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Patience of the Father

God is so much more concerned with who we are than what we do.

Looking through the front window, the young man worried over what his father would say when he arrived home. This had been the third time that he had gotten into an accident in his fathers car, and he could not imagine that his father was well pleased. Father had been kind and forgiving the first two times, but this time the young man was sure that his father would be upset. He expected anger.

He considered how he might have changed the circumstances; paying more attention, not driving today and having a friend drive instead, not going at all. It was no use, he couldn’t change the past, but he knew his father could no longer hold back the anger must be coming.

He continued to fret, worry, and watch out the window. His father had to be home soon, but he couldn’t face him. Pacing the living room having not calmed his nerves at all, the young man decided to head to his bedroom and lay down. “Father will arrive when he arrives,” the young man thought wryly, “pacing won’t change that.”

After laying down in his bed, he waited. It seemed like hours, but it could have been minutes for all the young man knew, he wasn’t paying attention to the time, waiting until his father came to bite off his head. He only knew that he waited in fear and uncertainty of the future, yet certain his father would finally give him the what for. “Third time is the charm, as they say. Normally that’s a good thing, funny how for me it’s terrible.”

He heard the sound of the garage, of his father parking another new car, getting out and walking into the house. It was time, he knew, to face his maker. He had worried so much before his father had returned that it surprised him how calm he felt about it all. His father’s voice carried through the house, calling to him, asking him to come to the kitchen.

The young man hurried downstairs, he hurried doing most things, honestly. It led to mistakes but he could not contain his excitement most of the time. He had so much energy that he simply had to do things. He couldn’t help if sometimes that meant he didn’t do a good job, or wrecked a car. Taking the stairs two at a time and bounding around the corner, he reached his father in mere moments. Looking up at his father’s face, he waited for the dressing down he knew he deserved.

“How are you feeling, my son?” His father asked him, walking over to put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Are you OK?”

“Yes,” the young man said hurriedly, “I’m fine. How did it go?”

“Splendidly! Come and see the new car!” His father’s reply did nothing to assuage the fear within the young man. As his father led him to the garage, where a shining new car sat, a deep blue colored sedan with all the bells and whistles, he knew his father was only biding time. Surely, soon, he had to loose his temper. He simply had to. This was the third time this had happened!

“My son,” his father began, and the young man began to feel fear well up in the base of his belly, a knot forming and twisting until he felt it was so tight he might break. “My son.” He said again, looking at the young man with a face soft, the face he had always known in his father, not a face of anger but a face of love.

“You certainly did a number on the old car!” he said, laughing, “luckily it had great safety features, and you are all right. This car has even more! Side airbags, parking assist, and warnings when you leave the lane or drive too closely, or if someone follows too closely. I knew I needed that because I want to know you are safe. It would destroy me if anything happened to you, my son.”

The young man stood there, dumbfounded, as his father continued.

“We will have to go out together tomorrow to continue working on your driving skills, I’m sure you will be a great driver with practice! And, we can’t control everything in life. Sometimes accidents happen, and all I can be thankful for is that you are still here, still well, still alive.”

Somehow, for the young man, he had thought his father had a reserve of anger that would eventually come up, he didn’t realize his patience was so great. It must only be that the next time he wrecks a car that his father will loose his temper.

“Your mother and I are so proud of you, my son. We love you and want the best for you. We want you to know how loved you are, that no matter what, you are loved. All of the things in life are not as important as you are.”


 

So often, we believe that God will be upset with us for mistakes we make. That somehow what we do is more important to God than who we are. We believe this because we have been taught this. Even reading the story above, you may have been surprised that the young man was on his third accident, with the father forgiving even the first. I remember the first accident I had, my parents were very upset, and I was to blame. It seems natural and normal for us to consider fault when accidents happen, or when mistakes are made.

God does not act like our parents, and it’s more accurate to say that our parents do not act like God. It’s not their fault, they can’t live up to that, but they still fall short in that comparison. Where our parents and those around us will blame us for things we do, God is more concerned with who we are, and specifically that we are his sons and daughters. Sure, he wants us to not wreck the car, but he isn’t going to punish us with fear or anger, he spent all his anger on the cross. All he has left for us is love, even in correction.

The young man’s father took responsibility for continuing to teach the young man to drive, and this is how God behaves towards us. He lovingly continues with us until we “get it”, and even then he continues still, simply because he loves being with us. Too often we see God as distant when we are “bad”, instead of realizing that he is near in all things, again, simply because he loves being with us.

