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.
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.
“…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.
“‘Rid me, good Lord, of every diverting thing.’ What prodigal waste it appears to be, to see scattered on the floor the bright green leaves, and the bare stem, bleeding in a hundred places from the sharp steel. But with a tried and trusted husbandman, there is not a random stroke in it at all; nothing cut away which would not have been loss to keep, and gain to lose.”
-Amy Carmichael, quoted in Sinclair Ferguson’s “Maturity”.
We often get angry with God for taking away the things that we love. But why?Because losing things sucks, whether it be money, people, or health. When we grow attached to things (or people) we often get tangled up in unhealthy affections for them. When they are ripped away we feel disoriented. We feel as though a part of us has been removed.
But God knows exactly what He is doing. As the quote above states, nothing is random. God knows what we need, and when He takes away, it’s for our growth. Like I said in my last post, pain is inevitable. Pain leads to growth, and sometimes the loss of someone or something is the most painful thing we can experience. There is almost an exponential correlation between the amount of pain and the amount of growth potential.
This doesn’t mean that we go seeking pain, or that pain isn’t painful. We shouldn’t deliberately cut things off that God wouldn’t. Nor should we masochisticly relish in our pain. But we should see that our most painful moments and circumstances carry in them the promise of great fruit.
When God takes away He knows that it would have been a loss for us to keep whatever it was He took. He also knows that we will gain from losing it. For perspective, I like to invert the lyric of “When I Survey the Wonderous Cross” to say “My richest loss I count but gain.” Every loss is a gain, even if not immediately perceived.
Every branch that does bear fruit He prunes that it may bear more fruit. – John 15:2
Fruit takes time to grow, and even more time to ripen. It’s easy to grow impatient in our world of instant gratification. We want results now! But to God a thousand years is like a day. His timing almost never matches our desired speed. We must wait for fruit. We must endure the suffering of loss before we see the gain.
We may be tempted to despair when we see the leaves of the vine of our life scattered on the ground. We may have invested decades of our life in something, just to watch it get cut away. But we must remember that the vine isn’t dead. Just because it was trimmed doesn’t mean it is gone. In fact, we are assured the trimming will produce more fruit. In one way, shape, or form, the trimmed branch will regrow into something healthier and more productive.
But again, this takes time. Sometimes the first fruit of a loss is patience. If we can get past the initial pain, we can find a calm place to wait for the next fruit, whatever that may be. God’s trimmings result in multiple fruits.
Since I was twelve I have suffered from nearly constant back pain and neck pain, the result of a bike accident. I have had two surgeries, one to remove a benign bone tumor from my knee and one to place a titanium plate on my broken collar bone. Both resulted in nerve damage which is often painful. Wear and tear from hard work has given me various aches from my feet to my hands. Our physical bodies are certainly frail. But what of our minds and souls?
I am no stranger to emotional pain. This is the kind of pain which rots your soul and makes you wish to die. It is tempting to flee this pain in myriad ways, frequently replacing the internal pain with a physical pain. Unfortunately, this is a dreadful payoff.
Death seems like a great escape. After all, I believe there is eternal bliss on the other side. But who am I to tell God when it’s my time? And what of those I would leave behind? What of their emotional pain? As my son put it “You can’t die, who would take care of us?” Escaping my pain is not worth dumping it onto them.
Other temptations are equally fraught with ugly. I could drink myself into a stupor, but that would result in not only a dreadful hangover the next day but it could result in neglecting my loved ones or worse. Same with drugs. Sex? Temporary. And when used incorrectly, also dangerous to others.
So what do I do with my pain?
It would be easy to say I simply pray it all away. After all, that’s what the prosperity preachers say to do. But prayer doesn’t always eliminate pain. In fact sometimes it seems more pain is the answer to prayer. I definitely do pray and cling to the promises of God. But there is more to it than that.
I’ve come to the conclusion that pain never completely goes away. There is always going to be some kind of pain in our lives. Knowing that pain will always be present gives me some consolation. I’m not cursed. I’m not strange. What I deal with is common to all.
