Sometimes I feel like this crawfish, wandering too far from the ditch into the dangers of asphalt and vehicle tires. But like this crawfish I put up my claws and face the world with feeble threats. I boldly face that which could easily destroy me, perhaps a little too boldly.
Life hurts. It’s full of dangers and very real attacks. Anything can plow into us and knock us down. Pretty much every one of us has suffered this year. Some of us have been completely knocked down, some are still standing, but barely.
Sometimes we are blessed enough to have a hand reach out, pick us up, and put us back in the safety of the water. We might pinch at it, we might struggle, but eventually we find ourselves at peace. We can breathe again and settle into safety.
Don’t resist those helps.
Life is too crazy and too dangerous to resist the help and care of others. Even if they don’t solve our problems, they can give us comfort through them. Never underestimate the power of companionship or simple kindness from the hands and mouth of another.
I had tons of fear, it leaked out of me. I allowed it to run rampant in my thoughts and actions. My life became a blur of awful. What happens when your life becomes a blur of awful? The lives of everyone around you become blurs of awful. Soon you start making your fears a reality.
You see, fear is typically irrational. You latch onto the idea that something catastrophic will happen and then you let it run your thoughts. From your thoughts come your feelings, and from those feelings are born actions. We act on the irrational.
Some fears are rational: death, losing someone else to death… actually, that’s about it. Death is the only certainty in life, therefore it’s perfectly rational to fear it, for most of us. For Christians, not so much, but that’s another topic.
This fear of death can manifest in both rational and irrational fears. We fear out of self-preservation, which is rational, but most things we fear won’t ultimately kill us. Sure, they may be painful, but pain itself doesn’t kill. There is a fine line between rational and irrational though, and sometimes we take some pretty stupid risks because we don’t categorize correctly. And what may be a rational fear for some, like rock climbing the face of Half Dome if you’re an untrained couch potato with literally no experience, may be completely irrational for someone else, like a trained and experienced rock climber. It would be absurd for that person to refuse to climb what is probably easy for him.
But as I said, most of the circumstances we fear won’t kill us. Most things we fear won’t even come close to killing us. Why do we fear those things?
Why do we fear our feelings? Why do we fear rejection? Or losing material things? Why do we fear taking chances? The words of others? None of these things can kill us.
Ultimately, we fear pain. We are comfort loving creatures and pain is what we seek to avoid the most. Even our fear of death is largely tied to the pain of it. We all want to die peacefully in our sleep, not in some horrible drawn out pain. But pain doesn’t kill us.
Depending on what we do with it, pain can injure us or it can strengthen us. Our goal should be the latter. What we think about pain ultimately determines what we do with it. If we think negatively of it, and begin to fear it, we will act in ways that weaken us. We get hurt and think “I’ll never do that again.” and instead of learning how to work through the pain and become stronger we give in to fear and become weaker for it.
If we think of pain as an opportunity to learn and be strengthened we fear it less. Sure, we hate it when we are in it, but we are less likely to cower the next time it comes or avoid it all together and miss out on some of the best things in life. This applies to both physical and emotional pain, accepting both can be a tremendous step towards growth.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a cliché, but it’s a true one. However, it’s only true if you let it be. Sometimes we let the things that hurt us damage us and hold us back. We allow the hurt to create fear in us. We fear that we will be hurt again. We then allow this fear to drive our actions and end up getting hurt. Our fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Often the process of creating this self-fulfilling prophecy is subconscious. No one wants to be locked up in fear. But our brains are cautious creations. Our brains want to keep us from pain, and will do anything to keep us safe, even things which make absolutely no rational sense. This is where anxiety disorders, PTSD, dissociative disorders, and other such trauma illnesses come from. Our brains would rather function in disarray than allow us to get hurt. Ironically, this disarray ends up hurting us more in the long run.
Outside of those particular disorders, which require professional and often spiritual help to overcome, our fears are in our control. We can turn them around. We can use them to our advantage just like any other negative emotion in life. Fight your fears, face them, you might just find yourself stronger the next time they attack.
“‘Rid me, good Lord, of every diverting thing.’ What prodigal waste it appears to be, to see scattered on the floor the bright green leaves, and the bare stem, bleeding in a hundred places from the sharp steel. But with a tried and trusted husbandman, there is not a random stroke in it at all; nothing cut away which would not have been loss to keep, and gain to lose.”
-Amy Carmichael, quoted in Sinclair Ferguson’s “Maturity”.