He isn’t expecting us to be perfect, the father knew the young man was not perfect, and in my mind this is because the father knew his own shortcomings. The father was aware of his reckless nature during his teenage years, or that he rushed his son to get a driving license without helping him best learn to drive in safety and care. Knowing his own shortcomings, the father extends love and grace to his son, caring more for the son’s being than his action.

God is so much more concerned with who we are than what we do. Many times, who we are is hurt and afraid, fearing our heavenly Father and mistrusting him. We see God as strict, as a disciplinarian, as upset or angry, yet we do not see how he sees our hurt, pain, and brokenness and loves us. He is looking into our souls and knowing why we do what we do far more than we know why we do what we do, and for that reason he forgives freely because he is binding up wounds not correcting actions.

We really get it wrong when we think we have to do certain things as Christians, Jesus came to mend and heal, “Those who are well have no need for a physician,” he said. The interesting thing is that no one is well. We are all hurt, all broken, all needing healing and redemption. It amazes God that we, like the Pharisees, focus so much on actions and not on God’s healing touch.

His resources are unlimited, his patience is unlimited, his love is unlimited. Our heavenly Father does not run out of what he needs to love us. He comes home with another new chance, and invites us back into learning and growing and being healed in him.

I’d like to think the father in the story is far more concerned with the young man’s view of his father than of how well that young man drives. God cares that we see him accurately, do we see him as loving, kind, caring, and patient with us? Do we recognize he is binding wounds, not correcting action? Do we go to him knowing that he will give us healing and grace for our hurts?

Space, Clutter, and Spiritual Formation

Sometimes, though, space wasn’t just used, it was overused. Often, it was overused.

Looking around the room, busy with a degree of use in the feel of things spread throughout, a fan spinning idly, churning air to create a sense of cool, and chairs enough in the small room to seat a dozen, he turned his eyes to the lake beyond the house.

He wanted to space of the small lake to open his mind and imagination to the soul longing to get out from his chest. It didn’t have enough room here to breathe, think, or let go, it needed to quiet, still and empty expanse of the water.

He considered places he had been, stayed, lived, and gone. He liked cities, but felt that being in a city was forgetting what lay inside himself. It was so busy, so crowded, so cluttered, that his soul shrank in the confines of a city street. “Who could be a person in such a place?” he muttered within himself, “who you are has no space to become itself.”

It was interesting to him that as he wrote about space and clutter, he wrote in short, snipped paragraphs. He was not taking the time he thought he should, perhaps it was the coffee, or the excitement of writing about something dear to his heart, but he thought maybe it was only that it is a simple idea. It isn’t necessary to tease out and play with meanings, only to tell what needs to be known.

Many places are just as crowded and cluttered as cities, even though they are suburban or even rural. Bars, coffee houses, cars and homes are all stained with the debris that takes takes up space. He considered anything unnecessary as something that takes up space, most things were unnecessary, so there was, in his estimation, a lot of debris in the world. He cringed with every handout handed him in classes and work meetings, wondering where it would go, how would he file and keep it so it did not clutter his desk, and ultimately his mind.

“Homes tell us a lot about ourselves,” he thought, musingly. “Often, it seems, we feel a need to fill every space, every corning, every nook of our homes.” He didn’t know why people did this, perhaps it was a visual thing? He considered how this showed the need to not waste what was had.

Sometimes, though, space wasn’t just used, it was overused. Often, it was overused.

Papers piled high on desks, books stacked on tables and food that would never be used overflowing a refrigerator. Boxes of “just in case” items filled a basement, to be used once every decade or two, and cars were the same. Change piled high in center consoles, baubles dangled from rear view mirrors, trunks packed with equipment for some sport out of season 8 months of the year. Garages and sheds stored incredible amounts of things, often requiring a deft touch to close the door or park without scratching the car.

“Where do people live, with all this stuff?” he wondered, amused and yet also fearful. “Their soul has no room to grow.”

He knew that many people had tidy spaces, but busy lives. They cluttered their schedules instead of their living rooms, keeping themselves busy with meetings, appointments, to-do lists, and the idol of accomplishment. There was little in their home, little in their fridge, and their car was clean, but that was only because their time was cluttered and overused.  They lived as if they would not live if they didn’t do all the things, all the time, every day striving and trying and searching and pushing and wishing and hoping, and it stifled them. They were drowning in the clutter of their own life.