But is it my fault? I think this is the most common question people have about pain. “What did I do to bring this upon myself?” I don’t internalize too much. Not all the pain in life is purely your fault. Don’t listen to Job’s friends and assume your pain is the result of some horrible sin you have done (though it might be).
Sometimes pain is the result of the actions of others. We live in a world full of depraved souls, friction is inevitable. People hurt us with words, with actions, and sometimes in ways we don’t fully understand. Often we allow even the innocent actions of others to hurt us. Our thoughts about the actions directly feed our feelings of pain. The best we can do for this pain is to forgive. Vengeance or wrathful responses will only injure us more.
Escape if you have to, then let it go. Or simply seek to understand the motives behind the actions and words of others. If pure, you may need to examine your own pride. Maybe you are being oversensitive, maybe you hate yourself and are projecting that hatred into what others do. Maybe you simply need to tell them it hurts. We all do the best we can with what we know, it’s likely you hurt many people without knowing or intending.
It soothes my pain to know that we are all suffering in this world together. We all hurt each other. We are all equals in this respect. I can respond with anger, or I can respond with compassion. Compassion is much less painful for both parties, at least in the long run.
I refuse to let pain consume me. I refuse to let pain lead me into giving up my faith. I refuse to let pain kill my love for others. Or kill me for that matter. Pain can only grow me.
It’s pretty amazing how distracted one can get in life, how one can be pulled away from doing what they love to do. It’s easy to get sucked into life’s drama and forget about your self and the care of your mind.
This was frequently my outlet. I had grandiose thoughts and I proudly posted them here for some tiny audience to read. It was a work of pride. It was my baby of sorts.
But then life happened. And I started writing more personally. And eventually it became too personal. I couldn’t share. I discovered writing by hand was more useful, and more private. When writing on paper with a suitable pen (none of that stick pen nonsense) one cannot outrun his own mind. He has to think only as fast as his hand can write. And for me that is painfully slow.
So my other blog(s) became my outlet for public creativity. Images are far less personal than the written word. Usually. There are definitely some exceptions, but unless I explain them in my critique all you know is it’s a painting or a photo without any real background.
Perhaps one day I’ll be able to share myself again on here. But right now it’s just too much. Even the seemingly random topics that bounce around from time to time in my head all have ties back to my personal life.
So I will hibernate for just a while. And post only elsewhere.
Where have I been? Maybe you’re not really asking. I don’t know how much interest there truly is in this blog, but maybe someone out there misses me and my posts.
Short answer: distracted.
Long answer: Working on my other blog, posting everything I have ever painted/photographed/photo manipulated. And getting way bogged down in the complexities of life.
How am I doing with my New Year’s resolutions? Well… I dunno.
I don’t know if I have recaptured any of my youthful vigor yet. I’m still listening to local music and I even went to a show recently. I left with ringing ears and a headache but dagnabbit I was there!
The first month and a half of 2020 was hell. About mid February everything started to look up. Well, most of it anyway. I honestly had no time to think about trying to go back to all of my good character traits from the past. Instead I would like to think I gained new ones.
I have learned to be content, I faced the struggle of January with a stiff neck and a clenched jaw. I worked myself to exhaustion just trying to keep things afloat. Most of that work was met with success, some of it not so much. But I didn’t let the failures knock me down. I just kept swimming.
When things started to get better, I breathed. I slowed down and took stock of the situation and started planning for the future. Bad times could come again, as they have many times in recent years. Perhaps I can be a bit more prepared so I don’t have to work so hard to stay afloat.
All of this was financial stuff mind you. My house is falling apart, my relationship with my wife is rocky, and my mental health is… Well… It’s day by day.
And that’s just how I’m going to face those challenges: day by day.
I used to have an issue with the term “triggered”. But more and more I think I understand it.
It’s not usually anger though. It’s usually anxiety. Or depression. Or just a general sadness. Sometimes there are things that just make me physically twitch.
When I stopped being triggered by the term itself I actually started being able to identify the triggers and manage them. I don’t have to be triggered. I don’t have to react to certain stimuli at all. I can choose to ignore. I can choose to capture my negative thoughts and feelings and correct them. I am not a slave to feelings and negativity.
Beyond all that, I can create healthy boundaries (another term that used to trigger me) to prevent the triggers from occurring in the first place.
