Lies, All Lies!

This afternoon I was overwhelmed by the crushing certainty that I am always going to be alone. I am old (well, comparatively to many of my friends) and still somewhat overweight, even though I exercise regularly and work hard not to overeat. I don’t make much money, and a lot of the time I still feel like I don’t have much to offer. I understand that it’s unlikely that I will ever marry a young, beautiful woman. Sometimes that hurts, and sometimes I’m honestly not sure that I want to. However, this emotional certainty that I would always be alone filled a part of my day with pain. It passed quickly enough, much like the majority of such lies, but left behind desires that I would rather not entertain, also much like the majority of such lies.

Life is often painful. We all have lies that we’ve built up over the years, lies that are buried deep in our psyche and help to form our fundamental self-image. These lies might come from old pains, from rejections, from childhood traumas… whatever. The lies that we believe can spring from any number of sources and none of them make those lies valid or true (they are two different things). I’ve often believed the lie that I have nothing to offer women, that I’m just not what women want, by citing the many rejections that I have under my belt. Honestly, this often seems like a valid defense for this lie, but sometimes I have to wonder. There have been times that this challenged my trust… honestly there are still times that it challenges my trust. Rejection can be very difficult to deal with. It can tear you apart quickly and easily, and sometimes that leaves you with little to hold on to. Enough rejection and it’s easy to start assuming that you will be rejected. This isn’t just true with women, but with every aspect of life. It’s easy to assume that you’ll be rejected at everything you do.

Honestly, I can count the number of times someone has tried to set me up on one hand. Heh, I used to ask some of my closer friends to set me up. I had one friend who used to tell me repeatedly that she ‘didn’t know anyone good enough for me’… I quickly took this to mean ‘I don’t know anyone on whom I’d inflict you’. The thing is this has more to do with me than it ever did with her… well, a little… honestly I’ve never been very sure that this particular friend likes me very much. I know that she loves me, but I’m not sure that she actually likes me. Still, it’s probably likely that this is more me than her also.

As I said, all of this has challenged by trust for God in the past, and it continues to challenge that trust. I still wonder if I’m going to be alone forever. I’m still not comfortable with that thought. I know that God should be sufficient. That I should be joyful in the midst of my doubt and in my loneliness. It’s still a challenge though. I am getting much better at rejoicing in the midst of pain, but this is still something of which I’m terrified. I even pointed out the other day that God told me to wait, that it wasn’t time yet for him to bring the right woman into my life. Of course, this all implies that there is actually reason to hope. Still, there are days when I trust and hope, and then there are days when I’m thoroughly terrified of being eternally alone.

I’m also just afraid of rejection in general. I finally started my application to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (for next fall) and, halfway through, was thoroughly convinced that there is no way they will let me in. I’m too old, I don’t do enough in the church, I don’t read enough, my grades are too low, I’m in too much debt, etc, etc, etc. I think about a hundred reasons why they would reject me ran through my head. Needless to say, I didn’t quite finish the application, though I got through more than half of it. Nonetheless, I knew that starting it would be difficult, this is why I started a full year before I hope to start. My goal is to have the application done my the end of the month, and then go from there. I’m terrified, and fairly certain that I won’t be able to hack it even if, by some miracle, they do let me in.

Here’s the thing though, with both woman and with seminary. I’ve been rejected… a lot… in both areas of my life, but God has grown me in the past seven years. Part of that growth has come through repeated rejections. Nonetheless, I know that if he wants me in seminary, then he will put me there, and I know that when he will put me there. It will probably take a miracle to get me back into school, and it will probably take a miracle for any woman to fall for me. However, God is in the business of miracles. It’s what he does, and he knows when best to perform them. So, all I can do is trust him and wait.

