On Writing and Procrastination

I am highly qualified to write this post, because I am chief of procrastinators when it comes to writing. For example, I’m doing it right now. Sure, I’m writing this post, but I am NOT writing an outline for my new book, which is what I intended to do.

I think that most of the things that are good for us seem hard to begin – like exercising or praying or reading my Bible – I don’t usually want to do them until they are already done. Writing falls into this same kind of category for me. When it comes time to do it, I can find any reason not to. I’m not the only person with this issue. I read a book whose author said (not in these exact words) that unless you apply discipline to your writing, the dishes will suddenly seem like the most important thing in the world. This is true. Writing often gets relegated to the last spot – when everything else we could possibly do is done – and then we make up some more things to do.

I did fairly well on keeping up work on my book in 2015. In fact, I finished my book in early November. (More on this later.) However, since then, I have not written anything at all, and I’m feeling it.  So, I’m starting again. Kick-starting it is the hardest part…getting into the rhythm of writing again.  I WANT to. So, why is it so hard?

  1. Fear. Fear that I will find I have nothing to say (which never happens).
  2. Fear. Fear that it doesn’t matter (which doesn’t matter, because it matters to me).
  3. Fear. Fear that it’s too big of a job (which is only true if I QUIT in the middle).
  4. Fear. Fear that I will mess it up (which is only an issue if I won’t fix it).
  5. Fear. That is all.

A blank book is a giant canvas with nothing on it, and you feel that from the moment you put a word down you could be making the wrong strokes – the wrong picture – damaging the infinite possibilities that the canvas held before you began. But possibilities are only that, and if you don’t take them, the canvas will remain blank. Whatever comes from your work, it will not be nothing.  And something is better than a life of blank canvases.

So, what is the cure for this fear? Discipline. Plain and simple. When I think of that, I wonder in how many other situations discipline would be the cure for fear. I think there are many things that counteract fear…love for one. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whomever fears has not been perfected in love.” (I John 4:18) And then I remember that love is a discipline, too, so maybe it really is the only cure for fear. In this case, loving myself enough to realize that writing for me is enough of a reason to write.

A few things that I learned last year when attempting to exercise the discipline of writing:

  • Facebook is not my friend. It will not change my life to find out how big a baby swordfish is, nor to know just which of the 10 stars (most of whom I don’t know anyway) got their start in the antiquated version of American Idol that was “Star Search.” (Those are just the things I rabbit-trailed already today. It’s 5:00 AM.) Facebook is my version of “the dishes” that suddenly become so important. 90% of what I see on Facebook does not interest me anyway, but when it comes time to write, I suddenly feel I need to see every post before I can begin. So, twice last year, I temporarily deactivated my Facebook account – times when I found that I was having trouble exercising my discipline or I felt I was stuck on my story, so I was letting my mind wander instead of trying to figure it out. This worked well for me, and I will definitely implement again. I don’t think I will delete my account at this point – too many friend and family connections that are there, but temporarily deactivating, or even just signing out, is a definite.
  • Having a word count goal for every writing session. This was very helpful to me. Instead of saying, “I will write for one hour,” then twiddling my thumbs and staring out of the window. I knew I would be there until I got X number of words down. My goal was 1,000 words every time I wrote. Sometimes that only took an hour. Sometimes it was 3. In cases where I was extremely stuck on where the story was going, I gave up because I realized that I really did need to stare out of the window for a while and figure that out before I put down another word. Now, I didn’t write every day. I’m not sure that I can. I do own and run a business, and sometimes that is just all I can do in a day.

I am hoping that this year, I am able to create a more disciplined approach than I did last year:

  • I’m going to sketch out main story points before I begin my sequel so that I won’t get quite as story-stuck as I did last year. I’m sure it will still happen, but I think that will help me keep going. I tried it without doing this, now I’ll try it with and I’ll see which method works best for me. These will be very loose, as I like to follow the story where it leads. My problem has not so much been writer’s block. I could write something. But making sure it served the story when I wasn’t sure where the next step in the story went was another issue. Maybe it’s the same thing? Opinions?
  •  I’m going to be less excruciatingly deliberative over every phrasing of sentence and tone of voice. I’m going to edit it afterwards anyway. And I think the faster I get it down, the happier I will be with my progress. Everything can be changed later if it needs to be.
  • I’m going to track how many words I am usually able to get down in a time frame (though I will still have word count goals), and see if I can improve it. The more I write, the more I will have written, right? I think that’s how that works.
  • Though I know I will not be able to write every day, I am going to set an expected number of days that I will write per week. Maybe 5 days a week? I haven’t decided yet.
  • I am going to put it on my to-do list. I am a to-do list junkie and I love completing my tasks for the day. I think adding it will be a little mental trick for me to see it is a necessary activity.

If you’re wondering, “So, where’s this book you supposedly finished?” It is still in the edit phase. I wanted a few people to read it, and get back to me with their thoughts. I have gotten those thoughts from some, but have a few more to go before I do the big edit. I also wanted to let it sit and mellow for a while so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes. In the interim, I’ve had lots of ideas about a sequel or prequel or multiples of both. I’ve realized I was making a mistake not to just go ahead and begin one of them. I have a “complete one task before beginning another” mentality, but that’s not realistic for this type of project, and I KNOW it’s not good for productivity. I am actually on the verge of deciding I should wait until I have more than one book written to even begin publishing. (This will be self-publishing, by the way, so all is at my own discretion.) I think people may like it more if they know there is already a sequel waiting for them.

Do you have goals or dreams you need to apply some discipline to? Any writers out there have tips and tricks they use to keep going? I would love to hear your stories!

Fasting and Dog Treats

As a Christian, I’ve kind of gone back and forth on the “fasting” issue.  It’s not that I thought it was bad; just that with my particular upbringing, it was not highlighted or explained or really even discussed at all.  When I was in my early 20’s, I had a friend (not a Christian) ask me what the point of it was.  She had a co-worker who was fasting during their lunch hour.  She said that he explained it as a time you were supposed to be more focused on God.  She stated that she could understand this if he had used the time to go away and pray or something, but he still hung out with everyone else during lunch; he just didn’t eat, so she didn’t see the point.

 

I found myself at a loss for explaining anything to her.  I was only moderately distressed by this as I didn’t see it as a big point of contention with the Gospel and had never really entertained fasting as a regular thing to do in life.  In short, I considered it an elective; “Hey, if it helps you with your walk with God, go ahead.”  That was my attitude.

 

As I’ve gotten older and (hopefully) learned a little bit more, I’ve come to see it as something more than an elective – not in a legalistic sense, but as a true method of allowing God more space in our lives to communicate with us and as a means to display our devotion to Him.  I’m not talking about asceticism to the point of bodily harm.  I mean fasting according to what the Holy Spirit calls.  And I also do not mean fasting only in the sense of food.  I think fasting has much more far-reaching implications than simply not eating.  During Lent people may say they are fasting from television or shopping or caffeine or whatever the Lord shows them is impeding their walk with Him or becoming something they depend on.  As I’ve come to see it as something that is an integral part of my walk with God and my spiritual growth, I’ve gone through several stages. 

 

The first stage was what I will call “deliberate fasting.”  (And here I am talking about food.)  I decided, at one point, that food fasting was good for you, soul and body (incidentally, I still believe it is), so I made it part of what I did.  I would fast one day a week, but my attitude about it was wrong.  I was doing it as a rote practice; just making it part of my religious regimen.  And not only that, I was doing it for selfish reasons as well – because I wanted to reap the rewards; not so much because I was hungry for God and what He was offering me.  Needless to say, like all things done simply because you feel you “ought” to do them, like diets, my “deliberate fasting” did not last for very long.  It did not mean anything, and my spirit felt that.

 

The second stage was “desperate fasting”.  This was done when I was so at a loss for what to do in my life that I felt like I had to do something in order to beg God for some direction.  Since I didn’t have any other methods of control to exert in my physical life, fasting became my means to reach God.  “If I only fast enough, He’ll see how serious I am about wanting His guidance.”  Though I do believe fasting in desperate times is called for and exhibited in the Bible, mine was never out of a sense of repentance or, again, out of a desperate hunger for God; it was out of a desperation for God to help me out with my life.  This only serves as an attempt to manipulate God, which is ridiculous for two reasons.  First, the idea that we can manipulate an omnipotent, omniscient God is just silly.  Second, the idea that we need to manipulate God in order to reap the best rewards indicates a complete lack of understanding about how much He loves us.  At least I knew God was the source and I employed prayer as well (which is never bad), but I was not seeking Him.  I was seeking what He could do.

 

And now we come to the third stage, which I think I am sort of in the midst of learning and I will call “deepening fasting.”  This is where the dog treats come in.  If you’ve followed my blog at all, you’ll sort of know that my life has sort of been turned upside down this year – at least in any practical sense.  A lot of it was through personal choice, so I am not going to pretend that external things just “happened” to me, but at the same time, it’s kind of to a level that I hadn’t expected or planned for.  Most of what makes a person feel secure is up in the air or has been rattled this year.  For example: housing, finances, jobs, relationships, health, church, pets (I know, I’m not sure pets count, but in my situation, my pet dying was yet another thing lost).  I don’t want to go into each story, though some you could trace bits of through past posts.  Let’s just say all of this has left me feeling pretty detached from anything except family, friends and God.  Don’t get me wrong – I am very grateful that I still have family, friends and God, as I would have always deemed those the most important, though not in that order.  Still, the others play key roles in most of our lives and whether we like it or not, they serve to provide some measure of security and validation.

 

I was talking to a friend of mine last night and she asked me what my life was like right now.  (Great question, by the way – much better than “How are you?”)  I told her that I felt like I was standing in the middle of an empty room, and though there was nothing really holding me there, I didn’t really feel any great motivation to walk outside of it either.  My answer kind of startled me, even though that seems silly since it came out my mouth.  However, it struck me as unnervingly profound, and I found myself analyzing it after my conversation with her ended and on into this morning.

 

At points in this period of detachment from the world that I’ve been going through, I’ve been completely at peace with it – accepting that it is only temporal and the eternal is what counts.  However, at other points, I’ve found myself grasping at the same worldly things I’ve been stripped of because I caught a glimpse of what looks like a good option.  This seems to recur – a regular pattern in my existence.  I don’t mean for it to, but my fleshly nature just keeps rising from the grave every time I think I’ve buried it.  (That’s probably part of my problem – taking my eyes off of God and trying to take care of it myself.)

