I recently brought shame upon myself by admitting that I am internally nothing more than an old man belting out, “You kids get off my lawn!” at every phrase I find personally distasteful, and then I proceeded to name some of these phrases, thus making young, casual individuals everywhere afraid to talk when I am around. The radio silence is deafening. Yet behold my hypocrisy! Right there, before your very eyes, is another phrase I generally hate, and it is sitting there in my title, like it owns the place!
Blame the lentils. They started it.
If you have been popping in here on Saturdays for the Butter and Rest feature (thank you, nice to see you, come again), then you have probably noticed that I am a fan of Smitten Kitchen. Apart from the fact that I get a kick out of her writing, and that sort of thing is important to me, her recipes just don’t fail. I keep trying them, because seriously, what are the odds? I mean, she is like the 99% reliable birth control but for recipes (and not the “you name the birth control, I’ll name the baby” kind either). She has a recipe for something called Stuck Pot Lentils with Yogurt (I could have the name wrong… I have an unfortunate history of not reading to the end of things. Man, more hypocrisy — here I expect you to lap up every last word I write and yet I can’t be bothered to read to the end of the name of a recipe written by my favorite food blogger. This is proving to be kind of a painful post for me to write) and it is exactly as advertised — it is intended to get stuck to the bottom of the pot and what you get is this happy pile of rice, onions, and lentils with crispy golden edges, heaped up with fresh cilantro and fresh squeezed lemon.
Have we discussed lentils? Maybe not. Historically, I hate lentils. They are icky and mealy, like little punk teenage lima beans, which everybody knows are the bane of children vegetable eaters everywhere (especially the lima beans that came in the bags of frozen veggies where the carrots are square shaped. I have gone so far as to marry a man who is now farming vegetables for a living, and still I can’t figure what variety of carrot grows into cute little cubes. I would totally grow them. Well… that’s not true. I would totally have someone grow them for me) and have kept countless big-eared little pitchers from earning their dessert, because to muscle those nasty suckers down would be taking their lives into their own hands and not even a rice krispy treat is worth it. That has been my standing opinion of lentils… but what is the fun of having opinions set in stone if they don’t get turned upside-down every now and again?
And that is precisely what happened when I dipped my toe into the lake of Unprincipled Vegetarianism and found myself awash in proteins that don’t bleed, and I allowed Smitten Kitchen to be my guide. The first thing I learned is that there is a wide world of lentils out there, and I had been eating all the wrong ones. I don’t really know why the French seem to own the market on lentils (and pretty much everything else that tastes good), but so far, the small unpronounceable French lentils, puy something or other, hold their shape beautifully and therefore resist the temptation to collapse and become like so much mush (wow, say that 8 times fast… muchmushmuchmushmuchmush…). If you really want to have a lentiltastic experience, go big and get the black caviar lentils.
But not during this post. Stay focused.
You will rarely feel like a more superior housewife than when you can successfully achieve a hot meal for lunch on a weekday. I really can’t explain it; it doesn’t matter if all you have done is to open a can of chicken and stars soup and heat it on the stove instead of in the microwave. It bestows gargantuan street cred upon your domestic head. So when I set my hand to the task of Stuck Pot Lentils for lunch on a bright Monday, I felt triumphant just for having begun a hot meal (one involving lentils no less! Are you basking in the glow of my superiority complex? Yeah. Enjoy that while you can. The lights are about to go out on that glow).
Now, the recipe says (and I did read it, for the record) that it cooks, untouched, for a solid 30 minutes. I continued about my business, teaching children and working through laundry, when a distinct smell of burning lentil began to waft about the house. Somehow, it went from golden, crispy edges to a solid 2 inches of black ash, bearing a closer resemblance to creosote than to rice and lentils, in approximately 14.3 minutes.
Aha. Well. That happened.
Cleaning out that pot required a profound combination of time, sweat, elbow grease, and Barkeeper’s Friend, which if you are unfamiliar with, could mean that you don’t deal in stainless steel cookware, or that you aren’t in the habit of burning your food to the point of lava rock. And this, I think, is why it is so important that we deal with the feels early and often, and not lie to ourselves about Teflon.
You can’t escape the fact of emotions. There are 2 extremes we can hit without even trying all that hard when it comes to all the feels — you can give them permission to dictate everything about your behavior, allow every stray lentil that wanders in to get you completely stuck and unable to function, or you can pretend to be made of Teflon, pretend that you are not affected by the sins and failings of others or worse, of yourself. Both miss the mark.
Give in to the first scenario and you become that person who, when asked how you are doing, responds with a heaving sigh and furrowed brow, because even 15 minutes a day of watching the news or having a conversation with a stranger whose mother has cancer or hearing the bombshell that your best friend’s cousin’s hairdresser’s husband left her for a blackjack dealer in Vegas causes you to feel that the world is entirely dark and makes you to feel so burdened and overwhelmed that you can hardly cope. Think I am exaggerating? Take a survey of your emotions over the last week. How often did you feel so burdened by situations outside of yourself to such a degree that it colored your mood? How often did you find yourself weighed down by the trials and hard providences that God has assigned to other people? Are you stuck?
In some ways, the other extreme is trickier, because it carries with it the illusion of emotional self control. We have probably all been told or have told ourselves at one time or another to “let it roll off of you, like water off a duck’s back” and in its place, that is good advice. But the Teflon heart has a unique temptation hardwired into it — the temptation to heartlessness leading to rebellious refusal to thank God for hard things. It is just harmful to feel nothing at all as it is to feel overmuch. The thing about Teflon is that if enough scorching happens, the Teflon coating actually gets ripped up during the cleaning process. Teflon hearts become hearts that cannot handle the heat of suffering, and when that initial slick detached surface gets scratched up, then you look for other barriers to protect you from all the nasty feelings — bitterness, perhaps? Or maybe turning to external layers of protection, to ways to numb yourself from feeling the anxiety or the grief, the shame or the sadness. Alcohol and drugs definitely do the trick. What about video games, social media, compulsive shopping?
The world is fallen. We are going to feel that. God has called you to suffering, and to standing next to people who are suffering. You’re going to feel that, too. There is only way to keep from having this knotted up mess of feelings consume you, only one protection from the scalding heat of trials and only way out of the temptation to be lost in the sea of emotions gone wild — fall on Christ. His grace is the only thing that keeps all these emotions from sticking to the pan, the only barrier you need to withstand without being destroyed. He is not only a Barkeeper’s Friend, He is the Friend your soul craves, the One who can make clean the burning disaster of your emotions, and your fears, and your sin. You were created to be a pot that feeds people, that offers the world the Bread of Life (is my metaphor suffering yet? Maybe. All this talk of lentils is making me hungry) — turn to Him, that the aroma of your life might be sweet rather than acrid, that you might be able to stand strong to the end.