A Hex on The Stoics

The other day, I was listening to an episode about prayer on Ligonier’s “Renewing Your Mind”. The speaker, R.C. Sproul, mentioned that prayer is a lot like a love letter. He said the even though God already knows about our life, we should be excited to pray and tell God all about it.

This made me wonder, why aren’t more people who claim to love God giving Him love letters in their prayers?

I then realized that many Christians don’t pray at all. Perhaps much of what prevents them from praying is a lack of real joy in their life.

They prefer to be stoics.

People are told so often not to let their emotions control them and dictate their actions that they often assume it’s safer not to have any feelings. They think “Don’t let your emotions rule you” really means stop having emotions at all.

Should emotions rule us and dictate everything we do or say? No, we should certainly apply logic and rational thinking when making decisions. But should emotions have some influence? Perhaps.

I think it’s unbiblical to say we shouldn’t have our emotions influence any of our actions. In the Bible there are numerous examples of people weeping, soaking their beds in tears, and rending their clothing in mourning. In the Gospels we have Jesus flipping tables. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” got angry and showed it. The people of the Bible were very emotional and their actions certainly displayed it.

I think the modern (or not so modern, honestly) tendency to stoicism is very unbiblical. We were created to feel. God Himself has emotions, and strong ones at that. Part of being created in His image is the ability to emote.

Most of Fruits of the Spirit are emotional. For example, what is joy if not happy? What is joy if not exuberant? We should let joy influence us. Especially in our prayers.

There are many out there who say that happiness is not something we should strive for. I think this is hogwash. We should feel nothing but happy knowing that the God of creation loves us, cares about us, provides for us, and even died for our sins. If nothing else, we should strive to be happy about those facts.

That happiness ought to be reflected in our prayers. We should be excited to pray because God is listening. He values and loves the prayers of His saints and wants us to come to Him with our burdens and worship. We should be glad to give Him our love letters of prayer, because his love gives us great joy.

As usual, Sproul was right.

Beside Myself

Introspection is a confusing thing. Like many practices in life it can be good or bad. I was always told not to navel gaze. It can distract us from others and turn us into selfish monsters. But I think it can help us find our faults, work on them, and serve others better.

For me, more often than not my introspection turns me not into a self-pitying puddle instead of a selfish monster . My faults are many, what use am I to the world?

For many years I hated myself for wanting anything. I considered it a major fault that I had desires. Surely, I must have been discontent, I wanted what I did not have. God gave me everything I needed, who was I to tell Him I should have more? But I was wrong. It isn’t discontent to desire. It’s only discontent to envy. That’s a very different animal.

It wasn’t introspection that uncovered this error, I learned by looking outside myself. Introspection festered my guilt. Healing was found in extrospection.

I only found the truth by seeking out what God and others had to say about contentment.

Back in those days, I was my worst critic. I lied to myself and let my lies injure me. In my woundedness I cut myself off from the love of others.

When I turn inward I become a ghost. I spend so much time beating myself up that I forget others. I disappear. Nothing comes out of me because I am pouring everything into myself. I am there but I am definitely not present.

Perhaps a better form of introspection is a form that looks at how I treat others. Does that which comes from me match what is inside me? If what comes out of me is selfish or cruel, is that reflecting what is inside of me?

Before communion we are warned to examine ourselves. We are told to heed Paul’s warning to ensure we are recognizing the body and blood of Christ. We are also sometimes warned to ensure we are in good standing with our neighbors before we commune with Christ Himself. This type of introspection is concerned not just with what is inside of us, but with how we relate to others.

If I am in conflict with others it may be a reflection of my own hard heart. I may not be letting go of a particular sin someone has committed against me. Or I may not be repentant and seeking restoration because I am too prideful or stubborn to accept my fault.

To figure out if we are guilty of a hard heart we must be introspective. This type of introspection is not concerned with “finding myself” and “loving myself”. This type is about learning how to love others and loving Christ. It is a holy type of introspection.

Of course this introspection must be accompanied by an understanding of scripture. Without a knowledge of the laws of God we are unable to know our sins, except for those written on our hearts as Natural Law. We may know not to kill naturally, but without scripture we would not know that anger and insults make us just as guilty as a murderer.

Perhaps we could call this an “extrospective introspection”? We look to scripture and the Holy Spirit to show us the truth of what is in ourselves.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. ” Psalm 139:23-24

Perspective

Perspective is a hell of a thing.

What we may perceive as small is actually an illusion created by our relative position to the object. This kind of illusion applies to many places in life, not just visually. Sometimes when we are distant from a person we tend to underestimate the big affairs going on in his or her life.

Sure, we may see the problems, clearly even. But because of our distance from the situation we may interpret what we see as a small issue. We may even think “we could handle that, why don’t they seem able to?”

But we don’t see how big the problem truly is to the person standing right under its power.

The only way to truly see how big the troubles are in someone’s life is to get closer to them. Spend time with them, talk to them, maybe share some of your big struggles with them to encourage them to bring up theirs.

Remind them that with time and distance problems always seem to shrink. What seemed big last week is now a tiny speck on the horizon of memory.

