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”.
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.
What we may perceive as small is actually an illusion created by our relative position to the object. This kind of illusion applies to many places in life, not just visually. Sometimes when we are distant from a person we tend to underestimate the big affairs going on in his or her life.
Sure, we may see the problems, clearly even. But because of our distance from the situation we may interpret what we see as a small issue. We may even think “we could handle that, why don’t they seem able to?”
But we don’t see how big the problem truly is to the person standing right under its power.
The only way to truly see how big the troubles are in someone’s life is to get closer to them. Spend time with them, talk to them, maybe share some of your big struggles with them to encourage them to bring up theirs.
Remind them that with time and distance problems always seem to shrink. What seemed big last week is now a tiny speck on the horizon of memory.
Of course this also should remind us all that what appears to be a little problem way out there in the future may end up quite large by the time we confront it. Small problems grow to big ones if not taken care of.
Don’t let your perceptions fool you. “Small” is not always small.
Sometimes you just have to scrap an entire blog. My original title for this was “Happiness As a Goal”. But I’ve renamed it and rewritten it. And then rewrote it again. And then renamed it again.
So here it is, after a ton of editing:
I have struggled with the concept of wants and needs for a while. God gives us everything we need, so everything we don’t have we don’t need, right? And if God doesn’t give it to us and we don’t need it, it’s sinful to want it, right?
For a long time I felt that contentment meant being completely satisfied with what you have. This means that any desire for something one doesn’t have is discontentment and therefore sinful.
This was my train of thought: It is a sin to be discontent, to be content means you don’t want anything, you are satisfied with what you have. Therefore to want is to be discontent, therefore to want is to sin. Furthermore, God gives us everything we need, if we don’t have it we don’t need it. If we don’t need it we just want it, and wanting anything is a sin.
From the last three paragraphs you can see why my life has become kind of messy. I have shoved down a lot of desires and drives mistaking them for sin. This has made me a bit of a limp noodle. If wants and desires are inherently sinful what’s the point of trying? After all, you’re going to get what you need.
But then I realized that the Bible clearly talks about wants.
“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James 4:2b-3
James does not condemn his audience for asking for things.
In 1 John we read this: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”
One only asks for things if one wants something. Since asking is not condemned, wanting is not condemned. I was wrong to think merely having wants was sinful. God clearly wants us to want things that are in accordance with His will and to ask Him for them. Asking is encouraged, and we are to do it with confidence.
Ultimately I don’t have to feel shame or guilt for wanting things (or experiences, or good feelings). But I do have to ask the question “is this in accordance with God’s will?”
Probably the easiest way to determine this is to ask the questions “Do I want this purely for selfish gain? Does my desire ultimately serve others and/or bring glory to God?” If the answer to the first is no and the answer to the second is yes then I am free to ask and to pursue what I want.
This whole train of thought has further implications, obviously. This is me after all. I can’t keep anything too simple. Keep checking back and I will try to further expound on these thoughts in other posts as I get to them.
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I know I said I wanted intimacy, but maybe not that much!
If you follow me at all you probably know I write about all kinds of subjects (how to be a Butthole Wife, abortion, art, music, modesty, sex, politics, you name it). Sometimes I get really personal. I don’t have much of a filter on how much I share. This might get in me in trouble one day!
My post last week got a Facebook like from none other than my pastor. The post where I called out pastors and elders for not being out there in homes. Yeah. That one.
The thing is, I’m not sure I really want what I called for in that post.
Right now my wife and I are working 90 hours a week between the two of us. That means that our time is extremely limited. When we are home we are either sleeping, cleaning, cooking, eating, or catching the kids up on school.
I say cleaning, but what I really mean is we are trying to keep up with just that day’s mess. Not the previous mess from yesterday (and before), just today’s.
We are juggling. And when you juggle you drop things. When you drop things you make a mess. And you’re too busy keeping the rest of your life in the air to clean up every mess.
