Because I Want To

Is selfishness a virtue? Depends on how you define it, I suppose.

A few months ago, I re-picked up a life coaching podcast that had been helpful to me last year. While browsing through the list of episodes one title caught my attention: “Because I Want To.”

It sounded so empowering. “Do what you want because you want to. Don’t worry about everyone else’s opinions or feelings about your actions. Take control of your destiny and define your life on your terms.”

After listening to the episode I just felt sad for the host and everyone else in her life. My sadness was increased even more after listening to another one of her episodes on the virtues of selfishness. The message of the podcasts was essentially “screw everyone else, because you aren’t responsible for them, do what you want. Be selfish, it’s virtuous.”

Maybe it wasn’t quite that harsh. She did define selfishness as “taking care of your own needs so you can better care for the needs of others.” But this definition conflates selfishness with self-care. I don’t disagree with the concept of self-care at all, but there is a fine line between self-care and selfish narcissism.

What happens when you take care of your own needs just because you only care about yourself? There is a blurry boundary between (bad) selfishness and (good) self-care. It is one thing entirely to say “I’m going to take a break to recharge my batteries so I can be better at taking care of my responsibilities.” It is quite another to say “I’m going to walk away from my responsibilities because I want to.”

The entire ethos of the host is basically “I do what I want because I want to. I don’t care how it makes others feel (after all, I’m not responsible for their feelings, they are). My selfishness is a virtue.”

But what if everyone lived like that? She has a rather optimistic view of humanity. Like so many humanists today, the host believes that most of us deep down really want to care for others. It is common to believe that most people are intrinsically good.

However, It doesn’t take much time among the general population to see this just isn’t true. Most people are looking out for themselves. They live her ethos every day. People are naturally selfish and inclined to look out only for number one.

The result is that most of us live in misery.

Podcasts teaching people that selfishness is virtuous only serve to validate narcissists, not that a narcissist needs much to validate himself. By his very nature a narcissist believes he is always right. He looks out always and only for himself. He makes himself an island and declares himself king. He does what he wants because he wants to, no one can require anything from him.

This is all fine and dandy until relationships get involved. Narcissists are incapable of mutually beneficial relationships. They only want relationships that “serve them.” If anything is required of them they immediately shut down the relationship.

Depending on the type of narcissist, they may require something physical or emotional from the other person, or they may pretend to require nothing (whatever “serves them”). Either way, they themselves contribute nothing, unless it’s begrudgingly.

Everyone is familiar with the overt kind of narcissist. This one is a noisy leech, the overt narcissist demands the world revolve around him and takes takes takes.

The lesser known kind of narcissist is the kind who requires nothing of those around him. This one is a bit more insidious. He gives nothing and validates himself by saying that he requires nothing in return. They put on airs of self-sufficiency and generally take care of their own needs. In their mind they are completely independent. They project this independence on everyone else. If they can be an island, so should everyone else.

Worse yet, when they do have needs they don’t express them, preferring to play a “victim” of the “selfishness” of others.

But needs are a bit more complex than simple air, water, and food. Humans require emotional support and affection as well. We are social animals. This is why we form mutually beneficial bonds in marriage or friendships. We give and we get in return.

As I mentioned before, narcs aren’t capable of mutually beneficial bonds. Not only are they not capable of such bonds, they thrive on destroying such bonds. Narcissists feed on chaos and controlling the emotions of others. So when some respected podcaster tells them that they should do whatever “serves” them, they naturally gravitate towards destructive behaviors. They can walk all over others and claim it’s healthy behavior because after all, selfishness is virtuous.

Both Sides Now

There is something exceedingly frustrating knowing both sides of a story. Watching a conflict is already heartbreaking enough without knowing all the gory details, but when you see one side and then the other, and both are guilty, it just rips out your soul.

Mediation is vital, but most don’t seek it. One side or the other refuses reconciliation, convinced that “their truth” is “the truth”. Meanwhile I stand by shaking my head at the complete fabrications I’m hearing.

Worse is when one party drops off the face of the planet, while the other lives their “best life now”. Both are secretly suffering, but neither are honest.

I’m growing weary of people. People lie. People mislead. People manipulate. People don’t forgive. All regard themselves higher than the rest. But all are fallen and disgraced. No one is above reproach, no one is innocent.

If you ever find yourself listening to one side of a conflict, stop and consider the other party. They will have their own perspective on the situation, and likely the truth is something down the middle.

