Feeling Down

Sometimes you don’t even have words to explain how you feel. There are times when this is due to the extremity of the emotion. It is certainly possible to feel love, joy, pain, fear, or despair to such an extreme degree that all words fail. To the point where you actually do simply stop trying to explain how you feel. I can say this because I’ve been at that point for each of these emotions. I can’t explain how terrifying it was to be chased through the woods with someone trying to shoot me. I can’t describe how much I loved a certain young woman who broke my heart several years ago (I’ve written about this before). I think this is probably true for any emotion. We are capable of feeling things that we simply can’t describe in any meaningful way, and this is not surprising. Much as we revere them, words are really an incredibly weak medium. However, sometimes it isn’t the extremity or intensity of an emotion that makes it difficult to explain. Sometimes it is the sheer complexity and variety of interacting emotions that become difficult to parse.

Lately I’ve been feeling rather unwanted and unappreciated. Some of this has to do with a difficult class that I’ve just finished. Some of it has to do with deciding to give up on flowergirl. Some of it has to do with being continually turned down by women in general. Some of it has to do with my spiritual life, which has been rather dry lately. Some of it has to do with the simple day to day drudgery of my life. Ultimately, I’m feeling joyful, depressed, stoic, sad, frustrated, excited, fearful, relieved, and hopeless all at the same time. A while back I started talking to a lady over eHarmony (I mentioned that I paid for a year long account this summer). Today she and I decided that, while we both liked the other, there wasn’t anything more than friendship in our future. This is one of the few times that I’ve had this actually be a mutual decision. She and I were both honestly relieved and we both look forward to talking again. I also asked another lady… let’s call her Paula… for her number today… well, yesterday technically. That is, I asked for her number yesterday, put her name into my phone, and then tried to text her with a name only and no number. I ran into her again today and got her number. However, I’m not really one to wait… that’s not entirely true. Perhaps its better to say that I’m interested in this woman and I don’t particularly want to play games, so I texted her earlier tonight. So far, there’s been no response.

I don’t know that I’m honestly surprised about this, and it is certainly a part of the ‘unwanted, unappreciated’ feeling that I mentioned above. However, it certainly isn’t the entirety of it. In general, I talk to people. I reach out. I call. I text. I walk over to say hello. It’s relatively rare for someone to reach out to me, and the past few months it’s been even rarer than normal. Honestly, I rather feel like I could disappear off of the face of the earth and no one would be significantly affected. This feeling is generally exacerbated by the kind of tacit rejections that are all to common in my life. Personally, I much prefer it when a woman tells me, ‘I think you’re a really great person, but I’m just not interested’. This is significantly better than the tacit, silent rejections that seem to be the norm among… well, women in general. Honestly, what makes it harder is to then watch these women find someone that they are interested in, and again I get left behind.

In a lot of ways I feel like the cliche little boy, standing cold and alone in the dark and snow with his face pressed against some families window, watching everyone else enjoy what he can never have. At the same time, I honestly am happy for my friends and acquaintances who have found love and who are doing well in life. Sometimes I just want to cry, but then I haven’t been able to express pain through tears for… well, longer than I can remember. Even when that young lady gave me a heart attack I couldn’t cry. I tried, and I almost did. I could feels the tears, but I couldn’t manage to coax them out.

I care about people. I do my best to show this, and I don’t want to ask for things in return. Like with Flowergirl, I try to do for others without thinking about myself. I want to do for others without thinking about myself. I want to be able to love God first and to love others completely and not worry about myself. To be honest though, I’m a little pansy wimp. Much as I want to be strong and take care of others… I think I need some people in my life who are interested in taking care of me. Problem is… I’m pretty sure everyone forgets that I exist when I’m not actually there in front of them.

It’s Impossible I Tell You!

I have a superman complex. Especially when it comes to romantic relationships. Show me a young, broken, hurting woman who is not ready or willing to commit to a serious relationship and I’ll pursue her for all I’m worth, convinced that I can heal her wounds and we’ll live happily ever after. So far this hasn’t worked well for me, but I think it’s symptomatic of a more significant problem both in me and in American culture as a whole.

As a culture we push for the impossible. This is evident in our entertainment media, in our heroes, in our attitudes, and in the things that we pursue. As a culture we strongly emphasize pursing and doing things that should be impossible. I’ve talked a lot about doing hard things, and I think that it is important to do the things that are hard. The things that challenge us, stretch us, and push us are also the things that grow us as individuals and as a community. It is important to challenge ourselves, to push ourselves, and to set goals the require us to rely on God and on others. That being said, it is equally important to set goals that are realistically achievable.