 

I think God emptied my life of the peripheral things in it – the things that were not contributing to what He had for me.  And now He is asking me to stay there until He says otherwise.  Not because He necessarily expects me to remain in all of my present circumstances – but because He needs me to realign my motivation.  And so, I am in this empty room that I feel He has purposely emptied.  God wants to fill my life up with things that He has for me in order to live the abundant life He offered me and so that He can use me in the manner He has planned, which, for the record is the same thing (abundant life=allowing God to do with your life as He will).  So, at points in this journey, He has re-introduced things back into that room, bits of things that He may have for me or have for me to do at some point – good things.  But so far, I feel that I am failing when I am shown those glimpses of good things – that I am content to sit in the room and rely on Him whenever I see no way to exert my own effort and no way to pursue anything.  But that when He brings the glimpse of what He wants me to have or to do into my vision, I immediately stop relying on Him and say, in essence, “Oh!  That’s what you have for me, God?  Cool.  I’ll take it from here.  You’ve been a big help.”  And then I make the pursuit of the “thing” my focus instead of the pursuit of God who wants to give me the thing.  And so God empties the room again and says, “No.  You haven’t got it yet.”

 

OK, OK, I know you’re wondering where the dog treats are coming in.  Here goes: I was dog-sitting a couple of months ago, and the dog was a bit unruly.  I won’t name names.  In my frustration, for a few days, I tried to teach the dog to “stay.”  I gave up, although my efforts were working; the rewards of training someone else’s dog didn’t seem quite worth it.  Anyway, I don’t think this dog had been taught much of anything, and it definitely had not been taught, “Stay.”  So, I would take a treat and make the dog sit (it did seem to know that one).  Then I would say, “Stay,” and back up a step.  If the dog moved, I would make it go back to where it was sitting, and we would start the process all over again.  At first, I would just back up with the treat a short distance.  As the dog did better, I would walk further.  I actually got across the room a couple of times.  Whether the dog got the treat or not had to do with its priorities.  If obedience was its first priority and it was looking to me as its “master” for direction, it would get the treat, but if the treat was its first priority, it got nothing.  Granted, a clever dog could probably figure out where the treats are and break the container or tear open the bag or whatnot and get his own.  But a good dog really wants to please its master and knows this is not the way to do it.  Now, this dog, being in the initial training stages, did poorly if I held the treat up tantalizingly before him throughout the process.  If I didn’t show him the treat, he did somewhat better.

 

And this is where I’ve been, if we can pretend that I am a dog and God is my master.  God’s been trying to teach me to “stay.”  I do all right at it if I can’t see the “treat.”  There’s not much for me to run after.  I’m content to listen to Him telling me to stay.  But when He brings it out and shows me, my instinctual reaction is to run towards it immediately.  However, all that does is make God put me back in my initial place and say, “No, let’s try that again.  Wait until I call you.”

 

I don’t know how many false starts I will have to make before I learn the lesson.  I know I’ve made several already, and God keeps putting me back in that empty room.  It’s a peaceful empty room, not a scary one.  I know He wants to fill it up with His provisions.  I just need to stop looking at the provisions and start looking at HIM.

 

All right, so now you are wondering, what does that have to do with fasting???  Waiting on God to tell me I can come have the treat is like a period of fasting, in whatever area that waiting manifests.  What I realized today is that fasting is a way of life – fasting from all that God does not have for me; fasting from the world.  Usually when I think of a fast, I think of putting a time limit on how long I will abstain from something.  I am starting to look at fasting as simply not partaking of things until God gives me the go ahead – committing to not chase after the things of this world in order to satisfy my own needs and desires, but in all things seeking to please the Master first, trusting that He will provide for my needs.

 

I know that there are seasons of fasting as well, and God blesses it any time it is done out of a sense of hunger for HIM – times when the hunger we feel from a food fast is a welcome feeling because it is indicative of the desire we have for God.  I am definitely not trying to undermine fasting in that sense.  Just noting that a life following God will be constantly seeking Him and will never seek to satisfy the flesh without first looking to the Master’s wishes, like the dog that learns to look at its master before going for the treat.  And hopefully, the priorities begin to outline the motivation and we begin to obey not in order to receive the treat, but in order to please the Master.  Maybe this doesn’t even qualify as fasting; maybe that’s just living a Spirit-led life…but that’s how it struck me today.

Disturbed

That’s the word I used to describe my spirit the other day in talking to my boyfriend.  Not like mentally disturbed.  Disturbed like if I was a lake, there would be lots of ripples.  There has been a lot inside me that has just been sort of heavy for a couple of months now.  Somewhat to the point that I chose escapism by keeping busy with mostly mindless things and not trying to work on it.  Just letting it gurgle and churn and fall in whatever pattern it chose without taking a good hard look at it.  So that’s where I have been, as evidenced by shallow (but hopefully amusing) posts as of late.

For a while, I was not even sure what was working on me.  Probably because I chose not to, but when asked, all I could say was what I told you above:  my soul was disturbed, my spirit heavy.  If you could get a spiritual/emotional illness, that’s how I would have described it.  The Flu of the Soul.  Tired, aching.  You might think I’m saying I was depressed, but it was different than that.  It was, I now know, God urging me to change.  And although I am not yet sure what or how exactly He wants me to change, I am more ready and more prepared to change when faced with whatever He has in store because of finally paying attention to the stirring.  Tension, my pastor would call it.  A call that makes me uncomfortable.

If you’ve not read my post on Ambition, you probably should before you continue or you’ll be starting this journey at its apex.  Despite the fact that the apex of a journey is usually its most interesting, and the only thing our fast-food culture has the patience to hear, the meat of a journey cannot be grasped without the whole struggle from start to finish.  It means nothing when watching the Lord of the Rings to see Frodo fighting with Gollum and watch Lord Sauron’s ring fall into the fire if you have not seen the treacherous journey before.  I guess that this may not actually be the apex.  I thought I was finished with this revelation before, but this could very appropriately be called “Ambition II” if I chose.

My mind is still pretty jumbled about how all of the various things I want to share are connected.  I’m actually hoping that in writing it down, it will become more clear, even to me.  This is usually what happens, to be honest.

I guess I should start with the fact that there were various moments during this disturbed phase when I was acutely aware of my shortcomings.  There are plenty of them to choose from, but the one that kept coming up was my individualistic nature.  I have always flown the flag of my individualism with much pride, heralding it as a virtue which the masses did not possess.  This might be true, but in doing so, I allowed its virtues as well as its vices to take hold in me.  Unfortunately, this is possible with any quality.  Though good, I placed it on a level higher than it deserved, giving it the chance to root too deeply in my soul.  Individualism came to mean alone.  Not in the lonely sense.  I have not been lonely.  But in the sense that very little I did was done with any intent for it to affect another person’s life.  I was quite responsible and quite creative and quite busy with various and sundry daily things.  But none of these things meant a darn thing in anyone else’s life.  I’m sure I will have some say it was not so bad as that.  I have friends that tell me they were inspired to do something outside of their comfort zones because they watched me do something similar.  The problem is that those things that I did were not outside of my comfort zone.  I was doing things that I knew others would think daring and brave, but that to me were not by any means scary.  Normally, I would just rush madly into the next thing so as not to have a moment where I had a need to trust God or wait for His guidance on where He wanted me to be and what He wanted me to do.  That might be a bit of an exaggeration as well.  There was some trust in God required, but not nearly what might be perceived from the outside.  The decisions I was making (often regarding careers and jobs or lack thereof) did not require the same kind of stretching of my faith for me as for others.  I’m not sure why. 

OK, I kind of glazed over a couple of important points in that paragraph.  One is that people would look at my life and say that I have done many brave things (not in the sense of soldier brave, but in the sense of life direction brave); things that those people say they would not have had the courage or fortitude to try; new jobs, new cities, etc.  I already explained above how to me, that is not necessarily brave.  The actions those people would point to were, for me, mostly an attempt to create a little excitement because I was bored.  Or an attempt to get out of something I knew I didn’t like into something different.  Or, here’s the embarrassing one, an attempt to cause those same people to look at me in awe and say, “Ooooh, look how brave and daring she is.”  I like it when people do that, because I can shrug casually and say, “Yeah, it’s no big deal,” and those people just think I am more brave. 

Newsflash: I am not brave.  Is it bravery to do the things that create no fear in you?  It is simply because I do not value career for its own sake or money for its own sake, that I am willing to toss them both away with no hesitation.  There is no bravery in that.  See my Thirty? Really? post to see thoughts on different kinds of courage.

Do you want to know what I fear?  People.  I am terrible with people.  I am scared that I will not know enough to help people or to show people the true God.  I am scared that people will not like me.  I am scared that people will let me down and not live up to my expectations.  Mostly I am afraid that I will look like a fool.  Or that I will make God look like a fool by proxy if I try to be His servant.  In this fear, I have no stories of bravery to share with you.  I have only ever been a success with people when those people pursued me as a friend or confidant or advisor.  What I am after is making an impact for Christ, which you cannot do when you live life as a hermit(ess?).  In this, I am terrified.  And to hide my fear, I substituted flashy things, i.e. my semi-dramatic life choices, that made me look fearless.  I faced another man’s fear to hide the fact that I could not face my own.

All of the perceived risks I have taken were never once done for the purpose of, or with any ideas of impacting another person’s life.  It was always about me.  And this is what I have been looking at, since I did finally gather up the courage to look the tiger in the eyes.  I am all wrapped up in selfishness and fear, and until I get over it, I am hindering God’s ability to work through me.  I say hindering because I know that He can use even the lowliest vessel, and that no matter what, all of my “righteousness will be as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)  However, even the lowliest vessel is more effective if it wants to be used and tries to make sure it is prepared. 

I guess I’ll tell you more about the process of this, which consisted of my being constantly inundated with messages and situations that made me feel this sense of inappropriate individuality more greatly.  At one point, I was sitting at dinner with three friends, one of whom was saying that she has been influenced by watching me.  I don’t remember the context prior to this, but in stating that, I think she thought about it conversely and said out loud, “I don’t think that I have influenced you very much, though.”  This is a person who is worthy of influencing me.  She has been through some tough things and come through them with a big heart for God.  When she said that, it was one of those moments of “tension” inside of me.  I knew that her inability to see any way she had influenced me was because of my determination NOT to be influenced by anybody.  Apparently, I had taken this to both extremes, meaning that I would not let anyone (or at least very many people) influence me for bad OR for good.  I can give you further evidence for this attitude from my “My Space” profile page.  The profile asks you to list your heroes.  My statement ends with this: “I’ve kind of always been antihero. I want to be myself.”  What do you read here?  No one else has anything to offer me that is worth emulating.  This is a wrong and arrogant attitude when exaggerated to this point.

Another situation was that which I wrote about in a recent post, My Journey to Vegetables.  In itself, it would not mean very much, but as a symbol it is very indicative of the way I operate.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, basically, in lieu of asking a friend for a favor, I spent 4 hours of my day off to do something it would have taken someone else 30 minutes to do on its proper day, rendering me quite unproductive.  Such is my life.  I have mentioned this desire for self-sufficiency more than once.  In my desire to grow my own food (Letting the Cabin Out of the Bag) and in my desire to know the “basics” of many different facets life (Gettin’ Down to the Roots), there is this underlying message that says to everyone, “I don’t need you.  And I don’t want to need you.” 

