Broad Strokes Paint Poor Portraits

I know this has been happening since time immemorial, but in the past year, I have been increasingly disappointed by seemingly rational people casting wide, sweeping generalizations of all sorts over all types, classes, races, religions, and genders of people. The Left is ________. The Right is ________. Gay people are ________. Evangelicals are ________. Millenials are ________. Gen Xers are ________. Men are ________. Women are ________. Feminists are ________. White males are ________. Black Lives Matter are ________. Police are ________. Christians are ________. Muslims are ________.

Things, unfortunately, are not that simple. I think viewing the world through the filter of Facebook has made it feel like a growing epidemic because 95% (this is not a real statistic) of the people on the internet say things that they would never say if even one human being from whatever populace they are discussing were standing in front of them. And therein lies the problem.

Broad strokes paint poor portraits. Anytime you try to categorize people, shove them into a box, make them fit whatever stereotype helps you make sense of the world, you are distorting them as individuals.

Because each of these groups of people is made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have hopes and dreams and mostly want good things just like you do. Whether they agree with what good is or go about getting it the same way you do is not the question. Disagreement does not even come into play in this discussion. We’re not discussing ideologies, but humanity and the intrinsic worth and complicated emotions and desires that come with it.

Portraits are unique and distinct. They are nuanced and shadowed and, in good ones, there is something intangible that helps you almost feel like you know the person portrayed. If you could look at the details, the histories, the loves, and the fears of each individual within any person your world view has tried to turn into a cliche, you would find a soul just as worthy as your own.

Our broad strokes are embarrassing. It is like drawing a stick figure and saying it is the spitting image of everyone in whichever subset you are discussing. This is not only rude; it is illogical. It is the thing children do when they are afraid. We are scrawling children’s drawings on people’s faces and turning them into boogeymen instead of human souls.

I am completely aware that some people fit stereotypes. That’s why they exist. But only the ignorant actually judge people by them. Because there are many, many more who do NOT fit the blanket categorization applied to them. No person is just one thing. They are infinite worlds unto themselves that we will never be able to fully comprehend.

Portraits are not something you create overnight. You must be engaged with someone in order to see them fully – to see them around corners and in the dark, behind doors and when the curtain is pulled back. It’s not always pretty, but let’s refrain from painting over three-dimensional people with our flat preconceived notions.

Conflict Unresolution

Hello, All!

I’ve been dealing a lot with the idea of what I thought was “conflict resolution” in my head lately, until I realized that what I needed to be focusing on was conflict UN-resolution.

I have this obsessive compulsion to force things into some sort of resolution when there is conflict.  So, any time that cannot happen because one or both parties cannot or are not willing to attempt to come to a satisfying middle ground, I find myself unable to let the situation go.

It’s such an amorphous being, though…conflict, I mean.  It never looks the same twice.  How do you take something to the mat (Conflict, as an entity, not the individual on the other side of it) when its face is always changing?

I will go over and over everything that was said on both sides, trying to see if I missed something, if I said something I shouldn’t have, if there was something I could’ve done differently.  The situation will eat at me for basically as long as I let it, and even then will pop up in my mental microscope at the most surprising of times, sometimes years later, and that same feeling will arise.  It’s the feeling of self-doubt, of injustice, of longing for some way to understand what in the world happened, and wishing there were judge and jury to determine if, as I usually believe, I did everything I knew how to do in order to resolve it.  Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ve made mistakes in my efforts to resolve conflict.  But when I DO believe I’ve made a mistake, I try to acknowledge it, and hope that the effort is recognized in the proceedings.

And so I find myself with an ever growing list of conflicts that just feel…open.  Unfinished.

Examples, you say?  Everyone is always squirming for an anecdote.  I don’t feel like going into details, but I will attempt a generic list. (Aside: my list proved to be thoroughly opposed to condensing itself.)

The most recent is an ongoing customer service issue with a group of people with which I must continue doing business for a time, and in a personal setting, not over the internet.  After a number of unsatisfactory events, where I would calmly express that I was frustrated, and calmly ask for a little more communication next time there was an issue (you get the idea), I was sent a very defensive, sarcastic message.  I responded with a message that was a good deal more to the point, though still nothing I feel the need to apologize for.  This interaction was completely ignored by the recipient.  *Queue obsessive over-analyzation.*  My next week was spent in dissatisfaction, trying to determine whether a) I really did go to far, b) they are just insanely bad at customer service or c) is there a c?  Someone help me out if there’s another option.  After that week of misery, I decided it was clearly not going to be resolved to my satisfaction unless I was pro-active.  I didn’t want to make enemies of those people, but I also did not want to seem copacetic towards being treated like that by someone to whom I was paying money.  So, I took them a box of chocolates with a card that said, essentially, “Hey, I don’t want to be enemies, so let’s make peace, thanks.”  I didn’t apologize, still not feeling that one was needed, though I’m sure they thought otherwise.  The devil on my shoulder didn’t want me to do even this, as it could be misconstrued an apology, but the angel won out.