Actually, one of the foundational keys to success is to set achievable goals, and this is something that we aren’t often encouraged to do. American media and culture encourages us to ‘reach for the stars’, ‘believe in the impossible’, and ‘trust that we can be whatever we want’. However, this has led to a patent and pervasive denial of realism. A few days ago I spoke with a friend of mine who is currently frustrated with waiting for her boyfriend to be ready to commit. I challenged her to set a realistic goal concerning how long she would wait, and her response was ‘I’ll wait for him forever’. While this certainly sounds romantic, it never actually works. We hear stories about the few people who can do something like this, who wait for their beloved for 10, 12, 15, or 20 years. I once knew a man who pursued his ex-wife (who had left him) for sixteen years before finally winning her back. I have to admit that there is a part of me that wishes I could do that, but I can’t. I’ve tried. I can last a few months, maybe a year… but my record is two years before finally giving up.

The attitude that ‘I can do anything’ is clearly and utterly ridiculous. For instance, as an extreme example, I can’t walk out the door of my favorite coffee shop and fly away. I am limited by my physical capabilities. I will also never be an astronaut. I am not mathematically minded enough nor committed enough to truly succeed in this career. Thankfully, I’ve never particularly wanted to be an astronaut. However, the principle is sound. We are all limited by our physical, intellectual, emotional, and psychological abilities, and while it is important to expand those abilities, it is equally important to set goals that are achievable within those abilities. Through hard work, determination, and commitment I can successively set grander and more difficult goals. However, those successive goals must be representative of my expanding abilities (i.e. they must remain achievable).

All to often the attitude I see in myself, and in others, is that I can do anything without effort. I set grand goals for myself (like healing a broken heart or waiting for years for someone) that are not even remotely achievable within my current capabilities. Often I see the same in my students. I can’t count the number of students who have declared to me, in grammatically atrocious (barely understandable) English, that they are going to get a Ph.D. in whatever their chosen field may be. Some are willing to do the word it takes to improve their writing and thinking abilities, but many are not, and this makes their goal clearly unattainable. Doing hard things doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, effort, commitment, and a willingness to suffer in order to obtain even minor steps towards our overall goals. The impossible isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be easy. It it was, then it wouldn’t be impossible.

Safety in Love

Sometimes we fall into sin. It’s not necessarily that we want to, or that we go looking for it (though there are times that we do), but sometimes we just fall into it. St. Teresa of Avilla referred to sin as ‘snakes and lizards’ or ‘the little lizards’ in her book Interior Castles, and she makes the point throughout that text that they are present at each stage of the Christian journey. Hopefully as we mature certain sins are left behind, those old struggles simply make way for new ones that we don’t realize were a problem… until God makes it clear to us.

However, when we fall into sin God always gives us a way to walk out. Sometimes that way is hard to see and hard to take. Sometimes it means making a herculean effort just to get up and walk away. Sometimes that way out is shockingly easy, like when my teenage niece messages me for advice on boys just as I start looking for something to watch that involves lots of naked people and sex. I think it would be downright impossible to talk to my niece about the guy she likes and watch porn at the same time. The two are simply antithetical to one another. This was the way out that God provided me today in a very weak moment, and I can’t explain how thankful I am for it.

The phrase ‘love conquers all things’ is often used to describe the frustrations, pains, and fears that romantic love brings with it. However, this isn’t the only apt reference for this particular phrase. True love is not confined to romance. True love hopefully exists between romantic partners, but it also exists between parent and child, siblings, close friends, and in many other kinds of relationships. True love, in fact, is all around us. It is in the way I talk to the barista at my favorite coffee shop. It is in the way I listen to my friends work problems. It is in the way I stop to help the homeless man on the side of the road. And it is in the way I walk away from sin to help my niece.

When I allow the love of God to flow through me into others it takes me away from sin. Thus, just as the love of Christ conquered the grave, that love in me conquers sin that will lead me into a grave of my own. On the other hand, when I step out of that love, death finds a welcome home in my heart and sin comes all too easily. My sin is conquered by his love and this is something that I need to hold onto. It’s something that I need to remember when I am weak, and when I think that I am strong. This is what I must run to when I am tempted.

