A Change Would Do You Good
You never know when or from where the inspiration will come to write about a subject, especially if that subject involves your own life. Creative thoughts can be as fleeting as the moment they arrive on and often spring from some dubious places.
For me, it was six years ago in the car on a normal day. The radio was playing a rotating collection of hits from the 1990’s. I was drifting back to memories of high school on the notes of Boyz II Men and Michael Stipe when I noticed Sheryl Crow belting her song, A Change Would Do You Good. I turned up the volume and thought to myself, “Would it ever? Sing it, lady!”
A change would’ve been good in this season of my life. I was completely burned out on vocational ministry after some strange and difficult years. My wife and I had just come through the latest in a series of traumatic losses and I was dreading the departure of my twenties as if it was a concession of failure.
I peaked way too soon and was unsure of where to go next. In my view, a once promising future seemed a distant third behind the status quo. Most of my thoughts and projections were riddled with melancholy and the tone of my conversation was dispirited at best. It felt pointless to dream and physically hurt to recall the vision I formerly had for my life.
So, the idea of change stood out. The possibility of renewal caused me to sing along with the chorus at a level appropriate only for the shower, soundproof rooms and the private confines of an automobile:
A change, (A change would do you good) would do you good, (A change would do you good). I think a change, (A change would do you good) would do you good.
(A change would do you good)
I felt energized. The thought of rebooting and trying something new fired certain endorphins in my brain that had been hibernating. The guy beside me at the stoplight witnessed my duet with Sheryl Crow and the twinge of embarrassment was unsuccessful in dampening my mood.
I wasn’t sure how it would transpire but a change was coming. If I could just hold on to this emotion incited by a decent song from 1996, then everything would be okay, right? My perspective was on the rise. A change would do me good.
The Picture of Futility
Oddly enough, it wasn’t the catchy refrain of the song that stuck with me beyond that moment. It was the part right after the second chorus that I couldn’t get out of my head. It was five little words – chasing dragons with plastic swords – that didn’t seem to fit in context with the rest of the verse. It’s almost as if they were meant to stand out, to capture the mind’s eye.
The songwriters could have used other imagery to make the point. There are plenty of word pictures that illustrate the attempt to achieve something that can’t be achieved. The world contains a treasure trove of phrases that communicate futility and point back to why a change is needed in the first place. They could have dropped in a few sayings like:
• Spitting in the wind
• Herding cats
• Getting blood from a turnip
• Nailing Jell-O to a tree.
Yet, none of these have a romantic ring to them like chasing dragons with plastic swords. Even the half-functioning imagination could be provoked by these words as they form a memorable and epic portrait of futility.
I related to this lyric at a deep level. It seemed to paint the picture of my journey to this point. I was inspired to write something. I went home and pulled out a book filled with fake parchment paper that a friend had given me to encourage the practice of journaling. People always talk about the benefits of keeping a journal but few ever actually do it. I was no exception until now. I turned to the first page and at the top wrote in capital letters: CHASING DRAGONS WITH PLASTIC SWORDS.
There’s Smart, Then There’s K-Mart
As I stared at this line, it reminded me of when I was eight years old and my Mom bought me a shiny plastic sword from K-Mart. Prior to receiving this sleek new weapon, my older brother and I made due with an arsenal of large sticks that we felt was adequate to attack a good-sized army. However, once I had this bargain-priced Excalibur in my hand, the game totally changed.
In the following months, before my sword shattered under the weight of my Dad’s blue Oldsmobile, I exterminated a limitless amount of imaginary villains and creatures. I saved a lot of townspeople, rescued an abundance of damsels in distress, and courageously took on whatever harm the pretend world of adventure sent my way. I was the king of my domain. I was the protagonist of my street. I was chasing dragons with plastic swords.
Then a strange thing happened. The dragons went from figurative to literal. They went from my backyard to the inner workings of my life. The dragons were no longer at the mercy of my creativity; they were real, elusive and threatening.
They had names too. Names like doubt, insignificance, sexual temptation and suffering. Their aliases were betrayal, risk and compromise. The only problem with these dragons is that they couldn’t be fought or killed with a synthetic blade emboldened by a child’s imagination. The plastic sword from K-Mart had to be exchanged for something real, lasting and powerful.
Stop Recycling Plastic
For the longest time that exchange never happened. My approach to life resembled the scenes that played out in the yard as a kid. The adversary transformed but the weapon stayed the same. As these dragons loomed large, I still thought I could chase and defeat them with child’s play. I was recycling plastic, and in this case, it was harmful to the environment.
I am not alone in this. After years of walking with people in the margins of life and seeing the transparency of human nature in all its crudeness, I realized that our experience is riddled with futile approaches.
We sacrifice the eternal for the temporal. We ignore that which is good for us for that which feels good. We circumvent God and the uniqueness of his supernatural power for unsupported methods that come from our mortal frailty. No one seems to be immune. It is true of those who claim to have a relationship with God and of those to whom he is a myth.
Our struggle can be pitiful and awkward as we resolve in our hearts to change things and anticipate victory but keep going about it in a way that is inadequate and hopeless. We constantly recycle plastic and fight with the wrong weapons everyday in a multitude of critical life situations.
We chase the dragon of insignificance with the plastic sword of wealth and power, worldly success and lies about our true persona. But it doesn’t quell the perpetual longing for self-worth and value that is still felt when the week is done and all is quiet.
We chase the dragon of risk with the plastic sword of fear veiled in calculated probability, fatalism and reliance on blind luck. But it doesn’t satisfy the innate yearning to feel alive, to explore the unknown and to attempt something worth living for.
We chase the dragon of suffering with the plastic sword of willful denial, principles that have become clichés and mistaken ideas about pain. But it doesn’t answer the diverse questions that come when bad things keep happening.
We chase the dragon of sexual temptation with the plastic sword of secrecy, mental seclusion and feeble techniques. But it doesn’t deter the compulsions, help with the addictions or stop destructive choices that can end in humiliation.
The list is seemingly endless.
The Chase Is On
Everyone chases dragons and the truth is that we don’t have to approach life the same way expecting different outcomes. Our journey doesn’t have to be a study in futility. This is not how God designed it and not what Jesus died for. The Bible contains eternal and effective ways to go about life and if applied, they can result in peace, understanding and hope.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 1 that it is foolish to snub wisdom and not receive guidance from the Scriptures, the proper source with full credibility and authority to help us. He asserts, “their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair.”
However, Solomon also warns that those who don’t pay attention and employ their own approaches will “eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes.” He is essentially writing a synonymous word picture to chasing dragons with plastic swords. There is not only futility in a life without God but there is also unnecessary heartache.
My prayer is that you will discover God’s way to confront sin and the various issues in your life whatever form they may take. I hope that the timeless truths of the Bible seen through my own story will illuminate those shadowy things that threaten you and eradicate their influence once and for all.
The chase is on. What are you carrying to the fight?