The Oatmeal of Shame (A Parable)


Now, the first thing you need to realize is that oatmeal is part of my life. Not a big part, or a hugely important one, but a regular part. It is a central focus of my morning routine, right up there with coffee. I’m not religious about it — when I go out, I’m more likely to have an omelette — but if I’m home I’ll have oatmeal.

That isn’t meant as an excuse, or any sort of justification for how I reacted. I’m just trying to give you some context, to help you understand what happened, and what it might mean. These are the raw ingredients; what you make of them is up to you. Kind of like oatmeal itself.

Click [Read More] to experience what may well be the silliest parable you’ll ever read. Even if it was ‘just’ a dream — and one God used to clarify my life purpose.

My wife and I are sitting in a room, trying to decide what to do. We have company coming, and she’s getting ready to cook, but for some reason we decide to paint this room. Its not that big of a deal — its a small room [smaller than any actual room in our house, though more cluttered], and much less work than other projects I’ve taken on. We’re not even painting the whole thing; perhaps just two-and-a-half walls with a deep accent blue, over the existing (pale green?) paint.

We start by clearing the room. There’s a few old newspapers there, which I add to the pile of newspapers in the living room. I empty them all into the recycling bin, then head back. However, I return to a scene of [comic] tragedy. Apparently, before I left — even though it felt more like mid-afternoon — I had poured my morning bowl of dry oatmeal, but not added any milk (or filtered water) the way I usually do. My wife, along with my brother — no, my favorite cousin Vineet — had continued working while I went to toss the papers. For some reason, one of them (I don’t know which) had decided to add water to my oatmeal. But, oddly, they had chosen to use water from a hose [which may mean we are now outside, as often happens in dreams].

That’s bad enough — tap water gives an icky chlorine flavor when I microwave it in my oatmeal — but this was even worse. When the bowl was tilted, the oatmeal spilled over but stayed attached via a kind of viscous slime — it looked like a stop-motion photograph of pouring water. I righted the bowl, and folded the icky goo back in with a stick, and stared at it in horror. As if the circumstances weren’t creepy enough, the bowl had little pieces of grass in it. My perfect little bowl of oatmeal (it’s hard to pour out just the right amount, and get it nice and flat so it cooks evenly) had been completely ruined. My heart sank…

…and then I woke up. At first, I simply felt embarrassed over the whole thing, and my reaction to it. I knew my family was merely trying to be helpful, even if they’d done an imperfect job of it. It was just a stupid bowl of oatmeal, after all. Surely it would be no big deal to just throw it out and start over, right?

But I couldn’t. Even as I tried to forget the whole thing, I realized that poor little bowl of ruined oatmeal had struck a deep emotional chord within me. Somehow, it captured all the times I felt slighted, misunderstood, or taken for granted. There was something important this dream was trying to tell me. As silly as it sounds, I needed closure from the dream: I had to grieve my spoilt oatmeal. But what was worse, I could not. For some reason, I just couldn’t let go the hurt. What to do?

I’d like to say that I cried out to God, and He heard my prayers and came to me in my hour of need. But that’s not what I remember. Mostly, I remember feeling very sorry for myself, and ill-used, and generally wallowing in self-pity. Yet, God had mercy on me, and spoke to me anyway. I don’t know if I reentered the dream, had a vision, or merely imagined what came next. I’ll let you decide. I do know that Jesus came to me, and said:

J: Ernie, it’s okay. I will take that bowl for you.

E: Huh? Why? What are you going to do?

J: I am going to drink it [raises it to his lips].

E: What? C’mon Jesus. Is this your way of showing me how silly I’m being? Look, I’m sorry I made such a big deal about a ridiculous little bowl of oatmeal. If that’s what needs to be done, let me drink it myself. [reaching for the bowl].

J: No, Ernie, you don’t understood. It is my glory to drink this cup on your behalf. [still smiling, though with a slight grimace — it really is a gross bowl of oatmeal, and uncooked at that — Jesus drinks the whole thing].

E: [hurriedly, feeling both relieved and ashamed] Um, okay, thanks. Really. You’re made your point. Please, give me the bowl. I’ll clean it and re-make the oatmeal. You’ve done enough. Honest.

J: No, I haven’t [smiling; is that grass stuck on his teeth?]. This one’s on me, Ernie. This too is my glory, to serve you in that way.

[He goes to clean the bowl, and returns with it full of steaming, perfectly made oatmeal. I am stunned.]

E: Lord, I am not worthy to eat this oatmeal. It is like the “water of the well of Bethlehem,” too precious to use as mere nourishment. Should I pour it out? Maybe I can save it, like the manna in the ark.

[At this, Jesus looks straight at me, and says]

J: Ernie, this oatmeal is for the healing of the nations.

Then suddenly I was fully awake — incredulous at what had just happened.


Dear Jesus, I stand in awe. How often are even my good works tainted with resentment, fear, and self-pity. It is a bitter cup, and I can not drink it. Even now, I can hardly believe that you would love me so much that you rejoice in bearing that burden for me — in filling up my weakness with your glorious strength. Father, teach me to bring to you all the shame I carry — as ugly and disgusting as it is — and allow you to take it into yourself, as you once did on the cross. Help me to release all my hurt and loneliness to you, and allow you to fill me with your Living Oatmeal, that never runs out. And in that filling, grant me the grace to drink the cup on behalf of those I love, that the nations themselves may experience your healing. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.