Monthly Archives: February 2010

…for disappointment!

I slept through Church this morning.

The past couple of days have been nothing short of disappointing for me. The worse thing in the world about moving forward and having epiphanies, I think, is that you get so caught up in the moment that when silence and ordinary life swing by for a visit, we feel as though our world is slowly falling apart.

At least, I’ve felt that way.

Yesterday, I was supposed to relax and read my Bible. Instead, I fell asleep on the couch and went to dinner late. I avoided my friend Hannah whom I was supposed to visit because my other friend Luke, who I hadn’t seen in ages, wanted to take me up on coffee. I did, and nothing turned out the way I expected.

I struggled to explain to Luke what had been going on in my life lately, but I instead nearly fell asleep in my own cup of coffee. He stared off into space behind me, peering off at the arty wall decor confusedly. I left very frustrated, because I had this picture of how the conversation might play out. And the conversation that took place looked nothing like the conversation in my head.

The conversation in my head had two men opening up to one another about what God is doing in their lives, not two people staring off into space, fumbling their words.

For every wonderful conversation I have that is bursting with Truth and that is undeniably off in a good way, in a spiritual way, I have seventeen pointless conversations. And this bothers me, because I tend to think that all conversations are to move me forward. That each and every action is a step in the right direction.

I recently finished the latest Donald Miller book, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, which talks about the metaphor of story as better explaining day-to-day living. I love this quote that he has about moving forward, which goes:

“Once an ambition has been decided, a positive turn is an event that moves the protagonist away from his ambition, and a negative turn moves the protagonist away from his ambition. All stories have both. If a story doesn’t have negative turns, it’s not an interesting story. A protagonist who understands this idea lives a better story. He doesn’t give up when he encounters a setback, because he knows that every story has both positive and negative turns.”

I tend to forget that my story, if lived rightly, is supposed to have negative turns. I was talking to my friend Bethany recently about listening to God’s voice, and what that means.

The other day, I was supposed to go to this job fair, because that is what responsible young men do. A friend had called and found me a ride. I woke up on time. I had the right clothes lined out, and then I heard the faintest whisper. A don’t go. And I thought to myself, “I have to go to this! This is what responsible people do. And if I don’t go, then I will be that burnout college student with no money and–” And again, the don’t go.

I paced around my room nervously for nearly half an hour and then decided to stay. I felt horrible. Disgusting. Like the person who takes a sick day from work only to go home and watch Oprah.

The thing about the people who do lazy things like watch daytime television, however, is that we tend to only see these lazy people in front of a flickering box. We don’t see them making calls, vacuuming carpets, washing dishes, loving their families. We just see them on the couch.

And the lie that my day was over, that I could do nothing else with it, slowly faded away. I called up a friend that I had been meaning to have lunch for weeks, and took her up on the offer. We had a beautiful conversation about God’s will for our lives and what it means to give up all things to Him.

I am still learning on a daily basis what this means. How it works.

There are so many moments where I think that I am in the wrong, that my approach to friendships and God is insane, that it is not practical. I look at my interactions, and think nobody else does this, this must be wrong. Like an incessant nagging, I find these thoughts haunting my days.

My therapist Jaymie told me something that really struck me the other day. I told her about how sure I am in moments, and how just as I start to become sure of my path, and steady in God’s arms, that my world begins to crumble. That I look at the Bible reading, the small groups, the meetings with friends, and how I just want to walk away from it all. Jaymie looked at me earnestly and said, “What if this is spiritual warfare?”

It was at that point I had realized in the past two sleepless nights that one thought had never crossed my mind.

Whenever I hear of “spiritual warfare”, I often laugh, because when I think of the devil I think of The Exorcist or some bad horror film. And I think the Devil wants people to think of him in this way, so that they are not thinking of him when he actually does show up in our lives and tries to sabotage them through whispers. Through doubt.

There is this part in the Donald Miller book where he talks about the necessity of conflict, that in order for a character to grow and move closer towards his goal, he must experience conflict.

In my own life, I like to pretend that Christ has taken away my conflict, and that I am free to do as I please. All too often, however, this is not the case. Whenever I come across disappointment, across conflict, it should not be something that makes me feel as though I have done something wrong. Rather, it should be something that makes me feel as though I have done something right.