And never ever ever validate someone on “their truth”. Acknowledge that they have a perspective, but understand that they have a bias.

There is “truth”, then there is “the truth”.

All the Providences

Four months of silence? Really? Has my life been silent? Not at all!

Though all the facets maybe shining differently, God certainly never allows my life to be dull. There are dark corners and bright ones. What would life be without all the Providences, good and bad?

Sometimes we think God must not be listening. We think He is forgetful of our needs. Things don’t turn out the way we want and we get angry. We feel as though life should be a constant state of elation, that permanent happiness is the greatest commodity God can bestow.

But is God not sovereign even in His “no”? Sometimes it is in the “no” that we find God’s best blessings.

I’m learning one day at a time to accept the “no” and look for the blessings instead of lamenting the “losses”.

Finding Light in a Dumpster Fire Year

I bet you are ready for this cluster of a year to be over. It’s an understatement to say everyone’s year has been a dumpster fire, or more recognizable to me, a hell of a wildfire, and not the fun kind that can be successfully managed. For me, this year was the kind of fire that you just have to stand back and let go until the snows of winter douse it. But even after fire destroys a forest, new growth starts immediately. Despite every hellish thing I went through, I can honestly say that I have come close to meeting my resolutions for this year.

This year I was supposed to “Relearn to be me.” I had this idea to rediscover the person I was at 15, confident, warm, able to love. I hoped to embrace my own weirdness and build my self esteem. My intention was to accomplish those goals by sheer force of will.

That resolution was quickly forgotten about as life heaved one curveball after another at me. I was betrayed, cheated on, lied to, and all but told I wasn’t worth loving. I lost a job and bounced into a place of humility, earning barely enough to cover the bills. I won’t even bring up the dreaded virus that has filled the news with doom and gloom all year and kept me isolated from needed friends and family.

I was knocked very very low. For most of the year I was my own dumpster fire of old bad habits and coping mechanisms. I drank, I smoked, I wallowed.

It became quite clear that shear force of will was going to be replaced by a crucible. If I was going to accomplish my goals, it was going to be painful, destructive, and not without great loss. And definitely not on my timetable. It was going to be a hot, fast, fire, one that consumes everything in its path, large and small, and doesn’t stop until there’s no more fuel.

Almost everything in my life was burned this year. Three times I came close to ending it. Providentially, I am still here today. I say providentially because this year has taught me about the true Providence of God. My faith was pulled out from under me very early in the year. Foolishly, in years past I thought my life was awful, even more foolishly I thought my faith was strong. However, it turned out my idols were stronger, and when they were removed, I crumbled. My life truly became awful, and I discovered just how weak my faith was.

After three brushes with suicide, I have to declare that I owe my life to prayer and the support of the Psalms. If it weren’t for various verses running through my head, and several hymns lodging themselves in my ears and playing in my mind while I put my head through a belt (at which moment I thought “I probably shouldn’t meet God like this”) I wouldn’t be writing this today. God stayed my hands with His word and feeble human words about Him. (Though an overreactive gag reflex helped as well.)

Sometimes I am not even sure who I am anymore. The years and the turmoil they brought eroded my sense of self. This year all but broke my core. Foundations have been shaken this year, with many of the “truths” I had embraced since childhood being challenged and even removed from my memory. No tree is going to be unscorched, everything has been or will be questioned. I am certain there are absolutes (God is Sovereign for one), but often I learn those absolutes are not so easy to pin down, if they are to be comprehended at all.

So numerous are layers that have been immolated away that in many ways it seems my life is back to where it was at 15. It’s like a clean slate. In the midst of all the chaos I found love, friendship, contentment, faith, self-esteem, and little bits of joy here and there. I now have a foundation to rebuild confidence, find more love, and rediscover my old hobbies.

Big changes came this year, and bigger changes are coming in the next. The unexpected and unwanted changes almost destroyed me. In 2021, I’m determined to make those changes count for better. I won’t be destroyed by next year’s troubles.

I can say honestly that somewhere in all of the mess, I’m beginning to find old glimmers of the person I once was. Only in the past few months has anything good come out of the flames. If the last few months are any indication, things can only keep getting better. Right?

2021 is going to be “the year of rebuilding.”

