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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Hide Me Under a Rock, I Don’t Want Your Intimacy!

I know I said I wanted intimacy, but maybe not that much!

If you follow me at all you probably know I write about all kinds of subjects (how to be a Butthole Wife, abortion, art, music, modesty, sex, politics, you name it). Sometimes I get really personal. I don’t have much of a filter on how much I share. This might get in me in trouble one day!

My post last week got a Facebook like from none other than my pastor. The post where I called out pastors and elders for not being out there in homes. Yeah. That one.

The thing is, I’m not sure I really want what I called for in that post.

Right now my wife and I are working 90 hours a week between the two of us. That means that our time is extremely limited. When we are home we are either sleeping, cleaning, cooking, eating, or catching the kids up on school.

I say cleaning, but what I really mean is we are trying to keep up with just that day’s mess. Not the previous mess from yesterday (and before), just today’s.

We are juggling. And when you juggle you drop things. When you drop things you make a mess. And you’re too busy keeping the rest of your life in the air to clean up every mess.

So messes pile up. Real messes, metaphorical messes, mental messes.

From all outside appearances my life is falling apart. I have nothing together.

Outside appearances are often all that anyone who bothers to peak in sees. Which is precisely why I am terrified of someone suddenly becoming interested in my life. What if they see the messes? What if they see my juggling and my dropping? What if they judge my entire character on the circumstances surrounding this terrifically tumultuous season of my life?

I have to be careful what I say. Someone might take me up on my challenges. Someone my try to get to know the real me, not the mumbly me that most people know. They might see the silly me, the sloppy me, the me that loses his temper way too easily, the anxious me, the passionate me. They may see the ugly side of me. The side of me that struggles with all types of temptations and often fails.

They might get to know me intimately as a friend, only to find out that I can be a disappointment as a friend. I am selfish and miserly. I am far too busy with my own life to take on the weight of others. I can’t invite you to my messy house and I’m too broke to go out for a drink. My texts are all somber and I breathe on the phone. I take far more than I could ever give in return.

I may speak a big game when it comes to intimacy, but ultimately I am too ashamed of myself to let you in.

Except when I blog. I’ll lay it all out for you here.

Behind the safety of my keyboard and screen.

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 #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?

Writer’s Block

I say I have writer’s block, but really I just have too many ideas. Too many thoughts floating around, bouncing off the walls of my skull. Too many short thoughts without context or the rest of the thoughts to turn them into something good.

The sexual habits of married Christians. Christians and mental illness. Working for Task Rabbit. Being poor. Depression and anxiety and all the troubled thoughts. Several bands local and not. How I want to make art but my life is too messy to do much of anything right now. My back pain. Aging. My many desires that will never come true. My messy house. My tendency to be an escapist. The idiocy of raising the minimum wage.

Pinballs in my head. Any number of topics to be explored. But I am overwhelmed. I am too busy with trying to stay afloat in so many ways to begin digging too deep into anything.

My life revolves around trying to make money to pay the bills. Free time is unfortunately limited but all too abundant. I need more work, even if more work means less time for life. Life is work and work is life at this point.

Praying that it all settles. But who really knows? This could be my life for awhile. I hope not, but at least it’s interesting, right? Maybe when it settles I’ll have some tales to tell.

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The Subtlety of Opinion Making

I can’t tell you how many faults I have, it could be many, it could be few. But I can tell you that wanting to be accepted by everyone is one of them.

I care too much what people think. I let them get in my head and tell me what to feel, what to think, what to do. I let them convince me what I should do and what’s wrong with what I do do.

I let it bother me when when they tell me I’m an exception. Not in so many words of course, they just state what they believe “average” people feel about a subject. If I don’t fit that “average” there must be something wrong with me, right?

I can’t stand to be wrong, which is a double edged sword. On one hand I’ll debate people until I am blue in the face when I think I am right. On the other I’ll fear and worry that maybe everyone else is right, which is crippling when you just want to be accepted. If I am wrong, what is right? Why can’t I seem to get it?

We are hit with a fire hose of data every moment of every day. We see more images and read more words in a day than most people in history saw in a year or in some cases a lifetime. Many people of the past never strayed much further than a small radius from their place of birth. Opinion forming was a simple process of observation. What do my parents think? What do my neighbors think? What does this book say?

Now I get to read the opinions of thousands daily. I get every point and counter point. I get bombarded with the proper use of logic and the most illogical thoughts, often by the same people and frequently in the same sentence. People get in my head. I am a people pleaser, and if I don’t agree with people I must surely be a disappointment.

No, that would be thinking too highly of myself. I care what people think about me, but that assumes people actually do think about me. People post all the time “I’m stepping away from ______ for a little while” like everyone else actually cares. Just because we get hit with everyone else’s fire hose, and we let that hose of opinion bother us, doesn’t mean anyone else is actually concerned with what we think. Sure, there are “influencers”, people who attract a following and become known for their wisdom and wit. But most of us are not those people.

Most of us are a tiny voice in a monstrous cavern filled with the roar of everyone else’s combined tiny voices.

How many opinions do I have of my own? People have told me how to think and how to feel for so long. I’ve swallowed what they said hook, line, and sinker, even when deep inside of me I didn’t feel right. I’ve become the master of “smile and nod”, suppressing my true opinions to the point of choking my own identity. No one knows the real me, frequently I don’t even know the real me. I don’t even know the me that others know. I am a fake, a fraud, a liar. All because I worry what others would think if they saw the “real” me.

But who’s looking? I hide in shame, behind the fig leaf of a smile and nod, but are people really looking for the real me? Or do they just want to spout their own noise and if I agree I agree, if I don’t, oh well? Is it shame, or is it pride? Wanting to please people is pride. I don’t want to look bad, I don’t want to be the cause of someone else’s discomfort. Everything is truly about me and my own desire for acceptance. It’s not shame, it’s fear. And fearful is not a way to live.

So maybe I will step away from the fire hose. Maybe I will narrow the voices I listen to down to a select group who actually matter. Maybe I will be able to care what others think and feel because I will be able to discern their tiny voices without the din of data from literally everyone in the world. Maybe I will flee from shame and fear and actually express myself for once. That would be a change.