The other day, I had a friend tell me that she was actually praying for conflict in my life. At first, I thought that she was crazy, that normal people pray for release from conflict. And I was right, in a sense. That is what normal people do, but we as Christians are not normal. What we as Christians need to grow are off-days, seeds of doubt that get under our skin, and disappointment. It is only in this way that we might grow.

And it is for this that I am thankful. For this off-day. For the doubt in my life that lets me know the Devil is on to me because perhaps, just perhaps, I am going in the right direction for once. What are you thankful for today?

…for job security!

I am attending a job fair on Thursday because I am terrified whenever I think about the future.

Some people have nightmares about ghosts and scary creatures chasing them. When I dream, however, job interviews bring chills down my spine. Not vampires or werewolves.

As a Psychology major, I don’t stand out all that much. I’m not the guy who sits in the front row with the answers to the next four questions the teacher will ask. I don’t have a minor in Pre-Law, or anything.

And this honestly scares me. In the idol of my future, I see myself huddled up underneath a bridge somewhere. Other times, when I recollect myself and stave away my vivid imagination, I picture myself in a house with a roommate who is listening to Nickelback.

I would rather jump in front of a moving train than listen to Nickelback.

All this is to say that, despite my fears, I’ve found quite a bit of reassurance lately. My dad has forever called me a “counselor” and a “writer”, and I had never really fully understood what he meant by that until only recently.

If someone is a “writer”, then this means that they probably have that musty old house, with a lot of books. Their humble abode probably has good lighting. A pipe is around somewhere, and at least one of the rooms is painted in a burgundy color. Perhaps there is a fireplace.

If someone is a “counselor”, then this means that they probably have volumes upon volumes of research lining their shelves. They think in research terms, and describe things as simple as a greeting to be a ‘process of psychosocial adaptation’ and so forth.

Yet, I am neither of these things. I would love to live either one of these lives, if not both. There are many days where I want to live life in all sorts of grand ways. As a truck driver. As a fisherman. And there are other days where I want to be a chef on television, or writing sitcoms for television. It all depends on my mood, really.

I don’t spend a great deal of time talking about the recession, because I don’t read enough about the recession to feel knowledgeable enough about the details of the recession. Whenever I speak up about the recession because it hurts me to see people I know and love hurting, someone else sprouts up and turns the whole thing into a debate so that they can show off their debating skills.

I could care less about debating skills, honestly. Debating skills are nice, and clever. Occasionally, they get people voted into things. But debating skills do not keep the lights on. Debating skills do not keep food in the fridge.

Those I know who are affected by the recession repeatedly share with me how taken aback they are to be searching for a new job, because they do not know how to do a job different from the one they know.

This breaks my heart, because I find that so many of us plant our identities in the jobs that we perform. Which is understandable, many take pride in what they do.

But when that pride becomes less about a job well done and more about a person well off, the focus shifts just a little bit. Our motivations change.

I once had the opportunity to see the activist Shane Claiborne speak. One thing that he said really resonated with me, where he had to fill out his current occupation on some sort of form, and not knowing what to put, he wrote “Lover”.

Everyone, of course, laughed. But in that laughter, a little bit of Truth hit me, that didn’t fully bloom until only recently.

See, Shane does things like speak at seminars and write books, which I suppose makes him a “writer”. But he also does things like help out homeless ministries in urban areas, and so forth.

And before too long, the list of what he does is too large to fit in a little box next to the term “occupation”.

Shane took his funny story and used it as a platform to explain what his calling is. How we as Christians are all lovers of Christ and all the people who inhabit this planet. How we are lovers who happen to do all these cool things on the side. Like writing. Like speaking. Like community organizing.

And by looking at things this way, my dad’s comments made sense. In a way, I already am a “counselor”. A “writer”. Sometimes I am a “chef”, and other times a “fisherman”.

But I am only these things in moments, because I do not find my identity in these occupations. These are not things that I define my life by, but rather things that I do for a little while.

And it is by looking at things this way that the big bad boogeyman of uncertainty doesn’t seem so large and looming. My career path isn’t nearly as frightening, because I have job security. For I too, am a Lover. Of God and others.

Everything else? Those are hobbies. Things that will come and go.

Today, I am thankful for this certainty. For this peace. For knowing my true career path. What are you thankful for today?