So messes pile up. Real messes, metaphorical messes, mental messes.
From all outside appearances my life is falling apart. I have nothing together.
Outside appearances are often all that anyone who bothers to peak in sees. Which is precisely why I am terrified of someone suddenly becoming interested in my life. What if they see the messes? What if they see my juggling and my dropping? What if they judge my entire character on the circumstances surrounding this terrifically tumultuous season of my life?
I have to be careful what I say. Someone might take me up on my challenges. Someone my try to get to know the real me, not the mumbly me that most people know. They might see the silly me, the sloppy me, the me that loses his temper way too easily, the anxious me, the passionate me. They may see the ugly side of me. The side of me that struggles with all types of temptations and often fails.
They might get to know me intimately as a friend, only to find out that I can be a disappointment as a friend. I am selfish and miserly. I am far too busy with my own life to take on the weight of others. I can’t invite you to my messy house and I’m too broke to go out for a drink. My texts are all somber and I breathe on the phone. I take far more than I could ever give in return.
I may speak a big game when it comes to intimacy, but ultimately I am too ashamed of myself to let you in.
Except when I blog. I’ll lay it all out for you here.
Maybe you have guessed that I am a bit restless in my current situation. Maybe you suspect that I am merely living a lie and will eventually give it up and go back to my old way of life.
I don’t want to go back.
I left a career of nearly ten years to go do something else that I loved. Then I left that after two years to give my wife an opportunity to do something I knew that she would love (and I wasn’t wrong). But am I doing what I love?
Yes and no.
I love being with my kids. I love teaching them and talking to them and watching them become great little people.
But sometimes they are real jerks. Sometimes I get tired of being around them. Frequently I feel like I fail them on so many levels. But I love them. So yes. I love what I do.
I need adult interaction. And more than just the superficial internet interactions. The presence of people is a balm for my anxiety and loneliness. There are times when being around the kids perks up my spirit, but they are the takers in the relationship. Adults give and take, the dynamics are different. Right now where I am I do not get the kind of adult interaction I need.
I have dreams and goals. But I never think I am good enough. I am always the contingency guy. I have a goal, I assume right off the bat that I won’t get to it, so I automatically search for all the secondary plans.
Where do people get their optimism? How does one make a goal and dream and actually think themselves good enough to get them? How do they take control of their lives and make the things they want happen?
Or do they? Do people ever actually get what they want? Or am I just watching too many movies? I swear I see people out there on blogs and Facebook and elsewhere living the lives that they want. Surely there is something flawed in their life, something they don’t like, something that is not quite right.
How do they live joyously despite those things? How are they successful in jumping past those kinds of problems and focusing instead on the good things, the successes?
The simple answer is that they aren’t. Everyone has struggles. No one is arrived 100%. Some people are just better at displays than others. They are simply good at social media.
Or perhaps they really are hopeful. Some people are just optimists. They do a good job at seeing the good and understand the best way to make those good things happen is focused work towards them.
So the answer to getting where I want is simply focused discipline? Make an effort to get adult time? Focus on the good goals and spend a little less time on contingency?
Time will tell.
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Last week I discussed some of the things I do to conquer the physical aspects of anxiety. But what about the thoughts?
In order to kill bad thoughts it helps to understand the motives behind one’s thoughts. Most of my anxious thoughts stem from my severe need to be in control of all things. I am a control freak. When things are out of my control I panic. I begin to think the worst. I lose all faith and go into the selfish cocoon of anxiety.
Knowing what motivates my wrong thoughts helps in creating a strategy to defeat them.
So what do I do?
Well, I take control of the things I actually have control of. Despite my negativity, there are things I actually have some power over. Like my time, my children, and my personal space.
I make a schedule and try to stick with it, understanding that sometimes things happen that make that schedule obsolete for the moment. At the very least I follow a routine and make habits.
