This Undulating Life

She totters on pink legs, her skirt flouncing with each unsteady step.

One. Two. Three. Four.

Four steps and she plonks her nappy-cushioned bottom onto the floor, lifting her eyes to us for appraisal. Her face is alight with a sparkly mixture of glee and pride.

We go wild.

Yay! Woohoo! Well done sweetheart! You did it! Hurray! We dance and lift her up and spin her around and sing her name for this new milestone she has made.

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Over the next week she builds confidence and momentum, taking more steps, balancing for longer, turning corners and gaining speed. Fun and fear have muddled as I’ve watched her navigate table corners and dodge Matchbox cars left strewn on the floor by big brother.

This, right now, is such a privileged space to occupy – so privileged that I’m almost afraid to move, to breathe.

It’s like I’ve been asked to deliver a precarious tray of Wedgwood crystal champagne flutes from point A to point B, while walking a tightrope, blindfolded, in stiletto heels, with Metallica playing in my earphones.

Gravity will have its way – my sweet girl will fall and fat tears will run from her ice-cream eyes. Just as life’s barbs bury into our flesh and drag us to our knees. If there’s one thing that’s certain in life it’s that hard times will come. Faith is not immunity from trials, that’s for sure.

But we always have the choice to hope or despair.

C.S. Lewis wrote a devilishly good novella called The Screwtape Letters. It’s a compilation of letters from senior demon Uncle Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, an apprentice demon. Sounds frightening and a little crazy, right? Add to that eye-opening, abrasively compelling and funny (in a black comedy kind of way) – and you’d be getting close.

If you read it, you will be introduced to a concept; The Law of Undulation. Wry old Uncle Screwtape writes:

“Humans are amphibians – half spirit and half animal… as spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation – the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.” (Chapter 8)

Got that? Lewis’s perspective on matters of the soul is at once complex and clarifying.

We will fall and we will get up again. Fall and get up again. That, we cannot control. But we can control our responses – particularly in those trough periods.

As our life charts a jagged map like the lines of a heart monitor, we can despair or hope.

I choose hope.

One reassuring line in the Bible states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

This life-giving book also says that the dips – the skinned knees – in the journey are the parts we should relish, because that’s when our character and faith is tested and honed.

Back to Lewis and later in that same chapter, Uncle Screwtape picks up on this:

“He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.”

I too delight in the stumbles of my little ones! You know it too – when you pay merit to the desire and effort as much as the result.

There is joy and sadness, healing and suffering, peace and unrest, abundance and poverty, harmony and tension. And there is Jesus who counters the downward tug with his message of hope.

Test it. When you wake up like I did the other day and feel an inexplicable dark cloud over you, ask God to take it away (He did!).

When you face illness, unemployment, stress, relationship struggles… ask God to carry you (He will!).

Undulation is where God is at.


First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday August 3, 2015.