…for my valentine!

As a rule, I generally hate Valentine’s Day.

This is not necessarily because I was going steady forever and then had my heart broken, or even that Cupid has been following me everywhere shooting me in the back.

It’s a bit more subtle than that. I tend to hate Valentine’s Day in the same way that Christians tend to hate Halloween. I don’t really hate it, but I feel that as a single person, if I’m not actively protesting it, then I’m doing something wrong.

Today, however, was an exception. For the first time in twenty-one years (okay, okay, so the first five or so don’t count. I know), I felt content. I even felt released from my unwritten duty as a single person to condemn Valentine’s Day.

I spent a great deal of the day relaxed. I had breakfast and went to a wonderful church service. It wasn’t my home church, which threw me off kilter a bit, but when I stopped focusing on what I could get out of the service, and rather on what God could share with me through the service, I felt at ease.

The pastor spoke on living out God’s plan for our lives, even when that plan doesn’t line up with what we have in mind for our futures. Though the pastor mostly spoke in vague church language, I saw the real person budding up out of the recesses of himself as he shared with us memories of his college experience, and how God called him to ministry despite his business major.

I think about that a lot. I often have a picture of what my life will look like in my head. I think all of us do. Does it not keep us going? The problem, however, is whenever that image becomes too specific. Too refined. When that image ceases to be a guide and instead slowly transforms into an idol.

Letting go of that idol, I think, has a lot to do with my peaceful Valentine’s Day. I’m sure that anyone with a general knowledge of Psychology could and probably would attribute my thoughts to stages of grief, but I would argue otherwise.

Holding on to that idol was choking me! I often wonder what my life would look like were I dating. Occasionally, I have pictures in my head of mildly rebellious dates involving portable tea kettles in odd places or picnics on rooftops. It’s all very sappy and a little bit funny if you think about if for a while.

But these past two weeks have really changed the way that I look at all of this. All too often, I am focused upon me, and what I can get out of something. It is because of this that I play out every single possible outcome in my head so that I ideally leave with the best outcome. Which never happens.

I have really been convicted by what I can give in all of my friendships. Rather than organizing all of my “possibilities” in a way that works out the best for me, what if I instead looked at the people that God has immediately placed in my life, and wonder what I could do for them? What if I really loved the girls I know, rather than looking at them as “possibilities”?

I still have relapses, because I am a selfish person. And a curious person. For the uninitiated, this is a bad combination.

Just last night, I went with a couple of friends to see The Wolfman, because I have a soft spot in my heart for mocking movies with terrible dialogue and cartoonish special effects. The girl I sat next to was a friend of a friend, and during the silliest moments of the film, I tried to be charming, or at least what passes in my mind for charming.

There is this one scene where the werewolf decapitates someone, and I said, “Heads up!” with a wasn’t that kind of funny look to the girl next to me. Instead of even the faintest chuckle, I received the kind of glare that parents give their children when they interrupt a church service.

Those are the moments that worry me. Because those are the moments that I look into the idol of my future and see myself alone.

I didn’t have a moment like that today, because somewhere along the way, I realized that I am not alone.

Now, I have heard so many analogies between Jesus loving us and people loving other people that I think I might become blue in the face should anyone else mention another tired example. And yet, despite how silly our analogies may become, I feel that we continue to bring up these analogies because there is at least the teensiest little bit of Truth in them.

I thought about getting to know Jesus, and how different that is, really, from getting to know someone romantically. The small talk, the ups and downs. The connection that, at the end of the day, defies explanation.

How do you know when you love someone? Half of my friends tell me that it doesn’t matter whom you love, that destiny plays no part, and that you choose someone to love, whom you learn to love in time. The rest of my friends tell me that this is not the case, that we are destined to love a particular person.

There have been times where I have thought one camp to be completely right and the other completely wrong. And vice versa. Now, looking back on it all, I wonder if either camp is completely right at all. I wonder if each camp is right within a spectrum.

I think that love is a process. A choice. While I am hesitant to call it “destiny”, I have a great deal of difficulty denying this mystical aspect of love. Perhaps it is “destiny”, perhaps it is lunacy. I don’t know. But I feel that there is some sort of undeniable connection that all of us find in certain people that we don’t find in others. For whatever reason, we are drawn to specific people.

