Giving Thanks

Something that I’ve been learning lately is the importance of actually giving thanks. I don’t mean the importance of being thankful, that’s something else entirely, and it absolutely is important. However, being thankful is an internal attitude, and for too many of us it never actually makes it to our lips. What I mean by ‘giving thanks’ is the importance of actually saying ‘thank you’, and not just as a polite missive, but actually sitting down with someone, or taking the time to write a note and tell someone why you are thankful for them.

This isn’t something that we often do, and it’s important both for ourselves, and for others. ┬áHaving a grateful attitude is a wonderful thing, and being a thankful person can go a long way towards making you a happier person. However, actually taking the time out of your day to stop and let someone know why your thankful for them, why they’re important to you, or what makes them awesome brings this attitude into reality.

You don’t have to write them a three page letter, or take them out to dinner (although that never hurts). Try starting simply by writing out a short note letting them know that you’re thankful for them and a few reasons why. Explain why they matter to you, why you love spending time with them, or what they’ve done to make your life better. I have to admit that I’m not very good at this yet, but I’m learning as I go.

Something that I’ve tried to make a practice of in my life is to not wait to say the important things. So often we don’t say the things that really matter because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of being rejected, afraid of being embarrassed, afraid of sounding stupid or sappy. We let our fears control us, and this costs us what could be important, meaningful moments with the people we care about. We don’t tell our friends that we love them, or that we’re thankful for them, or that they add value to our lives, and we should because by doing so we could return some of that value to them.

So, the next time you really want to say something nice to someone, but are afraid it might come off as ridiculous or that it might not be good enough, just say it.

Desiring Singleness

I know that I need to be single right now. I’ve mentioned this several times in previous posts. I need to be single, and I need to be content being single, and I need to want to be single. However, today I didn’t. I’m really not sure what it was, it wasn’t even a particular woman, but all day I just wanted something. I wanted someone to walk up and kiss me, to hold me, to tell me that she loved me, and to tell me that she admired me. I just wanted someone. I gave this to God, several times… or at least I tried to. That helped some, but the desire was still there, and this is my struggle right now.

I want to be content. I want to be happy. And there are days that I am completely content to be single. However, that wasn’t what I was made for. I know that, I can feel it my bones, in my heart, but I also know that it’s a desire that I need to let go. Not to give up on, I think I’ve made that clear. Even on those days where I’ve been completely content in my singleness, I’ve still known that it wasn’t going to last, but I need to let the desire go, to learn to be satisfied without it.

I struggled for a good part of the day with the feeling that no-one could love me as well. That is to say that there is something in me that is simply unlovable, undesirable, and that no-one will ever get past that. The feeling that I’ll always be the second choice, the ‘nice guy, but…’. I know that this comes from the way I was raised, and I can see the way that its been reinforced by the relationships I’ve sought out, and I honestly know that it’s not true… at least, I know that it’s probably not true. The feeling though… yeah.

Feelings are powerful. Much as we laud the reason (more than we really should, honestly), feelings are often more powerful in our lives. I know that there are people who love me, but I rarely feel that love. I know that I have good qualities that would make me a very desirable man, but I generally don’t feel desirable. The difference between knowing something and feeling something is pretty hard to overstate (not that it can’t be overstated… seriously, you can overstate anything).

David Hume once wrote that “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” I teach an ethics class and my students have to interact with this quote, so its safe to say that over the years I’ve seen just about every interpretation (good and bad) that you can draw out of this statement. Honestly, I generally disagree with a lot of Hume’s reasoning. God is real, man is not inherently good, and his passions do not lead him to inherently good ends. However, this quote… it has legs. Even if we don’t like it, the fact is that we are generally driven by our passions. Our feelings run away with us… our reason rarely does.

We use reason to justify our desires, good and bad. We use reason to be effective in our desires, but we aren’t driven by our reason. It’s the same way with our feelings. We feel things, we have gut impressions, and we use our knowledge to help us understand them. However, no matter how much we ‘know’, those feelings are powerful and lasting. They aren’t easily changed, and even when they do change, we keep trending back towards the original feeling, and we have to maintain the change that we’ve made in our lives.

I think… well, I hope that I’m in the process of changing the feelings that I’ve listed above. I’ve been trying to change them for a long time. Trying and failing. I have no doubt that God can change them, but God generally takes his time to work in us. Free will and all that balagan. It takes time to change, and the more deep-seated the thing that has to change, the longer it takes and the more it hurts. I have a feeling this is going to be a long, frustrating summer. Still, I think it will be a good summer in the long-run. The dawn only follows the darkness, right? Well… that’s what I’m holding onto right at this moment, anyway. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a happier day.

Fasting and Internalization

You people are all insane. I hope you know that. I run another blog… no, you don’t get to find out what blog it is (anonymity, remember?) and it took me forever to build up a following on that blog. So far I’ve kept a pretty steady ratio of posts to followers here and I don’t understand that at all. Seriously people, what I have to say isn’t that interesting, and it certainly isn’t particularly important. Why in the world do you want to read my random thoughts?