So, now we have, “I am completely self-sufficient” and “You cannot influence me” coupled together in a neat little package.  Inviting, isn’t it?  I really did not realize how deep this problem ran until I saw that it really goes through EVERY aspect of my life.  I have had friends and relationships in the past where people complained that they wanted me to “need them,” because they felt disposable.  I knew that I did not exude an air of even comfortable reliance on people.  I just did not realize that it was so strongly to the opposite extreme: rather, I exude an air of defiant self-sufficiency that runs so deep I don’t even want to “need” a grocery store.

I am sure that you could call me enterprising or handy or something because I try to do everything myself.  And I’m not saying it cannot be an asset in my life to have this quality, as well as the part of me that does not like to be notably influenced by others (which renders peer pressure virtually impotent).  Let me just state again that I have taken it to a ridiculous extreme, causing others to be excluded from my daily walk…keeping them at arm’s length so that they can neither help me grow nor harm me.  I am so encased in this mindset, that even as I write about it here, I have to keep reminding myself that I am trying to tell you it is negative.  I am teetering, virtually by the minute, on the fence of falling back into being proud of this quality.

Follow my relevant journal entries to see how long I have been mulling this:

November 19, 2006:  “Ineffectively busy?  I do things, but not with people.”

February 18, 2007: “Do I have love?  Where are the people who feel my love?”

September 2, 2007: “Stop being individualistic – trying to be innately self-sufficient.”

October 21st, 2007: “Fought fear by being self-sufficient and not needing anything or, rather, anyone.”

I’m not sure how long this has been going on.  I have a poignant memory of a conversation I had when I was away at college for a couple of years, and came back home to visit.  I ran into my uncle at the mall.  He asked me if I missed my family.  I remember shrugging, nonchalantly, and saying, “I don’t know.  Not really.”  He asked me if I missed my friends.  I gave him basically the same reaction.  I remember saying something like, “I mean, I love them, but I don’t really miss anybody.”  I remember him looking at me quizzically and saying, “You’ve changed.”  Even then, I knew there was something wrong with how I was interacting with others.  I went away from that conversation feeling the same “tension” I mentioned above.  There was something wrong with how I was interacting. 

That was over 10 years ago, and I haven’t fixed it yet.  I didn’t even acknowledge that there was a problem.  I even embraced it as a protection…a shield.

My pastor’s message on December 2 brought it all home.  It was the first time I have ever seen him broken up through the whole service.  I’ve seen him get choked up before, but this was continually throughout his sermon.  It was obvious God had really made this apparent and important in his life.  I’m not a sports fan, but he was basically telling us to get off the bench of Christianity.  I’ve heard that before, and it means something…but what he said that really got me was something like this: “Christians are mostly life-long students, never engaging in the real world applications of what we learn.”  Analogies about sports are one thing.  Analogies about knowledge and learning are another.  I shouldn’t have to hear an analogy pertinent to myself in order to enact it in my life.  But, I guess it never hurts.  I like to learn more about God, about His word, about spiritual growth.  But it is pointless if I never use it.  My pastor actually said another thing a while back that is applicable here.  He said, “If you never learned another thing about Christianity, you would know enough.”  I am inundated with knowledge.  There are people in countries where Bibles are not available who build monstrous ministries and only know one verse.  I know enough.  I SIT on what I know…letting it work in me, trying to become a better person…that’s all well and good, but it is not the goal.  It is the means to the goal, and it doesn’t mean that you get to pretend the goal does not exist along the road.  Just because you’re not the best player on the soccer team, doesn’t mean you run around practicing during the game and not trying to make goals because you are scared you won’t make it…if it is during the game, you try to make goals, i.e. effect people’s lives for Christ.  I’m not talking about chalking up souls so you can get a gold star.  I’m talking about showing people the love of Christ.  And to do this, I have to get over my fear of being affected by people.  Because if I am interacting appropriately with people, I will be affected.  I will care, and it will hurt. 

I think I have had this revelation before.  I remember about 7 years ago, realizing how open Christ made Himself to being hurt.  He loved freely and was rejected over and over and over.  That rejection will be a natural part of following in His footsteps.  Loving someone is giving them the opportunity to reject you.  Saying, “I will love you, but I do not need your love in return,” is not valid.  I don’t mean that the love is conditional based on the response…I just mean that a response is called for.  He wants our love in return.  He is asking for it.  He does not hang it out there, and then walk away from it for us take it or leave it, no worries for Him.  He embodies it, so when we accept or reject it, we are accepting or rejecting Him.  In other words, it is not love if it means nothing to me.  If I say I love you, but am not affected in any way by your actions, it simply is not love.  It is some mind-manufactured system that I somehow feel can fulfill the manuscript written out for me – some rote method I have concocted so I can feel OK when I read, “though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:2 – NKJV) 

I am sorry for trying not to love, and for trying instead only not to get hurt.  If that is my goal, then Christianity is not my game.  (I Peter 4:12-13)  If Christ suffered it, it is not a thing that I should avoid, for “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” (Matthew 10:24 – NKJV)

Now that I have worn you out explaining my desire for self-sufficiency, I have another issue to discuss before I get to the answers God has been giving me.  This one is back to that whole “Ambition” thing.  It’s all related in my mind.  I know that at this point, if you went and read my initial Ambition post as I requested earlier in this one, you are now thinking, “Why did I have to read that?  Exactly how is it related?”  Well, it is.  The problem is that my two major issues seem different, but they have one answer that is all jumbled up together.  So, I have to go through both things in order for the answer to make any sense.  Here goes.

I have also been feeling the same desperation that I used to feel regarding my music, and how, then, I felt that I was lacking something if I did not succeed in it.  Only this time, it was much more generic.  I was back to feeling overwhelmed with the mundane, and how it seems to take over your life…back to feeling that my existence was uselessly consumed by every day circumstance and necessities.  In other words, back to that fear that I would never do anything “important,” and somewhat consumed with this ambition.  

If you did, indeed, go back and read my “Ambition” post, you will know that I went through years of desperation, and even depression because of this fear, only then it was specifically attached to the success or failure of my musical endeavors.  It was a fear largely based on the need to satisfy my own ego, and put in front of my love for God.  It consumed me.  It has been a little over two years, probably, since I wrapped that package up and threw it up into God’s arms.  It has been the most free-ing two years I have had in my entire adulthood, because I was just trying to become a person and not a persona.  But somehow, I let that fear creep back in.  It was wearing a new cape this time, though, and I did not recognize it.  It was not clothed in my desire for musical acclaim, but only in a general desire to be someone or do something important, and stop the mundane cycle of work/sleep/cook/clean/errands/laundry, etc. which I, obviously, think I am above. 

The thing is, I thought I was done with ambition.  Like I said, I got rid of that burden a couple of years back.  I thought.  Now, I can recognize that I only got rid of it in one form.  My ambition was a cancer, and I only cut out part of it.  I still, in the back of my mind, had this vague notion that if I gave up that ambition, that God would grant me some bigger, better thing to do so that I could feel good about myself.  I really just told Him that it was OK if He did not use me in that way.  So, now, over two years later, the problem is that I am still here.  Still doing unimportant things.  No big break-throughs or obvious paths He wants me to take.  I was getting antsy…thinking He didn’t come through on His promise that if I would lose my life for His sake, I would find it.  (Matthew 16:25)  I didn’t figure that out, though, until I was talking to my boyfriend one day.  I was telling him that I was feeling frustrated with feeling like I was stuck doing unimportant things all of the time (in many more words than that).  He said something to the effect of, “You just need to give that up and trust God with it.”  And I said, “The thing is, I thought I did that two years ago.”  That was when it hit me that I didn’t really do it.  I only kind of did.  That fear was still fully alive and well in me, just focused in a new vein.  The fear of being nameless.  I want to be recognized.  I thought I only wanted to be recognized musically.  Turns out, I didn’t really care how as long as I was.  And THAT is what I need to give up.  The need for others to look at me and say, “Look how cool that girl is, and look at all the cool stuff she’s done.” 

Here is where the two meet…my two biggest fears. 

1) Being rejected, hurt, disappointed by others

2) Being a non-entity, ineffective, unimportant

When I look at it this way, I kind of think they are all mixed up together.  To get beyond one, I have to get beyond the other.  I have a feeling that until I learn how to interact with people in a Christ-like manner, i.e. opening myself up to hurt, rejection, disappointment, I will remain ineffective, a non-entity and unimportant to the Kingdom of God.  If there is such a thing.  I realize that God loves me just as much regardless.  I don’t mean that He will love me more.  I mean that He will be able to use me more effectively.

The answers started coming in, oh wonder of wonders, when I started studying my Bible diligently.  God has this way of putting in my mind exactly what I need to read before I even open the Bible.  It just pops in my head, “I’m supposed to start reading Jeremiah.”  And this is what I read. 

“Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’  Then said I: ‘Ah, Lord God!  Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’  But the Lord said to me: ‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.  Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.  Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth….'”

My first fear of people was immediately addressed when I opened the Word of God.  God has called me, because He has called all of us who follow Him, to share Him with others…to BE Him to others.  I cannot do this until I let my fear go.  God basically tells Jeremiah (and me) not to give Him any excuses.  But, He then tells him (and me!) that there is nothing to fear because God would give him the words.  If God is giving me the words when I am faithful to speak them, then I truly have nothing to fear.  All I can do is speak, and the rest is up to Him.  Sort of takes the pressure off, doesn’t it? 

Immediately after this, I resumed reading a work by G.K. Chesterton on St. Francis of Assisi.  He first discusses how Francis’ emerged at the end of the Dark Ages, and was part of the beginning of the reintroduction of poetry and nature love (not nature worship).  In this section, Chesterton contends that the Dark Ages were, at least possibly, necessarily employed by God.  The Dark Ages are known for their lack of any great literature, art or really anything of any beauty.  Chesterton theorizes that the culture prior to the Dark Ages was so inundated with paganism in any of its artwork, literature and in its nature worship, that God was forced to remove those things from an entire age of people in order to “purge the system,” as it were.  That, at that stage, humanity was so conditioned that it could ONLY view beauty in conjunction with its paganistic connotations, and had no capacity to enjoy it purely as God created it to be, as a reflection of Him and His goodness and power. 

Whether it would be necessary for God to plunge whole civilisations into such a void for hundreds of years in order to cure a spiritual sickness or not, I do not know.  I DO know that the concept is applicable and validated in my own life.  I have even imposed this type of treatment on myself at times, although I did not connect it quite so largely as a broad method at the time.