I will say that this is one step towards accepting conflict unresolution – doing what you can to make peace, despite ongoing differences, and then letting the chips fall where they may, so to speak.  My inner soul still does not find it overwhelmingly settled…it’s like a song that someone brought one chord closer to finishing, but still did not complete.  It continues to linger, though no longer in manic waves.

Another recent event involves a person…a friend…whom I feel is frequently trying to manipulate me (and others) into doing various things.  If a tag showed up under this person’s name when you introduced them, lately I feel it would be: “Donna*: Always Wanting Something from You.” (*Names changed to protect the living.)  This is one of those different faces of conflict..the conflict that arises in you to which the other person may very well be entirely ignorant.  To raise or not to raise?  That is the question.  And even this is different for every person, in every situation.  There is no hard and fast rule.

Historically, in my life, I have been a conflict raiser.  If something was wrong, you were going to know about it, and truthfully, because I wanted to fix the issue that I was having trouble dealing with so that we could all go on living happily and peacefully, and not (generally) because I wanted to be able to complain to you about your faults.  I clearly have not always done this successfully, but it was my goal 90% of the time.  The other 10%, I admit, amounts to something akin to verbal abuse as a way to satisfy my feelings of injustice.  I’m not proud of that, but I am going for full disclosure here.  I have tried to come to a level of moderation in this, because I felt that I was becoming, myself, defensive and imperious…not who I want to be.  Accepting the injustices done to you, after all, was a trait carried by Jesus to a level that most of us will never even understand.  And what I call “injustices” are generally so petty, that I would be ashamed to face the Lord and tell him about the level of wrath that was kindled because of some minor inconvenience.  Hebrews 10 discusses the new Christians having faithfully and joyfully accepted the stealing of their property as well as many public punishments and reproaches.  How foolish are most of my complaints?

However, interpersonal issues are real, and must still be dealt with.  In this particular scenario, I realized today that I was allowing someone else’s expectations of what I should do cause me to feel pressured, guilted, and often, in the end, forced to do something I didn’t want to do.  And that is on ME.  Not them.  Someone else’s expectations do not have the ability to force me into those actions.  Boundaries, people.  Simple boundaries.  The expectations are theirs, but I get to decide what I will do with them.  If saying, “No,” and disappointing or angering someone is the result, then so be it. I don’t have to get mad, I just have to not do things I don’t want.

The last face of conflict I’m going to talk about is on the flip side: when you think someone has internal conflict involving you, but instead of trying to resolve it, they just disappear.  The disappearing is usually when you begin thinking they have said internal conflict involving you, because I’m not talking acquaintances here.  I’m talking about people you’ve been through stuff with, people you opened your soul to…friends you thought would be around forever.  And then suddenly, they’re gone.  As an introvert (I’ve been reading a lot of books about introversion), I don’t make close friends easily, nor take them lightly.  So, the sudden absence of those people with no explanation (or in some cases, just inadequate platitudes) becomes something close to, if not an actual, traumatic event.  The lack of information creates a world where anything terrible they could have thought of you becomes a possible truth, playing and re-playing the chart-topping broken records of self-accusation and self-doubt, whatever those might be for you: “Am I boring? Too serious?  Too intense in friendship?  Critical?  Judgmental? Negative?”  And then, because you want to feel OK, you run to the other extreme and start considering good traits that maybe they just couldn’t handle in you:  “I’m probably too honest or too spiritual.”  The problem is that you don’t believe any of them. You feel that there must be some glaring flaw deep down in your soul that you’ve never even considered and you will never know, because no one will be honest or brave enough to expose it to you.  And by “you,” I mean me.

This one, I don’t have an answer for.  I’ve been trying to figure it out for years.  How do you learn from mistakes you don’t know you’ve made?  On days I am putting my confidence in the Lord (as I should always do) and not basing my emotional stability on my own capabilities and persona, I can look at this philosophically, distance myself from it, and realize that whatever flaws I have, Jesus is well aware of them and loves me anyway.  And that if those people were still needed in my life, God would’ve left them there.  But on days when my conflict unresolution obsessive-compulsive disorder rears its head and I am focused on my faults and downfalls, my broken record still plays the top ten, and sometimes throws some new ones in there, too.

This is a tough post for me.  I usually won’t let myself say anything until I’ve got it mostly figured out.  I bet that there are some folks out there, though, who are further along in figuring this out than I am, so maybe I’ll get the chance to learn a few things.

Different and Confused

This world is hard.  We all know that, though some to greater extents.  But sometimes things happen that just make you look at that fact…look at it square in the face as if it were a person.  They hit you in such a way on a certain day that you want them to change your life, to change your heart, to change you forever and not just to pass you by with a glance, but you WANT to look at them that way in order to be forced to acknowledge them.

