My Ironic Doorstop and the Meaning of Life
Our bathroom door doesn’t always stay open, so we made a doorstop for it. The door itself is not very heavy, most of the time it stays open on its own, but we’ve had issues with the dog going into the bathroom and the door closing behind him, trapping him in there. One day, I decided to make a doorstop. I found a bit of plastic and wound some duct tape around it. It’s about three inches in diameter. I put it in front of the bathroom door to hold it open. And it worked, sort of. Actually, it works about ten percent of the time, if you place it just right. Otherwise, the door gently shuts on it and slides it to the threshold.
Yet, we still use it anyways, why, I don’t know. I realized it’s the most ironic doorstop I’ve ever seen. It has one simple job, to stop my door, but it can’t even do that. On top of that, I made it specifically to be a doorstop. It wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t intended it to be a doorstop. As I look all around the area of my bathroom, there are probably twenty other objects that are not doorstops that could actually be better doorstops. A shoe, a slipper, some clothes, a chair, a picture, a container, a wastebasket, a rug, a plunger, a toothbrush.
It has one job it was designed to do, and it can’t even do it. I chuckle as I have this thought, “It might not be a good doorstop, but it can be a great teacher on the meaning of life.” How ironic! Something designed for an insignificant purpose that can’t even do that, but it can do what’s arguably the hardest thing to do, explain the meaning of life!
Greek philosophy contains the idea of the logos, which is something like the meaning of a thing. Logos gives meaning to matter. One could look at my doorstop and see only some plastic and duct tape. But mysteriously, you don’t, you see a doorstop instead. In the same way, you could look at my door and see composite wood, a doorknob, hinges, screws, paint, scratches, smudges, etc., but you don’t, you see a door. The logos brings all these smaller parts together and magically turns them into a whole unity. Without the logos, we’d go insane, because we’d only see random, meaningless floating particles everywhere we looked. But instead, we see a chair, a tree, a meal, a person, paper, a doorstop. We see unities.
The logos gives the meaning of the matter. So let’s go back to my doorstop. The logos says it’s a doorstop, but it cannot manifest this meaning in the right way. It cannot embody its meaning. As with doorstops, so with everything else in life. So much else in life cannot embody or give body to what it’s supposed to be. A husband fails to be faithful A wife fails to be nurturing. A car fails to drive. An organ of the body fails to do what it’s supposed to do. My coffee grinder fails to grind my coffee! You get the idea. We all are like ironic doorstops, made to do one simple thing, but we can’t even do it.
That’s why Jesus is called the Logos who became flesh (John 1:14). He is both the meaning of life and its embodiment. Jesus perfectly embodies what he is supposed to be and do. He never said, like my dad used to say to us kids, “Do as I say, but not as I do.” Jesus always does what he says, which is what makes him whole and perfect. Jesus was not perfect because he was clean, tidy, or agreeable; rather, he was perfect because every part of him did what it was supposed to do, in the way it's supposed to be done. He cried perfectly, suffered perfectly, got angry perfectly, got sad perfectly, and got weak perfectly. He bled perfectly and died perfectly. He lived out our humanity perfectly, just the way it was supposed to be done. That’s why Jesus is the meaning of life.
We are in this cultural moment where embodiment is being attacked and there is a confusion about logos. We want to say that embodiment doesn’t matter, that we can be or do whatever we want to be or do. We are slowly severing the connection between meaning and matter and we don’t think it’s a big deal. We think we can make up our own meaning or live out an embodiment that doesn’t match the meaning. But we’re playing with fire, for if we violate our meaning or its incarnate manifestation, we’ll lose ourselves.
Marie-Louise von Franz, who was a colleague of Carl Jung, tells the story of when a fellow analyst asked her opinion about a dream from a client. The colleague was having trouble making sense of the dream and asked von Franz’s opinion. The man dreamt he was swinging on a swing when suddenly the chains broke and he started to fly off into space. All the while, he wasn’t scared and could care less as he flew off into the darkness. Von Franz gasped and told the therapist that she was horrified at this dream and knew it came from a seriously disturbed person. Why? Because his thoughts and emotions in the dream were not tethered to reality: he was floating off into outer space without a care in the world! A normal person would wake up screaming in a cold sweat! And she was right, for as it turned out, the man was a serial killer.
Everything you see, yourself included, indeed, all of reality, needs to be tethered to its proper embodiment. Meaning must be tied to matter, or else life will come apart. Think of a seed that opens up and grows into a flower or tree. This is the perfect picture of what it looks like for logos to become flesh. The apple seed doesn’t become a cactus, nor should we force it to be or give it some other meaning than what it is.
What are you supposed to be? What are you supposed to do? You can’t mess around with this divine equation of meaning and matter. Matter supports and gives life to meaning, but meaning decides and directs matter. That’s how it’s always worked. But our digital lives have us all floating into the outer space of the world wide web, where we can live out our untethered fantasies, defy reality, break down all boundaries, “be” whatever we want to be, and do whatever we want to do. And the truly frightening thing I see is that our actual, embodied lives are starting to mimic our virtual ones, to the point where we are rejecting our true selves.
But wholeness and health come from accepting yourself, your mutability, your so called imperfections, and your limitations. This is why Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer is so powerful and efficacious. There are some things that can be changed, but there are some things that should not be touched:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
Hardship is the pathway to peace. Wholeness comes from embodying who we are, and Jesus makes it safe for us to do so. He gives us all the acceptance and grace we need. He embodies us through his Spirit and helps us to live out our truest meaning. He tethers us to himself so we always have logos and never float away.