One example of this was when I ceased praying and reading my Bible for a time, because I realized that the only reason I was doing it was because I knew I was supposed to.  Based on II Corinthians 9:7, which states, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver,” I recognized that I was only “giving” grudgingly or of necessity.  I made the conscious decision that if there was no love or true desire for Him in my actions, that there was nothing really to give.  I needed to “un-learn” the religiosity I had associated with those actions so that I could regain the purity of them and enact them with their real purposes as my motivation.  My friend at Zephaniah 3:17 discusses this same topic in his “Ought” post.

Another, less spiritual application of this concept has to do with black coffee.  I am a coffee-drinker, to say the least.  There was a time, in the past, where I put an inhuman amount of sugar in my coffee.  I made a decision that I needed to significantly reduce the amount of sugar I put in my coffee if I was going to continue to drink it at the desired quantity.  However, of course, I didn’t like it with less sugar.  So, in order to train my senses, I made myself drink only black coffee for two weeks.  Amazingly, when I began putting sugar in it again, I required less than half of the amount I had before in order to enjoy my coffee.  I’m sure you have seen this employed in some way in your own life.  You want to regain a sense of the meaning of Christmas, so you do not give gifts one year.  I’m sure there are other common examples, but I have not thought of them yet.

The point is that censorship of some good is sometimes necessary if it has become associated with only perversion and/or done with wrong motivations.  When the good is all mixed up with the negatives, maybe the good needs to cease for a season in order to regain its innocence.  I could not regain my love for reading God’s Word and spending time in prayer or understand the value and meaning of those things until I lost the idea that I had to do them in order to earn His love.  I could not learn to enjoy sugar in its appropriate quantities until I ceased using it altogether for a time. 

The point is that I believe whether THE Dark Ages was a mechanism for this or not, I believe we must all go through our own personal “Dark Ages” if God is to use us.  I have mentioned this somewhere else in some post, but you can also see this in artists of all kinds, who often report a desertion of their creativity after they come to believe in Christ.  If your gifts or your dreams have an inappropriate place of importance, or if they have some perverted motivation, or if they are strongly associated with some sin in your life, God must remove them if you are to put Him in that place of importance, or re-evaluate your motivations or cut out the associated sin.  How fast you get them back, or if you get them back at all, is, at least according to my theory, dependent on how readily you allow God to fill the void they have left.  Unless we are super-smart and wise, and then God doesn’t have to do that, because we give up all of our dreams and attachments willingly to Him.  “Giving up” sounds so negative to us in this world of “take charge.”  I don’t mean it in the sense of quitting, and I think most who have gotten this far in this insanely long post will understand that.  But on the chance that someone else made it this far, what I mean is that we let God be in control of our lives in their entirety, which means that we are all right with whatever decision He comes to.  If we truly believe that He is good, knowing, loving and all-powerful, then that is the best decision we can possibly make.  And we claim to believe that.  Or, at least, I claim to believe that, and I think most other Christians would as well.  Our human natures are hesitant, though, because we are trained to want to be in control of our own destinies.  The fact is, we are not in control of them anyway, so we are better off letting Him worry about it, since we don’t know what in the world will hit us next.  It is quite free-ing when you actually manage to apply it, which is what Christianity is supposed to be about.  Unfortunately, some never manage to apply it at all, and some, like me, only manage to apply it in fits and spurts.

In other words, I believe the “dark ages” end when you let go of trying to control the things you fear, but then will start up again if you start trying to control it (or another fear) again.  Jim Palmer who wrote Divine Nobodies (which I have not read, but seems like it would be great), spoke at my church a couple of months ago.  He stated, “What you fear is where you have put your misplaced dependency.”  So true.  I fear being unimportant, because I have placed my dependency and identity on hoping I become important.  I know people who fear never marrying because they have a misplaced dependency on the institute of marriage and family.  Again, I hope you can see that I am not saying these things are bad.  Marriage and family are great.  It is when the desire for them (or anything else) becomes a desperation because you do not trust God with whatever outcome He has planned that there is a problem.  Along this theory, possibly God withholds those things until people are capable of putting them in their proper level of importance, which is always, necessarily below Him.  This, by the way, does not diminish their importance in any way.  On the contrary, it increases it, because I guarantee that God’s rules and recommendations for marriage and family (or, again, anything else) will bring about a better situation than any personal or earthly precepts will, however good the intent.

Let’s go back to G.K. Chesterton, and his discussion of St. Francis.  He tells another story about St. Francis that magnificently illustrates the whole process I have just been discussing.  St. Francis is sometimes viewed as a gloomy character because of his known penchant for asceticism.  The stories about his life do not represent a gloomy man of some sort of sad discipline.  They represent a man of passion and action.  He was just passionately ascetic.  This story actually begins before his true “spiritual awakening” if you can call it that.  I do not call it his salvation, because he was possibly a Christian before that, I am not sure.  It is said that his initial goal in life was to be a war hero.  He had a certain thirst for glory which caused him to boast, upon leaving for war, “I shall come back a great prince.”  Francis had apparently even had some dreams which made him believe he was to be some sort of lauded warrior.  This dream came crashing down around him before he even made it to the battlefield.  On the way to the front, he had his second bout with an illness which made him unfit for a soldier.  Apparently, he was very much rattled by this, and had no idea what he was to do at this point.  It was the only plan he had.  And now I shall quote the story from Chesterton, as I do not think I could illustrate it better.

“It was his first descent into a dark ravine that is called the valley of humiliation, which seemed to him very rocky and desolate, but in which he was afterwards to find many flowers.  But he was not only disappointed and humiliated; he was also very much puzzled and bewildered.  He still firmly believed that his two dreams must have meant something; and he could not imagine what they could possibly mean.  It was while he was drifting, one may even say mooning, about the streets of Assisi and the fields outside the city wall, that an incident occurred to him which has not always been connected with the business of the dreams, but which seems to me the obvious culmination of them.  He was riding listlessly in some wayside place, apparently in the open country, when he saw a figure coming along the road towards him and halted; for he saw it was a leper.  And he knew instantly that his courage was challenged, not as the world challenges, but as one would challenge who knew the secrets of the heart of a man.  What he saw advancing was not the banner and spears of Perugia, from which it never occurred to him to shrink; not the armies that fought for the crown of Sicily, of which he had always thought as a courageous man thinks of mere vulgar danger.  Francis Bernardorne saw within and not without; though it stood white and horrible in the sunlight.  For once in the long rush of his life his soul must have stood still.  Then he sprang from his horse, knowing nothing between stillness and swiftness, and rushed on the leper and threw his arms round him.  It was the beginning of a long vocation of ministry among many lepers, for whom he did many services; to this man he gave what money he could and mounted and rode on.  We do not know how far he rode, or with what sense of the things around him; but it is said that when he looked back, he could see no figure on the road.”

This is so parallel to what I feel is going on in my own life, that I almost do not feel the need to explain the parallel.  Almost, but not quite.  🙂  Just pretend I am talking about myself when I expound on this section and use the name “Francis.”  (Not that I am pretending I am half as far in my commitment as Francis was, but for illustrative purposes and brevity.)  Francis had this grand life dream of being a noted public figure, praised for his important deeds.  This dream was destroyed, plunging Francis into “these dark and aimless days of transition that followed the tragical collapse of all his military ambitions, probably made bitter by some loss of social prestige terrible to his sensitive spirit”.  I can relate to “dark and aimless days of transition….”  This initial dream that was wrecked did not cause Francis the same fear that it caused others.  Apparently, he was full of bravado at the thought of fighting in mortal combat, as I am full of bravado at things that other men fear (mostly financial security and career stability).  But that was not what God called him to.  He did not call Francis to do the things he did not fear.  God made him face his REAL fear, the leper (for me, taking risks in forming real relationships with people).  His secondary fear (not doing anything important) turned out to be ludicrous.  Can you imagine us knowing more about St. Francis if he had been some war hero in the 12th century?  Whether the leper did disappear when Francis looked back or not, the allegory is superb.  The fear was a sham fear.  It was not even real.  He just had to face it full-on before he could move forward in God’s plan.  And he did.

I guess that is where I must break off from Francis.  I have not yet embraced my leper.  I feel that God has been preparing me to know what I must do in order to move ahead and grow.  He didn’t give Francis as much of a warning.  I feel that I know I must be open and vigilant in watching for the moment God tells me, “Here is your fear.  Embrace it.”  I do not know exactly what that means, but I am strongly compelled to believe that it will mean I will have to be face-to-face with a human in a very uncomfortable situation saying things that my human self probably does not want to say or at the very least, feels foolish saying.  I must take an interactive risk with all the possibilities of failure and rejection that I have been avoiding.

God has not left me hanging in the meantime, though.  A couple of days after I read this story and acknowledged all of its portent, I was studying the Bible again.  I was looking for something completely unrelated to this, and ran across Luke 21:14-15, which says, “Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate before hand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.”  I’m being told, straight out, not to worry or stress about the coming trial.  Again, that God will give me the words.  And the wisdom.

God is amazing when I am not running from Him.

Thirty? Really?

*Preface: the universe swallowed my first draft of this post…if it seems choppy, bear with me.  My impatience may leave out the trails behind the resultant thoughts.*

It doesn’t seem possible.  This is my reaction to turning thirty, which happens today.  It’s not negative…just weird.  I don’t feel thirty.  Maybe no one ever does.  More than anything, it makes me reflective.  The other day, I watched Peter Pan (the live action movie, not the cartoon).  I’ve always loved this story, but this particular version really brings home the sadness of Peter choosing to stay a boy, alone, rather than growing up with others and to responsibility.   

I have more than a little bit of Peter Pan in me.  When I was eleven, I decided that I wanted to stay eleven forever.  It seemed a good age to me…old enough not to be under constant supervision, young enough that my livelihood was not dependent on my own actions.  I don’t know if most eleven year olds think things like that…maybe I was just odd.  But, as you can see, my wish to remain 11 forever was not granted.  And I’m OK with that.  Actually, eleven was pretty miserable as I remember it.  But, in looking back, I am wondering if all of my nineteen years since have been spent trying to resist growing up. 

In the movie, when Hook is threatening to kill Peter, Peter replies, “To die would be an awfully great adventure.”  But at the end of the movie, while staring wistfully into the nursery window at Wendy and Michael and John and the Lost Boys now welcomed into the family, he says, “To live would be an awfully great adventure.”  But he cannot move past his unwillingness to take on the responsibility it requires.   

I have had the same sentiment.  More often than not, it seems wonderfully exciting and dramatic to think of having to fight for something with swords or of having to sacrifice myself, leaving behind a legacy of heroism.  But moving on, day in, day out, seems almost nothing but arduous.  Satan uses tragedy to trip some people up.  For me, he uses monotony…the routine that lays out in front of me, and from which I can see no escape.   

Paul (in the Bible) must have had the same war within himself.  In Philippians 1: 21-26 he says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.  For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.  Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.  And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith.”  He must’ve been tired of the day to day as well, but knew that Christ had him here, not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of others.