Well, now that that’s out of my system, I finished my fast today. It was good… strange, but good. I’ve always had an easy time fasting… don’t get me wrong, when I’m prideful and decide that I should just fast for three days to be ‘spiritual’ I usually last about six hours before eating something. However, I’ve always tried to make a practice of only fasting when God tells me to fast, when there’s a particular purpose to the fast beyond exercising my own arrogant self-righteousness. So, what I mean is that when God tells me to fast, he makes it easy. I can’t take any credit for fasting being easy, it’s simply God making allowance for my many and varied weaknesses.

This fast was not easy. God provided in my distress. He gave me the strength, but for the entire first day of my fast I just wanted to eat something. I couldn’t go fifteen minutes without thinking about getting a hamburger, or a steak, or an ice cream cone… whatever. For the life of me I couldn’t get my mind off of food, but God takes care of us in our times of need. The second day of the fast was a little easier, though when my roommate started cooking hamburgers on his grill I nearly lost it, and then today was the easiest of all.

Still, the fast was streching, challenging, and summative. I honestly feel like what God’s been trying to do was mostly done before my fast even started… although the two weeks of periodically fasting from sleep might have had something to do with that. Nonetheless, fasting is an important ritual. It’s provided a good, clear ending to this lesson (not that the lesson is actually over). It’s important to have these memorable moments in our lives that let us remember the lessons that we learn. The things that help us to internalize these lessons, and that is the point, isn’t it, to internalize these lessons? To make them a part of our daily lives, a part of our overall spiritual experience? The goal is to let God actually change us, instead of simply listening and then assuming that something magical happened, even though we haven’t actually learned anything or changed in any fundamental way.

This is one of the things that ritual does for us. It finalizes things, gives us a place to look back to and say, ‘Yes, I remember when God taught me that…’ So, all in all, ┬áthe week was good, God humbled me a little, loved me a little, pushed me a little, and taught me a little, and I hope that I’ve come out the better for it. I guess only time will tell in the end.

Hope

I know what it’s like to live without hope. I’m not there right now, actually I’m doing pretty well right now. I find that I’ve finally come to a place where I’m not looking for anything. I’ve always been looking for something, a better job, a relationship, someone to love me, someone to support me, a new hobby, a new degree program, or some new thing… always something. However, recently God has had me waiting. I honestly have no idea what I’m waiting for, I’m just waiting. I’m not applying to any jobs, not sending out resumes, not applying to schools, and I’m not looking for a relationship.

At first this was really hard because it felt like giving up. I thought I was on my way back to that point of utter and complete hopelessness, that God was, for some reason, commanding me to dive back into the depths of suicidal misery, and I do actually mean that literally. I’m not being melodramatic, two years ago I was suicidal for about four months. I also spent Jr. High and High school trying to get myself run over by cars. However, that’s a story for another time. I’ve found that the secret when I’m suicidal is to remember that my life is not my own. It is not my right to end my life. Only God has the right to choose when I die.

However, back on track, that hasn’t happened. It’s been hard, especially the last couple of weeks, but God is bringing me to a point where I actually do rely on him and find my meaning, my purpose, and my self in him. As I wait, I find that I am becoming more comfortable waiting. Not the hopeless, giving up kind of comfortable that proceeds suicidal desperation, but a comfortable expectation that the waiting will end at some point, and that God will use it to make me better.

I love my job, and while I’d like more work sometimes, and could certainly use more money, I know that what I do matters. I have friendships that need work, but I also have friendships that are meaningful and that allow me both to sharpen others (which I love doing), and to be sharpened (which I need). Finally, for the first time in a very, very long time, I’m comfortable being single. There are one or two women that I’m interested in, but I don’t need anyone else in my life.

I’ve been happy before, but it was always something of a circumstantial happiness. There’s nothing wrong with this, circumstances can make us happy, but they can’t be relied upon to make us happy. Circumstances change, good things come and go, but our happiness doesn’t need to do so. We can be joyful because God is with us. As the Psalmist said, he is our portion and our part. Actually, even more telling, Jeremiah says this in the middle of Lamentations, which is a book that thoroughly expresses the feeling of hopelessness and depression.

I’m finally beginning to learn to simply be happy, not because of something that I have or something that I’m doing, but because I have him. I am simply content, and satisfaction is the key to happiness. Like me, many of us spend so much time searching for one thing or another that we forget how to be content, and contentedness is not only important, but also commanded.

So, simply put, I’m learning to be happy, and to let go of pain. Giving things up always happens differently. When I gave up my hate it happened almost overnight after I first got saved. One day I hated everyone and everything, and the next I didn’t. However, God took almost a decade to change my suspicion and distrust into a complete and total trust of him, and many of those lessons were very painful. When I gave up my anger he had me fast for three days, and I gave up my anger on the first. No, this… I’m learning to be happy, learning to let go of my pain, and I am fasting, but I think this is going to be more of a process. God works in mysterious ways, but he never stops working, and he always knows what he’s doing.