The truth is, he knew, that our outer life reveals the inner life, and if our outer life is busy and cluttered, so is our soul. A soul that is overburdened cannot possibly please God, because it can’t even concentrate on Him. Nor can that soul find peace, how does it rest when everywhere it looks there is stuff? “Let me look outside,” this soul says, but finds that there are many passersby to watch, “I will sit quietly in my chair,” it then begins, but pictures, books, papers and machines distract it. “I am lucky to even have this time,” the soul says to itself, as it considers its busy schedule, “I don’t often have to show my owner who he is.” It tries to give the person to whom it belongs some sense of being, but the man or woman rejects it and begins to busy themselves again.

He considered the only work that was truly worth doing was that which allows our souls to shape us into whom God has created us to be. God has given us His breath of life, His Spirit, and shapes us through that using our spirit, our soul. We cannot hear the subtle whisper during a rainstorm, and yet we distract ourselves incessantly with distractions galore. Why?

“Because our souls show us our longing and pain, which draw us into the Father,” he decided. “The Son treats these wounds, and the Spirit reveals them.” It isn’t easy to become still and let the inner tumult of our lives come to a rest, we are like shaken snow globes, the snow dancing around and looking active, and often beautiful, but hiding the image behind. Only as the globe rests, and the snow falls, do we see the house and snowman and kids ice skating on the lake. We cannot see ourselves with all this snow flying around us, we must escape this clutter.

Then we take 5 or 10 minutes to be silent, and find that nothing has changed, and why should it have? He wished people would take hours or days to be still, to begin clearing the clutter of their lives away, to free their schedules, to drive in silence, to want to hear God speak to them through their soul more than anything else. “God has made us beautiful, if only we could become simple enough to hear him tell us,” he thought.

He remembered when he began to let go of things, giving away his gaming system, giving away many of his clothes, and trying to let go of whatever he didn’t need. He knew that he was on the verge of another “life purge,” selling and giving away things he wouldn’t use and didn’t need. Golf clubs, multiple guitars, clothes, books that were read and wouldn’t be re-read, and many other things. His mind needed the rest when he looked at his things.

“Because,” he considered, “when there is no space in our lives, how much can God fill us with? If we do not have a place for what God wants to show us, we will ignore it.” He wanted to have as much space for God as possible, and that meant freeing up his time and space to accept it. That meant simplifying his life. That meant decluttering. It meant letting his soul grow and stretch to accept all that God had to offer, and that meant letting go of so much more.

White Culture

It was a terrible idol.

He’d seriously considered writing about white culture days before, but the drumming of responsibility, duty, and work weighed on him so that it was not possible. Considering carefully the nuances necessary to tease out a well-considered and thoughtful opinion, he decided to do it. The go ahead was clear, the points seemed helpful, and the necessity plain.

First, he simply considered his own experience of being white in Midwestern America. He thought about holiday parties, often with extended family and being the only time of the year you would see them. Laughs and joy would be had, it would be a bit awkward at times, and in the end you would leave a bit sad and a bit relieved because while these people are your family, they are also people you really don’t know that well. Somehow, mysteriously, they are important to you because of blood tie, but you may not always care for who they are.

He also considered food he grew up to know, sweet corn in the summer and chili in the winter. Casserole dishes mixed seemingly distant foods in wonderful medleys, and there was always potato and pasta salad at every event he could remember. Deep dish, Chicago style pizza, and Chicago hot dogs (the only way to eat them) were a part of Americana to him, though he knew those on the East Coast would disagree about what constitutes a good pizza. He considered how pumpkin pie was a staple in his family, and also how he would have arguments with friends about which pie was best, often each choosing the pie their family gravitated towards.

That was another aspect of culture for him, separation and unit breakdown. He could remember how separate he felt from members of his family, how each group would have their own customs, but there were also large family customs when everyone got together during the holidays. This was true of most families, but families differed. The hierarchy of white culture was quite strange with its penchant for individualism, even in the ways families related and were created. He knew this wasn’t the case for all cultures, but he enjoyed the separation, he thought it good. “Boundaries are a good thing,” he considered, “and while sometimes our boundaries are too thick, I appreciate my autonomy.”

Being a Chicagoan, he felt an incredible penchant for dualism. It often feels like Chicago has only two seasons, winter moving to summer, hot, muggy, and wonderful on the beach, Navy Pier, and zoos (of which there are two), and summer moving to winter with its snowstorms, plows, salt, skiing and sledding. We have two baseball teams in Chicago, also, the crosstown classic, when they play each other, being a highlight of the summer for many. It seems there are two opinions for everything, and there are arguments about whatever we may disagree on, but we don’t let that come between friendship.