This means a continued dismantling of my idols. And continued breaking down of my old destructive habits and coping mechanisms. No more wallowing. No more self-pity, no matter how much I deserve it. I will not be a victim, no matter how strong the temptation. I’ll take better care of my health and sanity, even if only for the sake of my children.

I’m going to lose people in 2021. I’m probably going to lose many things. But in losing, I hope to gain far more.

I hope to gain the ability to love again, better and deeper than ever. I hope to love everyone well, my kids, romantic interests, friends, and family. The loves look different in their actions but the underlying desire to put others before self will be there. I am not the person I was told I was, I am loving and worthy of being loved. My desire to love and be loved is not a defect, it is a strength.

I hope to find my sense of humor again. I found some old cassettes that I made with my friends at 15. I was a happy, wisecracking goofball. Somewhere I lost that. Having been through a hell of a year I can only go up. I want to feel that happiness and confidence once again. I have many talents and skills. I have potential. There is no reason not to find joy in myself or in my ability to put a smile on other’s faces.

I hope to succeed in my art. I’ve allowed a lot of my passions to slide this year, in favor of TV and sleep. Trials drive creative output for many artists, for me they have the opposite effect. The concepts may come, but the will and the strength to produce evaporate in the blaze and heat of struggles. I intend to focus on production this year and not let projects go unfinished. I won’t let my own harsh inner critic keep me from building my abilities.

I hope to cut ties with the old and destructive. People, habits, thought patterns, nothing is off limits for the chopping block. It’s only when these things are cut off that real growth can happen.

All in all, I want a reset. I want the old me in a new, better, wiser package. This year seemed a destructive wildfire, but it was just what I needed to put nutrients back into the soil of my life.

The Hunt

This winter we have an open season on ducks of only 30 days, and a daily bag limit of 4 ducks. If we look around, we will find that some men bought guns, ammunition, licenses, duck stamps, hunting clothes, boots, and rented boats and hired guides. Many of them had time for only one or two hunts. It is beyond reason to believe that these men went to all this trouble and expense for the pleasure of merely killing four or eight ducks. We must remember, too, that some of them killed no ducks at all. Evidently there is something to hunting that is beyond the mere killing of game.

Although we cannot separate individuals into classes, we often do it for convenience. We will divide hunters into three classes. The first goes out to find and kill game, and no more. This type we call the “pot-hunter.” He kills merely to eat. We are not interested in him here. The second goes into the woods or fields to find, not game, but themselves. The town or city man who loves the country is out of this type. They find city life artificial and go out in the country to get in tune with nature. They call it “getting back to nature.” A day in the woods often does them a lot of good. Their kind are usually more interested in things than ideas…nature lovers. It is the third class of hunter in whom we are interested. The name hunter does not fit them very well. These are the seekers.

Some of us have a feeling that wild things live in a world of their own, on a plane of consciousness that is entirely different from ours. We would like to stand for a while on this plane, to feel as a squirrel feels. But it may be impossible. We are wild things no more. We are tame, domesticated, civilized, far from the nature of wild things. Just as the druggist, if he doesn’t change clothes , carries the aura of the drug store around with him, so we feel that the squirrel is never far separated from his plane of consciousness. If we could get close to him physically, possibly we would find ourselves on his mental plane. But wild things are difficult to get near to. So we shoot them. And their consciousness ends with their life , the “thing” we hoped to capture in capturing them escapes us. Just what is it that we seek?

Have you ever heard the call of wild geese, passing far up, before daylight of a cool fall morning? It is a sound that is thrilling to many people. They feel, for a time, that they would like to be geese, flying with these others. (No cracks, please.) There is about these geese an air of mystery. They come from far off places and are on their way to points unknown to us. The thought of unknown places is always a lure to our imagination. For we feel in one of these unknown places might be found that which we seek.

This Crazy Life

Sometimes I feel like this crawfish, wandering too far from the ditch into the dangers of asphalt and vehicle tires. But like this crawfish I put up my claws and face the world with feeble threats. I boldly face that which could easily destroy me, perhaps a little too boldly.

Life hurts. It’s full of dangers and very real attacks. Anything can plow into us and knock us down. Pretty much every one of us has suffered this year. Some of us have been completely knocked down, some are still standing, but barely.

Sometimes we are blessed enough to have a hand reach out, pick us up, and put us back in the safety of the water. We might pinch at it, we might struggle, but eventually we find ourselves at peace. We can breathe again and settle into safety.