But then God

It’s easy to focus on the things that suck. Rejection is… memorable, and pain rather demands attention. The empty places in our lives stand out like gaping potholes in the middle of the road. The street might be 90% fine, but that one pothole is still hard to miss. Even if you don’t see it, you’ll definitely notice when you drive over it. It’s easy to notice the potholes, and it’s easy to notice only the potholes. The fact that the rest of the street is in pristine condition is relatively unimportant as the car bounces through that frustrating little pit. Life is often the same way. Most of life can be going quite well, but it’s still the potholes that we notice. The things that we don’t have, the things that aren’t going the way we want, aren’t things that we have to look for. They stand out and demand our attention, often with jabbing blades of intractable pain and frustration. Repeatedly I come back to the unwavering truth of Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire granted is a tree of life.”

I am quite sure that anyone who has spent much time reading this journal can guess what my deferred hope is. Well, there are a few, honestly, but one that seems to always rise to the surface. It’s also easy to say that I trust God. It’s easy to mouth the words, to play the game, to say that I’m alright with it, or that I’m getting used to it, or that it doesn’t matter that much. Unless you are utterly and completely broken it’s pretty easy to fake comfort and spiritual wholeness. To fake a relationship with God.

Do hard things. I really love that maxim. We have to do the hard things because those are the things that really make life worthwhile, and confronting our own dissatisfaction, our pain, our despair, our foolish pride and hopeless frustration is hard. It’s hard to let those things go and actually trust God. It’s hard to live day to day and honestly believe that God will fill in the potholes, even though he hasn’t yet. It’s hard to have hope, and it’s hard to trust him, and it’s hard to wait.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem titled IF. The poem as a whole is about what it means to be a man, but first stanza points out the difficulty of waiting:

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

It is hard to wait. Hard to maintain that hope and trust in the absence of desire-specific evidence. It’s hard not to give up, but it’s equally as hard to give up. I’ve tried and failed multiple times, and this is the crux of the problem. If I could just give up and move on with my life, viewing my singleness as a blessing in my life (which I’m sure it often has been), or if I could find a woman to love and who would love me in return, then this particular hole could be filled. That isn’t where God has brought me though. He has put me in a place of waiting, of hope deferred, and that is very hard.

That being said, being in this place of waiting has also taught me a lot about God, and his relationship with me. In the Old Testament God repeatedly presents himself as the jilted bridegroom, waiting for his bride to be a loyal, loving wife. Waiting for her to come around, to stop running to other men for comfort and satiation. Hosea probably presents the best picture of this, but it is a theme that runs throughout the Old Testament.

My life of hope deferred gives me some little microcosm of understanding. I can’t imagine the pain, the grief, the sorrow that fills God every time I run to something other than him, or every time the Israelites ran to something other than him, or every time any believer chooses something else over him (and we all do). However, I can understand that pain of waiting, of hope deferred, of repeated rejection, and that understanding lets me see just a little bit of the character of God. A character that led him to pursue the nation of Israel for over almost four thousand years. A character that led him to pursue the church for two thousand years. A character that led him to work in the lives of generations of believers and unbelievers, drawing them to him, loving them, forgiving them, despite the repeated wanderings and rejections this love incurred.

It is a love of which I stand in awe. A love that I cannot reflect, much as I wish I could. The forgiveness that God has shown me is immense. The forgiveness that he has shown the church Catholic is inconceivable. It is simply and entirely beyond me, and I don’t think that we can begin to understand the kind of thanks that we should have for that forgiveness. I mean that literally. I honestly believe that the kind of gratitude that love deserves is beyond the collective comprehension of the human race. It is something so incredible that it defies any and all attempts to imagine or explain it.

We live in a world that is full of problems, and we live lives that are full of potholes that constantly demand our attention. Our pains, unfulfilled desires, derailed ambitions, and forgotten dreams fill our minds with regret, and this is something from which we can’t escape. There is a reason that those things demand our attention, and honestly they deserve attention. However, when those things obscure the incredible blessings that God has showered upon us on a daily basis, then we lose the best part of life. We lose that unending gratitude that he deserves. Instead of letting pain defeat us and lead us to misery, we must let pain remind us of how much more he has suffered, and lead us back to that place of thanksgiving. Back to an unending gratitude for love.