Yesterday I had a couple of those experiences.  They weren’t my own sufferings, and probably were the more poignant for it.  There was a woman with her daughter.  I didn’t think anything of it, the daughter was probably around my age and looked normal.  Then she started talking to me.  And I couldn’t understand her.  It was immediately clear that the girl had what I assumed was a developmental disability or something of that nature.  I thought I was catching some words, but really the only one I was certain of was “confused,” which I got that she was saying as a reference to her mother who was a bit frazzled. The daughter continued to talk to me, and, in the circumstances, not really being able to hear or understand her well, I just nodded and smiled.  Before they left, the mother said, “Confused is her word for weird or out of place.  She was in a car accident and when she woke up, the first thing she said was, ‘I’m different now, and confused.'”  I know that life-long disabilities have seemingly insurmountable challenges, but something about suddenly understanding that this girl used to be just like me, and that tragedy changed her, couldn’t settle in my brain.  The idea of her understanding what she had lost, and the thoughts of what the parents must have felt knowing their daughter was probably never going to do the things she had aspired to do before – it just hung with me.

Then I went to a store to exchange something on my lunch break.  I heard a woman who worked there say something behind me, and I thought she was speaking to me.  I asked her what she said because I didn’t hear her well, and she said, “I was just praying for God to rescue me from my life.”  We had a few back and forth interactions.  She told me that she already served her time in prison and she couldn’t take this anymore, clearly intimating that what she was living now still felt like a prison to her.  I didn’t really offer her anything of substance…I just gave a tiny bit of listening.  In hindsight, I wish I had done all kinds of things, but that doesn’t matter now because I can’t go backwards in time, so I’m trying not to dwell on it.

When I was leaving the store, the woman from before was there with her daughter, and I suddenly felt blasted with other people’s pain – not in such a way as in I wished that it hadn’t happened, but in such a way that I was suddenly overwhelmed by the magnitude of it.  Not just their pain, but the pain of the billions of people whose sufferings they represent.

And I felt my smallness.  I don’t just mean in that way of, “Oh, I wish I could help everyone, but you can only do so much.”  I mean in the way that I know I could do a lot more for people than I do…I felt my emotional and spiritual smallness.  I was inadequate.

I had a lot of thoughts throughout the day.  I thought about how often I feel “different and confused” myself, which on the surface seems like it would be in a very different way from the daughter, but then I wondered how different is it really?  Different and confused is different and confused no matter where you’re coming from.  (I’m not saying all of the thoughts I had are true, I’m just telling you what they were.)  And I wondered if that car wreck actually could have saved that girl from some other unspeakable horror.  She seemed genuinely happy.  Maybe it wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened to her?

I thought about the other lady and how sometimes all of our lives can feel like a prison, and how sometimes that is just life and I even found myself wondering if she was just lazy.  (Many of my thoughts are not highly honorable, I’m just being honest.)

I think that a lot of my thoughts were being formed by the sub-conscious desire to make sense of it, to compartmentalize it and make it OK.  But the fact is that it’s not OK.  Just because suffering is common to all man does not mean it is something that we should walk un-feelingly by or be able to dismiss because it falls into something we can categorize as “acceptable” or “understandable”.

I came home, and though I wasn’t thinking of it in relation to the days happenings, and quite unintentionally since I meant to be reading Proverbs, I began reading in Ecclesiastes.  I couldn’t have read something more appropriate.  Vanity indeed.  All of the things we seek and all of the atrocities that occur because of it are pointless.  What was comforting was the acknowledgment of evil:  “If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not marvel at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.” – Ecclesiastes 5:8

God is the highest of those high officials, and he is aware of injustice and suffering, and He’s got it.  Though all the seeking of pleasure and riches and even wisdom (though he admits it better than folly), he considers vain, it all boils down to what he says at the last, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed in to judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  It is also interesting to me how even in what seems like a most pessimistic view, Solomon still wants you to fight for justice.  We are to mete out the mercy as God’s emissaries, indeed, it’s part of those commandments we are advised to keep:  “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4

I want to be severely affected by the reality of other people’s pain.  I want God’s mercy to flow from me to the hurting and oppressed.  I want to cease the vain attempts at satisfaction that, from experience, Solomon tells us will never fulfill.

The Up-Side of Humility

So in my last post from ages ago, I stated that I wasn’t really sure why I hadn’t written in a long time…now I am, so here you go:

I think that in the past two years, I have been learning valuable lessons in humility…but it hasn’t felt very good.  I guess that for most of my life, whatever might have been going wrong around me, I always had this sort of confidence in who I was; that I was largely capable, smart, intuitive, etc.  Even when I knew I had failed, I would somehow morph that failure into a lesson learned, thereby making me smarter instead of it making me doubt myself more in the future.  You may, on the surface, believe this is a good quality.  I don’t see it as such, having lived in it.  I see that even while I acknowledged God’s hand in many things, I also always got a certain self-satisfaction from being able to handle things, being the one who had it under control, etc.  So, in short, when this self-confidence began to crumble due to various circumstances and relationships, I felt that I had nothing of worth to offer.  If I couldn’t handle things myself, why would I want anyone to listen to my thoughts or expect them to glean anything from my ramblings?

I really do feel that all of my acknowledgments of weakness or failure prior to this period in my life were mere intellectual nods…my heart did not really feel its own frailty or understand how helplessly it needed God’s Holy Spirit, at least not on a regular basis.  Maybe in flashes, I felt a sense of failure or doubted my own sensibility, but I would always pull myself back to feeling OK about myself.

