Taking Time

“Take time for yourself.” They say.

I’ve never thought that way. Sure, I will sit around and waste time. I will neglect my responsibilities and fixate on some unimportant project. I may even stare at a screen for several hours chasing Wikipedia trails or harvesting endless memes.

But is that time for myself?

That’s just settling. Or being irresponsible. Irresponsible if I’m not doing what I should. Settling if I’m not doing what truly makes me happy.

I don’t enjoy spinning my wheels. There has to be an end product to most of my activities. It could be as simple as a clean room. Yes, I do take joy in cleaning, much of the time. Call me crazy.

But some “activities” have no lasting effect. Some things have to be enjoyed for their own sake. Some things can be undertaken even if the end result isn’t exactly what you hoped for. You still gained experience with whatever it is.

Grumpy “Parrot”, Oil pastels on Paper, 2019

Though I have been fairly absent from this site I assure you that I have been productive. Mainly I have been keeping up with my other page, posting every single painting I have ever done. Doing that with a commentary on each one is no small feat.

I’ve also been writing in my “journal” more. Writing by hand tends to slow one down and force him to focus and think about each word (not to mention spelling without a crutch). Most of that will never see the light of day on here. No one may ever read it, it may never help me be productive on this page, but at least it helped me through the difficulties of life for a time.

There is a certain temptation to air all my dirty laundry here. This could easily become just a public diary to gripe about my struggles. But personal matters are often best kept personal, especially when they involve others. So I have tended to stay away from here, just so I don’t fall prey to that temptation.

Honestly, “time for myself” is often just as simple as sitting down and writing out a train of thought that’s been bugging me. Clearing my head and organizing thoughts on a page is frequently all I need to do to relieve the stress of my day.

But sometimes it’s not.

And I have no idea what to do instead.

Kinda done with it all right now…

Is It Wrong To Want Things?

Sometimes you just have to scrap an entire blog. My original title for this was “Happiness As a Goal”. But I’ve renamed it and rewritten it. And then rewrote it again. And then renamed it again.

So here it is, after a ton of editing:

I have struggled with the concept of wants and needs for a while. God gives us everything we need, so everything we don’t have we don’t need, right? And if God doesn’t give it to us and we don’t need it, it’s sinful to want it, right?

For a long time I felt that contentment meant being completely satisfied with what you have. This means that any desire for something one doesn’t have is discontentment and therefore sinful.

This was my train of thought: It is a sin to be discontent, to be content means you don’t want anything, you are satisfied with what you have. Therefore to want is to be discontent, therefore to want is to sin. Furthermore, God gives us everything we need, if we don’t have it we don’t need it. If we don’t need it we just want it, and wanting anything is a sin.

From the last three paragraphs you can see why my life has become kind of messy. I have shoved down a lot of desires and drives mistaking them for sin. This has made me a bit of a limp noodle. If wants and desires are inherently sinful what’s the point of trying? After all, you’re going to get what you need.

But then I realized that the Bible clearly talks about wants.

“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James 4:2b-3

James does not condemn his audience for asking for things.

In 1 John we read this:
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

One only asks for things if one wants something. Since asking is not condemned, wanting is not condemned. I was wrong to think merely having wants was sinful. God clearly wants us to want things that are in accordance with His will and to ask Him for them. Asking is encouraged, and we are to do it with confidence.

Ultimately I don’t have to feel shame or guilt for wanting things (or experiences, or good feelings). But I do have to ask the question “is this in accordance with God’s will?”

Probably the easiest way to determine this is to ask the questions “Do I want this purely for selfish gain? Does my desire ultimately serve others and/or bring glory to God?” If the answer to the first is no and the answer to the second is yes then I am free to ask and to pursue what I want.

This whole train of thought has further implications, obviously. This is me after all. I can’t keep anything too simple. Keep checking back and I will try to further expound on these thoughts in other posts as I get to them.

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Killing Ourselves

“Except for rare, cult-related occasions, suicide is something done in private, outside of community, outside of immediate counsel… aside from rare situations, suicide is something that causes the actor to feel shame, regret, and sometimes anger, and to express hopelessness or helplessness.”

About a week ago, a pastor known for speaking about mental health issues committed suicide the very day he led a funeral for another suicide victim.

Of course my Facebook lit up with all sorts of polls and opinions about this topic. The quote above struck me pretty hard.

He went on to say:

“The body of Christ has to redefine what it means to live in community. My personal opinion is that community needs to be invasive. We don’t meet in homes anymore. Most protestant denominations don’t follow the example of post-reformation parish priests who spent all their daylight hours visiting everyone. The task could take weeks, and when everyone had been visited, he started over. Instead, we have church life and home life playing “hide and go seek” until someone gets volunteered for home group host…. we now face mental illnesses that could not have thrived 100 years ago, perhaps even 50 years ago. That calls for a newer, more intense level of care from the entire church community, and it calls for more genuine and invasive fellowship that cuts shame, regret, and anger off at the ankles.”