All of the great stories of triumph that we love seem to be full of excitement.  But the waiting and the sameness and the loneliness in those stories all ends, for us, after a chapter.  We are able to reach the zenith of the tale in a day, and see that all of this character’s suffering was worth it.  And during the struggle, we urge them on.  We will them not to give up, not to lose heart, not to doubt.  Their years of plodding along flutter by us as we turn the page, insignificant in light of the glory to come.   

What of my own life, though?  I cannot turn the page when all I have to do is continue walking in the path I have been walking, not knowing where it is taking me.  All I can do is walk or not walk.  It becomes a question of what kind of character I want to be in my story.  Do I want to be the character who languishes, loses interest in the quest, drifts out of the story because of their inability to hang on, to believe?  The characters I love are the ones who persevere, even when all reason is against it.  That is the character I want to be.   

There is also a point in Peter Pan where the mother explains that there are different kinds of bravery.  Dialogue below: 

Children: “Father? Brave?”                  

Mother: “There are many different kinds of bravery.  There’s the bravery of thinking of others before oneself.  Now, your father has never brandished a sword nor fired a pistol, thank heavens, but he’s made many sacrifices for his family… and put away many dreams.” 

Children: “Where did he put them?”                     

Mother:  “He put them in a drawer.  And sometimes, late at night, we take them out and admire them.  But it gets harder and harder to close the drawer.   He does.  And that is why he is brave.” 

I think I am full of Peter Pan bravery, but I don’t have much of Father’s type.  Not that I’m saying I have to put my dreams away in a drawer, but I would like to have the kind that thinks of others before myself, the kind that does not fault the world for making dreams difficult to reach, the kind that does not allow circumstances to shape who I am.   

With that said, I must say goodbye to Peter Pan.  I accept responsibility for my actions and my reactions, for my life, for my relationships, and for what comes out of them, because I know that to live is an awfully great adventure.  It does not cease to be so, simply because I cannot see the grand finish, and will have been so even if I never see the outcome of any of my actions.  Apparently, God knew I would feel this way.  Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”  Every renewal of hope, every remembrance of beauty, every act of kindness, every smile and every mundane thing in life that is performed with joy – these are feats of heroism. 

Peter Pan

by Patty Griffin 

Hey, Peter Pan
I’m going home now
I’ve done all I can
Besides I’m grown now
I’ll think of you all painted with the night
You sit and watch from somewhere
As one by one the lights go out

I wrote a note to tell you how you matter
When the rain came down
All the letters scattered
And washed away
Drifted off to Never
Where you’ll be safe from me now forever

I believe you now when
You say that this will hurt
So I don’t have to go and
Play with you in the dirt now

Hey Peter Pan
I’m going home now
I’m all grown up
You’re on your own now
I’ll think of you all painted with the night
You sit and watch from somewhere
As one by one the lights go out 

Lessons from a Six Year Old

In case y’all haven’t figured this out yet, I over-analyze everything.  Or maybe I just analyze everything.  I’m not really sure if there is an overage.  The past few days I have been seriously contemplating the psyche of this six year old girl I babysit pretty frequently.  I was telling my boyfriend that if she didn’t figure something out, she was going to lead one miserable life…not that I’m giving up on anyone at six, you know.  She’s a great kid – smart, funny, all that stuff.  Her problem is that no matter what is going on, what game we’re playing or how many people are around, she tries to control everything.  Rules, rules, rules…she is constantly making up rules that everyone else is supposed to follow…things like which side of the yard boys are allowed on and who is supposed to play with whom and when it is time to move onto the next game.  But those are the big rules.  Just trust me when I say that she has serious micro-management issues.  And she always gets upset, because the world (other people) just don’t always follow her rules.  The other day it was slightly chaotic as there were cousins visiting.  Four cousins, to be precise.  Add this to my standard two and we get six, yes, six kids.  So, as you could easily surmise, this was a recipe for disappointment for my six year old girl.  Getting her sensitive, introspective four year old brother to be her puppet seems to be a specialty.  However, trying to use the same treatment on said 4 cousins was simply a hopeless case.  Nobody would EVER play what she wanted to play, and definitely not the way she had envisioned it being played.  I always try to talk to her when she gets upset by situations like this, hoping that some of it will sink in at some point.  I say things like, “You can’t expect everybody to follow your rules all of the time, especially when there are this many people.  You just have to kind of go with the flow and try to have fun.”  Response: “But I don’t WAAANNNT to go with the flow,” with much sobbing.  Me again, “Well, everybody doesn’t want to play the same thing you want to.  They get to choose what they play, and you get to choose what you play, but you don’t get to choose for them.”  Her response, “Why is it always about what they want?!”  I’m not sure how to get across that it could be about what she wants, too, if she let it be, but controlling her own destiny is not enough for her.  “I want to play with _______ (insert name),” she says.  The problem is she doesn’t care if they want to play back as long as they do.  She really does want little puppet playmates who will sit where she wants them to sit and play with the things she tells them to play with (and nothing else, mind you) and do it exactly the way she imagined.  The other kids around are usually quite content as long as they get to choose for themselves what they do at a given moment.  She is not happy unless everyone is following her command.  That is what she wants to do, so unless there is a subject to control, she is not getting to do what she wants to do, even if she has chosen her own action.  Are you following me here?  I have a point, really I do, but it’s even sort of lost in my own head right now, so I’m sure you guys have probably all stopped reading by now.  I can see how, given that what she wants to do is tell everyone else what to do, it could seem to her that she never gets to do what she wants to do.  I sort of feel bad for her in that I’m not sure how to make her see that if that person does not want to play what she wants to play, then she really does not want to play with that person. 

I have actually sort of taken this in a different direction than I meant to, although I have thought these things.  But it’s taken me away from my point(s).  My point is that I have been looking at myself and realizing how much I follow in this pattern of thinking.  I want everyone to behave the way I think they ought to (as mentioned in my Recipro-City post), and I get really grouchy when they do not.  I do not exactly expect to be able to control them, but I do always think that they must not be trying hard enough to listen to the voice of reason.  I do, actually, often think it is my duty to show them what they are doing wrong and what they should do to fix it.  So, in a way, I do try to control because then I am frustrated if they do not change. 

You may have gathered from a few of my other posts that I have been a little frustrated with jobs and things, which translates into something akin to depression as jobs take up a lot of time, you know, and so when jobs are what’s buggin’ you, well, it’s hard to get away from it. 

But tonight, I took a lesson on what NOT to do from a six year old.  I always wish that I could make her see that her position is not so bad…that at this moment, she gets to choose her activity.  I am not making her do anything unpleasant.  She is surrounded by fun things to do in the great American home of toys and more toys and yards and swing sets and sprinklers and puzzles and books and crayons…all of which she enjoys.  All this to choose from, yet she is choosing to be miserable instead. 

I have been doing this myself…coming home from work and choosing to allow the frustration to follow me around like a shadow into everything else I do.  When I am not at work, the moments are mine (well, really God’s if I let them be, but you know what I mean).  They are mine, but I had been relinquishing them to the power that I had given to my frustration.  All moments were held captive by what I was not allowed to do or by what I was forced to do.  Tonight I looked at my evening and remembered that it was mine.  I got to choose what I did with it.  I have not been choosing very wisely here lately…turning to things that keep my mind thoughtlessly occupied, and in this only adding to the feeling that I was not doing anything worthwhile. 

There are a lot of points that I have not made, although I alluded to them.  Here are two of the main things I am trying to teach myself through this:

1) Even if my rules are the best rules and the game I made up would be the best game if everyone would pay attention (which is all highly unlikely), I can only force the rules upon myself.  Trying to force other people into my mold will always make me miserable.

2) When I am allowed to choose what I do with my own time, I should choose wisely and let it be enough, because THAT moment is my own.  The bad should not be allowed to creep into the good.  (By the way, I think this is sort of a lazy-man’s fix.  The real fix is to figure out how to get the good to creep into the bad.)

Lesson 2 from “Captivating”

I told you I would dedicate other blogs to more lessons I learned from the book I didn’t want to read to begin with, “Captivating,” by John & Stasi Eldredge.    So, this blog is actually about the first lesson I learned.  (My “Literary Arrogance” having been second, thereby allowing me to recognize the first as it is associated with this book.) This lesson has to do with my relationship with my boyfriend. 

The first thing that I want to say is that I have the most amazing boyfriend in the world.  He does not ever belittle me or criticize petty things or ask me to do things his way instead of my way.  He often encourages me, compliments me, and just, in general, loves me.  Actively.  Not as in the state of love, but as in the action.  Any criticism I ever receive from him is for the purpose of instruction, growth or perspective.  He likes to get me to see things in a different way than I have been seeing it, to look at the other person’s side of a story and stretches me when I am being rigid.  I honestly cannot remember a time he has ever told me a negative thing over something petty.  My point here is that the emotional place I had come to was not his doing.  But you don’t know what that emotional place is yet, so I’ll tell you now, and then wrap it all up in a neat little package. 

Somehow, I had come to a point in our relationship where I was constantly despairing over the fact that I believed I was not good enough for him.  Let me state that this was not always the case in our relationship.  I have been, in this same relationship, one of the most secure girlfriends I’ve ever known, completely relaxed in his love.  I didn’t stress out about losing him; I didn’t worry that I wasn’t doing enough to keep him.  You get the picture.  This despair did not come about because of any change in his behavior…unless it was a change in his behavior for the better.  See, when we started dating, my boyfriend was an alcoholic.  I knew it, and we talked about the fact that he knew I wouldn’t be OK with it long term on our first date.  We can get into the wisdom or foolishness of this from my side on another day perhaps, but I will just state that I prayed much over it, and never felt God saying that I should not date him.  Quite the opposite in fact.  But, moving on….  Let me state that he was also a Christian, and ten months into our relationship (we’re at 2 1/2 years now), he quit drinking.  Since that point, I have seen him grow and mature more than I can possibly explain to you.  He’s become a passionate spiritual leader.  And it’s not that he was immature before.  It was just the fact that he had this barrier of alcohol blocking him from being in constant communication with God, as well as keeping him from spending his time learning or studying.  I guess I thought that since I was confident in our relationship, I would always be confident in our relationship.  I now realize that when circumstances change, emotions are quite ready to follow.  Looking back now, I can see that my insecurities probably began to surface when I saw how well he was doing, how mature he was becoming and how meaningfully he was spending his time and pouring out his energy.  My heart thought it meant that he would not need me anymore.  He had sort of eclipsed me spiritually, so what use was I?  The main problem here was that I did not even realize my thought process had changed.  However long it had been since the insecurity crept in there, by the time I recognized it through the grace of God and the reading of this book, it was bad.  To the point that my heart would twist everything he said.  If he said, “You did well on that,” it meant to me, “You must continue doing that well or he will not love you anymore.”  I didn’t consciously have these thoughts, or I would’ve known I was being stupid.  It was more the attitude I took things in.  I was always scrambling to feel like I had something to offer that he would value.  If I was drained emotionally, I tried really hard to look pretty.  I would go through my day in my mind before I called him, hoping I could think of stories to tell him in which I did something worthwhile, learned something meaningful, improved myself in some way so he wouldn’t think I was a loser.  And if he said something negative in the way of instruction, well, it did its own work.  That meant he knew there was something wrong with me; I was selfish or lazy or not smart enough.  I was not perfect, therefore he would stop loving me. 