As with all things, learning humility has a very fine line…cross it too far, and you end up spending a little too much time going over your mistakes, letting self-pity move in and render you inert for fear of what other thing you may mess up.  I guess I lived there for a while. It has been a hard adjustment going from self-assured me to solely God-assured me.  I don’t guess I will ever have it exactly right, but I am always growing a little, even when I feel like I am going backwards.

Thankfully, I have a wonderful Saviour who never ceases to chase me when I am floundering, and loving people around me who remind me of His mercy and forgiveness…the renewal that He offers.

So I feel like I am definitely on the other side of a big mess, coming out on the upside of humility – a place where I know I will fail, and use that only as a reminder to lean wholly on Christ; a place where when I fail, I can trust His words, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’.”

Here are a few more verses that are helping me stay there:

Lamentations 3:22-23 –  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

Psalm 51:1-17 –  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict, and justified when you judge.  Surely, I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.  Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.  Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquity.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways,  so that sinners will turn back to you.  Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, You who are God, my Saviour, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.  Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, you, God, will not despise.

Why?

Hello, world.  It’s been a very long time.  As to the why…I don’t really have a reason.  If anyone cares to read the last post from Dec, 2008 (Pursuing What You Love), then I guess I could kind of continue from there with the fact that I did get the job I spoke of in that post, and have been in it ever since.  I think, at first, I did not write because I was focusing on trying to do what I spoke of in that post…learn how not to sub-consciously put myself in some position of superiority, but to really live out love with the people I encounter.

I would say that at first I did pretty well with that, reigning in internal grumblings that would usually cause me to become frustrated with co-workers or work in general, i.e. my schedule being changed from 8-4 to 10-6.  I wasn’t a fan of that, but in trying to live the servant life, took it all in stride and figured God had it all in control, so I didn’t make a fuss.

However, as with all things, I am confessing now that the novelty of being loving seems to have worn off, and I am back to being grouchy with others and thinking about myself and what I want all the time instead of living in the knowledge that most of the things I am wanting or I am frustrated with are not important AT ALL.  Realizing that I have slowly allowed satan to creep back up on me in this area is just making me frustrated with myself, and I have not managed to pull out of the cycle yet.

It comes back to re-surrendering “self.”  Allowing the Holy Spirit to take control again, which will in turn cause me to live as Christ did, unconcerned with self-promotion, unfazed by injustices done to me, actively seeking the good of all I come in contact with, whether friend of foe or some intertwined mess of both.  Most people are that, you know.  Most of the time, the people we have a hard time with are those we would call our loved ones and our friends.  They are not enemies, and yet we treat them, or at least feel inside that we must always be prepared to stick up for ourselves and our own rights against them, or else they will all constantly be taking advantage of us or taking us for granted.  The bottom line is that even if that’s true, it’s not our job to make sure we are treated correctly or recognized sufficiently by everyone around us.  That is not the reward.

The reward for acting like Christ is never shown as a warm, fuzzy existence in which no one will ever get mad at you or treat you unfairly.  Paul was repeatedly imprisoned and held on false charges which the government knew to be false, people routinely tried to kill him, and he was in multiple shipwrecks.  Christ Himself had it no better.

This is not to say that we should react smugly to poor treatment as if we are martyrs who must be living the Christ-life to be treated this way…that only comes from condescension which has nothing to do with love.  Our responses to others must not be based on their responses to us.  Love your enemies and the Golden Rule do not give conditions.  If I am walking in love because I am waiting for the world around me to applaud my behavior, I will always grow weary, because there will never been enough praise.  There will always be at least one person around me who cannot be pleased or who finds something wrong with what I do.  If I walk in love because Christ is in my Spirit, and He is living through me, nothing can burn me out…on the condition that I continue to seek Him above all things.

That is the key.  I believe through this after a time, I stopped seeking my strength, my identity, my validation in Him, and started looking to others for approval and reward.  That is when my spirit grew cold, and “loving” started to seem like an impossible drudgery.

Pursuing What You Love

A bundle of appetites.  That’s what I am as a bodily entity.  This fleshly tent in which I abide is intent on and, unfortunately, often content with finding things that satisfy it, please it and make it feel comfy-cozy.  Any twinge of displeasure or dissatisfaction is immediately addressed sub-consciously with, “What can I do to alleviate this abomination?”  That thought arises no matter how small the discomfort may be.  Or even if it is not discomfort…even if it is just a thought like, “I want something pleasing at this moment,” which is actually often the follow-up to feeling discomfort in some area, though we may not connect it in such a way at the time, because often the pleasure we choose has no logical connection with the discomfort we are feeling.  This is a commonly known phenomenon.  For example, I may come home from work feeling tired and somewhat disgruntled, thinking my boss is unfair or my co-workers are untruthful, but instead of quitting my job or looking for a new one or trying to come to terms with the situation, I eat a package of M&Ms and watch a funny sitcom, ergo subconsciously trying to alleviate (or rather mask and ignore) one discomfort by allowing myself something that could, in a perfect world, be a good, simple pleasure.  Comfort foods, mind-numbing television…those are two of the most obvious choices.  They are the easiest to come by and the least associated with negative connotations.  Some people do choose alcohol or drugs or lasciviousness or something that happens to be more associated with what the Christian community would dub inherently to be “sin.”  But it all amounts to the same thing, and used in this manner, is itself inherently sinful.