We often get angry with God for taking away the things that we love. But why?Because losing things sucks, whether it be money, people, or health. When we grow attached to things (or people) we often get tangled up in unhealthy affections for them. When they are ripped away we feel disoriented. We feel as though a part of us has been removed.
But God knows exactly what He is doing. As the quote above states, nothing is random. God knows what we need, and when He takes away, it’s for our growth. Like I said in my last post, pain is inevitable. Pain leads to growth, and sometimes the loss of someone or something is the most painful thing we can experience. There is almost an exponential correlation between the amount of pain and the amount of growth potential.
This doesn’t mean that we go seeking pain, or that pain isn’t painful. We shouldn’t deliberately cut things off that God wouldn’t. Nor should we masochisticly relish in our pain. But we should see that our most painful moments and circumstances carry in them the promise of great fruit.
When God takes away He knows that it would have been a loss for us to keep whatever it was He took. He also knows that we will gain from losing it. For perspective, I like to invert the lyric of “When I Survey the Wonderous Cross” to say “My richest loss I count but gain.” Every loss is a gain, even if not immediately perceived.
Every branch that does bear fruit He prunes that it may bear more fruit. – John 15:2
Fruit takes time to grow, and even more time to ripen. It’s easy to grow impatient in our world of instant gratification. We want results now! But to God a thousand years is like a day. His timing almost never matches our desired speed. We must wait for fruit. We must endure the suffering of loss before we see the gain.
We may be tempted to despair when we see the leaves of the vine of our life scattered on the ground. We may have invested decades of our life in something, just to watch it get cut away. But we must remember that the vine isn’t dead. Just because it was trimmed doesn’t mean it is gone. In fact, we are assured the trimming will produce more fruit. In one way, shape, or form, the trimmed branch will regrow into something healthier and more productive.
But again, this takes time. Sometimes the first fruit of a loss is patience. If we can get past the initial pain, we can find a calm place to wait for the next fruit, whatever that may be. God’s trimmings result in multiple fruits.
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.
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
Sometimes you just realize that time goes on, regardless of whether you are with the program or not.
You sit and contemplate events in your life and you waste so much time trying to find some conclusion. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe God lets you suffer for no reason, like Job did. Maybe you are supposed to learn a lesson, maybe not. Maybe it’s just for His glory.
You worry for no reason. While you suffer now, you won’t suffer forever. Eventually all suffering ends. For a second at least. For most of us that suffering will continue forever, once the façade of earthly life is gone. This is the best some will ever see.
For some of us that suffering is only temporary. A brief lifetime of misery followed by an eternity of bliss.
I hate my current existence. But I know one day I will trade it for an existence beyond all imagination: eternal communion with the God of the universe.
But only through the blood of Christ will I enter this bliss.
For those not trusting in that blood this misery will last forever.
Recently I was given a stack of writings which my great-grandfather wrote for my grandma. I love them so much I thought I would share.
This one is titled “The Punk”. I remember this being read to me as a young man of 13 or so, after I had been caught with some friends doing some non-gentlemanly things of which I will refrain from detailing. Needless to say I needed to hear this.
It’s definitely not politically correct, so if you are easily offended you might want to leave. Keep in mind that his was a different time, don’t project your modern sensitivities onto former times.
Let us begin with a sort of syllogism:
The pig is an animal. The pig is without ideals. Man is an animal. Without ideals, man is a pig.
The few ideals I have come to me from my father. He was imperfect, as we all are, but not nearly as much so as he would have been without these ideals. They were “fixed” ideas, and gave stability to his character. I learned while yet very young–without quite knowing what it was that I was learning–that, right or wrong, I could depend on my father. Nothing else could have meant quite as much to a boy. He gave me many a light thrashing, but never one I didn’t deserve. Nor were the thrashings as severe as they might have been. These thrashings were given more for the “impression” than for punishment. “Mercy is greater than justice, ” he thought. Possibly he believed that the way to make an “impression” on a boy’s mind was by way of the seat of his pants. About that I wouldn’t know, but that idea has very often occurred to me. I believe he felt that too often and severe whipping of children was a dangerous practice. Young children are creatures of impulse and learn to reason as they go along. To raise a decent child is, at best, a full-time job and but very few people are properly fitted for it. And too, it is an individual task. Production-line methods will not do, for children are individuals and require individual training. In our modern world children are much influenced by people who never give them a serious thought. I have often been surprised at some of the silliness children bring home from school. And much of this silliness does not come from other children, but from supposedly mature people–their teachers.