I know, you’re thinking, how could I do all of this and not recognize it?  I’m wondering myself, but I have a feeling it was something Satan knew I cared pretty deeply about, and stuck his big toe into the crevice of my fear…got a good foothold and just kept digging it in.  Keep her scared and ignorant of the fact that she’s even scared.  She won’t know what’s wrong with her.  Good strategy.  Thank God (literally) for showing me this.  It was taking its toll.  I was tired.  And I really didn’t know why. 

The great thing about this is that it really is something that I can turn off, like a switch.  My awareness of it was all I needed.  I know it is a silly attitude, and a pointless one.  First of all, attempting to be what you think someone else wants you to be will almost inevitably make you exactly what they wish you were not; insecure and wishy-washy because you’re constantly second guessing what your idea of what they might want is along with a host of other really annoying qualities.  I know that my boyfriend, most of all, wants me to be who God wants me to be and to do what God wants me to do.  So, it’s a re-focus.  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all of these things will be added unto you.”  God is what I need in order for everything else in my life to be what He’s designed it to be.  And I had taken my eyes off of that truth. 

So, as to me thinking I was so great at not being a “silly girl,” as I mentioned in my Literary Arrogance blog, I think I had definitely adopted what I would coin a very common, prominent and detrimental “silly girl” attitude.  I recommend this book if you find yourself trying to be the woman you think someone else wants you to be.

Lesson 3 from “Captivating” coming soon. 

Feminism and the Bible – Feel Free to Comment

Original post is below, but find my first response to Annie Laurie Gaylor’s article (also below) here: Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16, and the more responses to it here: Women and the Bible – Church Roles and here: Women and the Bible – Heroines.

A friend of mine sent me the article below (included after my comments), which accuses religion and specifically the Bible of being the main opponent to women’s rights, and the main proponent of women’s denigration. The friend who sent it to me had seen it because an acquaintance of her’s posted it. She sent it to me out of sadness, wanting to know if I would be interested in helping her refute its claims, not out of a sense of “rightness” but out of a sense of clearing God’s name. Any time I read stuff like this (whether about feminists or gay rights or any of your current hot-button issues) purporting the Bible as a tool of hatred, it hurts me. It mostly hurts because sometimes the accusations about the way people have interpreted the things the Bible says are true, and there ARE people who will take verses in the Bible and use them to undermine a woman’s worth…people who claim Christ as their Savior. People have mis-interpreted a lot of the Bible a lot of the time, but I don’t think their mistakes should be projected onto God or the Bible. My initial thought when I read my friend’s message about helping to answer this article was, “Oh, that’s going to take a lot of time.” When you get to the article below, you will see why. The article states much about historical figures and lists some Bible verses that I have never heard, and others, that I, honestly, have never myself found quite satisfactory explanations of. This is quite a task. Then I thought about my prayers to God lately, which have greatly been about wanting to follow His will and learn His ways and help to grow His agendas. I realized this was a direct, serious answer to this prayer. God, apparently, did not think I was kidding. And so, the research must begin. I was thinking about the best way to begin what seems to be such a large task, and it made me think of my boyfriend. My boyfriend is what you would call a “conspiracy theorist”, although the more you know about the things he learns, the less they seem like “conspiracies”, and the more they seem like “causes”. However, he is one of the few in that circle who presents all theories and knowledge in the light of Christianity. The conspiracy world, as a general rule, chucks God altogether. So, poor thing, he kind of gets it from both sides: the Christians think he’s crazy for his conspiracies, and the conspiracy buffs think he’s crazy for his Christianity. He gets quite a few messages asking him questions and making accusations, etc. He’s coined his responses as “neo-apologetics,” because it is apologetics in the true sense of defending the case of Christ, but taking in consideration information that most main-stream Christians have never even heard, which is necessary when dealing with people in that avenue. He has started just taking each message that he gets, researching each accusation or question, and responding in as much depth as he can to every point. It takes some time, but it also teaches him a lot. I think the same would be true with my friend and I trying to do the same with this article. I was listening to a lecture on intelligent design this morning, and the guy giving the lecture on it was saying that he finally stopped being afraid of science when he realized that every time someone gave him a scientific question from a secular viewpoint, it made him research it, and inevitably would only end up strengthening his point and his belief. He began to realize that he NEEDED the opposing viewpoint questioning him in order to not stagnate in his growth. If we respond to this sort of thing with his attitude, and with the intent not of proving someone wrong, but of proving God loving, I think we could affect a change. So, yes, I said, let’s get after it. Scary…but purposeful. Who better to combat this kind of worldview if not women within the Christian culture? C.S. Lewis says in some of his writings that if you can’t state what you believe in a clear way, then you don’t really know what you believe, or at the very least, not why you believe it. I always feel that I am completely inadequate at stating what I believe AND why, and those statements by Lewis have convicted me. Doing this will definitely aid in changing that. If anyone has any helpful information that would contribute to our understanding of how to best state the truth about God’s view of women, please feel free to comment. I just read this article about an hour ago, so my research has not yet commenced…I have ideas and a few verses in mind, but it is yet a long way to go in any structured form or finality, especially taking in consideration all of the points raised in the article. I’m sure if I read the book written by the article’s author, I would have quite a few more points to study. Ah, well…first things first. Pray for us to be open to God’s wisdom!

Here is the article:

Why Women Need Freedom From Religion
by Annie Laurie Gaylor

Organized religion always has been and remains the greatest enemy of women’s rights. In the Christian-dominated Western world, two bible verses in particular sum up the position of women:

“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”–Genesis 3:16

By this third chapter of Genesis, woman lost her rights, her standing–even her identity, and motherhood became a God-inflicted curse degrading her status in the world.In the New Testament, the bible decrees:


“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”–1 Tim. 2:11-14
One bible verse alone, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18) is responsible for the death of tens of thousands, if not millions, of women. Do women and those who care about them need further evidence of the great harm of Christianity, predicated as it has been on these and similar teachings about women?Church writer Tertullian said “each of you women is an Eve . . . You are the gate of Hell, you are the temptress of the forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law.”Martin Luther decreed: “If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it.”Such teachings prompted 19th-century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton to write: “The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of woman’s emancipation.”

The various Christian churches fought tooth and nail against the advancement of women, opposing everything from women’s right to speak in public, to the use of anesthesia in childbirth (since the bible says women must suffer in childbirth) and woman’s suffrage. Today the most organized and formidable opponent of women’s social, economic and sexual rights remains organized religion. Religionists defeated the Equal Rights Amendment. Religious fanatics and bullies are currently engaged in an outright war of terrorism and harassment against women who have abortions and the medical staff which serves them. Those seeking to challenge inequities and advance the status of women today are fighting a massive coalition of fundamentalist Protestant and Catholic churches and religious groups mobilized to fight women’s rights, gay rights, and secular government.Why do women remain second-class citizens? Why is there a religion-fostered war against women’s rights? Because the bible is a handbook for the subjugation of women. The bible establishes woman’s inferior status, her “uncleanliness,” her transgressions, and God-ordained master/servant relationship to man. Biblical women are possessions: fathers own them, sell them into bondage, even sacrifice them. The bible sanctions rape during wartime and in other contexts. Wives are subject to Mosaic-law sanctioned “bedchecks” as brides, and male jealousy fits and no-notice divorce as wives. The most typical biblical labels of women are “harlot” and “whore.” They are described as having evil, even satanic powers of allurement. Contempt for women’s bodies and reproductive capacity is a bedrock of the bible. The few role models offered are stereotyped, conventional and inadequate, with bible heroines admired for obedience and battle spirit. Jesus scorns his own mother, refusing to bless her, and issues dire warnings about the fate of pregnant and nursing women.There are more than 200 bible verses that specifically belittle and demean women. Why should women–and the men who honor women–respect and support religions which preach women’s submission, which make women’s subjugation a cornerstone of their theology?When attempts are made to base laws on the bible, women must beware. The constitutional principle of separation between church and state is the only sure barrier standing between women and the bible.For more information about the treatment of women in the bible, read the books Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So by Annie Laurie Gaylor and The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible by Ruth Hurmence Green.

I Want a Cookie or Self-Indulgence

I was going to title this “Discipline”, until I realized that I don’t really have much insight into discipline, but have much into its corresponding vice, Self-Indulgence.  Much of this essay will probably be about the abuse and extortion of food.  That is because I struggle with this constantly.  The incessant reminders of what “thin” means in today’s society may augment my impression of the struggle.  I could possibly be blowing my demise way out of proportion simply because I wish to be thinner, and cannot seem to attain this end of my own volition.  However, the premises would remain the same on a smaller scale or, indeed, applied to a different subject, and perhaps it is good to exaggerate them to stress the points.  Thankfully, for you as readers, there is almost an unlimited choice of other areas that my self-indulgence branches out into, so perhaps you will not be bored. 
Self-indulgence is one of those pesky vices that can rear its ugly head in every aspect of your life.  So, you may conquer it in one area, but it does not mean that you have purged yourself of it altogether.  Granted, it is probably easier as you go along.  Winning a small battle here and there will probably strengthen your ability to be the victor of the war, but it by no means ensures it a certainty.  I’m not sure that there is a better way to begin with this subject than to jump right in to specific issues.  So, here we go.
Example #1:  I have a little debt that I would really like to pay off.  It’s credit card debt, which means that the credit card company allows me to make unreasonably small payments in order to milk my debt for all of the interest it’s worth.  At one point, I seemed completely unable to motivate myself to pay any more than the required amounts, though fully aware that my moderate debt would take me approximately 7-8 years to pay off at that pace.  Well, I’m fairly reliable when it comes to finances, meaning, I always pay my bills.  If you send me a bill for a specified amount, you’ll probably get that amount, and even before the due date.  So, I appealed to my logic: if I had a bill that required me to pay more than the credit card bill required me to pay, I would pay it.  And off I was to search for a bank loan to pay off my credit card debt, for the bank would undoubtedly want their money faster than the credit card company, therefore requiring me to pay more and aiding me in getting out of debt faster.  Well, it turned out that my credit card had an unusually low interest rate that my bank could not compete with, AND this loan would require something like a $150 start-up fee.  The bankers were, for some reason, still trying to talk me into this loan after we reached these conclusions.  I may be self-indulgent, but I’m generally not just plain stupid.  I did not take their loan offer, and walked out of the bank feeling a little dejected.  And then I thought to myself, “How ridiculous am I being?  If I want to pay more on this bill, then I should just pay more on it.  It’s like a child to have to wait until someone forces me to do something in order to accomplish it.  I may as well be in elementary school if I have that little discipline.”  And so I began paying more.  It is now approximately one year later, and I am two thirds of the way through paying it off.  And now a little confession – I have begun my examples with the one at which I have been the most successful.  Clearly, I want you to have an impression of me more favorable than is honest. 