Yet, with all this, he sometimes wondered if he missed out. His culture doesn’t have some of the things other cultures do. Midwestern white culture doesn’t seem to run deep, to him, and it doesn’t include song, dance, or dress. When thinking about it, he often got jealous of other cultures who had very specific styles of music or dance. It hurt to consider how often whites had taken from other cultures, likely because we don’t have things there. We like something, so we take it, but it isn’t as if we borrow it to bring it back later. Quite often we have outright stolen aspects of other cultures to try to fill the voids of our own.

Having read the book Being White some time ago, which was about whites relating in a multi-ethnic world, he remembered hoping to receive some secret to white culture that he hadn’t known before. The book, while wonderful, instead cast vision and gave practical advice for how whites could use their voice and power to lift other cultures up, to battle for equity. He hadn’t considered that before, and strongly did so now, that is because of reading the book, but also, he still longed for a culture, a style of living that feels like home. He immediately thought it slightly foolish, but only slightly. It was misplaced longing, he always felt longing, it just attached itself to the idea floating in his mind.

He considered also how white culture in America was, essentially, American Culture, and how as American Culture changes they either must do the same or fight against it. What would he do if he felt someone from outside his culture was changing it, but they felt that they were only changing American Culture? The deep connection between the two was troublesome, how might white culture be separated from American Culture? To be a white American meant to be American. Reciprocal reasoning meant that being American means to be a white American. It wasn’t great reasoning, but it was there. Blood and soil arguments can be understood, even if rejected for poor logic, when considering this line of thought.

It isn’t, he considered, that whites may move backwards, either. Although some have a connection to a European nation of some sort, too many are so interbred that they know not how to embrace German, English, Italian, Norwegian, Native American and many others in lesser degrees (his own pedigree). Should he simply choose? Would that, if he had not grown in that culture, not be appropriation? It would be slightly better, he supposed, than choosing to embrace Latino or Japanese culture, having no background or claim to either, but only slightly.

So, they feel quite stuck, he realized. The assimilation of new peoples means their culture, what they have held to, American Culture, will change. Assimilation does that, culture and ideas from both move across the boundary until they look similarly enough to communicate, meet in the middle, and work together. It is who they are, as whites, that feels under attack as things change on a national level. When America changes, they can’t change with it, but being a white American means they are America, so who are they when America changes? When their culture, American, changes, but they can’t change because of their whiteness, what happens?

It was a terrible idol. He pondered how white nationalism was not simply a belief, but a god within that moves them to strike out to defend the earthly kingdom that has been built for them. Even Christianity was used in the creation of this idol, warped into an American nationalism movement that has very little Christ in it. The church was the backbone of America, the spine of American culture, connected deeply with what it meant to be American, and therefore what it meant to be white. If the church was not this structure for America, what was America? Lost, he imaged they might say, and no longer great.

Understanding things a bit more, he thought he felt sympathy for them who were losing something so dear. It will be good to lose it, for the idol of America in white culture to die, for the church and white culture to be separated from what it means to be American, but it will still hurt, and they will have to mourn. Mourn for what was, what they thought they might have but cannot, and should not, and mourn for what has been done to advance this idol. It’s hard to come down from the mountaintop, and it’s harder to come down from the mountain you created.

With that, it occurred to him that really, all cultures are hurting in their own way, and they are striking out at each other to mask and cover the pain. Although it helps nothing, there is a driving force within that moves everyone to hurt each other. The idol must die, but some feel they must be the ones to kill it, and that is an idol of itself. Really, everything was an idol, he mused, slightly off topic. If it isn’t directly focused on God it’s an idol. We should be each wanting to be and not be because we are walking with God as Enoch did. Anything separate from that was a focus misplaced. We should all go live in the wilderness.

What does it look like to live together, he considered, it must be to be more aware of another’s pain than their sin, and our sin instead of our pain. If we could all focus on that, individually and sociologically, we might see some peace.

The pride of whiteness poked its head up as he decided to end the article, hoping that whites could lead the way in changing their thinking. Well, there will be a long way to go.

Thoughts on a Summer Afternoon

Simplicity is quite a good thing.

“There really isn’t that much to life,” he thought idly to himself while staring out the window, watching the wind play gently with the bushes behind his apartment. Clouds rolled by slowly, like languorous amorphous blobs drifting not-at-all by their own doing, lazily floating downstream like the atmosphere were a river carrying them to some unknown and unforeseen destination. Cars sat unused today in the parking lot. Though it was early afternoon, a sense of quiet and peace stilled around him.