Give the credit to sociology. Give the credit to psychology. Give the credit to biology. But I wonder, perhaps, if there is something about the people in our lives, and that we just meet certain people. Not that it is necessarily “destiny” per se, but that there is something mystical about love. Something that is beyond our words. Beyond our logic.

The harder I try to apply a formula to love, the more exceptions I find.

So, in my relationship with Jesus, there is just something mystical about that. Some strange connection. And I felt it today.

I may be alone in the world’s eyes, but in God’s eyes I am not. When I look back towards the idol of what I think my future should look like, and am scared and lonely, I look ahead into the eyes of Jesus. And I realize, that doesn’t matter anymore.

I may find what everyday people recognize as “romantic love”. Then again, I may not. But that doesn’t matter, because Jesus is so much bigger than any of that.

I realize that it sounds lame and cultish to say that Jesus is your valentine. But there was something undeniable about the peace I’ve found all day. And in that peace, I’ve been able to let slowly go of the idol of what I think my future should look like. I’ve been able to look at the single life in an entirely different light. And it is for this that I am thankful. What are you thankful for today?

…for being wrong!

For the first time that I can ever remember, I’m actually very happy to be wrong.

Now, bear with me here. I haven’t lost all of my marbles. Yet.

The moment of realization in which one sees their own error gives way to one of two responses: that of complete and utter devastation, or that of complete and utter comfort.

You’ve heard it before. In Psychology, we call it “fight or flight”. My friends call it “withdrawal or embracing”. I’m still not sure what to call it, but by golly, I do recognize it now.

Two weeks ago, I was absolutely sure that change in my life needed to take place. And change was necessary. That much was right, in the way that everything is right or wrong within a spectrum rather than clearly drawn boundaries.

Certainty often produces a kind of vacuum. One writer that I am particularly fond of, Chuck Klosterman, states that “if you want to truly deduce how intelligent someone is, just ask this person how they feel about any issue that doesn’t have an answer; the more certainty they express, the less sense they have.”

In those moments two weeks ago where I decided that it was time to cut ties, I was completely devoid of any sense whatsoever. On paper, it made so much sense. In prayer, it made so much sense. During my walk, it made so much sense. But when I finally did it, and approached those people in the hallways days later, it stopped making any sense.

At was at that point that I decided to apologize. And from those conversations, from those moments, I hit a very large epiphany that I have been needing to hit for the longest time. My wonderful therapist, Jaymie, has been urging me to do so forever. But I have too proud, or too blind, to see it.

I need to open up.

And I have been doing so! At first, it was the most embarrassing thing, because there was all this baggage in those previous friendships that I thought I had to deal with. But that was before I realized that God was bigger than that baggage, and that it is not my duty to deal with it. It is my duty to deal with those people as they are in that moment.

I was right, I suppose, in a way. Right in the way that my friendships needed to change, as they desperately needed to. Walking away is not the kind of change that was needed, however. The focus of those friendships needed to change.

Rather than my tendency to keep others at a safe distance and try to extract what I selfishly could out of those friendships, I needed to focus on what I could give in those friendships.

So often, I am focused on what I can get out of something. This is why I second-guess myself, and plan every possibility as though life is a chess game, so that I end up with the best possible outcome. This is why I do things because I am single and lonely. Because I am worried about the future. Because I am worried about the now. Because I am worried.

But in a moment of rebuilding one of my broken friendships, I was talking and realized, that doesn’t matter anymore. My happiness? My future? No.

My life is not about me. My life is about what is in front of me.

And in that moment, worries about the future, about my “happiness” disspated. And in that moment I found true happiness.

Often still, I worry that this joy will slide and that “real life” will slip in and I will revert back to the way that I was before. And that is certainly possible. But it is that fear that makes me act in a manner that ensures this will happen.

In focusing on what God has directly placed in front of me, and the next step to take rather than what lay at the end of the road, those fears subside.

And I find joy. I find peace.

And though this is a daily thing; though this is something that I will have to strive towards as long as I am living, it is something worth living for. Worth living for.

It is for this reason that I am thankful. Unbelievably thankful. As thankful as I have been in the longest time ever. My hope is that you may find some truth in the truth I have been discovering lately, and become more thankful yourself. What are you thankful for today?