Example #2:  I want to lose a little weight.  I am not fat, but I am just at the point at which all of the clothes I used to love accentuate all of the worst things about my slightly larger frame.  In other words, I have taken the very necessary first steps towards becoming fat by becoming fatter.  I have been at this point for well over a year.  I seem completely incapable of doing the things I know I need to do in order to accomplish the goal of getting back to my desired weight.  I have gone through a few phases where I did well.  For nearly two months, I ate almost exclusively vegetables and fruits during the day, and then dinner was carte blanche.  Somehow, I didn’t lose any weight during this period (probably because my fruit likes far outnumber my vegetable likes), but I felt better about myself, and better in general.  Obviously, the feeling better about myself does not come solely from accomplishing the goal of losing weight, because during this span of time, I was at peace with my eating habits, even without shedding pounds.  It was being disciplined about it that increased my self-esteem.  But, alas, this ended while I was traveling for the holidays.  It’s quite difficult to be so limited in what you ingest when you’re visiting someone else’s house, unless you want to appear finicky at best and rude at worst.  I also managed to cut out sweets altogether for a short time, but this ended as well.  I’m not quite positive how, but I’m sure it had something to do with PMS or being frustrated with work or something of that nature.  My self-indulgence in this area continually causes my self-esteem to plummet; causes me to feel like a spoiled child incapable of understanding the consequences of my actions.  8 cookies for breakfast = fat.  I seem to have a serious lack of forethought, in this, and most areas.  I know what the consequences are, but like the cliché of a teenager in a drag race, seem to believe I am invincible.  But as I’ve said, it’s not just the weight part of this struggle that troubles me.  It’s my complete (seeming) lack of ability to control my impulses.  I like (as I’m sure most of us do) to pretend to myself that I am more disciplined than your average Joe – that if I choose to do something, I can do it.  I believe half of the value of self-discipline is proving to yourself that you are capable of doing something, or not doing something, whichever the case.  Only I prove to myself the exact opposite.  I have proven over and over that I am quite as self-indulgent as everyone else, and undoubtedly more so than those whose slim figures drive me to self-loathing and disgust.  I have a friend who is thinner than I am, by just a bit.  She was, in the very recent past, one of those people that everyone would comment: “She’s so thin,” with envy disguised as admiration or simple observation.  This friend informed me a few weeks ago that she was joining Weight Watchers.  Bear in mind that she was apparently going to join in order to lose the same amount of weight that I would like to lose, or at least no more.  The thought that someone so obviously not obese (and already thinner than I!) would think to join Weight Watchers seemed ridiculous to me.  She was ascribing to the same philosophy I had initially taken with the bank loan.  If she had someone forcing her to do it, she would.  At that moment, I thought myself better than her; that I could do it simply by choosing.  I was in denial – in denial about the past year and a half, because if I could do it simply by choosing, I would have done it by now.  Unless, the point is that I have not really chosen.  Is this the point?  Can two, so diametrically opposed positions, “I want to lose weight,” and “I want to eat the cookie,” coexist?   Does “I want to lose weight” simply fly out the window at the moment of eating the cookie, or does it change to something like “I will start losing weight after I finish this cookie?  And will this amended statement only be true until I am seriously tempted by the next cookie?  When I, in no uncertain terms, decide to lose weight, is it then that I will begin accomplishing it?  Honestly, I’m not sure, but I am aware of at least a few rationalizations that come into play, deluding me into thinking that I am not being self-contradictory.  One is that somewhere my mind understands that this cookie will not necessarily make me fat.  However, it does not seem to be able to grasp the fact that eating every cookie I come in contact with, will.  It is hard to see the danger in the collective, when you are looking at the singular.  I have a feeling that alcoholics probably do the same thing, i.e. this drink will not make me too drunk.  Possibly, it is that whichever desire is heaviest on the balance scale wins, although I don’t believe so, because I have some pretty weighty desires on the side of not eating the cookie that often seem to lose, i.e. not becoming a diabetic (it runs in my family), better self-esteem, fitting into my clothes, proving the steadfastness of my character (and all over a cookie!).  The lust for a cookie is much more primal.  Much closer to a very straightforward, “I want.”  Perhaps that is why it wins.  It’s like the collegiate professor trying to argue with simpleton.  The professor’s arguments go all above the simpleton’s head, and while the professor is rattling on with his profound arguments, the simpleton ignores that “nonsense” and, completely unperturbed, does the thing he was intending to do.  Maybe I should just take an adult’s position as to a child, and when I want a cookie, simply slap myself on the hand.  And although I’m sure this would cause me a few other problems, perhaps that is all this primal desire understands.  I also believe that the self-indulgent voice in my head usually argues something along the lines of “I deserve.”  And therein lies another flaw, another severe defect that leads us far from discipline.  Our rights…this right to a cookie, the right to some little pleasure when the whole rest of the world seems against us.  The world is cruel to make a little thing like a cookie such a moral dilemma, with my self-worth hinging on the balance of to eat or not to eat.  I am sure the men reading this will think how dramatic I have become.  The women will understand exactly what I say.

Perhaps I can put it into more universal terms, even sticking to the issue of food.  I’ve worked in the food industry, and I cannot tell you how amazed I’ve been at the mastery food has over a person’s character – how a dignified man in his business suit can turn into a ludicrous madman over a simple case of missing mustard…an irrefutable case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde or how a well-dressed, mouse-voiced woman can articulate to you the order in which the ingredients must be stacked on her hamburger, by drawing you a picture, and labeling each item in its place.  Although I cannot dispute the understandable expectation to get what you have ordered in a restaurant, I can greatly disapprove of the reactions that NOT getting exactly what you have ordered will bring about.  I’ve seen this businessman acting exactly as your two-year-old would if you were out of his favorite snack, and all you had was leftovers from dinner, which he hated.  You would at least wish that you could make him understand that sometimes you have to make the best of things, that leftovers are better than nothing, and he would have to do without his (insert favorite snack) this time.  Only, in a restaurant, the issue is usually resolvable.  The man has thrown his tantrum quite before giving anyone the chance to rectify it.  But, let’s even imagine that he has given them a chance to absolve themselves – does a failure to remedy the situation then give him the right to throw his tantrum?  I would argue, no. 
So, going back to our rights, did the man have the “right” to his mustard?  How far can we take that?  He had a right to desire the mustard, I suppose.  I don’t think I can go so far as to say he had an inalienable right to mustard.  But even if he had, nothing can excuse his infantile reactions upon not receiving it.  Discipline is, at the very least, a means of controlling our petty desires, and a means to dignity and grace in the face of misfortune (including the absence of mustard).  How are we to teach our children any self-control or discipline whatsoever, if we cannot graciously accept not always getting our way, even if it is at the incapable hands of others?  But, how are we ever to learn how to do this, except by not getting our way by our OWN hand sometimes?  You cannot expect to be successfully cheerful in the face of disappointment forced upon you, if you have never even disciplined yourself to face some sort of denial when you are in the best of temperaments.  Herein lies my great quandary.  I seem incapable of denial, in most areas.  I have grown into an adult, out of the reach of my parents, and forgotten how to say “No” to myself.  I remember being told “No.”  I was not a coddled child.  How did I grow up into this bundle of appetites waiting to be quenched, with very few scruples about quenching them?  Because it is my nature – my nature to be constantly drifting away from order, like the universe.  It’s easier to drift than to stay.  Discipline requires something of me.  Self-indulgence is easy.  It also grants the illusion of control.  When I am having a bad day, if the only good thing I can control is having a cookie, it seems very tempting, just for the sake of having something good.  It’s hard for me to refuse even if I am not hungry, and even when my palate is really craving something completely different.  Simply because I know cookies to be good, even if it’s not what I want at that moment, it seems, in a sense, like I am “treating myself” or “getting away with something” to have one.  Boy, I showed them.  My point is that self-indulgence seems almost not to be cured by its supposed object.  It seems to want to indulge simply for the sake of indulgence, and not (at least not exclusively) for the pleasure of said object.  I want to indulge, frankly, because I know I can.
Although unintentionally, I have already jumped out of the puddle and into the greater pond of discipline itself, rather than issues it affects.  I don’t remember when I realized that I had become so very lax in refusing myself.  I just observed suddenly one day, that I thought my mother wouldn’t allow me to have so many “cookies” if she were still in charge.  I thought, at that point, (which has been some time ago), that I should perhaps begin exercising my “No” a little more frequently.  I have finally, I think, realized how perfectly lousy I am at it.  I hesitate in writing my next assertions, for I feel the very hypocrisy of writing, but not following them.  However, if men ever only preached of vices they had mastered, there would be few sermons in the world worth listening to.  I firmly believe that I should be able to refuse a temptation (cookie, or otherwise) simply because I know it’s best, based on a rational belief, a moral or a thought, i.e. refusing cookies due to all of the reasons I listed before.  But as stated in the paragraph about the man and the mustard, in order to be able to do this with any consistency, through bad moods and celebrations, when it’s because someone has stolen my cookies or broken them, I must sometimes, refuse myself simply for the sake of practicing refusal.  I have not even mastered “no” in the first scenario, when it is rational, beneficial and desirable, except for in short spurts or when in a pleasant mood.  I certainly haven’t managed it when the conditions are unfavorable. 

