The Beast Under My Skin

By

There’s a character from The X-men, known simply as “Beast.” His name is actually Hank McCoy, and he was a public high school teacher before his beastly form took over and he had to take up residence at the Institute – a private school for teenage mutants. My oldest son, Sam, has several episodes from the cartoon version of this comic on DVD. (Yes, you can blame my husband for turning him into a comic book nerd at such a tender age). One of the episodes tells how Hank was permanently transformed into Beast. When he was just a teenager, he discovered his mutant power: a beast type person with incredible, hulk-like strength and power would emerge whenever Hank found himself in a tense or frustrating situation. When Hank’s rage subsided, he would resume his normal body.

beastThese outbursts of course troubled Hank, so he learned to control them by reciting Shakespeare. When Hank grew up, he became a science teacher, and developed a serum which eliminated the outbursts altogether. Several years later, Hank develops immunity to the serum and is out of practice meditating on poetry. In the climactic scene of this episode, Professor X and some other X-men are trying to bring Hank back after the beast has taken over. One of them quotes a passage from Hamlet as the rest tell him, “This isn’t you. You’re stronger than the beast. You have to take control.” Ultimately he comes to his senses, but his physical body is irreversibly transformed into the Beast.

Why am I telling this story in the Rabbit Room? Because I am a regular person who sometimes morphs into a raging monster and finds herself in dire need of an intervention, just like the one in that final scene; and I have the distinct feeling I am not alone.

I can totally see the shocked looks on all of your faces, but let’s pretend there are no church people watching or listening and I’ll share an example.

There are days. When I’m exhausted from being up all night with my baby boy who refuses to sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time, and my oldest son brings home notes from his school teacher that make me feel like I’m raising a delinquent, and the little, middle, girl child (which is incidentally who I was) is playing alone in the corner cutting up tiny pieces of paper–and oh yeah, it’s dinner time and I don’t have anything cooking.

Yeah, those days are not very nice around this house. And the volcano usually bursts a few minutes before my husband walks in the door.

That’s when I have to get alone and give myself a little pep talk. These are only feelings, Janna. This is not the real you. You love your kids. You don’t really want to trade lives with the blonde in the jaguar who sped past you in the Wal-Mart parking lot this morning. You’re just really tired. Tomorrow will be a better day … I promise.

And it usually is, especially when I reach out to other friends in my life who say even more things I need to hear. But since we’re being brutally honest, I’ve been know to have beastly moments on good days too. Days when I’ve had plenty of sleep, and my kids are well and playing nicely, but still need me enough that I don’t get to sit at the keyboard for an hour or so; that’s when the me-monster shows up, and my skin starts to feel a little furry yet again.

It would certainly be nice if there really were a serum I could drink to make my beast disappear forever. I believe the apostle Paul was also hoping for a permanent cure when he kept asking God about that little thorn. I can’t speak for Paul’s answer, but what I’ve been learning is that “daily” can mean hourly, and “bread” is not just about physical nutrition. My spirit and soul need just as much food, every day, as my body does.

So, like Hank, I am learning other practices to keep my beast at bay. I do not know any Shakespearean passages by heart, but I intentionally try to fill my life with artistry and beauty. Yes, prayer and scripture make the healthiest breakfasts, but sometimes it’s the song I hear in the afternoon that waters those seeds and helps them take root. Also, reading a good book, even if it’s only minutes at a time in the bathroom, goes a long way on a rough day. And soaking in the sunshine or the view from my back porch is like conditioning for a marathon. I’m not sure where the finish line is in this race of life, but I hope when I cross it, my transformation will be more than physical.


