CHAPTER SIX: Purposeful Mud
“Is there anyone here named Adam?” My pastor asked the congregation one day.
“Nobody?” Apparently there wasn’t, because nobody said anything.
“Well, does anyone here know what the name Adam means in Hebrew?” Again, silence. So, he told us.
“It means mud. Adam means mud.”
His point, I learned as his sermon evolved, was that God had crafted Adam from mud into a being that was designed in His own image. From mud we all came and (ultimately) to mud each of us will return. That would be a little dispiriting if that was all we were. But we’re more than that my pastor told us. We are mud with a divinely crafted purpose. Purposeful Mud.
I had never heard it put that way before, which is why my pastor is so effective. He is great at explaining things in simple but memorable ways. Purposeful Mud is a poignant picture that is hard to get out of your head. It evokes the image of a craftsman capable of sweeping up a pile of formless muck and molding it into something of infinite value into which He alone has the power to breathe life.
Although I believed what he said to be true, I know that it is an idea with which many people struggle, on at least two levels.
First, there is the fundamental ambivalence we all share about the concept of having been created by a vastly superior being who has something specific in mind for each of us. Because that’s something that none of our limited human minds can fully comprehend, many reject it. Instead of viewing ourselves as having been created intentionally, we use our God-given capacity of reason to conjure up alternative explanations.
These run the gamut from humanity being the result of a series of micro-accidents ungirded from any driving force, to acknowledging a force (though benign) of some kind that set things in motion without any specific intent. In the former view we randomly evolved into what we are, while in the latter we are free to self-evolve into what we decide to be. Neither of those viewpoints allow any room for a divinely directed purpose. Either there is no purpose at all, or we are free to define it for ourselves, or something in between.
There was a time when my worldview could be found somewhere along that continuum. The blueprints that God used to turn this particular pile of mud into me is not a set of plans that I could read or ever understand. Nor am I capable of comprehending why He saw fit to do it at all. Why God was motivated to create any human being (or me in particular) is beyond my limited cognition. There was a time when that bugged me, but it doesn’t anymore. Although I cannot see God or know His thoughts, the result of His handiwork is clear enough. It couldn’t have happened without Him, so it must have happened because of Him. That’s enough for me now. I must be Purposeful Mud because I cannot be anything else.
The second struggle for many with Purposeful Mud arises from displeasure with the result. The don’t agree with what God created, so they assume that He made a mistake that they spend their lives futility trying to correct.
I’ve never seen it that way. God didn’t ask my permission to create me or seek my input into how He did it. While I believe that He is concerned about my feelings on the subject (because He is compassionate and loving), that doesn’t mean that my feelings about His handiwork are relevant. He did what He did because He is God. The only choice I have is to accept that truth or reject it and drive myself nuts. There is no other option for a pile of Purposeful Mud like me. It seems childish to quibble with the creator over what He has done. Like a tantrum.
My oldest daughter didn’t have any hair on her head until she was five, which is funny because now she has a beautiful mane. That didn’t bother her when she was spending most of her time with us, but when she got to preschool, she must have noticed that most of the other girls had long hair. So, one day she started wearing a sweater on her head that she would secure with a hair clip. Not surprisingly, she picked a pink sweater because she was so palpably aware of being a girl.
She must also have been bugged by the fact that her younger sister did have hair on her head because she cut all of it off one day with a pair of scissors. When I asked her why she had done that she said “I don’t really want to talk about it. Anyway, it’s in the past,” even though she had done it the day before. That made me chuckle. Technically, yeah, it was in the past.
I think my daughter did those things because she felt like a girl on the inside but thought that she looked like a boy on the outside, so she took matters into her own hands by taking what she had on hand and turning it into a wig. And I guess she gave her sister that shear job because her real hair made her sweater-wig look by comparison like what it was, a fake.
After a few months her hair began to grow in, and she took the sweater off her head. What she thought she looked like on the outside had begun to conform with how she felt on the inside. I like to think that if my daughter had never grown any hair, she would have eventually come to grips with it on her own, but who knows. Hair is important to girls, which is one of the reasons that God afflicts primarily men with baldness.
This was the daughter I wrote about in Chapter One, the girl I was so sure was going to be a boy until the nurse at the doctor’s office convinced me (with great patience) that three lines on a sonogram meant a girl, not a boy. There had been no doubt in that nurse’s mind that she was a girl, even in the womb. There was also no doubt in my daughter’s mind that she was a girl when she went to preschool, even though she looked just little bit like a boy until her hair came in.
Before her birth I read in some parenting book that newborn babies would bond tightly with the adult whose breath they felt first on their face. I thought was nutty, but there was a lot of advice in those books like that. You had to take it with a grain of salt.
In the final moments before my daughter’s birth, I found myself standing next to the obstetrician who was sitting on a stool between my wife’s legs. Although I was physically close to the action, I felt emotionally removed from it, like I was watching it on TV rather than being part of it. Being a father in the delivery room makes you feel purposeless. After eight hours of labor, I understood why midwives used to send the men out for boiling water. It was unnecessary task designed to make a man feel useful and get him out of the way. It satisfies our need to be an asset.
My daughter emerged upside down, which meant that she was face up with her eyes closed. Her tiny hands were folded across her lap and her little feet were crossed. Later, thinking about it, I realized that is how I pictured Jesus in the tomb waiting for God to breathe life back into him. Suddenly, her eyes popped open, and she started crying as the doctor cradled her. Without thinking, I bent over and started blowing frantically on her face like she was a birthday cake.
“What the heck are you doing Dad?” The doctor asked, turning on her stool to get my daughter out of the stream of my hot idiotic breath.
“I’m breathing on her so that we’ll bond.” I answered stupidly.
“You don’t have to that,” the doctor laughed. “She’s designed to bond with you. All you have to do is love her and she’ll love you back.”
A few years later I was leaving the house on an errand when my daughter asked me where I was going. “To the hardware store Honey,” I answered.
“When are you coming back Daddy?” She asked.
“Oh, I may never come back,” I said absently, thinking that I might get lost wandering around the store looking for whatever it was that I needed that day. It was a stupid thing for me to say because my daughter took it literally. Grief stricken; a tear rolled down her cheek as gazed uncomprehendingly at me. She couldn’t understand how I’d never come back. I immediately swept her into my arms and hugged her tightly.
“Daddy made a bad joke Honey. I was just kidding. I’ll be right back.” I said, with tears in my own eyes.
“I don’t want you to go away forever Daddy,” she said, still upset.
“I’ll never do that Baby. I’ll always come back. I’ll never leave you.” And I never have.
Years later, when I dropped her off at college for the first time, I started giving my daughter a little speech I had been writing in my head about how much the previous nineteen years with her had meant to me and how deeply I loved her. But I didn’t get very far with it before I could see that she was impatient, ready to start this new adventure in her life. So, I stopped and laughed at myself.
“I know you love me Daddy,” she said, sweeping me into her arms. “I love you too.” That was really all that needed to be said.
That doctor had of course been right. I didn’t need to breath in my daughter’s face to bond with her. God had done that for me. All I had to do was love her and she would love me back. She was designed that way. All I could do was screw up that design and (thank God) I didn’t do too much of that. If I had, I would have frustrated the purpose for which God had gathered this pile of mud that I am and breathed life into it.
Loving my wife and children is why He put me here. That, I believe, was His primary purpose and ultimate objective for me, so it would be nothing but childish for me to quibble with Him about it. That is not what a Minivan Centurion would do.