My father, for some reason unknown to me, seemed to be prejudiced against the word “gentleman,” and rarely used it. Possibly he wished to avoid the narrow sense in which this word is so often used–particularly by the English. Gentlemanliness was a thing not of birth or wealth, but of behavior. The blackest and most ignorant negro was a gentleman, and worthy of all respect, if he behaved like one. For your amusement I will tell a tale he told us.
Henry Clay visited my grandfather once or twice. One day while taking Clay for a tour of the field, they came to a slave working alone. As they passed, the slave lifted his palmetto hat, and my grandfather lifted his (not palmetto) in return. As they rode on Clay expressed a little surprise at this. “I will never allow so humble a man to surpass me in courtesy,” said my grandfather. As I have run across this same tale, dressed differently, in a dozen altogether places, I haven’t the slightest doubt that it was the purest “malarkey.” Somehow how this courtesy mixed with the word “slave” does not go down well. If the tale was true, I fear that my grandfather was “showing off” before this Kentuckian.
My father’s ideals were–as it appears most worthwhile ideals must be–social. Aside from earning a living, and not entirely aside even from that, the most important things were our relations with the people around us. As I set some of these ideals down, I realize that to many people of today they will appear to have been impractical, or illusory, or Quixotic, or to many young men and women, downright Sir Galahadish. But times change and so do ideas; whether for the better or the worse, each of us must decide for ourselves. Gentlemen, as my father defined the word, are fast disappearing, and it looks as though in a few years they will be museum pieces, like mummies.
A Gentleman will not:
Bully, insult, or in any way impose on those unable to defend themselves
Make a clothes-horse of himself and attract attention by strangely cut and flashily colored clothes, lest he be called a fop or a peacock. Personal adornment should be left to the ladies, with whom it is proper. Man and their clothes are like books–wise words are seldom found in rose colored bindings.
Men are physically stronger than women. This strength carries with it an obligation. The obligation is that this strength be used to aid and defend the weaker. By the weaker is meant men as well as women and children; and by strength is meant mental as well as physical strength. Women, although weaker than men, are the mothers of men. Generally, they suffer more than men, and those who raise families work harder than men. It is the duty of man to make woman’s life as easy and as pleasant as possible. It will be hard enough at best. All women should be treated with respect at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances. There are proper times and places for all things. Men must be very careful of their behavior toward women, especially in public. Anything that bears even the slightest resemblance to familiarity must be avoided. When in public with ladies, men must never speak in a loud voice or indulge in loud laughter. To do so will attract unfavorable attention to the lady. Ladies must never by spoken to across the width of a street. Unless absolutely necessary they must never be spoken to at any distance that exceeds fifteen feet. Only three things are expected of a gentleman meeting a lady on the street–to lift his hat, bow, and keep moving. The first two are not nearly as important as the last. It is the duty of a gentleman, in the absence of a lady’s own friends or relatives, to defend her against insult and injury. This rule applies to children and other weaklings as well.
When a caller comes, welcome him and see that he has a good chair. Then look around for something to offer him. The best you have will not be too good, or the least you have, too little. On a hot day, if there is nothing else, a glass of cool water will be pleasant. This small offering will add to the caller’s feelings of welcome and will help put him at ease. This is an ancient custom and, when done and received with the proper spirit, one of the finest.
The visitor under your roof is sacred, as you will be under his. We are not permitted to insult a man in our house, nor his own.
But, “Alas, how are the mighty fallen.” We go from one extreme to another. My father did not live to see what I have seen–a respectable young lady walking down the street being whistled at, barked at, howled at, and hooted at by every punk within half a mile. My father, had he lived to see this, would have done one of two things; either dropped dead with rage, or hurried after his shotgun. He would have been very certain that the young lady resented all this public sex-inspired hullabaloo, and would have regarded each whistle and cat-call as a separate insult, to be separately taken care of. But I am not nearly as certain of things as he was, for I have once or twice seen young ladies, in the midst of such din, smile, as if pleased or complimented by such a demonstration. I consider: Either this young lady is not as fine a creature as we have believed her, or she does not realize the true meaning of the bedlam created by this pack of more or less sexual degenerates. This demonstration reminds me of another I have seen. It was that of a pack of ten or a dozen male dogs following after and fighting over a female. The male dogs were certain the female was in heat. Apparently this pack of punks assume that the young lady is in the same condition.
Surely these men are not normal. Certainly no group of sane, civilized men would be thrown into such a convulsion by the mere sight of a young lady passing along the street. But–such is the punk.
We have compared the man without ideals to the pig. But we will not compare the pig with the punk. After all, the behavior of the pig is not too bad if we keep him penned up and away from the garden. We are not allowed to pen up the punk–unfortunately. For to be a punk is not a crime–only a tragedy.
