Thursday, April 19, 2007

An Abundance of Bathwater

**This is my latest essay. I luckily get to "publish" them to our church's weekly enewsletter from time to time.
I'd love some feedback:
  • How can I make this better?
  • What is the general tone/feel you get from this essay?
  • How does my writing style come across - how would you describe it?
  • Is it trite? passionate? meaningful? where do I veer from one into the other?
You can put your feedback in the comments, or contact me directly at Leah AT mypinktoes DOT com.
I am working hard at developing my voice. I know that practice practice practice is the only way. I'm looking for some help in the journey.
Thanks! ***

John 10:10 I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Romans 5:3-5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

An Abundance of Bathwater

By Leah Smith

Do you know what the overflow valve is in your bathtub? It’s a little hole that drains the extra water out of your tub if it rises above a certain level - like when you leave the faucet on too long, or swish around in the tub. The overflow valve is a safety mechanism, built right in. You put the water in, and if it gets too high – no worries! – the extra goes right down the drain and not over the edge of your tub. It’s nice. It creates a sense of balance – you can put so much in, but not too much – so your bets are hedged against a forgetful mind or a wayward knee.

I have found I don’t actually like to take baths – they are just not comfortable for me. I’m very tall, quite overweight, and have serious chronic pain problems. Sitting in a half-full, hard porcelain box is not soothing or relaxing. It is safe, but not rejuvenating in any way. It’s a difficult dance - deciding which body parts will be bare and cold, and which ones will be covered with warm water at any particular moment. It’s too exhausting.

Guess what I found out about bathtubs? For about 5 bucks, you can buy a plastic disc called a ‘drain subverter’ that covers up the overflow valve in your bathtub. As a result, you can fill your bathtub all the way up – enough to cover long limbs and ample bellies. Enough to enable you to have a full-fledged SOAK.

I have spent a lot of time trying to replicate an overflow-valve-type of mechanism for my life – I wanted to be able to exert just the right amount of energy, to not make waves, to not make a mess, so that things would feel safe and consistent. I thought I was searching for balance. I thought it would bring me peace. Instead, I have felt empty and restless in this pursuit.

In my search for this overflow drain-like “balance” in my life, I have discovered that God’s love and God’s Spirit in its true form can’t be contained, either. Living the abundant life, full of Jesus’s love, is like bathing in a tub with one of those plastic drain subverters. His love keeps flowing and flowing and can’t be contained. It spills out of us, leaking from our weakest places, splashing up and over the top of our hearts.

We often try to invent our own “overflow valves”, consciously or unconsciously, to avoid dealing with the dangerous thrill of God’s abundant love. We try to box God into a specific time period (like Sundays, or during our quiet times, or just during a formal prayer), or into a particular personality (wrathful, or judgmental, or benignly detached from the details of our lives).

Sometimes we create these ‘overflow valves’ out of fear. I’ve lived with a mediocre ‘bathtub’ experience for far too long because I’ve been afraid of letting the Spirit overflow in me. What will happen when I can’t contain it? When I can’t have control over what’s happening next?

The answers have been surprising for me: letting God’s love over flow into my life has been so healing. Yes, it’s messy – but it is glorious.

I’m no longer serving out of duty – meting out my ‘bathwater’, as it were, for the various things that I want to do or feel I need to do - seeking that elusive balance. Instead, I am discovering - and believing for the first time - that God created me with specific talents and passions that He WANTS me to discover, develop, and use. These passions I have bubbling up inside are from HIM and are part of this abundant life. They come from being filled to overflowing with the love of Jesus.

With the regular bathtub overflow valve, I can leave the bathroom and forget I left the water on. I can move however I want to in the tub and be sure I won’t make a mess. But I’m missing out on the amazing pleasure of reveling in a full tub of water.

With the drain subverter on, I have to pay attention. I have to be near the flowing water, watching where it is going. If I move in the tub, I AM going to make waves. The water IS going to spill over. There is no way around it. Subverting the overflow on your bathtub is NOT safe. You’re likely to end up with a mess all over the bathroom. But what a glorious, warm, bubbly mess!

What will I choose? To play it safe with the overflow valves? Or to go for it in the full tub – to go for the abundant life?

It’s still a battle to keep that drain subverter on. Some days I feel like I don’t deserve this luxury – that I’m kidding myself that God actually loves me this much and wants to pour himself into me. Some days I have to make a conscious choice to keep that subverter on. Some days I lose the battle and take it off. But I keep coming back to the amazing experience of the abundant life. Now that I have tasted it, I can’t go back to my old life of contained bathwater with safe and artificial balance.

I pray for you that you will find the courage to find God in the glorious mess that is created when you put a ‘drain subverter’ on. Bathe in the wonder of God’s abundant love for you. May you feel awash in the Spirit. May you feel secure in the amazing love of Jesus.


Lydia said...

Thanks for posting this. I enjoyed reading it. :)

How can I make this better?

The final paragraph doesn't seem to flow well with the rest of the essay. (More on this later).

In the second paragraphy you mention something about how your body doesn't fit well into most tubs. I was expecting to see this somehow carried over into your "bathing in God's love" metaphor, and was surprised to reach the end without hearing anything more about it.

It would have been really interesting to hear about them. Is there anything you doubt? Are there any traditions or expectations that don't seem to fit the way God made you? (It's ok if there aren't.)

What is the general tone/feel you get from this essay?

It is conversational and domestic, the sort of thing I'd read while sitting in the tub myself. :)

How does my writing style come across - how would you describe it?

It's like hearing an intimate conversation between (or among) a group of old a good way.

Is it trite? passionate?
meaningful? where do I veer from one into the other?

The last paragraph was a little heavy-handed in my opinion.

I liked the rest of it, especially the image of bathwater overflowing in your washroom. :)

Lydia said...

Oops, I forgot to explain why I'm not a fan of the final paragraph:

I think it's better to let people figure out for themselves what they want to take away from an essay such as this one.

The rest of your essay touches on the themes and ideas you mentioned in the final paragraph. Therefore, talking about it again was a little repetitive in my opinion.

It probably depends on your audience, though. Some people might need that sort of recap.

Leah said...

Thank you so much for the specific feedback, Lydia. I really appreciate it!
Thanks also for setting up this forum.

Lydia said...

No problem on both counts, Leah. I'm just sorry that you weren't able to get more feedback. :)