The Hard Road

Church tonight was good. It had me thinking about a lot of different things. I think I might get two or three blog posts out of the thoughts that were running through my head tonight (if I can remember them that is). However, as I sat in church today I thought back to some of the lessons that I’ve learned in my life, a number of them learned through this very church, and many more learned in other ways. My entire life I’ve had to learn things the hard way. I’m a stubborn bastard an awful lot of the time, and it makes everything take that much longer. Sometimes I wonder why God made me this way. Honestly, thinking back, if there was any one thing that I could change about myself, it would be this need to learn things the hard way.

I’d like to say that I learn my lessons better, or that they stick with me longer, but honestly I’m really not sure this is true. There are a few lessons that I’ll never forget (generally the hardest ones), but many that I’ve had to learn multiple times. All in all, I’ve had a lot of lessons that I probably shouldn’t have needed, and this habit of always learning things the hard way has resulted in a lot of pain in my life. Not to say that this pain hasn’t lead to good things, personal growth, etc. However, if there was anything that I could change about myself, it would be this. I would love to be able to learn my lessons the easy way, without the incredible pain that goes with doing everything the hard way. I would thoroughly enjoy being less stubborn, less prideful, and more teachable. It’s something that I’ve been working on for years, and often failing at, and I’m still trying to be less stubborn and more teachable.

Honestly, I’m not really sure that I have much more to say in this post. I started it with every intention of writing something deep and meaningful about learning things the hard way, and how pride causes a lot of pain, which is entirely true. However, there isn’t a whole lot more that needs to be said than that. I’ve made some giant mistakes, and I’ve learned valuable lessons from them, and I always say that I wouldn’t change anything about my life. I understand that God made me the way he did for a reason, and I know that he’s working his will in me. I know that this is something that he is using to make me a better person… still, sometimes I wish he didn’t have to. I wish he had made me… perfect. Actually reading this I realize how ridiculous it sounds. We are all fallen people, all in need of a savior, and all in need of a lot of work towards sanctification. Nonetheless, sometimes I’d like all of this to be a lot easier, and I feel like if God had made me a little bit different it might have been.

Fear and Loathing in… Lynchburg

I’ve been fighting with God for the past 24 hours. At least… I think I’ve been fighting with God for the past 24 hours. I’ve either been fighting with God or I’ve been fighting with myself, and I’m honestly not entirely sure which. I think it’s the former, but I’m not sure. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a bad habit of dating emotionally traumatized 19 year olds and putting myself up as the perfect rebound guy to date and then gut. I’m trying very hard to break this habit.

There is a woman at my church… I’m honestly not sure how old she is… I’m guessing early twenties… I think she’s almost out of college. Honestly, as I write this I’m rehearsing just how stupid this is and why I should just ignore it. Anyway, last night this woman was on my heart and on my mind, and there was a nudging to ‘ask her to lunch’. I barely know her…. …Anyway, I’m very happy that she wasn’t in church today. If she had been I think I might have just yelled something and walked out.

As I said, I’m honestly not sure if this is actually God, and I’m trying to convince myself that it’s me, or if it’s just me being an idiot and trying to convince myself that its God so that I’ll be an idiot. …I kind of hope that it’s the latter because then I can just ignore the entire thing… you have no idea how much I don’t want to ask her to lunch. Okay, by now you probably have some idea.

If this is from God (and that is a big ‘if’ because I really don’t want it to be), then I don’t know what he’s thinking. Honestly, I could sit here and list all of the reasons why this is a stupid idea, but I’ve been having that argument all day, and I really don’t want to rehash it. When it comes down to brass tacks (yes, I said brass tacks), I’m scared. Really, pissing my pants, weeping into my communion glass scared. I’m scared that it is God telling me to do this. I’m scared that I’m going to be rejected. I’m scared that I’m going get hurt, and that’s what it comes down to.

I don’t want to get hurt.

