My favorite lunch place, an ice-cream cafe called the Frozen Monkey, is always crowded with moms and babies, so it wasn't too surprising the other day when, as I was eating there, I saw a mother wheeling a double carriage containing a pair of twins. Then I did a double-take.
It wasn't that the adorable blonde pair, less than a year old, wore matching blue hooded coveralls—it's ordinary enough for a mom to dress twins alike.
No, what stopped me was that the boys each had the same toys. Two look-alike babes in look-alike outfits with look-alike bright-green frog cushions in their laps and look-alike padded mobiles dangling from the top of each half of their carriage. A mirror image all 'round.
I found that deeply disturbing.
My eyes strayed up to the mom and I read all sorts of undesirable personality traits in her countenance. But here, truth be told, I was using my imagination. She could have been a very nice person who was simply misguided. Probably when she was pregnant with twins, people bought her two of everything. And I imagine when a mother has such adorable sweet peas, it's difficult for her to resist the attention she'll get from making them look as alike as ones in a pod.
Even so, the sight made me think. And I realized that I am so glad that God does not give each of us the same toys.
I'm not talking about the toys that cost money. I'm talking about every kind of stimulation in life and the ability to appreciate them in a unique way.
Irving Berlin wrote:
Got no diamond, got no pearl, still I think I'm a lucky girl—
I've got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.
Got no mansion, got no yacht, still I'm happy with what I got.
I've got the sun in the morning and the moon at night
To me, this is a perfectly reasonable reaction to have to heavenly bodies. But the future wife of G.K. Chesterton, the delightfully named Frances Blogg, took a somewhat different view, as Chesterton would relate in his Autobiography:
She told me in the most normal and unpretentious tone that she hated the moon. I talked to the same lady several times afterwards; and found that this was a perfectly honest statement of the fact....She really had an obstinate objection to all those natural forces that seemed to be sterile or aimless; she disliked loud winds that seemed to be going nowhere; she did not much care for the sea, a spectacle of which I was very fond; and by the same instinct she was up against the moon, which she said looked like an imbecile.If you think this woman utterly detestable, as I did when I first read that passage, I should add that she was, despite her hatred of Luna, a lady of great love, devotion, and faith. One of the things that fascinated Chesterton about her was that she had her own tastes that weren't dictated by fashion or other popular notions. God had given her a completely different set of toys from her soulmate, and Chesterton enjoyed playing with them, even if he felt no desire to own them.
In that same vein, C.S. Lewis, writing in The Screwtape Letters as a devil giving advice on temptation, said, "The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food he really likes in favor of the 'best' people, the 'right' food, the 'important' books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions."
These are the toys that God gives us: the passions that drive us to make everyday choices. And the threat to enjoying these toys comes from addictions.
Addictions, whether they be to material things or to behaviors such as sex, all begin as ordinary passions and descend into compulsive obsessions. Allowing oneself to fall victim to them is like taking the wonderful magic box of exquisite tin soldiers which God has given us, and painting them all the same shade of dull brown. This is what happens when we allow ourselves to focus on a single passion—or no passion at all.
When you come home from work today, think about what a pleasure it is to have that overpriced skim latte, the Weekend section of the New York Times, the precious minutes of daydreaming time during your walk from the train station, the voice of Van Morrison wafting out of your neighborhood pub. God's given you a unique set of toys that enables you to appreciate any and all of these and an infinite variety of other pleasures as only you can. And if none of those things please, there's always the sun in the morning and the moon at night.
I have a new prayer that I use every time I feel lonely or dissatisfied with my life.
I say, "Dear God, thank you for having something better for me."
Think about it. If you're not satisfied with some aspect of your life, there are two options. Either this is the best that God is going to give you for the rest of your life, or He has something better, however close or far away it may be.
Past experience has shown me that in a great many areas of my life, when I thought that things would never improve, they eventually did, even if it took many years. Rationally speaking, it makes far more sense to me to thank God for what He's eventually going to do, than to constantly berate Him and plead with Him over what He hasn't done.
Actually, I do still berate and plead. But this prayer gives God—and me—a break.