This comment got me thinking about the time I admitted having suicidal thoughts to my pastor. There wasn’t a lot of investigation into why I had these thoughts. It was just “you know you shouldn’t.” While it felt good to have someone to tell, and it slightly lessened the feelings, the thoughts never fully went away. The underlying problems were not taken care of.

There was no invasive fellowship. There were no investigations into underlying sin issues or other triggers in my life. Just an attitude of “let’s pray about it. Keep in touch.”

Community is something that I strongly long for. I believe part of the reason it is so hard to consider my home of twelve years to be “home” is that it has been difficult to find real community. Sure, it’s fairly easy to find acquaintances in such a large city. But real friends? People who will be that invasive into your life?

Pastors don’t make circuits anymore. Neither do elders or deacons for that matter. How many lay people do you have in your home any given week or month? Who do you know well enough to share your deepest darkest fears and shames?

That is the troubling thing. Suicide occurs alone, in the dark. It is an act of shame. And rightfully so, it is a tremendous act of selfishness. The times when I felt most alone in this world (and when I was behaving the most selfishly otherwise) were the times the temptation was strongest.

But reaching out is hard. Largely because it seems that no one wants to hear about your struggles. But also because it is shameful to be attacked by such temptations. Many Christians who have never experienced mental illness will just chalk it up to “not enough faith”. Or they will be like Job’s friend and assume your struggles are because of some unrepented sin in your life.

That is why we need people who know us. Really know us. People who aren’t afraid to point out sin but are also slow to blame every trouble of life on it. We need friends who will hear the good and the bad and offer love and care in both.

We are supposed to bear one another’s burdens. We are supposed to confess our sins to one another. How can we accomplish that without community? How can we accomplish that without seeing each other more than once a week, and in a more intimate environment than a large gathering?

I have yet to figure out this community thing, but at least I know what’s lacking now.

Diversions

Ooo, shiny!

We live in an insatiablely intolerable world at times. Life is a messy, dirty, steaming pile of excrement some days. There is no escaping the to-do lists and the schedules and the ever growing piles of bills. It almost makes me jealous of the people of old who lived short miserable lives. At least they were short…

I’ve never been able to drown out my worries with diversions. I hear of people escaping their troubles and woes with movies, music, video games, or even alcohol. Perhaps I’m just not a focused enough person to forget my cares and immerse myself in numbness or fantasy? I can only be so distracted before my mind wanders back to the struggle of the day.

Painting, writing, playing Pokémon GO with my kids and wife. I enjoy these. But none provide any forgetfulness. Stress is always right there making it hard to find forgiveness for not accomplishing everything on that to-do list. “Why are you taking a break when you should be doing this?!”

Will it ever change? Maybe. Maybe one day my cares will be few enough to drown out with frivolity, at least for fleeting moments. Until then I’ll just continue distracting myself half-heartedly.

This Is The End

This is the end.

The end of what?

Not the end of me, nor of this blog. You can’t get rid of me that easily.

No, this is the end of the summer. And the end of a long, hot, dark season of my life.

I had high hopes for this summer. But they were dashed by some not-so-fortunate circumstances. I had plans. But none of them happened.

I learned a lot though: Regret is a terrible response to disappointment. God always provides, though not always how we want or with what we want. Anxiety is physically draining, but you don’t have to let your mind get caught up in what your body’s doing.

We’ve had a rocky couple of months, almost a year’s worth. We almost lost our house. We thought we would. We had our water cut off once (though that was just missing the payment because we were distracted by other bills, we actually had the money) and almost lost it one more time. We spent a week internet-less, much to the kid’s chagrin. We had to reinstate our car insurance twice because it was canceled. We got phone calls threatening to re-possess our trailer (good luck with that). Food got short once or twice. Cars broke down. Jobs were had, jobs were postponed. Church got over-crowded and we had to find a new one (still figuring that one out). The house is in disarray. Projects have been put on hold.

I spent my summer mowing lawns, weeding gardens, and moving boxes and furniture. And a load of driving here there and everywhere.

But now we have two stable jobs. The bills are getting caught up. Routine has come back.

And looking at that list I can’t help but feel it’s all first world problems.

But problems nonetheless. Especially for an anxious brain like mine.

It’s the end, and I couldn’t be more glad.

I Don’t Care

Every time it seems to get better, it just gets worse again. Every time I think I am going to have a break from all the awful, something else comes along. And I’m broken. Broke and broken. And alone. So utterly alone.