I’ve been hurt a lot. I’ve been hurt by women. I’ve been hurt by parents. I’ve been hurt by friends. I’ve been hurt by God. I’ve done an awful lot to hurt myself. I’m terrified that I’m going to get hurt, and I don’t want to get hurt. Honestly I don’t even want to consider asking this woman to lunch because the only possible responses are ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and I don’t want to hear either one.

But whenever you argue with God, you lose. I was reminded tonight that getting hurt isn’t a bad thing. At least not when God’s the one doing the hurting. Being broken is unpleasant, and if you want to be broken then you’re insane, but being broken is also good. There is a Japanese art form called Kintsukuroi that I learned about tonight that exemplifies this. Kintsukuroi is the art of repairing broken pottery using gold or silver lacquer, and the result of well done Kintsukuroi is quite incredibly beautiful.

It strikes me that God is a Kintsukuroi artist of the highest caliber. The thing is that God doesn’t repair broken pottery. He repairs broken people, and while being broken sucks, and being fixed is painful, the result is amazing. So, much as I’m scared of being hurt, I have to come back to the fact that if this is God’s will (still a big ‘if’) then it is good. If God wants to hurt me so that he can heal me, then I know that he will make me better for it, and that is good… …and I suppose that there is always a chance that God actually doesn’t intend to hurt me. That he is actually taking this somewhere… joyful.

This doesn’t make me any less scared (actually it might scare me even more), but it does make me more determined to find out if this is God’s will or if it is my idiocy, and it makes me more willing to follow God, no matter where he leads.

Where Do I Want to Be in Five Years?

I’ve been avoiding this question for a long time. Not because I don’t know the answer (honestly the answer hasn’t changed much over the past decade), but because I didn’t believe it was possible. This question has been a source of pain to me, and so I ran away from it. Now, however, I find that the answer is changing. Not entirely, there are some aspects that are still the same, but others have been added, and some have been removed, and the priorities have shifted some I think. So, where do I want to be in five years?

In order of importance:

1) I want to be stronger in my relationship with God. To put a more specific goal on this, I would like to be entering St. Teresa’s sixth mansion. St. Teresa of Avila wrote a book called Interior Castle or The Mansions in which she delineates the spiritual experience of the Christian into seven ‘mansions’ that she describes in depth. At a guess I think that I am somewhere in her third or fourth mansion right now (not sure about that though, it’s a very subjective judgment and I don’t entirely trust myself). In five years I would like to be at least at the doorway to her sixth mansion, if not inside it.

2) I want to be content with wherever God has brought me. This could wind up precluding all of the goals that follow it, honestly. God has taken me many places that I didn’t want to go over the past thirteen years, and I don’t really expect that to stop. However, wherever God has me in fives years, whatever he has me doing, I want to be happy about it. I’ve written before about the fact that happiness has never really been a goal in my life. Well, now I’m making it one. However, as I said then, happiness doesn’t come simply from getting the things I want. I want to have eudaimonia, wherever I am.

3) I want to be married. I’ve said several times that I’m finally happy being single, and that’s true. God has me in a time of romantic solitude at the moment, and I’m finally learning to be okay with that. This is a wonderful thing. However, the desire to have a mate hasn’t left me. I am content to be single, but I still believe that God has someone for me, and that I will find that person someday. I hope that in five years this time of solitude will be over and God will have brought me that person. Maybe not, and if not then see goal number 2, but I hope that he will.

4) I want to be teaching. I’m already teaching, and I love teaching. This is a goal that I’ve already achieved and I don’t want that to change. However, as a sub-goal, I would like to be consistently making $30,000 a year teaching. Given my degrees that’s a little bit harder :P. We’ll see if that’s what God has planned for me. If not, then I think I’m already okay with that. Eudaimonia is not based on income. As another sub-goal, I would like to be out of debt on my credit card (this is actually a short-term goal), and have a significant portion of my student loans paid off.