 

The funny thing is that this appetite does not have to be so animalistic as I have painted it in the above paragraph.  It can seek deeper things, even lofty things, aspiring to greatness and achievement. 

 

So, what is one to do with this?  How does one cease constantly desiring and seeking to appease one’s appetite for comfort, for greatness, for recognition, for love?

 

I am not an expert.  I usually say this somewhere in my posts, so perhaps you are getting tired of hearing it, but I need everyone to know that I do not claim to do the things I discuss.  I claim to recognize the truth in the things that God shows me.  I am not always so good at living them.  But God did show me something a couple of months ago that I am attempting to keep in the forefront of my mind as I go through my days.

 

I will not go backwards into what my life has been like this year, but if you care to know the history, read previous posts or shoot me an e-mail.  I will start with the fact that I was in the process of interviewing for a new job.  It is a very regular job with regular hours and regular pay and regular dress codes, etc.  This has not been the reality for most of my life.  I have had very odd jobs, or even if it was somewhat regular, I have predominantly been in charge of my own schedule.  In fact, in looking back, there have only been about 3 years of my adult work history in which I did not control my own schedule.  So, while I was interviewing for this position, I started to get a little freaked out.  Only having two weeks of vacation, and even when I get that is somewhat managed and completely out of my hands??  Well, frankly, that sounds a little like hell to me.  I nearly backed out of the process altogether.  Then one morning I woke up and God spoke to me.  I was still in the hazy state, lying in my bed.  I was not thinking deep thoughts.  I was thinking nothing when these words appeared in my mind’s eye, “Only pursue what you love.”  Well, by the world’s standards of what that means, I have done a pretty good job of that in my life…rarely letting a job take away my freedom to do the things I actually enjoy doing, etc.  But in that moment, I knew that was not what it meant and my next thought was, “What am I supposed to love?”  And everything sort of fell into place for me.  I am supposed to love God and love people.  I am not supposed to LOVE writing or creating or singing, unless God sets those in front of me as ways to love Himself or other people.  And honestly, I have been pursuing those sorts of things in lieu of pursuing the love of God and people for most of my life.  OK, well, “in lieu” of might be an exaggeration.  I have pursued loving God and loving people, but not with such passion and vigor as I have pursued my own pleasure and my “dreams.”  At the very least, I was acting like not being able to pursue those things would inhibit my ability to love God or love other people, which is simply heresy.  First off, I had the order wrong.  I wanted to pursue the things I loved (yes, things) in order that I may better love God and love people.  I was waiting for some moment in the future when apparently, I would feel I had pursued it enough or gotten enough satisfaction from it to be able to start pouring that contentment out on others around me.  How ridiculous.  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

 

I have always had the attitude that whatever job I had was evil and keeping me from doing whatever I was really supposed to be doing, i.e. anything important.  I have been realizing for a while now, even before this revelation from God, that this was a serious slight towards those I worked with.  The attitude that “anything important” is outside the sphere of whatever work I am doing negates the importance of every human being I came into contact with during the course of that workday!  It was a self-serving attitude that, at heart, believed “I am more important than these people and I should not have to join in these menial tasks with them.”  Definitely not the heart of a servant.  So, I confess and repent of that here to you now.

 

At the moment God spoke that to me, I knew I needed to get over myself.  I needed to get over my arrogance and let go of myself.  Let go of behaving like a child…as if I could only obey God’s commands to love if He gave me what I wanted first.

 

But let’s take it somewhere else as well and make sure that y’all know I am not saying that God is out to kill all of my fun and enjoyment of life.  Not in the slightest!!  My own selfish desires were fueled by societal training such as Nike’s “Just Do It!” and Barbie’s “We Girls Can Do Anything” philosophies.  I am not trying to negate pursuing excellence in things you enjoy; I AM trying to discourage pursuing those things as a fulfillment separate from those two most important commandments that Jesus spoke and that I am relentlessly repeating here: to love God and love people.  Pursuing or achieving excellence in something does not mean anything special if you are horrible to everyone on the way up, if you crush those who stand in your way or if you are unfeeling or negligent to those around you.  I may not have been horrible and I may not have been crushing people, but I have definitely been unfeeling and negligent.  And I am beginning to understand that pursuing the thing only creates more disenchantment and dissatisfaction, because no matter how hard you pursue something, you are still at the mercy of others to determine its worth.  A song I write only grants me so much fulfillment if no one else likes it.  And even if others do like it, it still only grants me a measure of fulfillment until it begins bringin’ in some cash, right?  All of the doing requires recognition of some sort in order to bring any feeling of satisfaction.