Rain

I was going to write another entry on my thoughts about manhood today, but it’s just not coming to me right now. Today has been a rainy day. Unlike the short, sudden downpours that we’ve been having all summer (the ones that I can only describe as God pissing on Lynchburg), today has been wet, dreary, and rainy all day long. Yet this somehow seems appropriate. Water is cleansing, and at the moment my mind and heart could certainly use a cleansing. I made dinner for flowergirl and her roommates last night, and I think it went fairly well. We all ate, and everyone enjoyed the meal, and then one roommate left for a concert and the other went to bed, leaving flowergirl and I alone. We cleaned up and talked for about two hours. I think it was a wonderful conversation about philosophy, politics, and life… I have no idea if she would agree with me. Much as I think the dinner went well, I am now more convinced than ever that she has absolutely no romantic interest in me. Still, God hasn’t told me to date her, or to romance her, or to pursue a relationship with her. He’s told me to love her well, and to expect nothing in return. This, I think, is thoroughly annoying.

I am left with the feeling that no woman will ever truly love me. I don’t honestly believe that this is true, and yet at the same time I do. As much as God has grown me this summer, as much as he’s taught me about joy and satisfaction in him, the idea that a woman would ever put my needs and desires before her own seems anathema to me. Yet, now more than ever, I know that the most significant thing that I am looking for in a romantic partner (among an array of desires) is a woman who will make me a high priority in her life. Actually, I’m looking for a woman who will make me the second priority in her life, right after her relationship with God. I think that this is personal growth, at least growth of a sort. In the past I’ve always pursued women who needed me or women who would let me love them, and I’ve always been hurt.

Earlier this week (…I might have written this down, not sure) a friend of mine, in an off-hand comment, told me that I should be picky. I honestly don’t know what he intended when he said that (though, given the context of the conversation is was clearly about my dating life), but the comment has stayed with me, and it’s meant a lot to me. Honestly, I’ve always felt like the bottom of the barrel romantically. A part of me wants to say that I’ve always been made to feel like the bottom of the barrel, and I’m not entirely sure that statement would be untrue, but it feels like a lack of responsibility. Regardless of how others treat me, I decide how I see myself. That being said, I have generally been treated like the bottom of the romantic barrel by the majority of the women in my life. However, the key here is that I’ve always felt like the bottom of the barrel.

Regardless of how people have treated me, I’ve looked at myself and seen someone that no woman would want. I’ve seen someone who’s place is to give love, but not receive it. I’m not completely sure that I’m past this. I still look at myself and can’t imagine a woman ever wanting to love me. I still see someone who is fundamentally undesirable in some indefinable way, and at the moment I’m still not sure how to change this. However, I think actively looking for someone who is willing to love me as much as I love her, instead of looking for someone who simply needs love but won’t give it. I also realized a couple of weeks ago (and I’m pretty sure I did mention this) that it actually wouldn’t matter to me if flower-girl wasn’t a virgin. This is the first time I’ve been attracted to a woman and not truly and deeply worried about this.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly hope she is, even if only for her sake. I also still hope that I wind up marrying a virgin. However, in the past I have been afraid that I’d wind up with a woman who wasn’t a virgin. I’ve been afraid of being judged, or of not measuring up, or of… whatever. Of something going horribly wrong and my new wife, whoever she may be, finding herself completely sexually dissatisfied with me. I have not had this issue with flowergirl. It really just hasn’t been an issue. At the moment I’m not entirely sure whether to attribute this to some personal growth in myself (conceivably possible) or to something about her (…also possible…) or to something particular about my feelings for her (also possible… perhaps the most likely, not sure though).

Ultimately, I think I still have some growing to do. Probably a lot of growing to do. Its entirely possible that I’ll spend my life alone, and I think that’s something that I’m still afraid of. However, I also think that this summer has brought a lot of spiritual and personal growth in me, and that is most definitely a good thing.

Waiting…

In his poem If Rudyard Kipling expresses what makes a man. The poem as a while is incredibly powerful, and his opening lines are deeply evocative, especially the line ‘If you can wait and not be tired by waiting’. This is something that I’ve never been particularly good at. I’m an impatient man, especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships, and this is something that has caused me many problems, especially since I tend to fall for women who aren’t really ready for a relationship. This year has been all about waiting. It started in the spring when God put returning to school on my heart, but told me to wait until the fall to apply… for the next fall. I would have been perfectly happy to put in an application last spring and be starting now, but that wasn’t the plan. Although, considering that it took me a full month to actually fill out the application in the first place (I started it September 1st and finished it September 30th… haven’t put it in yet), it isn’t really surprising that God told me to wait. He’s also had me in a time of enforced singleness, my own choice up through about June, and after that… well, you’ve all read about my cringe inducing romantic escapades. Today I found out that the young lady to whom I sent flowers (go read a few posts back) simply isn’t ready for a relationship. She didn’t tell me this herself (though I have a feeling she’s recognized my interest, though I haven’t formally acknowledged it and don’t plan to for a while), but a friend of hers told me. I had kind of figured it out for myself though. She’s seemed completely neutral to my approaches so far, blundering as they may be. She hasn’t discouraged me in any way, but she hasn’t encouraged me either. I take this to mean that she has some interest, but doesn’t actually want to be pursued at the moment. So, I’m back to waiting.