25 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Janna,

    For me the solution has been complex and ongoing. I can tell you a few things. The time you are going through now is a crucible. One of the keys to the kingdom here is this: “This isn’t you. You’re stronger than the beast. You have to take control.” Except you, that human you, are not stronger than that beast. “When I sin it is no longer I that sins, but sin which dwells in me,” says Paul. Sin – singular – is an invader. I won’t go into it because then my posts turn into a novel. But I’ve found a huge measure of freedom from many things, one of which is blowing my top, through recognizing it as “not the real me,” moving into affirming and recognizing the real me in Christ (holy, accepted, loved, one spirit with the Lord, a king, etc). I began to see the real me emerge when I began to truly believe, rely on, the Word as Fact; I define my experience by the Word, not the Word by my experience. Also, putting on my armor – I wasn’t doing that. I wasn’t climbing into the rock fortress on a daily basis. But I think one of the most important things has been to find time to just sit with God in the morning, to thank Him for Himself, and for His blessings, and to praise Him, praise His for saving me, for putting His power in me, His life and light in me. Paul Billheimer says “Praise is the spark plug of faith.”

    This isn’t the standard answer of “pray more read the Bible more.” I know as a mother of three you’ve got little time to do anything; my wife, a mother of a mere two, has struggled with that for 10 years. But it is precisely in isolating us, both from the Shepherd and the herd, that the Wolf wears us down and attacks. He is the beast, not you; his whole aim is to enter into your thought life and cause you to say and do things which you despise – things that the real you would never do. And he wants you on a tailspin of self-hatred and trying to get a grip and trying and failing. The only protection from this is the rock fortress, and the indwelling power of Christ, and stepping out in our armor.

    My son is a tough cookie. He is passionate, strong-willed to the nth degree. He has been part of my crucible. My daughter is strong willed in a different way, a quieter way, and has been part of it, too.

    Major life transformation has come to me in these past 15 years. I am a different person than I was – my wife can attest to that. Recently I’ve stepped through another threshold, the intimacy with God that Jeanne Guyon and others talk about. So take heart. Transformation does come, and it will come to you, not someday as pie in the sky but as a real, life-changing power in your here-and-now. The fulcrum point is faith, trust, reliance, and an active relationship with Christ. Don’t allow the devil to isolate you from mature believers, to make you feel like the world of laundry, dishes, milk spilled on the carpet, and kids fighting is the only reality. Stay connected, stay tuned, because God is powerful and lives in you.

  2. Nathanael

    Thank for this post, dear sister.
    You are far from alone.

    You wrote, “It would certainly be nice if there really were a serum I could drink to make my beast disappear forever.”

    This sentiment reveals just how normal you are. As you said, the apostle Paul voiced a similar request as he witnessed the warfare between his flesh and the Spirit of the living God within him. And all followers of Christ echo this thought, “O wretched man that I am!”

    But if we were to drink said serum, and the beast would disappear forever, how often would we run into the arms of our Father?

    Dependence is the mark of a mature believer. In the physical realm, parents want their children to grow up and stop depending on them at some point. But in the spiritual realm, our God wants us to daily grow MORE dependent on Him, not less.

    And so these frustrations, these trials, this warfare is actually beneficial when it causes us to fall into the arms of grace…because we have no where else to go.

    Praying for you today, sister.
    Shalom

  3. E

    Janna, Coleridge describes the Poet in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads (2nd edition) as the person who can express what the rest of us feel but don’t quite put words to.

    Poetic post.

    Ron, your response was really encouraging and not just to Janna… thank you too.

  4. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Where can you read a thoughtful, poetic piece about spiritual issues and one of the X-Men, all from a female perspective?

    The Rabbit Room, baby. That’s where.

    And my nerdish self rejoiceth.

  5. JJ Mahoney

    Yup. I haven’t bought any in years but a have a ton of Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, X-Factor, Spiderman and some Batman and Superman. I just listed my Wolverine comics on Craig’s List to gauge what I might be able to get for them. I’d never get what they were worth (almost $3000 total for the 600 comics I have) but I’m eager to get rid of most of them.

    I’d cut you a deal if you were seriously interested. But it might feel a little weird selling my wares to THE Andrew Peterson. 🙂

  6. kelli

    Janna…as a mom of 2 girls, I can totally relate! What a fun, beautiful, real post! My beast emerges too often, and while I hate it, I am thankful for the reminder of my need for a Saviour!

    And like Ron (and because of many of his writings…and thanks for this one, Ron!) I try (and quite often fail) to remember that He is living in me…it’s not me…Him. That is the real me.