 

But guess what?  Loving God?  Self-fulfilling.  Because God is PERFECT.  He loves you as fully as you can ever imagine being loved.  I’m not saying you feel all warm and fuzzy all the time.  I’m just saying that when you forget yourself and you really are about loving something outside of yourself, there’s much less that will rattle you.  It’s not about, “What’s in it for me?”  It’s about, “What’s in it for God?” which can usually be answered in a much more satisfactory fashion.

 

And when you are really about loving others, the pressure is suddenly gone because you are not relying on their reactions.  You only want to love, to give.  It’s the one thing that you can do, though even that only through Christ’s strength because He has to act through us so that we do not let that bundle of appetites override our love.  It’s suddenly not about you anymore and the stress is off.  THAT is what I felt when God spoke to me.  It didn’t matter anymore if I only had two weeks of vacation or if I was at the whim of the not-so-esteemed corporate elite…they could not stop me from loving.  And loving was suddenly what mattered.  All of the other stuff was mere self-serving prattle…the modern heresy of “following your heart” and “chasing your dream,” which thought very little of others and therefore, by default, could not be thinking much of God.

 

I have spoken of similar things in previous posts and I will give the same disclaimer here:  I in no way believe that putting this into practice leads to that asceticism which denies its own needs or becomes an unhappy martyr.  If the manner in which this life is being led does not lead to joy, then there is still some heresy deep within.  I am still uncovering my deeper heresy, to be sure.  God calls us to this sort of life because He KNOWS us, and knows what our spirits, minds and bodies need.  I heartily believe that living life according to His guidelines will lead us into peace and joy and hope, and that fulfillment which we seek by doing such things as “chasing dreams” will be realized in Him and only in Him.  I do not mean externally; our world may be falling apart around us.  But our hearts will be wholly His and wholly, well, whole, and that bundle of appetites I spoke of at the beginning will not be so ravenous and insatiable.

 

I re-posted my title poem yesterday as a pre-cursor to this.  I did so because I would like people to read this post, and then continue down to read that poem through its lens.  I used to view it as more of an individualistic evangelism, stating that we should pursue our dreams.  Now I know that the idea of passionately pursuing those dreams is part of the mold the world and Satan would like to press us into in order to keep us focused internally, always looking for our own fulfillment and happiness instead of trusting it to God.  It is a road that will wind around into an interminable maze of confusion.  It is much easier to stay on a single path and actually arrive at a destination when I am not bowing to the constant caprices of my own will, instead trusting the Will of Someone all-powerful and all-knowing who will not lead me wrong. 

Circus Christianity

This morning as I was sitting in church, an image popped into my head.  It was the image of a clown.  This particular clown had a sad face with tears painted on, but was still doing its silly clown show to make people laugh.  And I thought about how Christians do this…how there are Christians who act like clowns.  They might vary in how they look – some of them may have the sad faces, but some have happy ones and some just look a little crazy.  The common denominator is that each of them has painted on a persona that is not their own – a persona that, in fact, hides what each of them really is.  Have you ever seen a movie or a TV show portraying a clown that ends his or her act, then when they no longer have an audience, they begin treating everyone like scum or you find out that they are a raging alcoholic?  It’s a ridiculous analogy, I know, but this style of Christians does the same ridiculous thing.  Their real character is completely incongruous with what they try to portray, leaving people disillusioned and disappointed when they find out the truth.  They thought those Clown Christians had it all together, but turns out, that’s only while they were on stage. 

 

Christianity is not about faking it.  Some people may say, “Well, we have to look cheerful or act cheerful or do something to make everything look great.”  I say this is one of the best ways to chase people away from Christianity.  It doesn’t take a very long look for anyone to tell that everything is not always great for anyone.  It’s hypocrisy at its grandest.  So, if people do fall for it initially, they drift away easily after coming to the truth of the matter: that Christians struggle and mess up, too.  Even the clowns with the sad faces are going through the motions of making people happy…a performance they’ve often been rigorously taught.  People pleasers rarely please people.  Let’s be real, Christians.  The clown act doesn’t become us.

 

And as I thought through this, I realized it was more than just clowns.  There is an entire Christian Circus going on all around us. 

 

There’s the guy/girl walking the tight rope.  It doesn’t take long to spot this one.  These guys are in shape.  They’ve worked hard.  They probably even have a little talent.  And now they want to show it off.  “Look at me – I can walk this rope.  It’s a fine line, but I can do it.”  They put themselves way up there…they are the elite.  They’re not going to fall…falling is not an option.  I mean, if you fall, you die, right?  There’s no net.  God’s not big enough for me to fall.  These are the legalists.  There’s no room for error, and anyone who can’t do what they can do has not quite got it all together.  What happens with them?  They crash…and burn.  They live in fear of stepping one toe out of line, and inevitably find out that they can’t stay up there forever.  It’s a lonely road.

 

Christianity is not about fear.  And all this act does is scare people.  “Ooh, I could never do that.  I might as well not even try.  I’ll just stay down here and walk around on this dusty tent floor.  You have to really work too hard…and it’s dangerous, too…I mean, what if you fall?  You’re done for.”  When are we going to learn that it’s not about what we can do, but about what God already did?