I am human and flawed. I’m negative. I see nothing good. While I believe there is good, it is apparent to me that it is not for me. Good things aren’t for me to enjoy. I haven’t failed. I haven’t lost my privilege to good. It’s not like that. It’s just that good things seem to stay away more than the bad.

Maybe there is good. Maybe. I have blessings, sure. But every blessing seems to come with a drawback. Every choice good, bad, and neutral has negative consequences to some extent. There are no purely “good” things in my life.

Is that normal?

I know I have friends. I know intellectually that there are people out there who do have some care about me. Maybe even some concern about my soul. But where are they?

“You gotta be a friend to have a friend.” OK. But when I’m drowning in shame and anxiety and self-loathing who really wants me to be their friend? No one wants an anchor. No one wants someone who takes more than they could ever give in return.

Because I don’t have anything to give in return right now. I’m burned out. I lost my ability to empathize. You might talk but I might not listen. When I do I’ll turn every statement negative. Even the positive statements I will twist. I suck the life out of joy. I can’t give you anything. Not that you would ever ask.

I do care. I care a lot. There wouldn’t be a boiling rage or a twisting knot in my gut if I didn’t care. I wouldn’t want everything to be fixed to desperately if I didn’t care.

As I said the other day, to all six of you who read it, I don’t really want to die. Despite what the voice whispering in my darkest thoughts keeps telling me. There are too many good things to enjoy in this life.

I just want to be able to enjoy them for a change. Is that too much to ask?

I have to write. I have to get this out. If nothing more than to untangle the web of lies that seems to have ensnared me of late. I have never been so overwhelmed and lost in my life.

But that is hyperbole. It can’t be that bad, can it? Other people have it worse. Other people are dying. Other people are enslaved and abused. Other people have way bigger problems than I ever have. I’m just a whiny loser who can’t keep his head on straight. Everything bad in my life either isn’t truly bad or if it is bad it’s deserved.

It is totally hyperbole. Right?

Why do I crumble so quickly? Or have I crumbled that quickly? When did all of this begin? Has it been a year? More? A week? A month? How much time elapsed vs how much time did my brain tell me had passed? Truly life isn’t that bad. And if it is, it can’t have been for that long. Right?

I honestly don’t know. Maybe I have been strong but I just didn’t see it. Maybe I have been good. Maybe I’m better than my lying mind will let me believe. Or maybe I am much much worse

I care. I do.

Dailyish Thoughts #103

Not by me…

It’s been a month. It’s been a couple of months. So much for sticking to the plan. Life is one smack down after another. Every tunnel has a light at the end, only to find yourself back in the tunnel, not sure if you left it to begin with. Then you realize the light has never been at the end, the whole of life is a tunnel, with flashes of light coming from time to time, a blur in an otherwise dark landscape. We don’t see the light at the end. We have faith that it is there, but we don’t see it. If it comes, it comes quick, before we know it. For most though, it will be be the sudden end of any light that will catch their attention. Darkness will be forever.

Yeah, it is cryptic. I’m tired. I’m beat up. I’m anxious. I’m lost. I’m still headed into the future. I am wandering, but with a vector more or less tuned toward Heaven. I fall. I get up. I fall. I get up.

I drag along a family. I don’t have time for friends. Or they don’t have time for me. I’ll never know which, honestly. I drag a family. I steer the ship. Or so I imagine. The till isn’t broken, but it is frequently ineffective. The oars have been burned. Or stowed. I know not which.

God always provides. Maybe not what we think we need, or in the way we think we need it. But He always does. For some of us, it’s in a way that forces us to recognize “He IS God, we are NOT.” We never steer the ship. We never had oars. We just ride, watching for the little flashes of light in an otherwise dark and ugly cavern.

Protected the whole time by His goodness.

Trust. Humility. Noise. Tired. Work. Labor. Money. Faith. Friends. Why. How. Confess. Rinse. Repeat. My body is sore and my heart is tired. My mind is a web and my thoughts are impasto. But I do plan on getting through this. I don’t give up.

There is far too much of this tunnel yet to be explored. Too many flashes to bask in. Too many good things to taste, see, and feel in the midst of the darkness. Too much joie de vivre to be had.

Why give up now?

Cautious Optimist

Fortunes change for better or worse, sometimes changing as frequently as the wind. One never knows what tomorrow will bring. Recently we have been under a bit of a shake-up, a stressful change in fortune which leaves the stomach in knots and the eyelids droopy from lost sleep.

But it’s turning out. Slowly….

All the anxiety is turning into fruitful action. We are doing, instead of just talking. We are stepping up instead of just teetering on worried legs.

We are moving ahead.