5) I want to be in the middle of a doctoral program. Given my current academic standing I think five years is a realistic goal for this. I am sure that I’ll need to do a second master’s program before I can even be considered for any of the doctoral programs that I want to pursue. However, a two year masters starting say, fall of 2014, would land me in my second year of a doctoral program five years from now, if things go well. Again, I’m not entirely sure if this is where God is taking me. I want it to be, and there are a few people pushing me in this direction, but I’m not sure if it is. If not… well, I guess see goal two above.

So, this is where I want to be in five years. As I said, goals 1 and 2 trump everything else, and I am fully aware that achieving goal 2 might mean giving up goals 3, 4, and 5, but I have peace with that (right now at least). Making long-term plans is, in all honesty, difficult for me. I’ve seen too many plans and goals turn to dust, and I can’t explain how painful that is. Honestly, I’m not even going to try. Still, God has used that pain to make me a better person, a better man, and a better Christian.

Have you ever read the book Dune? It’s a phenomenal novel. Honestly, I’d argue that it’s the best science fiction novel ever written. Anyway, in Dune there is a prayer… well, they call it a prayer, really it’s more of a mantra… that the Bene Gesserit sisters use:

“I will not fear. Fear is the mindkiller. It is the little death that proceeds complete oblivion. I will let my fear pass over me and through me, and I will turn my inner eye to follow its path. When my fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I use this mantra on a regular basis, and with a little adaptation it can be equally applied to either physical or spiritual pain:

“I will not hurt. Pain is the mindkiller. It is the little death that leads me to oblivion. I will let my pain pass over me and through me, and I will turn my inner eye to follow its path. When my pain has gone, there will be nothing. Only God will remain.”

God leads us through times of pain and fear in order to stretch us, to grow us, and to draw us to himself. This is, after all, the primary goal of the Christian life, and so I will rely on God to scare me, to hurt me, and to take care of me when he does. I want to achieve the goals that I’ve listed above. They represent my hearts deepest desires. I often think of them as roses that I’ve sheltered and cared for through many terrible storms. Honestly, there have been times when they withered to the point that I thought they would die, but slowly, and with a lot of help, they’ve always been nurtured back to health. However, I have yet to see them bloom, and I truly, deeply want to.

Masks

We all wear masks. I know, it’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. We all actually do wear masks. Usually a lot of them. We tend to have one after another after another to hide the things that we don’t even want ourselves to see. I think probably my biggest mask is being a jerk. I’m vulnerable, and when I feel vulnerable I can say some unkind things to make myself feel less vulnerable. To be honest, I know how much words can hurt, and so even the unkind things I say tend to be fairly mellow. I don’t try to hurt people, just to put them off their guard, to shock and disorient them enough to let me crawl back in my shell. I think being a jerk is my version of a skunk’s spray. It’s certainly not particularly attractive, but it doesn’t do any real damage either.

After that are the masks of being a nice guy, and a tough guy. These masks let me present two faces to the world that I tend to like about myself. One that’s kind, caring, a good listener, and non-judgmental, and the other that’s hardy, uncompromising, and unafraid. Then there’s the mask of martial arts and the respect it draws, the mask of intelligence, of philosophy and theology, the mask of nerdiness and introversion that lets me withdraw from the world. All masks, all things to hide the parts of myself that I don’t want anyone to see.

I think, and I don’t really know… I’m rather afraid to look myself, but I think that if you actually looked under all the masks, all the misdirection, all the meandering that I do in my life, that what you would find is a sad little boy who just wants his parents to love him.

They didn’t you know. Oh, I’m sure they did. I’m sure that they loved me, and that they took care of me, and did their best to show me that love, but for all significant purposes (or at least purposes significant to me as a child) they didn’t. I didn’t grow up knowing that my parents loved me. I grew up knowing that I was in the way, that the world would be better off without me, that no one would ever want me, and that no one would ever love me. Honestly, deep inside, I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten over that.

I know that my parent’s love me, just like I know that God loves me. Sometimes I even feel loved, rarely, but inside I don’t know that the little boy ever got the loving feeling that he needed. So, I hide it away, this core of pain, and I cover it up with one mask after another, and I pretend that it doesn’t exist.

