So, this was a pretty big week for me. Huge, actually. On Wednesday, January 8th, at 10:42 AM, Eastern Standard Time, I submitted a letter to myself in which I formally resigned as my own teacher. It was great. (I took it pretty well, actually.) I’d kinda’ been toying with the idea for a while, and then, you know, I just went for it.
But I rejected my request immediately! Ha!
I should probably have been working at that time, to be fair… I mean, people at work were asking for help on things that seemed really important to them at that moment, but I just really felt like it was also important to get my priorities straight. Strike while the iron’s hot. The entire world of finance isn’t going to collapse just because I put my co-workers on hot standby for five seconds. They’re insatiable, anyway.
I did get kind of bogged down in the logistics, though, because I wanted to use nice letterhead, and I really don’t have any just personal letterhead. Who has personal stationary? So I went downtown to this cute little paper shop and the perfectly branded, hand-pressed swatch of paper was just- wham!- right in front of me when I walked into the shop. It was literally screaming at me from its perch on this tiny plastic easel, front and center on the first display table in the store, all lit up by this golden beam of sunlight. I could see the little flecks of recycled Christmas ornaments that were probably made from construction paper by a flock of Illini second-graders in 1985. I knew right away it was exactly what I wanted.
But on closer inspection it was nearly twenty bucks and I only needed one sheet, and I realized it would be a complete waste and I started feeling kind of silly about the whole thing, so I found something a little more modest. I got this ink stamp that looks like two elephant trunks curled up together, almost like an infinity symbol, and I got a gold-colored plastic pen that’s filled with ink that looks like its metal flake paint. Then I trucked on outta’ there, because I only have fifteen minutes to be on break, and the shop is easily eight minutes down the street from where I work. And there were three people in line, which sucked.
I forgot to get an ink pad, so when push came to shove I had to ditch the elephant stamp. I put my name and address on the top, and then started the inside address when I wondered if I should actually mail it to myself!? Now that was a cool thought. Mailing myself a resignation letter… I got stuck there for a good minute and a half. I really couldn’t decide. But then in the interest of time I just started writing.
I kept it short and sweet. Just said I resigned as my teacher and I needed some help because it seemed like no matter how I tried, I couldn’t even get small things to work out. I started to feel hollow on my insides, and my throat got kinda’ choked at one point. My eyes started to water, and then I signed it, stuck it in a drawer, and it was over. I have a little window in my office and I looked out through it, and it was just as cloudy as before. So maybe nothing happened. I got the feeling I’d spent the better part of my day walking around like a fool, and put my data validation persona back on.
I forgot about it for the rest of the day pretty much. I mean, I opened the drawer and peeked at it once in a while, but it was just this thing by that point, like a weird collector’s item. I wondered if I should frame it and keep it in front of me so I wouldn’t forget it.
My big day.
Then that night I had a dream. Jesus was having office hours in one of those little poorly ventilated shoebox rooms, usually in the basement of a gymnasium, with rectangular windows too high to reach and a metal, fire-rated door with a wire-mesh glass window. I thought the whole set-up was a little chintzy, myself, and I was nervous, because my heart was beating about three times a second like to blow me up from the inside, but I girded my loins, or whatever, and got on with it.
He was really amazing. He made me feel completely at home somehow. I just sat down and showed him my letter, and I watched him read the whole thing. He told me it was really great and he meant it. He meant it in a way I’d never seen anyone mean something before. He made me feel like I just gave him a real gift, something valuable that he would treasure and keep safe for me forever and protect from anything that might ever try and harm it.
That blew my mind because it was just some fancy paper and I knew I could have made the hand-writing five times better. I couldn’t understand what could have been so good about my letter, so I told him it was supposed to have a neat infinity stamp on the top made out of two elephant trunks. He smiled and told me it was great exactly how it was. Just perfect.
Then he asked me who was going to be my teacher.
I asked him if he had any glasses of water, and he chuckled and said of course, and went back out down the hall I came in on, through some other door, and after some knocking around that I could hear, he found me one. I kind of swilled it down.