The windows, open and letting in a slight breeze and wonderful odor, fresh and clean, did little to help the warmth in his apartment. As he drifted in his own mind, his forehead lightly beaded with the marks of a summer afternoon. A glass of iced tea, homemade, he was quite proud to say, sat next to him with the same sheen of perspiration. He reckoned that the glass was as ready to sit relaxed for an hour or so as he was.

It wasn’t that there was nothing to do, there is always something to do; laundry, sweeping, mopping, errands, emails, phone calls and other things always pressing, it wasn’t that at all. No, he simply had completed quite a bit already today, sitting down to work for 3 hours, doing yoga and having a wonderful quiet time this morning, he felt as if he could spend time however he so desired. It just so happened he desired to stare out the window.

“That ‘just so happens’ quite often with me,” he thought, languidly rolling the thought around his head. “There is nothing more to life, some days, than staring outside and enjoying whatever is going on right there.” He couldn’t help if that was true, he figured, as he didn’t make the world. Didn’t plan it, and didn’t want to. “Gosh what a terrible responsibility,” his inner voice moaned, “terribly great, and terribly overwhelming.”

As he considered the simplicity of life, he wondered why so much is to be done. It is an unhappy business, that which God has given man to be busy with. Ecclesiastes, once more coming to mind, drawing him into the simplicity that life ought to be, and yet it isn’t. Staring blankly outside, he wandered within himself.

Coming around once more with a sip of tea, he knew that it should not have been this way, and wasn’t this way for a while. What, truly, must we do in this life? Is anything to be accomplished that cannot wait? What will we take with us, what will even last longer than a decade or two? Even our memories fade, and those who remember us will often make up more than they know to be true. He thought that many of the church fathers and mothers, many of the great writers, thinkers, and artists throughout the years, can never be known in such an intimate way as someone who we have a simple conversation with. Yet we discuss them as though we have had just that.

Thinking it is useless, though, does no good. It isn’t as if just saying, “well, it’s all worthless” is going to suddenly make everything right. We live in the present, and ought to deal with it.

There is, though, something to be said about simplicity. It is peaceful, quiet, unassuming though often moving. We fear becoming too simple, and use it as a kind way to call someone dull, or unlearned. It shouldn’t be that way, words should be used for their purpose, we get too confused with definitions and meaning otherwise.

Simplicity is quite a good thing. Simple machines often work the best, and are quite easy to fix. Simple writing is accessible to all, and imparts the idea just as well. C.S. Lewis knew the truth of that. Simple art is often quite moving, considering the statue of David. Simple relationships let us know exactly where we stand, and build trust.

It’s not that something more complicated is worse, he continued within himself, yet, as something becomes more complicated, it takes more effort to create, use, and fix. The first thing that came to his mind was the United States Tax Code, and after the the US Budget. Considering his own budget, a simple equation at this point in his life, he wondered how a government originally designed to be simple had gotten so complex.

He thought also of humans, their inner workings, their brains and thoughts and emotions. Where even is an emotion? Is fear in the stomach, as the knots twist and pull? Is love in the chest, burning, full and strong and powerful? Of course these are chemical reactions in the brain. Yet the brain is quite complex. Doctors and psychologists study for years to be able to competently and confidently complete their duties and heal people. Those are some of the hardest things to learn.

Both lawyers and doctors have special schools, and those were the two most complicated things he had thought of first, government and healthcare.

Those are also the things we see to fight about the most in America.

Thinking further, wishing, wanting, and hoping, he found no easy answer. There is no simple way forward for these things. Do we simplify the government, lessening taxes and letting go of a huge military, huge infrastructure, and a huge budget? What should be done about healthcare? It would be wonderful to have healthcare for all, but could instead we think more simply? Would it not be better to teach healthcare from a nutrition standpoint? Simple foods are better for the body than complex ones. The fewer ingredients on a label the better. The best is a whole food, there’s only a banana in a banana, nothing extra. Simple.

Teaching hundreds of millions of American’s to eat for health? Not simple. No easy answer.

The clouds looked the same as when he had begun to think, “had they even moved at all?”

At least he could take control of his own life, simplify and live it. His needs were covered, and many of his wants, what should he do, strive for more? There was no hope in that, only pain and striving. Striving after the wind. Chasing what will always be elusive. Longing for what can always be desired and never be obtained. Just. One. More. Of anything, just one more and happiness will come, but it never does.

Jesus didn’t preach simplicity, he preached the kingdom, but Jesus lived simply, and taught his disciples to do the same. One cloak, one pair of sandals; travel light, love deep. Don’t be anxious about food, or clothing. Paul said we will be content with only food and clothing.