I know that I should turn to God and ask him to heal this part of me. Honestly though… I’m not sure that I’m ready to let go of it. Strange as that sounds, it’s a part of who I am… maybe the core of who I am. Just like my rage was a part of me. It took over a decade for me to let God have that, and even then I didn’t want to, I just knew that I had to. This… I think this is going to be harder. It will change me, it should change me. Hopefully, when I’m finally ready to give up this pain, God will take and transform it into something wonderful, but… it won’t be me. At least, it won’t be the same me that I am now, and that is intensely frightening.

I’ve told many people that the quest to become more like Christ means that we have to become less like ourselves. This is an easy principle. It’s simple math: two objects of equal mass cannot occupy the same space. Thus either I>Christ or Christ>Me. Either there is more of me and less of him, or more of him and less of me, but there is not more of him and more of me. See, really easy principle.

The reality of that principle though. Actually letting go of those core parts of myself that make me who I am so that he can replace them with the things that make me who he is. That’s exponentially harder. But every time I do let him have something deeper, he replaces it with something better. Hate for love, suspicion for trust, rage for peace… pain for joy? I can’t imagine what it would be like to not hurt. I don’t think I’ve ever been there. I don’t want to trust it yet, but I know that I will, eventually.

I guess when I finally do it will probably go up here.

Glass Walls

I like to think of myself as tough. A diamond in the rough, an uncut rose surrounded by thorns, a bear who makes it on his own. I like to pretend that I can’t be hurt, that nothing gets to me, that I’ve seen it all, done it all, got the t-shirt, and threw it away. It’s not true. The truth is that I’m pretty easy to hurt. All my prickles are to keep people away, to keep people from hurting me, because every time I let someone in, that’s what happens. It’s easier when nothing matters, when you don’t care, don’t feel… not better, just easier. Me… I still have the boutonniere that I had to wear as a groomsman in my best friend’s wedding in college. I still have a little blue plastic bear that a ten year old girl I was babysitting gave me when we opened up stupid little quarter toys and mine was empty. That bear’s lost most of it’s color now, and I’m pretty sure that ten year old girl has graduated college. Things like that mean something to me because the people involved mean something to me.

So, I do my best to pretend to be this angry old grump that can’t be phased by anything, when really I feel it all. Every word, every sneer, every back turned, every hair-flipping snide remark. I am so very fragile, so easy to hurt, and honestly I think that… hope that most of the people who hurt me never know it. I know they didn’t mean it, at least most of the time I do, and so it gets swept under the rug, forgiven and forgotten, and I never see it again. Well, most of the time that’s what happens.

Every now and then it all comes bubbling to the surface and I do something stupid, usually when someone does something that is truly, deeply painful. I try to love like 1st Corinthians 13. I fail… a lot, but I try, and I hope that I get at least a little credit for that. Ultimately, though, I think I’m pretty easy to forget. I’m not really sure why that is, but people seem to be very able to forget that I exist entirely and that hurts even more.

I love investing in people’s lives. Taking a guy, or a girl, and working with him/her, often for years. Watching him/her become something more than what he/she was to begin with. Watching them, and hopefully helping them, grow in their Christian walks, in their relationships with God, and then sending them off to whatever he has for them next. I usually never hear from them again.

So, I guess, sometimes all I want if for someone to care enough to remember me. To reach out to me, and to love me. Of course, the people who do I usually slap away because I don’t want to get hurt, and that just creates a further cycle of alienation. All in all, to be completely honest, I think I tend to be pretty bad at life. Sometimes I wish I could be someone else. Someone better. Sometimes I realize that’s stupid, that God made me the way he has for a reason, and that he’s going to continue working with me until he’s finished. Sometimes I just want to throw it all in, and sometimes I convince myself to work harder, and sometimes I try new things.

I just started this program called ‘happify’ that’s supposed to make you a happier person. I have to admit that the first few activities have already put me in a better mood, so what the heck, right? Anyway, be thankful, and don’t beat yourself up about every little thing. Don’t expect anyone else to give you slack, but give yourself some.