You’ve heard this modern parable before, right? “Are You a Carrot, An Egg, or a Tea Bag?” My pastor used it for the children’s sermon last Sunday, complete with visuals. When a carrot gets into hot water, it softens up – and the longer it stays there, the softer it gets. When you boil an egg, though, it gets harder and harder. We already use ‘hot water’ as a metaphor for trouble in our lives, so the analogy was pretty easy to follow, even for the kids…. how do you handle difficulty when it comes along?
He asked the kids: Do you disintegrate under the heat, and fall apart – like a mushy carrot? Or do you just get tougher, so that you aren’t even palatable any more, like an egg boiled into dry green hardness?
He then offered them the third option; be like a tea bag. When you’re in hot water, let your innate ability, strength, beauty, and personality come out…and change the water!
A sweet little parable, and an encouraging reminder, but, I couldn’t help thinking, rather naive. In considering the ups and downs of my life, and the traumas, difficulties, griefs, and scars that are part of it, I know I’ve managed to respond in all three ways (and probably others that don’t fall under the tidy triparate metaphor, either!). I’ve gone to pieces and left my husband to try to stick things back together. I’ve responded with grace and sweetness and made beauty out of the ashes. But most of the time my instinctive reaction to trouble is to put my fists up; to fight it; to get tougher.
I went through childhood abuse, marital distancing, separation, hurt, poverty, physical pain and invisible illness, discrimination, gaslighting, depression – and in most cases I got through with a few more scars, a bit more leather on the outside, and a grim determination not to be hurt again. Um, yeah, how’s that working for you?
The hot water I frequently got into resulted in someone who was gradually getting more and more hard-boiled. Less compassion, a grating aggression that thought the way to protect myself was to attack first, and little patience for anyone who didn’t live up to my expectations and standards. As you can imagine, this didn’t do good things for my relationship with my husband, himself fighting a battle with depression and insecurity, and who responded by protecting his heart with a wall of ice, then upping the ante by shooting back over the ramparts.
We used to do everything together (we even had the same job for years, sharing an office and classroom). We had strong family traditions, like Danishes and seven-minute boiled eggs for Sunday breakfast, before church. We travelled widely, wrote and edited and went to conferences together, shared household chores. We saw communication breaking down in other friends’ marriages and smugly congratulated ourselves on how that was a common strength and we’d always keep talking to solve our issues.
But when talking became nagging and critique, mutual sniping and layered negative connotations, and then froze into monosyllabic minimalism, those shared experiences, values, and loves got buried deeper and deeper, and the space between us became scorched and frosted earth. Eventually there was a DMZ so wide we were on the brink of divorce.
What saved my marriage – and brought me to where I am now –
was a painful process whereby the Holy Spirit made egg salad out of me.
Guys, stick with this crazy little metaphor, because it works. It meant I had to have my ‘shell’ smashed, my hardened ‘white’ macerated, and the dry ‘yolk’ of my heart remoistened. I needed salt to become tasty again, I needed smoothening and softening holy oil, I needed an infusion of sweetness and compassion – a mayonnaise of loving-kindness – so that I could be palatable once again.
And it wasn’t just prayer – sorry, War Room, but ya know, faith without works is dead – it was literal years of reading, counselling, studying, self-examination, practising changed behaviour from a changed heart, and persevering in the face of disbelief, resistance, and serious antagonism. Thankfully, the Sophia-Spirit has plenty of mayo to go around, and she did a remix on my husband as well.
That’s the short version of a long story, but I’m thankful to say that once again we’re the most important people in each other’s lives. We discovered how tasty we could be all over again. We’ll be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary next year. We commune, communicate, share, work together to build each other up, support mutual decisions, and parent our DD consistently. And on Sundays we still have Danishes and soft-boiled eggs.