I have exaggerated purpsely. I am not through with the punk, nor am I serious. Let us close on a pleasant note:
“The emblem of man should be the axe. For each man always carries one concealed somewhere about his person, and is ever seeking a chance to grind it.”
It’s pretty amazing how distracted one can get in life, how one can be pulled away from doing what they love to do. It’s easy to get sucked into life’s drama and forget about your self and the care of your mind.
This was frequently my outlet. I had grandiose thoughts and I proudly posted them here for some tiny audience to read. It was a work of pride. It was my baby of sorts.
But then life happened. And I started writing more personally. And eventually it became too personal. I couldn’t share. I discovered writing by hand was more useful, and more private. When writing on paper with a suitable pen (none of that stick pen nonsense) one cannot outrun his own mind. He has to think only as fast as his hand can write. And for me that is painfully slow.
So my other blog(s) became my outlet for public creativity. Images are far less personal than the written word. Usually. There are definitely some exceptions, but unless I explain them in my critique all you know is it’s a painting or a photo without any real background.
Perhaps one day I’ll be able to share myself again on here. But right now it’s just too much. Even the seemingly random topics that bounce around from time to time in my head all have ties back to my personal life.
So I will hibernate for just a while. And post only elsewhere.
Where have I been? Maybe you’re not really asking. I don’t know how much interest there truly is in this blog, but maybe someone out there misses me and my posts.
Short answer: distracted.
Long answer: Working on my other blog, posting everything I have ever painted/photographed/photo manipulated. And getting way bogged down in the complexities of life.
How am I doing with my New Year’s resolutions? Well… I dunno.
I don’t know if I have recaptured any of my youthful vigor yet. I’m still listening to local music and I even went to a show recently. I left with ringing ears and a headache but dagnabbit I was there!
The first month and a half of 2020 was hell. About mid February everything started to look up. Well, most of it anyway. I honestly had no time to think about trying to go back to all of my good character traits from the past. Instead I would like to think I gained new ones.
I have learned to be content, I faced the struggle of January with a stiff neck and a clenched jaw. I worked myself to exhaustion just trying to keep things afloat. Most of that work was met with success, some of it not so much. But I didn’t let the failures knock me down. I just kept swimming.
When things started to get better, I breathed. I slowed down and took stock of the situation and started planning for the future. Bad times could come again, as they have many times in recent years. Perhaps I can be a bit more prepared so I don’t have to work so hard to stay afloat.
All of this was financial stuff mind you. My house is falling apart, my relationship with my wife is rocky, and my mental health is… Well… It’s day by day.
And that’s just how I’m going to face those challenges: day by day.
As I mentioned a few posts ago, I have been reading “Philosophy 101”. I say reading, but it’s more like slugging through. Sometimes I blank out and realize I have “read” three pages and have no idea what just happened. I go back and re-read and realize, yes, this was in fact a bunch of nonsense.
It doesn’t stick because most Philosophy is pure nonsense. I used to joke that Philosophers were just people who stated the obvious in a profound way. Having read the summaries of a few of them now I see that many of them state complete absurdity in a profound way. It’s the “profound” that makes them “philosophers” and not “asylum patients”.
Reading all of it does stir the old noggin. My head is now filled with so many questions, queries, and concerns. I feel like Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph. D. from Yellow Submarine: “Ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo! So little time. So much to know!”
Concerned that maybe my brain is just too old to process all the material I picked up a book I read years ago: RC Sproul’s “The Consequences of Ideas”. It’s almost like light switches were clicked on. Sproul is far superior in explaining the various philosophers than ol’ What’s His Face. It reads as smooth as butter, no re-reading needed.
But man has my mind been chugging. We are all influenced by the environment we grow up in, the people we choose to be around, and the general culture at large. Is it possible to invent one’s own personal philosophy? More importantly, is it possible to find a real, workable philosophy in Sacred Scripture? What is God’s philosophy? What is man’s? Where do these mesh?
I am relieved when I read or hear someone else coming to conclusions I have reached on my own or with a little help from books. Or maybe I was just influenced long ago and it’s only now coming back to my memory once refreshed by a re-read. I feel this relief frequently reading this book. All of it is coming back to me, with new-ish conclusions and a ton of dots connected.
I haven’t finished either book yet, but it is striking to see the differences between Christian philosophers and the Ravings of Mad Men. When one is hopeless all he can do is promote hopelessness. When one believes in nothing all he can do is promote absurdities. It’s only through belief in the true and living God can men come to any reasonable philosophy about truth and meaning.