“When it comes to the end of the age,” he thought, placidly, “there will be no concern for what house we lived in, or car we drove, or computer we had, or shoes or clothes or anything such as that. It isn’t that being simple is better, but simplicity helps us to work towards what is really important, and to stave our distraction away.”

The clouds had moved, he noticed at once. A slow moving river, indeed.

Fear

He stopped making decisions, and let decision make him.

Sitting alone, he pondered. His thoughts have been unsteady all day. Despite a work meeting and making another decision that had simply needed to be made, he could not keep himself still. A feeling within him surged yet again.

He wished he were dead.

Don’t be mistaken, he didn’t wish to kill himself, but he didn’t want to be alive either. He felt pretty well dead, anyway. He really found no interest in anything. All he really wanted to do was die. It was sad, that nothing in the whole world really interested him, but it was the truth, he thought. What is everything but striving at air? Grasping for something and so consistently catching nothing. Feeling he had nothing to show for all the fighting he had done, it seemed to be the only truth he needed.

Many things floating through his head, he dismissed them all as utterly unimportant. In his mind there was nothing as important as seeking God, and even that truth ringing throughout his head did nothing to help him want to live. Should he focus on games, fun, merriment? Food, service, or work? Is there anything that truly satisfies to soul? Is something out there that will finally give him some measure of reason to do anything, other than just taking a next step?

Ultimately, his entire life was just taking the next step, as long as he can remember. For a while those steps had been chosen for him, for longer than he would have liked. His mother had controlled a few too many of his decisions as he grew older, until he broke away by moving out unexpectedly. But even then, she tried, and too often he let her in, unsure of himself because he had never made decisions before. That, too, had lasted too long.

Moving out was a next step, brought about not of his own accord but of another, a good friend now, one who makes decisions and does things. But he didn’t make that step, it was made for him. It was the next move. The only next move. After that, a new place to live, a new job, a new way of dating, a new way of everything. He had very little control. He didn’t know who he was. He didn’t know who he wanted to be.

Going back to school was simply a next step. He didn’t actually have a step planned after school, he just applied to a local college and away he went, caring little for what would happen after. He picked a major that was just on his mind at the time, and changed it in the first semester. He told the counselor helping him choose his new major, “I transferred credits, which major will get me a degree the fastest?” It was just another step.

He stopped making decisions, and let decisions make him. Graduating, he chose work not based on any desire within him, but applied where he think he ought, doing what he think he ought to please people he thought depended on him. He said what should be said, and did what should be done. He didn’t act for himself, he very nearly gives up any given day, but he is there. God uses him. “It’s good work,” he says, “God is moving.”

Laying in bed, curled into a ball, he ruminates on how fear makes all his decisions for him, wonders what his life would be like if he had courage. He considered writing a song about courage, he would write about Joshua. “Take heart, Joshua, lift up your eyes. The Lord is with you, the Lord is with you.”

There were no chords for the song, it was a dirge to his own courage, not celebration of Joshua’s.

Knowing that fear holds no place, he chides himself for letting fear ruin his life, and wonders if he can take hold and make a decision. Can he change things now? How much can he change, how much should he? How much would he? He imagined he wouldn’t change anything, not yet. Not yet. He was still too afraid. Too tired. Too… everything. He couldn’t change anything, the conversations needed… he couldn’t have those conversations.

He could barely have conversations at all some days.

There was no fear about pulling up the depths of his soul, however. He had no issues in sharing deeply, and vulnerably. It was the only place he felt any modicum of strength, any amount of courage. He was confident in one thing if nothing else, being open, being vulnerable, being real. It was a thing to be valued, being real. He knew that too few people were in touch with themselves enough to even be real, and even those who were didn’t often share. For him, it was the only place of confidence in all the world.

When he first began truly dating, and really flirting in any effective way, most of his humor was self-deprecating. His only confidence was in putting himself down. It worked, but when girls actually liked him and stuck around, he was flabbergasted. Having been honest about himself, he figured they must be blind, or dumb, or broken like him. “Most still leave eventually,” he thought dryly, “whether weeks or months, most still leave eventually.” Nobody wants a man who is quite so unsure of himself.

Fear is a terrible friend, and there are no two ways about it. His life would never be what it needed to be, what it could be, what it should be, while as afraid as he was. But, when all you have known is fear, what does it look like to take courage? Thinking briefly, he imagined he knew how the Israelites messed up so much on their way to the promised land. 400 years of bondage and suddenly they are going to be brave? He didn’t really think so. It took a generation not born to bondage to experience the freedom necessary to build courage.

