“You made it just in time,” said Justin. “There’re twelve minutes left.”
“Till what?” I asked.
I had just walked into the office after a night spent with Ben and Ashley entertaining Tanya’s cat Calliope. Justin and Leslie (of the de Fluiter variety, not the Camacho kind) were sitting in the office, lightened only by the flicker of the computer screen. I turned on a lamp.
“Leslie’s using my eBay account to buy a motorcycle. We’ve been bidding and watching the clock for 45 minutes now.”
Sure enough. I looked at the screen and saw the action. The bid was at $1700, and Leslie’s high bid was $1775. Leslie was way siked about the motorcycle.
“This is so exciting,” she said. “I love doing spontaneous things.”
But as the twelve minutes turned to ten and then eight and no one was bidding anymore, Leslie started to have trouble breathing. My questions probably didn’t help very much, either.
“So, you’re going to get your motorcycle license?” I asked.
“Well, I’m gonna have a motorcycle,” she said.
“Yeah, I know,” I said, “I just mean, you’re gonna have to pay for a license and registration and a title. That all adds up. And you also have to pay for the shipping and handling. That’s another $200.”
“Oh,” she said, “I hadn’t really thought it through all that far.”
I looked to Justin. “Why did you let her do this?”
“I take none of the blame,” he said. “I forbid her to make that last bid of $1775. This isn’t my fault.”
“Someone’s gonna bid,” said Leslie, reassuring herself.
“And if they don’t, what kind of motorcycle are you gonna have?” I asked.
Justin chuckled, “The side of it says ‘Tiger.'”
“See,” said Leslie, showing me the picture, “Isn’t that ugly? I think it’s hilarious. I thought I was bidding on this other motorcycle, the one here at the bottom of the page, isn’t it gorgeous?”
“Leslie! You didn’t even know what you were bidding on?”
“I got excited. Besides, I didn’t think I’d actually win the bid.” Then she laughed, “And you know what else,” she said, “it says here it doesn’t go above 70 miles an hour.”
When there were five minutes left, Leslie realized that she might have to buy the motorcycle. No one was bidding. What if no one out bid her? Every thirty seconds or so, she would hit the refresh button, hoping, praying for a bid.
She was restless by three minutes. She started playing games of Minesweeper between refreshes. Her hands were slightly shaking, and she was taking shallower breaths.
At one minute, Justin and I were certain: Leslie had bought the 70 mph, Tiger-clad motorcycle. Meanwhile, Leslie was freaking out.
“What am I going to do with a motorcycle? What was I thinking? I have to pay for school! This isn’t funny. I think I’m gonna throw up.”
And then it happened, Leslie hit refresh for the last time. The screen said, “3 seconds remaining.” And someone bid $1800.
Isn’t it crazy how life can completely change, like the flip of a switch?
One minute you’re gonna spend a month’s worth of tuition on an ugly, slow motorcycle. And the next, you’re not. What had the potential to completely change the shape of your future is now not an issue, at all. Fate, or something, rips the pages out and throws them away. The chapter may as well have never even been there.
The only trouble is when this sort of thing happens to the stuff you’ve been counting on, crossing your fingers over, staying up late at night wishing and hoping and praying for. When our dreams are just, poof, suddenly gone—what are we supposed to do?
On the other end, what are we supposed to do when our dreams not only stay put but actually do come true? “Something” has occupied our dreams and our longings for days, months, years, and then suddenly, it’s reality. And doubt sets in. And we begin to wonder, or at least I do, Did I really want this? Do I still want it? What was I thinking?
C. S. Lewis writes about this in The Screwtape Letters, through Screwtape, Wormwood’s affectionate uncle. Screwtape is giving advice to Wormwood and says, “Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming . . . The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing” (7).
Sometimes the likes of evil angels like Screwtape and Wormwood help us build up our aspirations (so that we’re never satisfied with where we are right now), to the point that our expectations leave the confines of reality. Then, when our aspirations do become real, we’re startled by reality’s harshness. What we’ve received doesn’t measure up with what we’d been expecting. Like walking into the blinding light of day after weeks spent in a dark cave. Eyes can’t handle the transition. They have to learn how to adjust. And so must we. But this “transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing” is foreign to us. We live in a society built upon instant gratification. We want what we want, and we want it better, faster, and ready, already. When our aspirations become reality, all we expect is the fantastic, the fairy tale ending, the “happily ever after.” And when that’s not what we get, we want to shut down the Popsicle stand and leave town.
Life isn’t a fantasy. Life is real. It comes down to the difference between “getting” and “being.”
Getting married and being married are two different things. The “getting” is all about the ceremony, the flowers, the bridesmaids, the cake, the honeymoon, the opportunity to leave singleness behind, while the “being” is the actual day-to-day living, the companionship, the struggle, the sticking through it—together—come hail or high water. If a person approaches marriage as something to “get” and not as something to “be,” they’ll start packing up their Popsicles as soon as their first customer has a complaint. Because, they think, a “happily ever after” life, the kind of life that dreams and aspirations are built upon, doesn’t have (gasp) difficulties! That kind of life is based on feelings, and it should always “feel good.”
But, gracious, life isn’t about feelings. Life is about choices. That’s real.
Screwtape says that his Enemy, who is our Father, allows this disappointment to beseech us. Is Screwtape right?
Maybe so. God would rather have us free than saved.
Lewis wrote, “Desiring their freedom, [God] therefore refused to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to ‘do it on their own.'”
Because only by “doing it on our own—that is, navigating the transition from dreaming to doing—will we ever truly be free.