on the dry ingredients. The result tasted more like a waffle, but looked like Swiss cheese. It was a skeletal latticework of waffle batter. Interesting! But not really a waffle.

The thing is, before I had started trying to make these waffles, I already knew how to get good results. The genesis of my waffle project was a Youtube video by Andrew Rea where he mixed up a batch of Homer Simpson’s “Moon Waffles.” Having already watched the video, I knew ahead of time how he made his waffles light and fluffy and crisp.

It just seemed like hard work, and I didn’t want to do it.

If you watched the video, great. If not, I’ll summarize the key to fluffy, crisp waffles: quality ingredients, and air. The most difficult, time-consuming part of the ordeal is the process of whipping the egg-whites to stiff peaks. Doing so is boring, bland work. It takes a little practice to get right, and you can go too far if you don’t add the right amount of sugar to the whites to stabilize them. But it is the only way to get a proper waffle.

I wrote yesterday about how I had received most of my wisdom from my mother and paternal grandfather. It’s not that my father didn’t pass along any wisdom, it’s just that his teachings tend to be more background in my personality. He did teach me one thing that, while important, I sometimes eschew because of impatience: There is no shortcut–do it right the first time, or you will just have to do it again.

Do it right the first time. I know it sounds a little bent–it’s just breakfast, after all–but this waffle experience is a nice allegory for how I ought to approach life. My old friend Paul the Apostle hits on this in a couple of his letters. In Colossians, he says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). Sometimes what we’re doing is working to support a family, or building a home to live in, or giving of ourselves to the community. Sometimes what we’re doing is making breakfast. Whatever it is, though, Paul says that we should commit to putting all of ourselves into it. In his first letter to Corinth, he says “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

God–and God’s glory–can be present in the kitchen, as long as He is present in our hearts. And as long as God is in our hearts, shouldn’t we give every effort to completing every task the right way the first time, and with joy in our hearts?

Spoiler alert: my first batch with stiffly-whipped egg whites was pretty darned good.