Of course, in my prayers, God has been confirming this for some time. Every time that I’ve prayed about this woman God has told me ‘just love her well’. Of course, I want him to tell me ‘yes, she’s the one for you’ or ‘she’s going to fall hard for you’ or ‘you’re already in her heart’, but what he tells me instead is ‘just love her well’. So, this is exactly what I plan to do. I am going to love her as well as I possibly can, and trust God with whatever the outcome might be. At the moment I am coming to terms with the idea that it is very possible that nothing will ever happen, and that this is alright. My job, my only job, is to be her friend and make her smile as much as I can. At the moment I’m actually pursuing other women, although this is (at least in part) to keep myself from pursuing her. I know myself, and I know that if I ‘wait’ for her then I won’t be waiting at all, I’ll be pushing. I don’t honestly expect anything to happen with any of the other women that I’m talking to, but if something does I’m certainly not opposed to it.

I’ve asked her roommate to help keep me accountable in this as well. Hopefully she’ll be able to keep me in line and to keep me from doing anything stupid. However, I suppose we’ll see what happens. Today I was asked to briefly describe my ideal woman by one of the other women I’m talking to. The following was my response:

My ideal woman? Honestly I’m not sure I believe in ideal people at this point. She would have to be spiritually and emotionally mature; confident and strong, but vulnerable and actively wanting to submit; desiring to love, support, and cherish me as thoroughly as I will her; willing to initiate things (I don’t mean ask me out or propose here, but once I’ve made the first step she would have to be willing and able to pursue me); intelligent and nerdy (capable of holding her own in conversation); kind; gentle; beautiful (this includes physical appearance, but I think that beautiful refers to the entire person, not just looks); caring for others and someone who will sharpen me spiritually; and probably has a fairly good income and benefits (my career path, unfortunately, is not the most lucrative) though this last would really just be a nice plus if it was the case.

Honestly, I think this is a solid description of the core of what I’m looking for. I’m just not convinced that she exists… We’ll see though. I know that God has a plan, and I trust that he’ll bring the right woman into my life at the right time. I just wish that time was right now.

A Life of Worship

It seems that I have a lot more to say when I’m struggling with things than I do when I’m not struggling. Honestly, I don’t suppose that should really surprise anyone. I think we all tend to have more to say when we are struggling with God. The issues in our lives tend to be more evident when God makes them undeniably clear to us. In turn, this obviously means that we pay more attention to them, and that we have more to say about them. All to often I (we) have little to say when life is good. The reason for this is, I think, very simple. In the church today there is a dearth of true worship in the church. I have much to say when I am struggling with God because my struggles are at the forefront of my mind. I am frustrated with God, frustrated with myself, and I want everything to be better. However, when things are better I am not thankful. E.M. Bounds illustrates the difference between thankfulness and gratitude in his book The Essentials of Prayer. Bounds argues that gratitude is inward focused and negatively associated (i.e. not that gratitude is a negative or bad thing, but in association with action gratitude, being focused inward, is negatively focused because it does not produce action). Thankfulness, Bounds argued, is outwardly focused and positively associated (i.e. again, towards action: that thankfulness, being outwardly focused, produces action). I find that I agree with him in this, and I think that both are necessary for a life of true worship.

Obviously one may demonstrate thankfulness without being grateful. This happens quite often when we utter words of thanks to God or to others, even though we are inwardly bitter, angry, or disappointed. This is, of course, hypocritical (i.e. hupokrites refered to an actor, so a hypocrite is literally one who acts), but we are often hypocritical in our lives without paying much attention or care to our hypocrisy (this is something that has strongly disabused younger generations [who value genuineness greatly] from the mainstream church). So, we go through the motions of thankfulness with no true spirit of gratitude. I have found, in my own life, that this often leads to even deeper feelings of disappointment and resentment. I have, many times, felt truly grateful for the trials and struggles that God has put me through. However, I have also (probably more often) been thankful out of a sense of obligation. I suppose Kant would argue that acting on this sense of obligation, especially when my feelings ran counter to it, was the most truly good action. However, while I have great respect of the man, this is one place where I think that I profoundly disagree with Kant.