    I, too, try to grab a few sentences of a good book, listen to an AP song, pray, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner”, etc. here-and-there to help me refocus. For moms, short sometimes is the only way, but oh…it can be sweet!!

    And…I love what you said you daily bread not just being physical nourishment. I just recently came to that realization as well. This quote from Fenelon says much…

    “The more you accept daily crosses as daily bread, in peace and simplicity, the less they will injure your frail, delicate health; but forebodings and frettings would soon kill you.”
    …Francois de la Mothe Fenelon

    Journeying with you, Janna!!

  7. Peter B

    Where can you read a thoughtful, poetic piece about spiritual issues and one of the X-Men, all from a female perspective?

    The Rabbit Room, baby. That’s where.

    I love this place so much.

  8. Jill Phillips

    I agree, Janna. Thank you for writing something for the moms, like me, who struggle with these feelings. I have found a great deal of comfort in a group of mothers from my church who can sit around and talk about these very issues in a loving and non-judgmental environment. Thanks for bringing the discussion here as well!

  9. Steve

    This is from Jean Vanier’s book “Becoming Human” and seemed to address Janna’s post and Ron’s reply.

    “We need space to re-read the day, as it were. We need time to listen to the inner voice of hope calling us back to the essentials of love, essentials we may have forgotten because of busyness and self-centeredness. To pray, then, is more about listening than about talking. To pray is to be centered in love; it is to let what is deepest within us come to the surface. For me, it is all that and more. Prayer is also a meeting with the One who loves me, who reveals to me my secret value, who empowers me to give life, who loves us all, and who calls us forth to greater love and compassion. Prayer is resting in the quiet, gentle presence of God.”

  10. Susan Tucker

    Janna, I count it an honor to be a fellow beast who can share these moments – both the brutal and the beautiful – with you. Thanks for sharing yourself her in these lovely words.

  11. Cheri Hogrefe

    Janna,
    I love reading your posts! I relate all too well as I’m sure any honest mom will admit.
    I have always longed to be that calm, sweet spirited, mature Christian woman who has overcome the beast…but I agree with one of the other replies (I believe, your brother)…that it is what keeps me appreciating, and desperately relying on God’s grace!

    Thanks for your well-written, wonderfully articulated piece! I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  12. Janna

    Hey guys! E, AP, J.J.,Peter, Thomas, Jonathan, Susan and Cheri: thanks so much for reading and for the kind comments.

    Ron: So good to hear your perspective. You’re right about so much, especially the wolf working on both kinds of isolation. I feel that one a lot.
    Nathanael: Yes, we all want to be self-reliant and He just wants us to see how much we need Him.
    Kelli: I think you and Ron are onto something with the daily crosses (crucible) daily bread thing — just what we need. It makes me think of that Jill Philips song, which is so good!
    Speaking of Jill: Your song does run through my mind as I think on these things. And, thank goodness for those groups who see the value of mothering together!
    Steve: “space to re-read the day” — I like that, a lot.
    Chris: the BR is the one place a Mom can be alone, usually.

  13. Stacy Grubb

    Janna,

    I’m one of those people who rarely gets anything deeper than the face-value from my movies and shows and, being a big X-Men fan AND a sometimes beastly mother, I like your analogy here very much.

    I think the first time I met my beast (as a mother) was when my son (now 4, will be 5 Monday) was only a few months old, still in his very young infancy. I wasn’t prepared for how very little sleep he would allow me. To this day, sleep is a sore subject in my home. When he was a baby, I couldn’t as much as lay him down even after he’d fallen asleep in my arms. He would wake up immediately. It didn’t matter what I tried: swaddling, rocking cradle, laying him in a swing, or even just laying him in a co-sleeper right next to me. He had to be in my arms. One night in particular, I was sitting cross-legged near the foot of our bed; the dog was in the floor chasing the cat in his sleep; the cat was purring contentedly by his side; my husband was snoring away beside of me; and Elijah was fast asleep in my arms. But I knew the instant I laid him down, he would be awake and that peaceful moment would cease to exist. So, there I sat in the wee hours of the night, the only one in the entire house not sleeping and it had been months since I’d gotten any decent sleep…and I started to cry. I wondered what in the world I was doing; what I was thinking when I decided to do this. I was angry at my husband, the dog, the cat. Why won’t they help me? Why do they all just pile up and easily go right to sleep and stay that way throughout my nights of hell? I was cracking. I missed my sanity. I missed the whites of my eyes. I missed being a comedic person. I missed who I was before Elijah. What a beast.

