We Are Moths in a Podiatrist's Office

Escaping our default setting

Last month I watched a vlogbrothers video from John Green in which he shared his two favorite jokes of all time. Here is one of them, which you may recognize:

A moth walks into a podiatrist’s office, and the podiatrist says, “What seems to be the problem, Moth?”

And the moth says, “Ah, doc, if there were only just one problem. My father died, and I miss him terribly, and worst of all I’m worried that my uncle killed him. And my mother has taken up with this very same uncle, and I don’t know what to do, doc. I don’t know how to respond to this—I just feel so lost. At this point I just don’t know if it’s better to be or not to be.”

And the podiatrist is like, “Ah, man. Moth, those are really serious problems, and I’m sorry you’re going through this, but it sounds like you need to see a psychiatrist. I’m a podiatrist. What brought you to my office today?”

And the moth says, “Oh, the light was on.”

The joke is very old, but John mentions that he first heard the joke from Norm MacDonald. I didn’t think anything about that reference until Norm died a week after John’s video was posted, and Norm’s tremendous version of the joke circulated online.

We Are Moths

John goes on to elaborate on the joke and the deep truth mingled in with the goofy humor. He says (bolding mine):

I feel, all the time, like a human being, endowed with a soul, at least making free will(ish) choices all day long. But, in fact, most of the time I am a moth flying toward whatever light I happen to see.

I fly toward the light of money or status or power or whatever. And then, one day, unhappy and confused, I look up and I’m like, “Why am I in a podiatrist’s office?”

And it’s only in understanding that my default setting is to fly toward those lights that I can hopefully, occasionally, make slightly more conscious decisions.

This “default setting” language is important and helpful. I use it often when I’m teaching the students in the student ministry I help lead at church. Our default setting, because of sin, is to gravitate toward all kinds of delights or delinquencies that we think may satisfy our hungers or fix or problems only to end up frustrated, not where we want to be, and asking, “Why am I in a podiatrist’s office?”

We see this in our relationship with the social internet, don’t we? We mindlessly scroll, and 30 minutes into our scrolling we find ourselves swiping through the law school graduation pictures of the kid who sat next to us in chemistry class but we haven’t talked to since we needed to copy answers to the homework last minute. “Why am I here?” we wonder when a spouse (or Netflix) asks if we’re still watching our tv-show-turned-scrolling-background.

The Psychiatrist We Long to Visit

More broadly speaking, returning to the moth metaphor, our default setting is to float toward whatever light promises to fulfill our longings and make us feel right.

Because of the sin hardwired into us since before we were born, we are prone to find fulfillment and solutions and satisfaction and contentment in places it isn’t meant to be found. Like John said for himself, that could be status or money or power or some other kind of personal fulfillment. Or perhaps the light that calls us like a Siren song may be a literal light, the light of our screens and the entertainment or attention we believe they promise us, but can never quite deliver.

Whatever our light, whatever it is we want to worship in place of God, it will ultimately find us in a podiatrist’s office sharing the deepest longings of our hearts, and a podiatrist is in no place to hear the pleas of our burdened souls.

Like the moth needed a psychiatrist for its problems, we need the Great Psychiatrist for ours. We are longing for a light that shines more brightly than any light to which our sinful, broken hearts may be drawn. With the Holy Spirit may we be more attracted to the Light of the world than we are the light of our own disordered delusions of fulfillment and purpose and meaning and value.