He wondered if he may still take courage, take heart, and make decisions. What decisions would he make? Fear had already driven desire from his heart. How can you decide what to do when desire has left you? What do you do with a flame that is nearly extinguished? How do you fan it back to life? What fuel will help ignite, and not smother, the hardly flickering smolder? Even on the inside, he felt small, bowed down, hump backed, hunched, and unable to consider it.

He thought he might pray, but dismissed it. What would he say that he hadn’t said before? He feels terrible. He wants to die. He doesn’t like where he is because he didn’t make the decisions to be here. He feels like life just happens to him. He isn’t a victim, but, in some ways he still is. In some ways, in many ways, he is an 8 year old little boy being screamed at because he made a silly mistake that 8 year old boys might make. He tripped and broke something, was playing a little too rough and accidentally bumped into someone, he made a decision, but it proved to be a poor one. He was in trouble because he simply was. Those lessons sunk deep, he learned them well. “Don’t make mistakes,” the first, and “decisions you make are mistakes.” A wicked one-two punch deeply embedded into his psyche. How do you escape that?

Considering sleep, he pensively wondered how he might finish his thoughts. Decisions still make him, and yet he has a made a few in the past few days to begin taking some control back. He knew others needed to be made, and he knew he would make them, but also wondered if a short time after making them, would he feel that they made him? How will he know when he no longer makes decisions because of fear, but in strength? What will show him that he has shaken the shadow of his past and emerged a new man? In Christ he is that, yet he still operates in fear, he knows, the neurology of his brain hardwired to expect his own failure. When will the rewiring get to a place of confidence?

It truly was time to sleep, the only place he truly enjoyed when he felt this terrible.

Already Gone

It always was like that with her.

Tears fell softly on a summer Sunday morning, soaking the pew between his legs. By this time she would be gone. She was already gone, gone the moment he had said goodbye; off to travel the world, to go and make something of life, to grab a hold of something worth fighting for a wrestle it to the ground wrapped in her arms. To make it hers. Her dreams, her desires, her hopes and plans and future and, everything. Everything but him. He loved her for that. He hated her for it.

She was already gone. There was no helping it, and yet… but no. He could do nothing but leave it in God’s hands, he had said his peace. He had laid out as much as he would, as much as he dared. “Boundaries,” he thought dully, “you have to respect her boundaries, even if you don’t like it.” He couldn’t help if those boundaries kept what he would call the wrong things out and the wrong things in. “That isn’t my decision.” He wished it were.

He hadn’t pined after her for as long as he had thought when she first left. It hurt badly, but months proved long enough to slowly ease the ache from his chest, to soothe the pain from his bones, to give him energy to crawl out of bed. He thought it may last years, originally, thought he may never recover. He was wrong, yet, he was also right. Seeing her again had proven it. “I should not have seen her again. I should have left well enough alone.”

Leaving well enough alone was never his strength, though. Even with a card up his sleeve and the deck stacked he would play the losing play. He always had. Part of him thought he always would. In many ways he couldn’t help it. “There’s no helping it now,” he thought, “done is done.” He had said his peace.

Thoughts swirled around his head, cascaded down rapids of uncertainty, tinged with doubt and stubbornly refusing to give way to any amount of reason, however great. He could not convince himself that he had no answers, he thought he knew so well. Thought that he could answer the “why” that was ever present. That question that oft goes unanswered. He couldn’t, and although knowing the truth, he never convinced himself of it.

Nothing hurt so bad as leaving things be a few nights before. Waiting patiently for the other player to decide to pick up her hand. To play cards, any cards. “Mountains,” he muttered within himself, “as if I didn’t realize there would be mountains.”

That had been her response to his testing of the waters. “There are mountains between us,” she had said. He had gone into the conversation fully aware of the myriad of challenges they would face, he felt he may know some of them better than her, but instantly dismissed that as foolishness. “You hurt her far more than she you, fool, and she broke your heart.” He was no fool, but he was certainly thinking foolishly.

To consider it now seemed nonsense to him. “I can do nothing, change nothing,” he murmured within, “only wait.” He didn’t know if he would ever hear from her again. He didn’t know if he wanted to hear from her. He didn’t know if he would survive if he didn’t. He didn’t know.