Of course this also should remind us all that what appears to be a little problem way out there in the future may end up quite large by the time we confront it. Small problems grow to big ones if not taken care of.

Don’t let your perceptions fool you. “Small” is not always small.

Thankfully “big” isn’t always big either.

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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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 #104

Literally nothing to do with this post. But look at that snail go!

My youngest just turned five, my eldest is about to turn thirteen. And I am just getting older by the minute. People don’t give kids enough credit. Those minds are quick, clever, and always absorbing. It is a joy to watch these wonderful people grow up. I would be lying if I said I didn’t take at least a little bit of pride in them. But really, what have I contributed much more than a few genes (and all the good genes are from their mother)? They are wonders on their own.

Why do I suddenly have a flashback to some horrible Chinese food we had in Arkansas? Does anyone else ever pull up random memories completely without context? That place was awful, and I’m easy to please, so that’s saying something.

We are talking about completely rearranging the house again. Rooms will be repurposed, furniture rearranged, and multitudes of items “rehomed” in the trash or shelves at Goodwill. This should be interesting…

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?

Not Shocked

Is man basically good? This question seems to come up a lot, particularly on job applications. The expected answer is undoubtedly “yes”. But is he really? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, why do so many people want to cling to this idea of man’s inherent goodness?

One of the most telling signs that people believe that humans are basically good is that they’re shocked when people do bad things. A lot of people seemed surprised when they hear stories on the news of people doing horrific things. They seem to think that people would never do such a thing.

I feel immune to this response because I don’t believe man is basically good. It’s totally reasonable to expect people to do horrible things. Man is totally depraved. Man is capable of doing any sort of evil imaginable.

I’m never shocked when I hear that someone did something awful. Whether it’s murder, sex trafficking, child abuse, rape, or other heinous crimes, none of it is shocking to me.

Honestly, I’m not shocked, I’m saddened. I’m saddened for the victims and their families foremost, but I’m also saddened for the perpetrator himself. I’m saddened (and frankly terrified) for the soul of the person who fell so far. I’m also well aware that I myself am capable of doing such things but for the grace of God.

Does this mean that I think that man is utterly deprived and we must live in fear of all people?

No, men are not as bad as they could be. There are even some good men on a human level. But compared to a holy God man is far from good. In fact, even the “good” things that men do are often tainted by selfish motivations. Men on their own do not do things to please God, men do things to please themselves and others. Men do things to make themselves look better, not necessarily to bring glory to God.

Even with the help of the Holy Spirit some temptations are just too hard for a man to resist. This is a terrible thought. Even I might fall into those sins. I would hate to stand before God knowing that I had done those things. This is one reason why I say that I feel sadness for the perpetrator. How scary must it be knowing that one has done something so terrible and that he will have to answer to God for it!

But with Christ all things are possible. Resistance is possible. Repentance is possible. No one is irredeemable, no matter how significant their sin. It is to Him that I cling, praying that I do not fall to temptations that others have. It is to Him that I cling, knowing that he forgives me even when I do fall to temptation, however bad they may be.

This is the hope of the Christian. Not the false hope that men can be good on their own, but the hope that they can be redeemed, repentant, and revived to a new life in which they can pursue true goodness.

Dailyish Thoughts #102

Insert funny meme here

Never underestimate the number of people who love you and care about you. Even if you don’t hear from them often they are still there in the background somewhere occasionally thinking about you and praying for you and silently cheering you on. I can’t even count the number of people who randomly pop into my head any given day or week who I do this for. I’m bad at reaching out for fear of inconveniencing people, but I promise you are still remembered.

I totally name these posts what I do because I can’t think of anything else to call them. I suppose they are a mish-mash of ideas so the name is apt.

Second thoughts suck. Third and fourth thoughts suck even more.

Spending time with bohemian creative people always gets my wheels turning. I’m still not sure if they are turning in a good way or a bad way. I suppose if they result in some creative endeavor I can consider it good. If they just result in existential crisis… Well…

If you are anywhere in the Jacksonville/Orange Park area tomorrow you ought to come out to our yardsale. We had a small amount of success today, Saturday should be a cakewalk.

The Little Things


Lately I’ve been thinking about how much the little things affect us:

The few minutes one way or another that completely change the traffic patterns and can be the difference between being late and being on time.

The little phrases that parents use that get stuck in the mind of a child and affect the way they think for years. These always seem way more powerful than the monologues of wisdom we try to pump them full of.

The way a simple paint stroke can completely change the look and feel of a painting.

The small seed that becomes a towering tree.

The little items that pile up in our homes, slowly cluttering it, barely with our notice, until one day we look around and panic a little at how for we have let it go.

The power of little phrases we use in every day language to hurt or build up those around us.

The tiny raindrops that flow together to make a flood.

The little thoughts that eat our soul if not kept in check.

The way a single smile from a stranger can completely brighten a day.

The smallest splash of color from a flower here and there can change a drab landscape into a bright and beautiful one.

The lasting impact that one good day or one bad day can have on our whole life.

Little things add up for good or for bad, yet we hardly notice them. We take them for granted granted. We assume that it’s the big things in life that have the most effect.

But we couldn’t be further from the truth.