Before I got married I literally lived off a diet of frozen dinners, cereal, and take out food…unless, of course, one of my roommates cooked real food and I mooched off her.
What’s weird is that ever since I got married 5 weeks ago I’ve been driven by this compulsion to cook actual meals for my husband each week. This has never happened to me before. It’s as if my inner home-maker has been lying dormant for the last 28 years of my life until now. My inner feminist is mortified.
But what’s even weirder is that in spite of the fact that I’ve attained a college degree, a Master of Divinity, traveled the world and accomplished a lot of things, my entire life’s purpose and value on this earth now hinges entirely on whether or not I can cook a spaghetti sauce that tastes as good as my husband’s mom’s. Don’t worry, he hasn’t told me this…I just feel it. Deep within my soul.
As a result of this need to be perfect in the kitchen, combined with a complete lack of preparation, there have been some pretty significant disappointments along the way. Such as the “garlic incident,” in which I thought “clove” referred to the whole head of garlic. No one ever explained to me what a “clove” is (MOM!) so we had some really garlic-y chili one night.
It’s as if my inner desire to cook magnificent meals is some sort of cruel joke by God. He has instilled me with a desire without granting me the ability to fulfill it.
Thankfully a number of my friends have told me similar stories, and they’ve all encouraged me with the advice that I will get better if I keep working at it. In the mean time, I’ve learned how important it is to stick to the recipe. For a novice like me, recipes are clutch because I’m basically like a baby learning to walk. I need someone holding my hand with every step until I learn how much oil is necessary and how much salt is too much. Once I learn these recipes in and out, and once I’ve acquired enough cooking knowledge to understand the lingo and to know what will work and what won’t, then I can start to experiment. Until then I’ve gotta go by the book.
Now the reason I’m sharing this tale of cooking perseverance is that it actually reminded me of some words from C.S. Lewis. In Mere Christianity he writes,
“Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self… Christ will indeed give you a real personality.”
This idea has always been tough to wrap my mind around. The idea that God will give us our real personality, that the Christian life is the key to our true selves–what does that even mean?
Fortunately my little foray into the world of cooking has shed some new light on it for me. Clearly, I was not born a brilliant cook. If my husband sent me into the kitchen and asked me to whip up some pan seared chilean sea bass with a side of braised fennel and gruyere potato rosti, I would immediately crumple to the floor in a pile of sobbing. There’s no way I could begin to create that without a recipe…and several years of cooking experience. And a dictionary.
I need recipes to teach me the basics. I need directions to shape me and mold me into a chef. Recipes teach me the boundaries of cooking, the essentials and the non-essentials. Then, once I’m thoroughly versed in the recipes and rules of cooking, once I know them like the back of my hand, then I can begin to experiment. When I conform my skill set to the rules of cooking, I’m then free to cook recipes that reflect my particular tastes without destroying the food. I couldn’t experience that freedom without first learning the rules. In the world of cooking, rules are a form of freedom.
What does all of this have to do with C.S. Lewis? Well a human being is a lot like a recipe. In the same way that cake needs flour, sugar and eggs before it can even be a cake, human beings have some essential ingredients as well. God created us to be made of compassion, love, patience, and faith, among other things. Without these ingredients, we cannot be truly ourselves. Any attempt to forge an identity without these essential ingredients is like trying to make a cake using sausage and mayonnaise. It might be unique, but it’s not really a cake.
That said, we need to learn the ingredients to being truly human, and then pursue them. And this task is harder than it sounds. The world often teaches us behaviors that are sub-human–it teaches us selfishness, greed, anger, impatience, lust and pride. Because these behaviors are all sub-human, we become less ourselves when we mimic them.
With that in mind, we have to retrain ourselves to be human. This may sound silly, but given the degree to which we are taught otherwise by the world around us it’s an important discipline to undertake. We have to conform ourselves to those attributes which make us the image of God. And after we’ve thoroughly trained ourselves and molded ourselves according to that which makes us truly human, we will be disciplined in a way that sets us free. Our attempts at uniqueness will no longer be mere imitations of something we see around us, human-concocted ideas of being different, but will instead be a natural expression of who God created us to be, free of sub-human distortions.
I know that got kind of deep and theological all of a sudden, but I hope the analogy clarifies Lewis’ words. Right now I’m a terrible cook, so any attempt to make my spaghetti “special” will guarantee it a non-stop trip to the garbage disposal. I’ve gotta learn the essentials of cooking spaghetti before I’ll be free to experiment like that. And it’s the same with the Christian life. I need to learn love, mercy, grace, dedication to God and submission to His will before I can really know what it means to be myself. Only then in that context will my pursuit of uniqueness mirror my true self as God created me, rather than a carbon copy picture of the world.