Some people manage self-indulgence by removing the temptation.  I recognize some of the rationale behind this method, but would argue against its long-term effectiveness.  If a smoker stops smoking only because there are no cigarettes on his deserted island, is there any virtue in it?  I would assert there is no merit in behaving well simply because the temptation is no longer present, no discipline without something desirable to resist.  My boyfriend taught me this, and even with this example.  He stopped smoking with a pack of cigarettes in his pocket.  He believed to quit only because the cigarettes were not available was not really quitting at all.  As soon as he was faced with the temptation in any real sense, he would simply start up again.  I can agree that sometimes the removal of the temptation may be necessary at the start of a discipline, but if the object is not brought back at some point during the training, the lessons will almost decidedly be a failure as soon as the offending vice is reintroduced.  And besides this, sometimes removing the temptation is simply not possible.  I work for a catering company.  Unless I am planning to quit my job, a plethora of sweets will approach me at every turn, nearly every day.  A man struggling with lust cannot realistically remove all women from his sight.  And, so the key has to, at least partially, be a mindset.  I’m not sure quite how to attain this mindset of decision that actually brings about change, but as with my credit card payments, I know I am capable of changing my habits, I just want something outside of myself to make me.  When I decide that I need to “just do it,” in the very well known words of Nike, is when I will.  Clearly, I have not reached this point of illumination in my eating habits.  I do believe, though, that the difficulty is mostly in our minds, and much less so in practice.  It’s the imagined pleasure of the cookie that makes it difficult.  Never mind the fact that it brings approximately 60 seconds of sweetness, the only good part being while it is actually in my mouth.  As soon as that moment is done, I am back to being guilt-ridden at my wantonness.  I think it’s also very important how we perceive temptation.  If I dread going to work because I know I will be faced with my very favorite dessert, and I will have to look at it all day and feel deprived if I don’t eat it, and guilty if I do, then I am certainly going to fail, because I am miserable both ways.  If I feel dejected by having to do without, and I feel dejected to no greater extent when I give in, why not feel dejected, and yet have the sweet as well?  However, if I go to work thinking what a day of challenges I will have, yet another opportunity to strengthen my discipline, to kill my self-indulgence, to beat the Devil, perhaps my fighting spirit will get me through.  This is for me, an encouragement that will strengthen when I already have a basis for refusal, but I know that I cannot solely rely on it, because, my fighting spirit slowly deflates with the wearing drudgery of every day life.  Like a soldier expecting the rigors of battle and the rush of adrenalin, but instead faced with marching interminable fields, growing wearier every slow moment, my fighting man finds that brownies and cakes are no foe worth keeping his morale high enough to win any battles.  “It’s not really worth fighting that hard, is it?” he thinks.  “The enemy is not all that bad.  The real enemy is this job and my headache.  I think a cookie might do me some good after all.”  God forbid there should be more than one enemy at a time.  It is ill fated that a greater enemy, or the one we are feeling the brunt of at a given moment, seems to un-guard us from the dangers of any other.  Temptation, unfortunately, is known to kick you when you are down. 

I alluded above to something that I believe to be quite true.  Self-pity leads to self-indulgence.  Perhaps it is the greatest pre-cursor.  I find that when I am happily working away with no extra troubles on my mind, temptation seems a very feeble thing.  My arrogant heart veritably laughs at the ease of refusing whatever enticement is in front of me, forgetting that yesterday when I was worried about the bills, and didn’t get a good sleep, everything I saw that I knew I should not have was torture – but, not really, because I folded.  I threw in my hand.  I gave in.  This poor, weak muscle, discipline has had no exercise to strengthen it.  Discipline leads to a heart that cannot be swayed – a soul that will not bend to the demands of the terrorism attacking it every day, even when already tired and broken.
 I should broach a subject I have heretofore accidentally avoided.  I have been mistakenly treating discipline as something we use only in the refusal of something negative.  It is something much more, and probably, I have allowed my gloomy representation of it tarnish its beauty already.  Discipline is the only road to most things of any substance that we desire.  Without it, we rarely accomplish one dignified act.  Haven’t you heard the woman say, “I would love to learn how to do that,” and wondered why she didn’t just learn it?  For me, it is, “I want to read more.  I want to write more, paint more, sing more, pray more.  I want to learn Italian.  I want to take more walks.”  What is stopping me?  My self-indulgence, which is really the opposite of self-indulgence; it is self-destruction, inevitably carrying me down a road full of meaningless events, void of achievements that will in any way matter.  It’s the ultimate magic trick – look at the shiny penny of fleeting pleasures while your life is going by in the background.  What of this outside force I am waiting for?  I actually believe it is valid, only not in the sense of Dad pushing us, our teacher scolding us, or our boss giving a deadline.  The only outside Force capable of teaching us discipline itself, is God, Discipline personified.  Everyone else simply gives us a consequence equal to motivation in one specific category lacking discipline. 
In my experience, the effectiveness of the reward or consequence varies in direct proportion to its immediacy and severity.  I know a man with heart trouble who quit smoking not because he had heart trouble, but because every time he smoked a cigarette, it was immediately almost impossible to breathe.  I’ve known a pregnant woman who quit smoking, not in order to protect her baby, but because it made her nauseated.  The consequence worked for them, because it was more immediate, more tangible than the real reason.  I find it difficult to stop eating cookies, because I do not see myself getting fatter each time I take a bite, nor do I see myself get thinner each time I resist.  The rewards and consequences are too long-term, in my state of immaturity, for me to take any notice.   God’s discipline is not dependent on the rewards or the consequences.  I got a taste of this when I was no longer constantly disappointed with my eating habits, and myself, although, as I said, I was shedding no pounds.  As self-indulgence really seeks only the object of indulgence, discipline is its own reward.  As you would tell an addict that quitting for someone else will never last – they must do it for themselves – I will go farther, and say that quitting cannot be enticed in any lasting form by promising thin-ness or sobriety, or at least not in my case.  I suppose I should not speak for the world.  We’ve already seen that when I am perfectly aware that the results of discipline far outweigh the pleasure of self-indulgence, I have still failed.  Discipline exists for Discipline’s sake, for God’s sake, and comes with a package of many consequential rewards.  It is a small picture of what God means when He says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.”  Seek discipline, and you will gain its rewards; seek its rewards, and you will gain nothing.  I think that some will doubt this assertion, but look at it this way: If a child makes his bed every day because he is afraid of the whipping he gets if he does not, you don’t call him disciplined, you call him scared.  Along the same lines, if a child makes his bed every day because he gets a dollar when he does so, you don’t call him disciplined, you call him greedy, or maybe just a miniature tycoon…but never disciplined.  Any act performed or omitted in order to receive an award or escape a punishment, has little virtue of its own.   Following this train of thought, I am not sure how to teach discipline as something to be learned for its own sake.  If we take the consequences and rewards away, there is very little to teach us with.  Perhaps as creatures of habit, when we have made our bed enough times and received enough dollars, and not made our bed enough and received enough whippings, discipline will begin to whisper its true nature to us.  Could it be that we learn it by going through the motions?  That at first we simply do it for the rewards and to escape the punishment, but then, just maybe we will begin to seek it, to seek God, and will finally begin to triumph.   I recently babysat two sisters, three and five years old.  The mother was still at home, and the girls asked if they could have a piece of gum.  The five year old has apparently been successfully chewing and then spitting her gum out for quite some time.  The three year old still has some issues with swallowing it as soon as she is bored with its novelty.  The mother told the three year old that if she did NOT swallow her gum when she was done with it, she would get a nickel.  The five year old asked if she got a nickel for not swallowing hers.  The mother said, “No, your reward is that you get to keep chewing gum.”  The five year old had learned the purpose of gum – that it is to be chewed and spit out.  The three year old had not yet figured out that you cannot treat gum as you treat food, because that is not what it is for.  But she understood nickels.  The reward/consequence system is used in order to teach us the purpose of a discipline.  For example, “No, you cannot treat food as an activity.  It’s for your nourishment…oh, wait, but you can’t treat it as a security blanket either.  It will not keep you warm or comfortable, and it will also make you overweight.  That’s not what it’s for.  Or, “No, you cannot treat lust as you would treat an itch, scratching whenever, wherever, and in whatever manner the impulse strikes.  That’s not what it’s for.”  The reward is rarely the purpose of the discipline being learned – one would never tell the little boy that the purpose of making your bed is to receive a dollar.  The purpose is to be neat.  The incentive is the dollar.  Once we understand the purpose of any given discipline, in theory, we should no longer need the reward/consequence system, just like the little girl with her gum.  She didn’t need the nickel; she already had it down.  Her reward was enjoying her gum.  Or as C. S. Lewis states it in The Weight of Glory, “The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.”  I never understood that statement before.  Our reward for discipline, once we understand the purpose of the issue in connection with it, is that we get to enjoy the thing we used to abuse and extort; enjoy it in the manner it was meant to be enjoyed.   I think I just recognized the story of The Prodigal Son in that anecdote.  I never noticed that it was about discipline before.  It seems that discipline can get jealous when its new members are rewarded for their small achievements – when they are fussed over for their baby-steps.  The three year old gets a nickel for doing something the five year old has been doing for simply ages; the run-away son gets a party upon his return when the elder has been faithful all the while.  The trick to facing this with grace is in understanding that the nickel and the party are like dog treats for training a pup.  They are given because they are the tools by which any actual knowledge is taught, only used when real understanding is lacking.  To want to go back to the reward system would be like going down a grade even though you passed with flying colors.  God treating us like this would be like a parent still screaming with delight every time their 10 year old spoke, as if it were their first word.  Why should we ever progress any further if the prizes are so easily won?  Discipline is about learning to do what is right, regardless of consequence or reward.  God slowly weans us from these, like a bottle from a baby, but the goal is right for righteousness sake.I said above that once we understood the purpose of a discipline, we should no longer need the reward/consequence system.  I think I left something out.  We can thoroughly understand the purpose of food, and not care a whit.  We must understand the value of the purpose.  A teenager with an unstoppable metabolism does not understand the value of nourishment and eating right.  He may understand all of the concepts, but until he grasps the value, he is not even halfway there.  I understand that the purpose of making my bed every day is to be neat, but if I do not value neatness, then the likelihood of my making my bed is very small.    I wish I could truly recognize that all of the things that would create any sense of accomplishment in me, all of the things that would make me more of who I believe God created me to be, are possible only in discipline.  Anything that would in any way have far-reaching effects beyond myself requires discipline.  But my self-indulgence tells me that I’m tired and, just tonight, I should watch TV and relax.  I shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to relax, right?  The problem is that it isn’t really relaxing.  It is giving in more to the idea that I don’t matter.  I might as well watch TV because I have nothing to contribute.  It’s a desire to shut off your brain (that I do not condemn, because I am fighting it this moment, have been fighting it all day while writing this essay!), to forget that the world exists, that you exist, to turn in responsibility for apathy.  I should clarify that I do not think TV itself evil.  I also understand the need to let your brain relax, rest, process the things you haven’t had the time to glance at.  My words here are based on my own experience, that TV does not soothe my spirit.  If I am seeking rest, TV has never been the place I am able to find it.  I do find that as soon as I press the OFF button, all of the things I was trying to forget come rushing back on me with no relief.  If I take some time, pray, meditate on God’s Word, and give Him a little chance to sort out my thoughts, then I feel I have used my time wisely, and I even feel more relaxed.


Self-indulgence offers me many options of things that are easy to begin, but I almost always regret them when I am done.  Sometimes, I don’t even regret them for they are too transient for regret.  Sometimes, I don’t even remember them.  That is what self-indulgence gives me.  Discipline asks of me things that are difficult to begin, but once I have begun them, I am always glad of it, proud of it.  Those things change me – move me.  They matter.  That is the gift of discipline.