A week ago an ice storm hit our area. The forecast was so dire the governor closed all the public schools in the state three days in advance. Late Friday evening the thermometer rose above freezing and the sky deposited sleet, freezing rain, and then rain. The temperature dropped quickly. By Saturday morning thick ice covered everything.
Needless to say, travel was treacherous. Since we live in a small town, I walk nearly everywhere all the time. It’s a good thing, too, because I doubt our car could have made it up the steep slope of our tuck-under garage. Carol and I joke that whoever designed our house didn’t live in Minnesota and visited during summer to deliver the blueprints.
A week after the storm, it’s still slippery here. Everywhere. I’ve still been walking my normal routes, but it’s slow, tense work. Staying on my feet is really challenging. I’ve started to slip several times, but haven’t fallen all the way yet. I walk like an old man with tiny, defensive steps. True to form, I’m actually beginning to become an old man. I sense a fall may not be as easy as it used to be. Psalm 37:23-24 comes to mind: “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.”
That’s a comforting thought when walking on ice! And it’s followed immediately by this: “I was young and now I am old…” Oh boy, Lord, keep me on my feet!
Yesterday I began to notice that my calves were a little sore because of my defensive posture, but I kept walking. Today my calves are very sore. Defensive walking–maintaining a constant tension in the legs to guard against slips–may help us avoid painful confrontations with the ice, but there has been an unintended consequence–pain of a different kind.
Defensive walking reminds me of defensive living. Defensive living maintains constant tension with other people. Our relationships are guarded. We think the worst of others, refuse to grant the benefit of a doubt, find it hard to forgive, and cannot enjoy authentic vulnerability with our family and friends. Anger is usually part of the equation. One way to describe defensive living is “walking on eggshells” around other people. We keep them at a distance and try to hold on to the status quo at any price. So we never relax. That describes a lot of relationships.
There’s a cost. We live defensively to avoid the pain of relating with others, but it turns out there is an unintended consequence–the different pain of a lonely life. Perhaps the status quo isn’t worth preserving. Vulnerability and authenticity involve real life pain, but it’s far better than walking on eggshells around other people. Life produces ice storms in the stress of difficult relationships, but defensive living is not the way to respond.
If I’m going to keep walking on ice, maybe I need to strap some spikes on my shoes to grip the ice better. Defensive walking is too painful! And when life produces ice storms in strained relationships, a gospel-driven life helps me grip the slippery mess of loving and forgiving other people who are broken just like me. Defensive living is just too painful!
An ice storm proves it.