Lasagne. It woke me often last night. Every time I woke - ten, twenty, a hundred times - dry, sauceless lasagne was all I saw. No, I didn’t have heartburn; I wasn’t sick at all. Not physically anyway. Instead, a dark cloud of failure enveloped each plated memory. Turns out my night-long, Italian pasta dream had continued from a real-life experience just hours prior.
I cooked last evening, not for my experiment-accepting family, but for ten people who’d never shared a meal in our home. I baked lasagne. Really dry lasagne.
Typically, I’m refreshed by cooking. It’s fun for me. And it was yesterday, too, until I began working against the clock. Guests were going to be arriving around 7:00 and by the time I realized I barely had enough sauce to call it lasagne, there was no time. No time for a grocery run; no time to dice, season and simmer. That dry, sauceless lasagne was served up - not only in my dreams - but to our first-time guests as a plate of failure.
I watched as our guests first struggled to dish it onto their plates, trying to sever the over-cooked cheese from the dry noodles. Then I kept my eyes on my own plate, as each guest patiently pressed and stressed to cut smaller bites of ever-so-slightly seasoned cardboard with their fork. Luckily, we’d been thoughtful enough to provide real forks rather than plastic.
No one raved. No one asked for a recipe. No one went back for seconds. And there was a lot of pasta left-over.
If you were in our home last evening, I’m not asking you to send me an email or text or Facebook message, telling me how flavorful pasta can be without enough sauce to call it lasagne. It’s okay. Really. You didn’t fail me by not praising my attempt at dinner.
The truth is this: I still want approval. About my cooking, about my training, about my appearance, about my life. I still want the satisfaction and accolades that come from performing. I want to feel the pride from getting it right. I want the approval from hearing people say, “You nailed it” “Way to go!” “This was perfect!” I’m prone to work hard at performing in order to get the approval.
Last night’s dinner prep was a Performance. So for me, what failed was not a recipe; my Performance was a failure. I failed.
Every time I deal with this insidious imposter within me, I think “There. This time I’ve quieted the monster.” ’Til he raises his pride-deflating claw of accusation and pops my “I did good” bubble again.
Back to last evening. After the meal all our hungry guests transitioned from the dinner table where we huddled up for a Table host orientation led by our pastor, Jason. With stomachs growling, he reminded us of our four mantras that guide everything we do as a faith community called South Bend City Church. The first one is “Practices, not Performances.” Hmmm…turns out I hadn’t chanted, repeated or thought the first time about that mantra the entire evening. In fact, after all our guests were gone I was moaning my self-loathing aloud to my wife, Laura, who then reminded me: “Remember, it’s about Practices, not Performances.”
“Shut up,” I said.
No, I didn’t. I actually thanked her.
I’d forgotten that our guests were likely practicing our second mantra: “Everyone an Icon.” That is, every person bears the image of the Divine. There’s depth to every person. There’s more story than the snapshot of a sentence heard in a moment. We don’t label people. Period. Not because of a quirky quirk (those are the quirkiest), a single behavior, an expressed emotion…or a single meal. Somewhere under the surface of my “I’m alright” performance face, I’m pretty sure I’d concluded that our guests left thinking, “He can’t cook,” which led to, “He doesn’t get hospitality,” which of course means they’re asking, “How is he going to be responsible to support Table hosts in creating and cultivating radical acceptance where people know they belong?” Wait, what?
Meanwhile, as we dumped the remaining lasagne into the trash, Laura reminded me that the meal wasn’t what was important to her. It was people. It was our guests. It was me. Then, she pointed out another of our four mantras: “Sushi, not fish stew.” Keep it simple. Next time, don’t complicate things. Cook a simple meal that allows us both to focus on people. Of course, she didn’t mean serve sushi. She wouldn’t eat it; she hates fish. But I digress. Keep the focus simple.
While I’m talking about our mantras, I’ll go ahead and mention our fourth and final one: “Fields, not Factories.” Jesus talked a lot about agriculture, about fields, about the natural order of things and how they grow. Growth takes time. And we all grow through various seasons and circumstances. So we don’t assume we know the cookie-cutter answer for someone’s journey. There isn’t one.
Seems our guests understood this mantra too. I didn’t ask for a new recipe, and no one offered advise. They weren’t there to fix me - or the meal for that matter. They may have wanted to improve on the meal, but they get journey and development, so they graciously thanked us for hosting them (It was the most appropriate response.).
Who knows? I may one day prepare and serve a heavenly, delectable pasta that rivals _________________ (fill in your favorite Italian restaurant here). So, I’ll practice - on the sauce… a lot… on my family. But some other time, not this evening. We’ve invited our “kids,” Liv and her husband, Jacob, over for dinner. We’re keeping it simple and safe. Chili is in the crockpot.
I hope I don’t dream about lasagne again tonight (Unless the ultimate sauce recipe is what wakes me up). Regardless, I’ll put my head on my pillow tonight knowing that Grace is all around me, reminding me just who I really am.
Whenever you’re tempted to perform, resist wearing the mask of pretending. When you forget who you really are, look in the mirror and see the image of the Divine. When you’re tempted to overcomplicate things and miss the simplicity of life and love, go for sushi. And when you’re about to project your journey on someone else, look at the yield sign and just listen. Because People Matter.
That’s what I’m learning from lasagna.