It's perhaps the universal gesture of nearly every down-side emotion, the facepalm. Above is a picture of the Henri Vidal sculpture of Cain rendered in 1896, a portrayal of Cain's emotional distress after being punished by God for killing his brother Abel. I've chosen it because it vividly illustrates the weight of a moment. We're not certain which of the emotional triggers brought Cain's palm to his face. Regret? Sorrow? Embarrassment? Disappointment? Shame? Loss? Dread? Or, a long list of others. Still, the facepalm is a symbol of ironic, comic, tragic, or otherwise negative circumstances that create disbelief or horror or incredulity in us.
Whenever facepalm moments invade my life 2 Corinthians 4 flashes across the screen in my head. It's a passage I've taught or preached many times over the past thirty-five years of pastoral leadership. These verses became more personal when my mother was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and she seemed most comforted when I read them to her. Even on the day of her death they seemed to register truth that touched something deep in her and us. Paul's words beckon us beyond the immediate urgencies of what we're experiencing physically to the deeper reality of what can be happening in the "inner man". He wrote---
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power
belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down,
but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life
of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
2 Corinthians 4:7-10, ESV
It is a short essay on the hard edges of life, the affliction, perplexity, persecution, and destructive elements that mark human existence at every turn. There's also a profound reminder about the frailty of our human body, the jars of clay in which we carry death in order that "the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies". The theme, of course, in that our human limits "show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us".
Then, he added the part that always gives me a boost when the facepalms are being activated. he wrote---
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self
is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing
for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the
things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are
seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV
it's the outer self/inner self dichotomy that thrusts us deeper than what is triggering the negative emotions in us. While the the outer self is wasting away, the inner self is being renewed day by day. And, as a result of going deep our eyes can be shifted from the things that are seen to what is unseen, from what is transient to what is eternal. And, that is God's provision for the facepalms in life, no matter their cause.
Whacking myself with facepalms is destructive on many levels. When discouragement, disappointment, aggravation, loss, grief, or any of the other emotional explosives land on us hard or often enough our reaction may be to chuck it all and just quit. But, that's when we need the discipline of going deep for a visit with that inner man so we can see things differently.
Going deep is being renewed day by day. It's God's way to deal with facepalms.