Sacrificial love is, in my opinion, a beautiful and very important thing. However, love that is truly sacrificial is gracious and grateful as well. It is not resentful, which is what I find my hypocritical thankfulness often turning towards. To act out of obligation is good as long as the action is truly genuine as well. I may thank God for trials because I am obligated to do so, and still feel truly grateful for those trials. However, if I give obligatory thanks in bitterness and resentment, I cannot find the wherewithal to call this ‘good’. Thus, I must argue that this kind of hypocritical thankfulness is not good.

However, one may also clearly be grateful without being thankful. I have often found myself in this place: filled with a feeling of grateful contentment, but so focused on my own internal pleasures that the outward exercise of thankfulness disappears. St. Teresa of Avila warned of this in The Mansions. St. Teresa claimed that she had known several sisters (she was a nun and so her writings were generally directed towards the sisters) who became so overwhelmed by the internal pleasures of God’s gracious love that they ceased all activities. She called this a deathly illness (though it isn’t entirely clear if she meant physically or spiritually) and called on the ranking sisters to keep watch on nuns who showed signs of this malady. St. Teresa claimed that this cessation of outward activity was a sign of spiritual weakness that would inevitably delay or even halt the spiritual growth of the sisters so affected.

I have to admit that I have seen this in my own life. There have been times when I hoarded God’s love and compassion, keeping it to myself and enjoying my time with God without letting anyone else benefit. When my spiritual life is turned entirely inwards it doesn’t stop being real, but it stops being prosperous. When we turn our affections entirely inward then, as Paul said to the Corinthians, we are edified, but the body is not. However, when we keep our holy affections balanced, with a strong inward life of spiritual gratitude that spills over into an outward life of thanksgiving and praise, then we edify not only ourselves, but the body as a whole. This is, I think, the best life that I could hope for, and I hope that it is the path that I am now on.

Lacking Certainty

I like to be sure about things. In most ways I’m not a control freak (though I absolutely used to be), but in this way I still very much am. I like to be certain of the outcome before I do something major… like ask out a friend. The flowers I sent the other day met, according to my inside source, with a mixed reaction. They were viewed as sweet, but also a little odd and possibly kind of creepy. This isn’t the reaction that I expected, and to make matters worse I had a wonderful conversation with the young lady in question that very evening (though flowers were never mentioned). This conversation made me want to pursue her even more, but at the moment the only thing that I’m even remotely confident of is that she is completely oblivious to my interest.

This does not jive (yes, I just used the word jive) well with my need for certainty. I want to know how things are going to turn out, not guess. Of course, this desire isn’t limited to my romantic endeavors. I want to know many things. This has been a consistent struggle between myself and God. When he asks me to do something my first question is always ‘why?’ I have to know, and I fight him on it like mad until I do know. I’m sure some of you remember the occasion a couple of months ago when God asked me to invite a young woman to lunch. I fought with him about that for days simply because I didn’t understand why. The question ‘why’ is often my obsession. I always want to know why, and it is excruciating for me to be kept in the dark.

Of course, this obsession is often antithetical to actually trusting God in things. The absolute need to know ‘why’ contravenes the willingness to actually trust his wisdom. It is, needless to say (or at least I hope you could come to this conclusion on your own), quite frustrating. God has taken a lot of time to teach me how to trust, and still I am often very bad at it. Instead of simply trusting him and following, I obsess over the why questions and tear them apart. I will play out scenes in my head a thousand different ways trying to understand the whys and predict the outcomes. I’m usually wrong.

I think that I am slowly learning how to obsess less over things. Still, this morning (when I found out about this woman’s reaction to my gift) was particularly bad. I wound up pushing a friend (my source) for information (that she didn’t have in the first place) much harder than the situation warranted, precisely because I wanted to know. I have argued in a number of places that it is fundamentally impossible to know anything about the world that we live in. Knowledge=creative authority, and man does not have creative authority over the world. We interact with the world through our perceptions, and form beliefs based on those perceptions. Then we develop those beliefs into certainties, and act on them (not necessarily in that order). However, at no point in this process do we actually know anything about the world.

Nonetheless, even though I believe that it is fundamentally impossible, I want to know! This has caused me plenty of trouble in the past, and I have no doubt that it will continue to cause me trouble in the future. Nonetheless… while I can work on this issue, as I do often, I can’t simply wave it away until and unless God decides to intervene on my behalf. So, instead I focus on doing my best to be the best person that I can be, and to love others (this woman included) as best I can. I focus on glorifying God as much as I am able, and be his forgiveness, and the forgiveness of others for my failures (as I must do of my friend tomorrow).

I also do my best to do the best. Which means that I am going to stop agonizing over certainty and just ask this woman out. I’m going to try to keep it simple. I’m not going to make a great confession of love or anything. I’m just going to ask her on a date and see what she says. Hopefully it won’t blow up in my face.