How do you, dear readers, manage the negatives in your life? How do you handle the triggers? I’m still learning and any wisdom is always welcome!
My life’s been a bit abysmal as of late. Days are hard, circumstances suck. I feel like I am breaking down and losing every fight. I know people want optimistic posts and travel posts and frivolous nonsense. But maybe there is room out here for real posts about trials and struggles. People love a facade, but at the end of the day, many of us are cracked vessels, if not outright shattered.
So please read and know you aren’t alone in your struggle. We all have our challenges and rough seasons. Despite what the internet world would have you believe, there is a lot of darkness out there amongst the bull markets and the glitzy vacations.
We’re all in it together, and we’re all going to make it through. I hope.
Despite my recent absence from this page, I’d like to keep the tradition of birthday/New Year’s resolution making. After all, this year was “Stick to the plan” year, so I should stick to my plan of making plans. Or something like that.
Did I stick to my plans?
Nope. Not even close.
Three months into the year the plans got chucked out the window. The only plan after that was to survive.
In some ways I believe I am better off than I was at the start of the year. With such turbulence often comes a new breadth of wisdom. I have learned and grown and adapted myself to chaos in a way that I always struggled to do before.
In many other ways my life is not so good. It’s obvious that my resolutions should be aimed at fixing those specific problems, right ? Unfortunately, most of life is a complicated web of circumstances, so tweaking one or two things isn’t going to change much. If last year was “Stick to the plan” this year can be summed up as:
“Relearn to be me.”
I kinda want to get back to the person I was at 15. Not the immaturity and the youthful ignorance, mind you. I want to rediscover the good qualities of my youth and combine them with the wisdom of my current age.
I was confident back then. I was warm. I had real friends. I genuinely cared about people and I genuinely loved my own talents and gifts. I had a sense of humor and the ability to be genuinely happy and excited about life.
Twenty years on I feel like I have lost all of that. My confidence was largely dependent on exercising my talents. But now my talents sit in the corner covered in dust. I am a faded version of my old self.
Stress and exhaustion have left me a bit bitter and grumpy. As a result I seem cold and aloof. I have acquaintances, but no one gets close enough to be a friend. I still care about people, but I’m often overly consumed with my own self loathing to love others properly.
It’s going to be an uphill trek. Circumstances were different then, with age comes responsibility and obligations. And so many struggles. I react quite caustically to hard times. When the going gets tough, I drown. There is hardly ever a time to catch my breath.
I have already started working towards these resolutions. I applied to a new job. Just filling out the resume and creating a cover letter was a confidence booster. I used to hate doing them because I despised tooting my own horn, but this time I actually looked at what I wrote. I haven’t completely relinquished my talents.
Those are real accomplishments and real experiences that I have had. I have used my talents in a variety of ways, and each of them is something to be proud of. And if they help me get this job, that is all the more reason to be positive about them.
I plan to force myself off of social media and get into the real world. Social media is a cold, terrible place to interact with others. Real human interaction is a breeding ground for warmth and real relationship. This is probably the most difficult part of relearning to be myself. The entire culture has shifted in the past 20 years to be dominated by fake screen relationships. It’s almost an act of rebellion to seek real people out and make friends of them. But I need friends. Real ones. That I can drink a beer with. So rebellion it is!
“Lesser” things include working out to improve my health and self-esteem, working on my appearance overall (it’s hard to like yourself if you’re a slob), and liking what I like un-self-consciously.
I used to have my own tastes, even weird ones, and it didn’t matter what others thought. Over time I started to care what others think about my likes and dislikes. This is a tremendously crippling worry. Nearly everyone struggles with peer pressure to some extent. But I feel like I lost my entire self to it.
This year I intend to embrace my own tastes, even the “weird” ones. This includes embracing my own talents, even if others aren’t as impressed as I’d like them to be.
I also intend to be warmer to people. I’m going to start smiling more and try a little friendliness. This may not be as much of a return to my past as it is just trying to be a better person. I don’t have to be the creepy silent dude or a mumbler. Friendliness is often reciprocated, and if it’s not oh well. At least my smile brightened up my own day.