    Fast forward nearly 5 years, and sleep is still an issue and we’ve picked up 1 or 27 more along the way. At times, I’m a true beast. I was angry at Elijah a few mornings ago for doing his normal whining, “I caaaaan’t.” and lolligaggin’ as we were running late to get out the door for an appointment. My blood pressure had reached its boiling point and I told him so. My husband was in the shower as I stepped into the bathroom to do my hair and I vented to him that, “I’m getting ready to absolutely lose my cool on that child!” The husband’s response was, “Sounds like you just did.” Crap, it was that beast again.

    I ask God often to show me why He gave me Elijah when He knew I was going to screw it up the way that I have. Of course, I pray for my own reformation so that I quit screwing up what’s already here. I pray that He will keep me faithfully in His will and will use me to keep Elijah faithfully in His will. And I trust. I have to trust that God will be faithful to fix my mistakes and can get Elijah where He wants Him to be despite the beast under my skin. So far, so good. I no longer miss the person I was before Elijah, even if I am significantly more perpetually frazzled, less rested, more tied down, less spontaneous, more hateful, less able to remember what day it is, important facts, to wash the conditioner out of my hair, or absolutely anything at all, and more likely to go to the Rabbit Room and give Ron a run for his money on the most words used on any one comment.

    Stacy

  14. Beth

    I sat here and cried as I read your post, Janna, and the responses from the mommies. How have we become so isolated and alone? I wish we could all get together and form a community of families and help each other cook dinner and hold each others’ babies and take turns with homework duty and each take a turn holding a precious fussy baby throught the night so a new mommy could rest.

    But here we are in our enormous homes (by most of the world’s standards), desperate and alone.

    Maybe in God’s new world we’ll get to live in communities and extended families again.

  15. mike

    Thanks Janna, I will share this with my wife and this will be my Shakespeare for today. I came in this morning on the verge of becoming beastly. I feel calmer now.

  16. Michelle

    Beth and others,
    Why do we have to wait for the new world? If we’re called to community and the world calls us to isolation, to which message do we listen? If our society values big houses and cars and enclosed and attached garages and porches that no one sits on and that gets in the way of community, what do we do? If our society wonders what’s wrong with us and calls us crazy if we move to be near family or entertain the radical idea of selling a house and moving to a less desirable community to be closer to friends or a church community, what do we do with that? Another big issue for me…the huge gap between singles community and couple/family community…especially in our churches. We are all missing out on huge opportunities for mutual edification and encouragement b/c we isolate ourselves in communities that are similar in socioeconomic status or marital status or some such criteria that doesn’t mean anything in eternal terms. This may be a strange place to put this idea/ challenge, but some of the comments struck a nerve with me.

    Janna, thanks for your honest acknowledgment of the very real issues we all deal with, whether its moms with little kids or people without jobs or stuck in jobs that don’t seem to be going anywhere, or any situation. In experiencing community with women at different stages of life, both single and married, it is so interesting to get past the surface issues and realize that the situations are different, but the heart issues are often so similar. God is calling me, everyone, to deeper dependence and trust in him, but sometimes he uses radically different circumstances in each person’s life to do just that. He’s good like that.

  17. becky

    Michelle, I really appreciate your comments. When I read this post and the comments I was thinking, “Moms aren’t the only ones who have beastly days or moments. That’s universal.” I also believe that we miss out on so much when we separate ourselves into groups based on age or marital status. I am single and middle aged, but some of my best friends have been 20 years older or younger, and married, widowed, or divorced. Just because two people share a marital status does not mean that they will understand or connect with one another. That depends on the heart, not the outward circumstances.

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *