Pain

A brilliant man once said “Life is pain, highness, anyone who says differently is selling something.” He may not have been too far off from the truth. In my thirty-five years of life I have found that pain is one of the few certainties in my existence.

Since I was twelve I have suffered from nearly constant back pain and neck pain, the result of a bike accident. I have had two surgeries, one to remove a benign bone tumor from my knee and one to place a titanium plate on my broken collar bone. Both resulted in nerve damage which is often painful. Wear and tear from hard work has given me various aches from my feet to my hands. Our physical bodies are certainly frail. But what of our minds and souls?

I am no stranger to emotional pain. This is the kind of pain which rots your soul and makes you wish to die. It is tempting to flee this pain in myriad ways, frequently replacing the internal pain with a physical pain. Unfortunately, this is a dreadful payoff.

Death seems like a great escape. After all, I believe there is eternal bliss on the other side. But who am I to tell God when it’s my time? And what of those I would leave behind? What of their emotional pain? As my son put it “You can’t die, who would take care of us?” Escaping my pain is not worth dumping it onto them.

Other temptations are equally fraught with ugly. I could drink myself into a stupor, but that would result in not only a dreadful hangover the next day but it could result in neglecting my loved ones or worse. Same with drugs. Sex? Temporary. And when used incorrectly, also dangerous to others.

So what do I do with my pain?

It would be easy to say I simply pray it all away. After all, that’s what the prosperity preachers say to do. But prayer doesn’t always eliminate pain. In fact sometimes it seems more pain is the answer to prayer. I definitely do pray and cling to the promises of God. But there is more to it than that.

I’ve come to the conclusion that pain never completely goes away. There is always going to be some kind of pain in our lives. Knowing that pain will always be present gives me some consolation. I’m not cursed. I’m not strange. What I deal with is common to all.

But is it my fault? I think this is the most common question people have about pain. “What did I do to bring this upon myself?” I don’t internalize too much. Not all the pain in life is purely your fault. Don’t listen to Job’s friends and assume your pain is the result of some horrible sin you have done (though it might be).

Sometimes pain is the result of the actions of others. We live in a world full of depraved souls, friction is inevitable. People hurt us with words, with actions, and sometimes in ways we don’t fully understand. Often we allow even the innocent actions of others to hurt us. Our thoughts about the actions directly feed our feelings of pain. The best we can do for this pain is to forgive. Vengeance or wrathful responses will only injure us more.

Escape if you have to, then let it go. Or simply seek to understand the motives behind the actions and words of others. If pure, you may need to examine your own pride. Maybe you are being oversensitive, maybe you hate yourself and are projecting that hatred into what others do. Maybe you simply need to tell them it hurts. We all do the best we can with what we know, it’s likely you hurt many people without knowing or intending.

It soothes my pain to know that we are all suffering in this world together. We all hurt each other. We are all equals in this respect. I can respond with anger, or I can respond with compassion. Compassion is much less painful for both parties, at least in the long run.

I refuse to let pain consume me. I refuse to let pain lead me into giving up my faith. I refuse to let pain kill my love for others. Or kill me for that matter. Pain can only grow me.

I choose what I allow pain to do to me.

Remake

New hat, who dis?

Sometimes life needs a giant reset button. Like that giant “Easy” button from those commercials, large and easy to just slap and make everything flash to a different plane of existence.

But life isn’t like that. Life tends to take the slow route. Nothing ever truly “resets”, it just evolves. Moment by excruciating moment our lives unfold, steadily leading us to an inevitable end. Even at death we are still waiting for that next second.

Frequently we try to hurry things along. We reinvent ourselves, try new things, move to a new place, try on a new look. We seek to break free from the dreary present and the often drearier past. But those things don’t simply topple like dominoes. They hang on. Memory is often our worst enemy, hounding us, reminding us of our failures, our broken dreams, and all the regrets of yesterday.

There is no speeding through this life. God has placed a strict speed limit on the movement of time. We must take it every second by second, allowing our natural evolution to work on our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls.

Sometimes we want the clock to slow. We want to savor the best minutes. Even this is futile. The best we can do is commit them to a foggy memory and hope our brain doesn’t dispose of it. Often this disposal comes at exactly the same time we need those memories to keep us going. Good is replaced by bad. Bitterness drowns out the best parts of our lives.

Why do the pivotal times have to drag on for so long? Changes can happen in a blink. Big ones. But sometimes the change takes so much time we begin to lose all hope. We begin to think it’s all pointless. Just end already, I’m ready to take the next step! We don’t count all those tiny steps and large trips along the way. We want giant steps. Even if a moment can change everything, the most important changes take place almost imperceptibly.

The way to maturity is a long and arduous road. Struggle makes us stronger. Trials and suffering build our character and keep us humble. We cannot rush through, we must endure all the way to the end, bitter or not.

I have never prayed so much. I have never clung to my faith so tightly. My current suffering has grown fruit in me and reminded me that all I truly have in life is a God who loves me and holds me in His hand. Even when others fail, even when I stumble, even when the circumstances seem stacked against me, He has me in mind.

The moments are still excruciating. Pain is constant. There seems to be absolutely no end in sight. He loves me and He knows me. He will hold me forever, no matter how much I may stray. He will save me out of my darkness, in due time. He allows all things, pain and pleasure, to work together for my good and His glory.

And what a glory it is.

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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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.

Not There

I’m not where I want to be.

This might come as a surprise to most of you.

Or not.

Maybe you have guessed that I am a bit restless in my current situation. Maybe you suspect that I am merely living a lie and will eventually give it up and go back to my old way of life.

I don’t want to go back.

I left a career of nearly ten years to go do something else that I loved. Then I left that after two years to give my wife an opportunity to do something I knew that she would love (and I wasn’t wrong). But am I doing what I love?

Yes and no.

I love being with my kids. I love teaching them and talking to them and watching them become great little people.

But sometimes they are real jerks. Sometimes I get tired of being around them. Frequently I feel like I fail them on so many levels. But I love them. So yes. I love what I do.

But.

I need adult interaction. And more than just the superficial internet interactions. The presence of people is a balm for my anxiety and loneliness. There are times when being around the kids perks up my spirit, but they are the takers in the relationship. Adults give and take, the dynamics are different. Right now where I am I do not get the kind of adult interaction I need.

I have dreams and goals. But I never think I am good enough. I am always the contingency guy. I have a goal, I assume right off the bat that I won’t get to it, so I automatically search for all the secondary plans.

Where do people get their optimism? How does one make a goal and dream and actually think themselves good enough to get them? How do they take control of their lives and make the things they want happen?

Or do they? Do people ever actually get what they want? Or am I just watching too many movies? I swear I see people out there on blogs and Facebook and elsewhere living the lives that they want. Surely there is something flawed in their life, something they don’t like, something that is not quite right.

How do they live joyously despite those things? How are they successful in jumping past those kinds of problems and focusing instead on the good things, the successes?

The simple answer is that they aren’t. Everyone has struggles. No one is arrived 100%. Some people are just better at displays than others. They are simply good at social media.

Or perhaps they really are hopeful. Some people are just optimists. They do a good job at seeing the good and understand the best way to make those good things happen is focused work towards them.

So the answer to getting where I want is simply focused discipline? Make an effort to get adult time? Focus on the good goals and spend a little less time on contingency?

Time will tell.

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Stabbing Anxiety In the Face With a Soldering Iron, Part 2

Last week I discussed some of the things I do to conquer the physical aspects of anxiety. But what about the thoughts?

In order to kill bad thoughts it helps to understand the motives behind one’s thoughts. Most of my anxious thoughts stem from my severe need to be in control of all things. I am a control freak. When things are out of my control I panic. I begin to think the worst. I lose all faith and go into the selfish cocoon of anxiety.

Knowing what motivates my wrong thoughts helps in creating a strategy to defeat them.

So what do I do?

Well, I take control of the things I actually have control of. Despite my negativity, there are things I actually have some power over. Like my time, my children, and my personal space.

I make a schedule and try to stick with it, understanding that sometimes things happen that make that schedule obsolete for the moment. At the very least I follow a routine and make habits.

I work on establishing healthy boundaries with my children. Kids can be chaos incarnate, but usually only because we don’t put a foot down and make it clear what is allowed and not allowed. Discipline goes a long way towards helping calm that storm. Boundaries are important to all relationships, if there are other relationships in your life that create stress and anxiety it is likely that you need to establish some basic rules regarding it.

By personal space, I mean my house. I have control over the cleanliness and clutter of my home. Part of a good schedule and routine is taking time to organize and clean up. Visual clutter and messes are huge triggers for anxious thoughts. It took me years to figure this out, but it has made a huge difference since.

As for the things I can’t control… (which are far fewer in number than my mind will let me believe) those things get put into my prayers. Only God can control those things.

That may seem like a cop out answer, but I assure you that faith is harder than any scheduling, disciplining, or cleaning. Having faith requires catching my thoughts and correcting them. Taking every thought captive requires constantly telling myself truths to correct the lies that my mind wants to tell me. In order to do this I have to know truths, I have to study and think about truths, and I have to believe truths.

Anxiety is ultimately the antithesis of faith. Faith is ultimately the solution to anxiety.

Daily Thoughts #17

Doubt, fear, and worry are all things I can control. Anxious thoughts are the antithesis of faith and feeding them only demonstrates a lack of it.

When your to-do list is a mile long, just breathe and do it. If you run into something you can’t do, it’s not the end of everything. Move on to what you can.

Some people thrive on chaos. I do not. While it is a good thing to come out of chaos stronger, I don’t really understand the people who seek out chaos just for the growth from it.

Stop Fearing Your Own Voice

Kids aren’t afraid of their own voice.

I got an email the other day about writing in your own voice. We grow up being told in school how to write, and writing in your own voice is a big no no. You must write through a filter, just like good speakers talk through a filter. I can’t tell you how many “great” speakers truly grate on me with their speech patterns (Hillary Clinton and Obama both have a cadence that runs me up a wall).

It’s much the same with writers, there are some bloggers who I read once and think “never again.” Sometimes it is because they are too long winded. Sometimes it is because they are too stiff and formal, sometimes they are just trying to sound too fluffy for my tastes.

That article really got me thinking though. I filter a lot. (My 12th grade English teacher would kill me for using “a lot.”) I hold back so much out of fear. Mostly fear of the audience and what they might think, but also just fear of really being myself. (And “really”… she really hated that one.)

Whether it is writing or painting or picking a picture to post (don’t get me started on my guitar playing) I hold back. I don’t put my all into anything, I am afraid of it. I am afraid you will see me for what I am. You will see my flaws, my lack of talent, my lack of ability, or my ignorance. I fear that you will chuckle at me or walk away confused by me. I fear you will think I am a fool or a dork or any number of other pejoratives.

Perhaps I am all too aware of my flaws. Knowing them makes it all the more difficult to show my best. I am not the aloof kindergartner who actually believes his recorder playing sounds good (it never sounds good), I am a grown man who knows what he is trying for and exactly how far off the mark he is.

But just because I am not quite on the mark does not mean that I can’t show off my progress. I am getting ever closer to the mark, when I put in the effort. Whether it be in painting, in writing, in taking pictures, in playing music (that one’s in a holding pattern) or any of the dozen or so things I attempt to do in life, I am progressing.

Not sure if better…

Or just a change in style.

I need not fear my own voice or my own hand, for both are bound to improve with exercise.

And neither should you.

Bad Week

So you had a bad week,

What could you do?

Providence isn’t always easy,

What we all go through.

Maybe you were tired,

Maybe you ate too much junk.

Maybe you indulged

In sin or in too much.

Maybe you fed your guilt,

Or stroked your shame.

Maybe you didn’t give your sins to God,

And instead soaked in blame.

So you had a bad week,

Everyone does,

Sometimes.

Will next week be better?

Who’s to say?

Perhaps it will get better,

Maybe it will stay the same.

You can’t always control the circumstances,

Just how you respond.

And I promise you this:

If you respond the same,

The bad will remain.

So change.