Even though the thought of change is a terrifying thing to a comfort lover like me, I’m excited to see what this next chapter brings. I’m cautiously optimistic that our decisions, as unconventional as they may be, will turn out for our benefit.

Keep reading, I’m hoping these next few months will be an explosion of new growth and material.

Where Have I Been?

Maybe you follow me. Maybe you don’t. If you do, you might have noticed my recent absence. What is the reason for this absence, you may or may not ask?

Long story short: life is nuts. I was going to “stick to the plan” this year. It would seem that plans are obviously for the weak. God laughs at our plans. He has better ideas for us.

We haven’t stuck to the plan. We have made a decision to stay in Florida and pursue whatever we can. This has led to mounting debt and some very tight weeks, since the “whatever we can” has been slow to materialize. Sure, I’m driving a bus full time and doing delivery on top of that, but the money sucks.

I know that this is intended to make us more trusting and reliant on the Lord. But pain and struggle is never fun to go through. Getting used to a routine of 4:30 AM wake ups and virtually no time to myself has been a big adjustment from last summer’s mountain top freedom. So has getting used to the lack of funds.

And seeing others in more difficult situations makes me feel ashamed for feeling overwhelmed. I feel like I should be able to suck it up. I guess different people handle different levels of stress. I thought my tolerance level was higher, but it seems I am wrong. However, stuff that was huge to me before is practically nothing now. It amazes me to think I got so worked up over so little not that long ago.

I can only hope that means that what I am anxious about today is going to feel very small to me in the near future. I do realize that that could be the case in two ways: either my future problems will be that much bigger (like now versus three years ago) or the problems will be resolved and I will realize how trifling they were in the scheme of things. Let’s pray it’s the latter.

One reason I have been away from here is that I started journaling. Something about handwriting out all of your feelings, fears, and doubts is cathartic. It may not be as quick as typing but you can’t beat the tactile feel of a pencil scraping across paper. I love to make marks with my hands, no matter the medium. And I love to make words. What better way to combine those loves than with a journal?

You should be glad I am writing in that book. Along with the busyness increase there has been a flare up of the old anxiety. Not the particular anxieties of money and weariness, no, the general anxiety that speaks some pretty awful things into my brain. I get those out on that paper. There was a time when I thought “hey, I’ll be real on my blog”, but those days are gone, or at least put away for a bit until I can get a lid on this nonsense.

There is a plan now, and contingencies. It’s not all bad. There is dim light at the end of the tunnel.

I just don’t know how long that tunnel will be….

Forward Thinking

Insert random stock photo which is actually my photo…because it looks cool.

So many sayings start with “there are two types of people…” We all know there are in fact more than two types of people, but simplification makes us happy. So I will start with it too:

There are two types of people in this world: the ones who live for today, and the ones that live for tomorrow. I am the latter, my wife is the former. It has only recently struck me how much this affects the way we interact with the world and each other. 

We drive each other a little crazy sometimes I think. She can’t understand why I am worrying about three months from now when I literally can’t do anything about it. “We’re not guaranteed tomorrow” she says. Which is a good point. Every day is a gift. I should stop and enjoy right now, because eventually I’m going to run out of right nows. 

She drives me nuts with her laissez-faire attitude about planning. She plans, but those plans are so loose to me. If it happens it happens. No sense making solid plans, because that can only lead to disappointment when they don’t come to pass. 

Too many solid points from that woman. I do end up disappointed far too frequently. My plans don’t allow for reality. I spend so much time planning that dreams become my reality. I know she faces disappointments, everyone does. But hers only seem to last a moment, maybe a few days or weeks, but mine seem to drag on indeterminately. 

So which is “better”, her way of thinking or mine? 

Forward thinking drives a lot of innovation and progress in this world (cliche much?).  But if one forgets to work on today, they aren’t going to do well in the future world they are building in their head. Tomorrow will keep coming and going with nothing but more plans and hopes to show for it.

Living in the moment can spare one from the disappointment of dashed plans. But sometimes the current moment is a miserable one. And when the current moment is miserable sometimes all that gets one through that terrible moment is thinking about the future. Most people living in the moment are actually doing something productive as well. They aren’t busy thinking too much about what they are going to eat next week, but surprise surprise, by the time next week gets here they are still eating.

I happen to think God put us together knowing full well we need each other’s perspectives. I really need to slow down and enjoy right now, and if right now is rubbish, she could benefit from my future thinking. I need to work right now, so that the future is smoother, and she needs to think about a better future to motivate her current work, when that work is tedious and seemingly unproductive. 

There are more than two types of people in this world, but when opposites live under the same roof, I have to think Providence is at play. We have much to learn from each other. We’ll start the lesson tomorrow…. or today…