My friend Paul once told me that he was sold under sin. “I know the law is spiritual,” he would say. “But I am of the flesh. Sold under sin.”
Isn’t this how we feel, too?
“I am full of myself.” I remember him saying as I carefully admire my metallic blue nails and scrutinize my reflection in a glass window thinking I need to lose a couple more pounds. I hear him and blush in embarrassment. But this feeling doesn’t linger.
You don’t understand. My friends are skinnier, prettier, and better-dressed. People look at me when I watch the latest blockbuster alone. I can’t even take a holiday Groupon without having to pay for two. The kid that sits beside me is paid more and she was just the intern last week. If I don’t come to work on my off days, I can’t keep up. And the next thing you know the New Year project will be given to the rookie.
“What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another,” Paul sips his English Breakfast Tea. “I do things I absolutely despise.” He pauses for thought before he looks intently at me. “If I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and do it, it’s obvious that His teachings are necessary.”
So I sign up for Pilates at $55 a session and go to the gym at least three times a week. I feel naked without a few layers of Bobbi Brown or Make Up For Ever and I buy at least one Tod’s a year. I didn’t visit that designer outlet mall when I was in Tuscany because I heard collections there are specially designed for outlet malls. Who would want to be seen with an outlet Balenciaga? I’ll hold out for the one on display at Rodeo Drive. I’m working 7 days this week. (Who isn’t?) I’ve missed church this month, but I’m so excited they gave me the Adam Lambert concert this June. My boyfriend’s 6’2’’ and perfectly chiselled like Michelangelo’s David. He’s smart, funny, and pays for everything.
“But I need something more!” Paul says, exhausted.
We are by the east river and we sit at a bench near the water. Kids on bicycles and old couples with 8 dogs on leashes are whizzing by. “I obviously need help!” He buries his face into his hands. His stature is statelier now, yet this posture is the weakest I have ever seen him in.
“I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.”
I am turning 30 today. My savings plan is a couple of hundred dollars shy of what it should be. I am the boss yet still work harder than everyone else. I have a mortgage but no husband (or cat). My guest room is usually empty and the other spare room is my walk-in closet. I am currently single, depending on whether you define that as unmarried or simply uncommitted. I do have a man. But it’s nothing serious. Who needs all that drama? I still take that trip with mom and sis every year, but I wish we could do more together. I remember dreaming a better life than this, but surely my life is better than most.
“It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is lurking nearby,” I listen to Paul as he puts aside the book he is reading. He is much older now and there is almost no strand of brown hair on his head.
“I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.”
“I am in love, Paul,” I finally say. “But he doesn’t love me. Or at least not enough.”
I know he is about to start his lessons again like he always does when I visit. But today, I wanted to talk about me for a change.
“I’ve tried everything and nothing helps,” Paul continues as though not hearing a word I just said. “I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?”
Overwhelmed with pity, I set aside my thoughts and touch his wrinkled hands.
“We are alone, Paul.”
“No, we are not,” he gently answers. “Listen. I have more stories to tell.”