I told him honestly I didn’t know. I told him it was a big decision. I told him I probably had never been without a teacher before, and I didn’t want to just dive into anything. But I felt like an idiot because I didn’t really mean all that and I realized I was trying to sound smart. For Jesus. I wanted him to think I was good enough, and not just diving into something without understanding it. And I was turnin’ myself inside out. I don’t really know where it came from. I just spilled it out.
He agreed it was a big decision. He said in a way it was the only decision I ever needed to make. He was about to say something else when I cut him off and blurted out, “You.”
I wanted what he had, to be honest. Just a simple office downstairs, and the feeling he made me feel. I had a glimpse of the possibility of that, and I guess I wanted him to just do it. Fix me. Do it now.
“I want you to be my teacher.” I thought if I said it, something bad would be over.
As soon as I said it, though, I realized I didn’t really know what I was asking for, or even if I wanted it. We had a moment pass between us that I can’t really describe, black as black on the one hand, like suddenly I was exposed, like I wasn’t standing on a solid floor, and beautiful like I’d never known on the other, like a sneak preview of unending goodness. But somehow I knew he wasn’t going to fix me. He was just right beside me looking at it.
I felt like a big black hole came out of nowhere and was about to swallow me up, and it all seemed scary all of a sudden. I felt like I just hung a weight around my neck. I looked around the room and saw Jesus had a book on his shelf about fishing. I wished we were just fishing and not all serious. I wanted to do something fun. Go shoot some hoops upstairs or something. I wanted to show him my left-handed lay-up. I really wished I could run and hide and rewind about twenty minutes and forget the whole thing. I wondered if Jesus was going to give me a test and tell me to go sit in the desert and don’t come back until I figured everything out.
Then, in my dream, he told me he would help in any way that he could for as long as it took until the need for helping was over, but he couldn’t do everything for me. He told me he would never make me do anything, and there was no need for that anyway, and he told me there were things I would have to choose to give him, like my letter today, and those things he couldn’t do for me. He said if he did that, he’d be taking the me outta’ me, and that isn’t what God had in mind. He said God put the me in there to start with, same as in Him, and that what God does can’t ever be changed or broken.
I told him that made some good sense.
He said that was one thing we could depend upon. He said I could depend on Him, too, because he had given everything over already to his Teacher, a long time ago. Now there was nothing in the way between him and every good thing we might need.
He asked me if I had felt that big dark feeling a little while ago, and I nodded that I did.
He told me he knew about that one, and that I had some little black holes rolling around deep inside of me that tormented me, even if it didn’t seem that way all the time, and that we had to go on a walk together and find them. He said when we found them they’d look like something else- like people I knew, like things that bothered me about the world, or like scary situations in my life. They might look really little, like a pen running out of ink, or they might look really big, like a disease or an economic collapse. He said they’re all the same though.
He said my instinct would be to try and fix those things on my own, or blame them on somebody else, or say they were too big and screwed up to fix anyway, the way I used to do it before. He said my only job was to pick up those black holes when we found them, and put them in his hand. That was the one thing he couldn’t do for me.
I told him that sounded pretty easy when he said it like that. I told him I knew I could do it.
He just laughed and told me he knew I could, too, otherwise we wouldn’t be in the basement of some gymnasium right now.
He told me the real Teacher would be in my heart, where we dwelt together. And he told me my part is very simple. He told me I have to learn to recognize that all the stuff I taught myself when I was my own teacher… I don’t want those things anymore because they all amount to a hill of beans. He told me I just have to ask to be taught, and then to not use my experiences to confirm what I have learned. (T-14, XI, 6:3-5) He said after a while of that, I’d remember what God did when he put that me in all of us.
I nodded like I knew what that meant. Then he said there would be a test. To help me know if I was listening to him in my heart. He said if I feel completely free of fear, and if everyone I meet or even anyone who just thinks of me shares in my perfect peace, then I can be sure I listened to Him in my heart. (T-14, XI, 5:2)
I asked him how I would know he was around, when all these things started happening, and he said you’ll know because you asked, and because you asked, I have come.
Then he kissed me on the forehead, and I woke up.