While our peers drank themselves to a stupor in Lower East Side bars, Graham and I spent last Friday night sitting around my room listening to James Taylor, Miles Davis and piano arrangements of our favorite hymns.( Since we’re good, former Focus on the Family kids, I think there were a few D.C. Talk or Amy Grant hits thrown in the mix as well.) Somewhere between “Fire and Rain” and “Fairest Lord Jesus”, Graham decided it would be a good idea to tickle me. This wasn’t a gentle, flirtatious finger-against-the-chin tickle. This was a full on, double-handed, fingers-into-the-sides-like-daggers tickle. He showed no mercy. There I was just sitting on my bed enjoying some HOLY music, and without warning, a pair of hands I trust attacks me and turns me into a squirming, shrieking, ball of giggles. As I flailed my limbs wildly, trying to push his hands away from my ribs, Graham grinned maniacally like a taller, less psychologically disturbed incarnation of the Joker. Tears formed in my eyes as I screamed for him to stop. Finally, the tickling ceased and I regained my oh-so-refined and pulled-together manner. (Ha.)
I really hate being tickled. Sure, no one really likes being tickled. So few people enjoy being tickled that you can’t even Become a Fan of Being Tickled on Facebook. That’s pretty amazing. But I hate tickling even more than most people. In fact, IF Being Tickled had a Facebook page and IF you were allowed to “thumbs down” things on Facebook, I would thumbs down it 5,673 times. If Being Tickled had a YouTube channel I would flag it as inappropriate and SPAM its profile comments with hate mail and give every one of its videos one star. Why does tickling offend me so much? Aside from being physically uncomfortable, there’s nothing particularly evil about a tickle. It doesn’t cause any permanent damage it even makes its victims laugh. Can’t say the same for most comic book villains. The real reason I hate being tickled is that I hate losing control.
It’s not that I’m a control freak. Well, ok. Sometimes I can be a control freak, but only over my own life. I like knowing exactly what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it. I plan out my life years in advance. Most of the time, I get panic attacks or episodes of depression when things don’t pan out exactly how I imagine they will. My need for absolute control over my actions has resulted in bouts with eating disorders and absurdly high standards for myself academically. One of the more positive side-effects is my hatred of alcohol. The idea of losing any form of muscular or mental control over scares me to death. Graham knows this. Graham knows that I hate being tickled. I sometimes make him promise that he won’t try to tickle me before I get close to him. Usually he complies, but last Friday he did me a favor.
After the tickling ceased, we returned to our familiar routine scrolling through iTunes, talking about what movie we wanted to watch and knitting patterns. Actually, neither of us knit, but wouldn’t it be cool if we did? Out of the blue, Graham stopped flipping through my DVD case and looked me in the eye.
“You know what?” he said. “I think you need to let God be your Great Tickler.”
If you know Graham at all, you know that ambiguous ,absurd statements escape his lips about every 7.3 minutes. I wasn’t especially surprised or intrigued by his statement.
“What?” I asked, expecting and explanation akin to the one he’d given the previous weekend when he suggested that Jesus is the Great Bread Man. (Apparently, Jesus was not human, but a giant loaf of bread.*) Instead, Graham did what he does best—reveal how he is at least 85% smarter and 112% more spiritually mature than I am.**
“You know, give up a little control to Him every once in a while.”
This is both exactly what I needed to hear and exactly what I didn’t want to hear. One of the most annoying things about Graham is that he tends to be right, in both the political-compass sense and the Major-Life-Lessons-Sarah-Needs-to-Learn sense. As a church kid, I grew up hearing about how God had great plans for my life. I read all the bible verses about surrendering my life to him, not worrying about tomorrow, observing the Lilies in the field and all that jazz. As a proud AWANA*** member for 10 years, I memorized many of those verses and robotically repeated them to blue-haired volunteers in exchange for stickers shaped like various pastoral mammals. Over goldfish and kool-aid, I vowed never to end up like Jonah who, according to the skit performed by the church youth drama ministry at Vacation Bible School, ended up inside a giant cardboard Shamu because he didn’t listen to God. Despite this phobia of aquatic digestive tracts, I never mastered the art of surrendering to the Lord. I never fully realized that when Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight,” it means, well, “stop thinking you know better than the creator of the universe, nitwit.”
It isn’t like God added an author’s note to the second edition saying “Psyche! You thought I actually wanted you to surrender control to me? I got you there, Sarah. I got you there!” As far as I know, God isn’t a 1990s Disney sitcom character. God doesn’t say “Psyche” or “just kidding.” (Except to Abraham in Genesis 22 but that’s a whole different situation. Abraham was a Knight of Faith Patriarch with an awesome beard.)
It took Graham’s tickling metaphor to get me to start thinking seriously about whether or not I was letting the Lord make my paths straight. When you think about it, tickling is pretty good metaphor for the way God works in our lives. We think we’re great. We’ve got everything under control. Then along comes to mighty hand of the God of the universe. At first we’re taken a back. We try to fight it, get that weird sensation away from us, causing more struggle, strife and stress. Why, God? But in the end, we’re laughing whether we like it or not. And laughing is healthy, right? Clinical studies prove laughing makes you feel better. At least, I’m sure there is some study somewhere that proves that being tickled frequently is awesome for your health.
God’s tickled me a lot these past few weeks. I wanted things to go MY WAY when it came to securing and moving into our new apartment. For no reason apparent to me at the time, God decided that everything I planned would go all wrong. He sort of forced me to surrender control to Him, by reminding me that I am only human. I make mistakes. I don’t have all the answers. Only he does. Like the biblical Sarah, I laughed. Unlike the Sarah of Genesis, however, I laughed not because I didn’t believe God’s promises, but because I saw them fulfilled. God’s promise that he would provide me with a home (a gorgeous apartment in upper Manhattan) was fulfilled and I laughed at myself for doubting and with joy at the awesomeness of the Lord. His way is the best way. From now on, I’ll remember Graham’s wise words and God’s unchanging, eternal Word. I’ll let Him be my Great Tickler.
*Note for the Christian Blogger Police: No, neither Graham nor I actually believe the savior of the universe was literally a loaf of bread. I mean, Jesus himself says he provides the Bread of Life, so I think it’s a pretty good theory, but the Apostle’s Creed says “no”.
** For those not as familiar with Christian culture, “spiritual maturity” is a phrase often used as way to 1) probe or 2) gossip. For example, “How is your spiritual maturity these days, Sarah?” is a church-y way of saying “Why didn’t you come to last week’s potluck? Do you hate God!?” Similarly, when someone says, “I am trying to really show Sarah some Christian Love, but I just don’t think she’s very spiritually mature,” they are saying something along the lines of “Sarah sits in the wrong part of the sanctuary and bakes better pies than me.” All in Christian Love of course.
***AWANA is a lot like boy scouts or girl scouts except with more Bible verse memorization and less urinating in the woods.