 

And now we have the lion tamer.  This is the dude with the whip.  He is all about beating everyone into submission.  There’s no love in this act.  It’s all force: conversion by conquest.  And then once you get them conquered, you make sure you keep them controlled.  He’s not getting people to follow God; he’s getting people to follow him.  It’s all about the power.

 

Christianity is not about force.  The lion tamer eventually gets his head ripped off when one of the lions he thought he had tamed suddenly realizes this guy doesn’t have its best interest at heart.  He’s just a mean guy with a whip on a power trip.  If conquest were the answer, then the whole world would’ve been Christian after the Crusades.  Let’s stop pretending we can hold people down until they say uncle…or Jesus.  This would only establish that the strongest guy wins.  It says nothing about truth.

 

Then we have the guy who eats fire.  He’s a showman.  He uses a lot of slight of hand, illusions, tricks.  The Christian fire-eater is really not much more than a magician with an agenda, but he sure does make it look exciting.

 

Christianity is not about the hype.  Hype goes away.  People get tired of watching him eat fire every day…he’s a one trick wonder.  They lose interest.  There is no substance to his message.  People don’t get tired of watching someone who is living the abundant life that Christ offers us to the fullest, day in, day out, in every area of their life.  THAT is something to see.

 

The next one is more like a category.  It includes the bearded lady, the tattooed man, etc. – the pejorative “freak show.”  These are the Christians who have embraced their fears and insecurities.  They have accepted the lie that they have nothing to offer anyone, except as a novelty, and therefore have retracted from normal daily interaction with people.  They get mocked a little bit and just take it as their lumps in life, figuring this is the price you pay for being different.  You may as well just own it, right?  Their inability to fit in has become their identity.  It’s an excuse not to become something else, something more.

 

Christianity is not about hiding behind your insecurities.  It’s about facing them head on, and allowing God to make something of you in spite, or possibly because of them.  When we, as Christians, retreat because we feel inadequate, that says to the world, “Look, they really don’t have anything to offer.  They don’t even believe in the power of it themselves.”  God has promised that He will make something of us, and we need to start acting like it!

 

There are probably more, but this is as far as I got on the performers in the circus.  However, there’s one more I want to mention: the ringmaster.

 

You might think that I’m going to say the ringmaster is God.  Not in this case.  In the case of Circus Christianity, the ringmaster is Satan.  He is standing in the middle of that big red tent, directing the performance.  “Yes, that’s right,” he says.  To the clown: “Don’t you dare show your true colors.”  To the tightrope walker: “You (and everyone else) must be perfect or it was all a complete failure.”  To the lion tamer: “Anyone who disagrees with you should be treated as a hostile.”  To the fire-eater: “Give them a good thrill!”  To the bearded lady: “You are not worth anything.”  Satan applauds it all…anything that makes us ineffective, impotent Christians.

 

How many spectators of a circus do you know who watch it, and then decide they’re going to go join up and become part of the circus, too?  It’s just a show; something to do…see what those crazy Circus Christians are up to now.  There is nothing remotely desirable in it.

 

So, this is a call to all Christians – step out of the circus!  Stop doing tricks and putting on shows.  Become a real person with real purpose as God has called us to.  Be engaged with those around you and with what you believe.  Don’t be afraid of people questioning things; know that God is big enough to handle their questions as well as your own.  Don’t pretend to have it all together; if you don’t know, say so.  Respond to people with the love that God asks us to respond with.  Don’t focus on your own insecurities or other people’s faults; focus on God’s strength and the way He can make something out of anyone – just like He does over and over again in the Bible.

Spiritual Symptoms

You might remember a while back when I talked about all of the various and seemingly unrelated physical symptoms I had that I started trying to target in prayer.  If you don’t, you can read about it here.  After a season of consistent prayer and improvement, God impressed upon me a course of action that completely healed all of my symptoms.  This course of action was to eat all organic food, at which point they all disappeared.  But what the course of action was is really insignificant to this post.  It is the process I want to talk about.

I am a Christian, and I have eternal life because of Christ.  However, I am still spiritually sick.  This is evidenced by symptoms such as confusion, anger, fear, impatience, depression, selfishness…the list could go on.  Anything that cannot fall into the categories of one of the fruits of the spirit, as listed in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), is a symptom of the sickness.  As with my physical symptoms, my initial reaction is to medicate.  Only not with pills, but with things and personal effort and self-help-type mindsets.  This does not work.  The symptoms continue.  My second reaction, as with my physical symptoms, is denial.  Ignore them.  If I just keep plugging along maybe I will be able to limp through and no one will notice that something is wrong with me.  This does not work either.  Eventually, they get bad enough that everyone can tell, and you are never really fooling yourself so you are miserable the whole time. 

With my physical symptoms, I eventually came to the place where a) I asked for help and b) I stopped denying the symptoms and started trying to target them in prayer, which all led to God providing a complete cure. 

I started recognizing yesterday that this is a great model for doing the same thing with my spiritual symptoms.  If every time I feel discouraged, frustrated, afraid, etc., I immediately begin praying against these things, God will work a change in my life.  And these are all things that we can know are not of God.  God gives us promises in His Word that He didn’t just stick in there as cute quips.  Promises that mean things and that mostly I pass over instead of recognizing them as true because He said they were true. 