Don’t resist those helps.

Life is too crazy and too dangerous to resist the help and care of others. Even if they don’t solve our problems, they can give us comfort through them. Never underestimate the power of companionship or simple kindness from the hands and mouth of another.

Some Musings on Fear and Pain

Everyone has fear.

I had tons of fear, it leaked out of me. I allowed it to run rampant in my thoughts and actions. My life became a blur of awful. What happens when your life becomes a blur of awful? The lives of everyone around you become blurs of awful. Soon you start making your fears a reality.

You see, fear is typically irrational. You latch onto the idea that something catastrophic will happen and then you let it run your thoughts. From your thoughts come your feelings, and from those feelings are born actions. We act on the irrational.

Some fears are rational: death, losing someone else to death… actually, that’s about it. Death is the only certainty in life, therefore it’s perfectly rational to fear it, for most of us. For Christians, not so much, but that’s another topic.

This fear of death can manifest in both rational and irrational fears. We fear out of self-preservation, which is rational, but most things we fear won’t ultimately kill us. Sure, they may be painful, but pain itself doesn’t kill. There is a fine line between rational and irrational though, and sometimes we take some pretty stupid risks because we don’t categorize correctly. And what may be a rational fear for some, like rock climbing the face of Half Dome if you’re an untrained couch potato with literally no experience, may be completely irrational for someone else, like a trained and experienced rock climber. It would be absurd for that person to refuse to climb what is probably easy for him.

But as I said, most of the circumstances we fear won’t kill us. Most things we fear won’t even come close to killing us. Why do we fear those things?

Why do we fear our feelings? Why do we fear rejection? Or losing material things? Why do we fear taking chances? The words of others? None of these things can kill us.

Ultimately, we fear pain. We are comfort loving creatures and pain is what we seek to avoid the most. Even our fear of death is largely tied to the pain of it. We all want to die peacefully in our sleep, not in some horrible drawn out pain. But pain doesn’t kill us.

Depending on what we do with it, pain can injure us or it can strengthen us. Our goal should be the latter. What we think about pain ultimately determines what we do with it. If we think negatively of it, and begin to fear it, we will act in ways that weaken us. We get hurt and think “I’ll never do that again.” and instead of learning how to work through the pain and become stronger we give in to fear and become weaker for it.

If we think of pain as an opportunity to learn and be strengthened we fear it less. Sure, we hate it when we are in it, but we are less likely to cower the next time it comes or avoid it all together and miss out on some of the best things in life. This applies to both physical and emotional pain, accepting both can be a tremendous step towards growth.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a cliché, but it’s a true one. However, it’s only true if you let it be. Sometimes we let the things that hurt us damage us and hold us back. We allow the hurt to create fear in us. We fear that we will be hurt again. We then allow this fear to drive our actions and end up getting hurt. Our fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Often the process of creating this self-fulfilling prophecy is subconscious. No one wants to be locked up in fear. But our brains are cautious creations. Our brains want to keep us from pain, and will do anything to keep us safe, even things which make absolutely no rational sense. This is where anxiety disorders, PTSD, dissociative disorders, and other such trauma illnesses come from. Our brains would rather function in disarray than allow us to get hurt. Ironically, this disarray ends up hurting us more in the long run.

Outside of those particular disorders, which require professional and often spiritual help to overcome, our fears are in our control. We can turn them around. We can use them to our advantage just like any other negative emotion in life. Fight your fears, face them, you might just find yourself stronger the next time they attack.

Subdued


The silence suffocates

Quiet chokes.

My thoughts are all that fill this void.

The darkness consumes

Lying here

The demons overjoyed.

I can hear my breathing

May it cease.

My heart to stop in equal time.

The beating bloodline

Louder still

The lonely pantomime.

Kill now this silence please

Fill it up.

My ears brimmed with happy noises.

The laughing children

Lovely wife

The finest of voices.

Bring them all back to me

My loved ones.

My home be filled with noise renewed.

The chaos glad

Playful muse

The empty heart subdued.

War

That moment of peace
That calm in the storm
When you think of the release
And the racing thoughts form.

Bombardment out of the air
Twisted wicked in your mind
Seemingly out of nowhere
True thoughts left behind.

Urging you onward
To carry through.
Filling you with the wrong word
“Do what you must do.”