I work on establishing healthy boundaries with my children. Kids can be chaos incarnate, but usually only because we don’t put a foot down and make it clear what is allowed and not allowed. Discipline goes a long way towards helping calm that storm. Boundaries are important to all relationships, if there are other relationships in your life that create stress and anxiety it is likely that you need to establish some basic rules regarding it.
By personal space, I mean my house. I have control over the cleanliness and clutter of my home. Part of a good schedule and routine is taking time to organize and clean up. Visual clutter and messes are huge triggers for anxious thoughts. It took me years to figure this out, but it has made a huge difference since.
As for the things I can’t control… (which are far fewer in number than my mind will let me believe) those things get put into my prayers. Only God can control those things.
That may seem like a cop out answer, but I assure you that faith is harder than any scheduling, disciplining, or cleaning. Having faith requires catching my thoughts and correcting them. Taking every thought captive requires constantly telling myself truths to correct the lies that my mind wants to tell me. In order to do this I have to know truths, I have to study and think about truths, and I have to believe truths.
Anxiety is ultimately the antithesis of faith. Faith is ultimately the solution to anxiety.
For some it’s their body, for others it’s social interaction. Maybe you have bedroom hang-ups, or food hang-ups. I’m sure we are all aware of something that we just can’t quite get over.
But what about unconscious ones?
What hang-ups are lurking in your sub-conscious mind?
I took medications for years for a painful back. Very rarely did they help, and they came with the unpleasant need for blood work every six months or so just to make sure my liver was handling the stress. These days it’s difficult to take even herbal remedies (which I have found to actually work) because somewhere in my mind I am expecting nothing.
Like many people, marriage led to weight gain. I gained over 35 lbs after tying the knot. Diet, lack of exercise, stress, parenthood, there were so many factors it was hard to fix them all. It wasn’t until I switched careers to one that made me work out that I began to see a downward movement in my weight. Even then it took a drastic change in diet to get back to what I was on our wedding day.
Well, guess what my new hang-up became?
I got so good at counting them that I became almost phobic. And when you cut back on carbs you start eating less in general. Which leads to losing more weight than you really wanted to. In the month I have been on this mountain I have lost ten lbs. I am way more active than I am at home and I am sitting at 9,000 ft. My basal metabolism is higher, my activity level is higher, but my calorie intake is lower. I have gone too far.
It is really hard to tell yourself “eat more” when you remember what that extra 35 lbs felt like.
Hang-ups are trained into us. For years my wife suffered debilitating depression, and I adapted my behaviors around hers. I changed my personality, my habits, and my speech. My thought patterns were molded by how I expected her to respond. My very being was changed.
College psychology class was full of boring lectures and seemingly crack-pot ideas about how humans behave. But from what I have observed, people really do react and adapt to stimuli in sometimes bizarre ways.
Now that she is not depressed my brain is having a fit retraining itself to respond properly to her new and different stimuli. I expect her to be one way and act accordingly, but she is so different now my predictions hardly land correct.
There is so much I avoid doing or saying around her, all because of the training my brain endured for eight years. These hang-ups are hardly ever conscious. Like Pavlov’s famous puppies my body and behaviors have simply learned to respond according to what my mind expects.
What do I do with these hang-ups?
Well, the first step is realizing that I have them. As so many of them are subconscious it usually takes a secondary factor (like ten lbs of weight loss) to realize they are there.
Then it takes discipline and concious effort to change the behavior that results from the hang-up. Eat more, eat carbs, eat when you aren’t hungry but know you should. Talk to your wife, tell her what you like about her, pinch her butt, kiss her in public because you want to, ask her to do things you need. Take your medicine, even if you aren’t sure it will work, don’t stop taking it when you discover it does actually work (this will make it stop working, dummy).
You won’t necessarily be able to get rid of the hang-up. It may still lurk somewhere back there, whispering lies, trying to keep you locked up in it. But by changing your behavior, conciously and consistently, you will break it of its power.