And I believe part of the process is finally realizing that I can no longer hold up the banner of “I’m OK,” and have other people believe it…which is the same point I got to with the physical symptoms.  I wasn’t OK and it was starting to show.  The same is true spiritually…I had to get to the point where I knew I couldn’t fool people into thinking I was great all of the time.  And then to the point where I knew I could not fix that under my own power.  I have no idea how.  The bottom line is that I tried everything my self-sufficient nature could think of and it usually makes it worse.  So, the only thing I have left is to turn to God and ask Him to fix me when I am behaving in a manner contrary to what I know God has called me to.  I find that even asking Him to fix it somehow gives me the patience to step back and evaluate what I am doing, how I am acting.  It’s a constant check on me. 

 If I say to myself in the morning, “Today, every time I feel those negative feelings, whatever they may be, I am going to ask God to help me fix it, overcome it and change it,” then my first realization is how much I am having to ask God to help!  I found that I am very good at the “denial” part of this…just like when I started trying to target my physical symptoms in prayer, I was amazed at how many I had.  I tried to ignore them for so long that I hadn’t even realized how bad they had gotten. 

But however bad our symptoms may get, they’re no match for God when we just let Him have at it instead of trying to take it over ourselves. 

Thoughts

Lately, I’ve been trying to evaluate why I seem to be so unproductive in the way of anything with eternal value.  You may have noticed that I’ve still dropped off a bit in the way of posts about my relationship with God.  I’m not ignoring Him…just having a little trouble with what it needs to look like.  And as I’m not good at sharing what I haven’t figured out, you don’t get to be a part of that.  You usually get to hear (read) things when I have mulled over them enough to think I already have them all figured out. 

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about a lot of things.  One is this: my boyfriend was trying to encourage me recently and pointed out how David just walked out to face Goliath; he didn’t hesitate or seem iffy on whether it was God’s will.  He just did it.  In considering this, I realized he was right.  So, I read the story again.  My issue with it was that it seemed to contrast an idea that I held based on the story of Abraham.  I mention this in my “Ambition” post.  I say that I have determined we are to wait for God’s hand befor we take action in a direction, even when the outcome seems impossible if we do not take matters into our own hands, because when Abraham took matters into his own hands (think Ishmael vs. Isaac), he totally screwed up the rest of history.  So, when I was considering David’s situation in context of Abraham’s, I realized quickly that the stories were not the same at all.  Abraham took his OWN dreams into his hands.  That is why it was a mistake.  He was acting on selfish motives simply because he wanted a son.  David was not chasing his own desires.  There was no earthly desire in David appeased by going against Goliath…only the desire to defend the True God and make His name greater.  The conclusion is clear, and I have said and recognized this in myself before, but I don’t think really managed to change it yet.  I am still in the place Abraham was, where I think I have to manage my desires myself in order for them to come to pass, instead of David’s state of mind, where my desire has ceased to be for my own glorification and is instead only for God’s.  James 4 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”  That was Abraham and that is me.  But chasing your own desires is not the way to receiving the promises of God.

Psalm 37 says it like four different ways: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land and verily thou shalt be fed.  Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.  Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.  And He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.  Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”

I don’t think that can be very much more clear, and as I also stated in my “Hope, Take III” post, it says the desires of your heart and the promises of God come to pass when our hope is in Him, when our first thought is Him…not when we are out trying to make our own destinies. 

I’ve also been thinking a lot about needing people.  I am not good at needing people, if you were wondering.  I don’t think I really know how.  When there is someone who I think I ought to be able to need, and they are not coming through, I get angry and it shows as anger, which does not make that person more likely to come through, but it makes them push away.  I’m realizing that because of this inability to need, I feel like I am always the needed one.  This might not be true.  Or maybe it is true, and it is because of my self-sufficient aura that I attract people who are more needy than I am.  When I am around others, I feel constantly “on”.  I feel like super-responsible, together me has to kick in for me to be any use to others.  And so it does…but to the detriment of my own psyche.  I don’t know how to relax in front of other human beings, especially if I am at a particularly weak state myself…because I don’t know how to show that to anyone.  I only know how to be strong.  And so it creates in me this sort of resentment towards other people…like it is their fault that I cannot relax and be weak around them.  And in contrast, when I am alone, it is such a relief that I feel I have nothing at all left to give to anyone, and God becomes one of those “people” who needs something from me.  So, I rebel and do pointless things as if to say, “I deserve some time to be free of the demands of society, of You.”  But God is not those people.  And even if my feelings of always being needed and having no one to need in humans is true, my responses to it are flawed and sinful.  This feeling is not where God wants me.  It’s the lie that Satan tells me in order to render me ineffective.  God does require things of me, but they are things that will teach me how to properly interact with others so that these feelings are countered.  They are the things that will allow me to relax in life and be who He wants me to be, not who I want other people to see.  They are the things that will teach me how to chase His dreams and not my own.

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.

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