Call upon the angels
Cry out to God above
He’ll rescue you from this painful
Moment with His love.

Doubled down the attack
Dark forces reconvene
Throwing you off track
With thoughts in between
Darkness and light
The wrong and the right
Confusion settles in
Temptation within
Deep the battle rages
Into the night.

“No one will miss you
You’re being dramatic.”
“That is not true.”
In between is static.
The battle is erratic.
“You’re not strong enough
Life’s too rough”
Thoughts are automatic.

“Be still”
You hear
Breaking your will
And killing your fear.
Chaos ensues
Evil hates to lose.
Raging darker deeper
Evil is a sleeper
Who gets worse towards the end
Willing to send
The darkest thoughts ever deeper
Down you descend.

“Be still”
You hear again
“This is not My will”
You feel insane
These voices in your head
The battlefield not red
With blood
Only strewn with broken dreams.

You wake up
Unstable as hell
Tears erupt
Shaking a hallow shell
Of a man who once was standing
Long before he fell.
Finding your Foundation
You rise
Stronger for the next invitation
The demons will devise.

Paul’s Contentment

“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11b-13

A few months ago a sermon on these verses whacked me over my head.

Contentment eluded me for my entire life. I had spent years familiar with these verses but never finding the meaning. Here was someone (Paul) saying he had learned to be content in every circumstance.

Wait. What? How? How was Paul content when he was low, hungry, and in need? Was he bluffing?

I could understand his contentment in plenty. I was frequently quite settled when things were going well, but when times were hard I freaked out, often disastrously.

What was Paul’s secret?

We often hear that last verse quoted as though it were some kind of good luck charm. But “I can do all things” isn’t pertaining to some feat of strength or passing a test. In context it’s so much more.

The secret to Paul’s contentment was his faith in Christ. Instead of depending on his ever changing circumstances for his peace he depended on the solid foundation of Jesus. Jesus never changes. There is no fluctuation in the love of Christ, unlike the other things we put our faith in.

A lifetime doesn’t seem to be enough to grasp this concept. Even though I tried to be content in Christ as all good Christians should be, I didn’t see my idols. For many years I was plagued by anxiety because this or that wasn’t right in my life. I experienced long periods of want. Instead of trusting God and being content, I allowed these periods to devour me. Anxiety and fear ran my life.

Only recently did I discover that I made idols out of so many things. And everything failed me one way or another. Instead of rightly seeing the things I had and desired to have as gifts from God, I made them into demands. When I didn’t get my demands, I became a poster child of discontent. This discontentment then proceeded to destroy many of those good gifts.

It took losing the most important thing in my life (my biggest idol) to show me the power of my idols. It took months of floundering and grasping for that idol to wake me up. I had depended on something temporal, something delicate. When it broke and went away, it almost broke me.

I was drowning but those verses hit me like a lifebouy. Paul depended on Christ, and Paul made it through excruciating suffering. Not only was I made aware that what I had lost was an idol, but I realized that all of those things which had driven my anxiety were idols as well: financial security, steady employment, well behaved kids, a clean house, sex, intimacy, friendships, my pride, etc. All of these things had failed me at times and because I had depended on them I was always left staggering.

Christ never fails. He never gives up on me. He never stops loving me. Even when I run towards my idols He always pulls me back into the fold. When I lean on Him I am never left staggering. It took going through hell to teach me this, but when I started to grasp it I felt a peace like I never have before.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t hurt or have days of discouragement and discontent. I am still going through this trial. I am still suffering. At times I feel like a train is sitting on my chest. It’s hell. I still want to restore what was lost (it is a good thing in and of itself, when properly esteemed). But I am content. Christ is sovereign, God is working for my good and His glory. I don’t have to flail or kick against His Providence because I know it is perfect.

When I am lonely or struggling with thoughts of suicide (I am ashamed to even admit this) or wasting away in pain I can call on Him and He restores peace to my soul. I can read His word and find comfort in His promises, as well as instruction on how to handle difficult people and circumstances. I can know that no matter what happens to me I am secure in my salvation. I may suffer and even die, but my eternity is secure.

Perhaps “I can do all things” means “I can endure all things”. No matter what God gives or takes away in His Providence, we can be sure that if we (like Paul) rest in Him we will endure. If we call on Him when in trial or despair we can find real comfort. When we obey His law and trust in His word we can handle any circumstance that comes our way.

That is true contentment.