Praying, he lifted up his face to ask God, “Would you give me peace? Over this situation, over our lives, our decisions, would you give me peace? Help me give this to you, Lord, help me see you as my savior, and not her. Help me, Lord, help me.” For a while all he prayed was “help me, Lord”. For a while, that was all he could say, could think. Sitting helpless in the pew, he felt grief overtake him again.

A hand lay gently on his back, a woman from church, aware of the Spirit’s prompting and quick to act, praying with him and for him. She couldn’t know the pain of 3 years boiling up inside him, and yet her hand was comforting his sorrow. Unwittingly, she placed it right where the pain was, the Spirit guiding her every move.

He had no words for those around him as service came to a close, had no way of expressing the pain, helplessness, and hopelessness he felt. How could you rip open your chest to show red hot veins of molten emotion searing through you? How could you help someone feel the complexity in the mixture of joy and pain, loss and gain, depression and hopefulness, anxiety and peace? Opposites seeming to come together in one encounter, one night, just about 2 hours total. It couldn’t have been that long, it felt like moments, but, it felt like eternity.

It always was like that with her.

Walking limply around the pews, saying brief hellos to those who stopped him, he made his way out. He forced polite conversation, trying to care for those who he truly cared for, trying to talk about something, anything, as long as he was talking. “Be normal, you don’t have to be fake, but you don’t have to break down, either.” Not sure if he managed that, he squeezed his way around the pews, out the door, and into the parking lot. As he sat down in the seat of his car, he let out a long exhale, gave himself a shake, and let his spirit weep while his body remained unmoved.

He thought again of how wonderful it had been to see her. He considered how beautiful she had grown, not in a physical way, but in a way far more real than that. She was still beautiful to look at, but somehow the realness of life had set in, the challenge and the pain of it. She was more, and yet, it was on account of the reality of life. He thought of how she had grown up in a few years, with so much more growth to do, so much of herself still yet uncovered to her own eyes. So much she knew, so much she didn’t.

She had mentioned that, talking about her internship and the learning she had been doing. He wondered quickly if she ever thought that way about herself, the needle that points her to God. Does she ever wonder if she truly knows who she is? Does she ever think, “why am I so driven? Why am I afraid of failing? Why do I look forward so often? What makes me tick? What is pushing me towards the things I think I want?” These are questions he often asked himself, he wondered if she ever asked herself those same things.

Maybe she did, but he may never know. Maybe she was afraid of the answers, or maybe she didn’t care about them. Maybe she knew the answers and they drove her forward. Maybe she thought life was not about answering those questions at all. He did. He believed God wants us to be fully ourselves, and to do that we have to know ourselves. We can’t do that without those questions. Perhaps she didn’t feel the same?

“Gah! It doesn’t matter right now, because you can’t do anything about anything. You said your peace and need to let it go.” But he couldn’t.

He couldn’t really let it go because he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to let go of possibility. He didn’t want to let go of hope. He didn’t want to let go of despair. He liked feeling so intensely, he wanted to, he needed to. Long ago he became addicted to intense emotions and he did what he could to feel those still. Sometimes, that involved jerking his emotions around himself, neurologically destroying pathways that were meant for good. Using food, sex, and imagination to give himself emotional highs, or lows, and often both in quick sequence. It was his drug. It always had been. He couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t.

Knowing this did little to help overcome it, but, being honest with himself, he hadn’t known this for very long. Months, maybe? So much growth had happened in the past year for him, so much uncovered about himself. He knew himself fairly well, he figured, and could say many reasons for ways he reacted and responded. He was proud of that. Not in any braggadocio way, but in the subtle satisfaction of hard work done well. He knew himself because he worked to. He struggled to. That was good.

Self-knowledge doesn’t create instant sanctification, however. The work left to do in that area was intense. He would need much prayer, and fasting, to overcome these vices. “Those are all things that require no woman,” he thought wryly, “and all God.” It was true, he knew, but just because it was true didn’t mean it was welcome in his head. Truth almost always requires a battle to stick, and though he battled daily for truth, it was a long war. He didn’t welcome the war, but he fought it anyway.

With how much he grew to know himself, he knew that she would need the same, and the same sanctification. He didn’t think she was particularly sinful, just realized all humans require intense periods of cleansing from God. Sighing yet again, he pressed the clutch to the floor and turned the key. His car hummed and beeped to life. He wished it were that easy to change his own emotions. Laughing at himself, he backed out of the parking spot.

“But it was nice to see her, regardless of anything else,” he thought once more. “If nothing else, I can be thankful she decided to share one more night with me, however brief and seemingly meaningless. If nothing else, there’s that.”

Driving off, he kept the radio off and hoped to hear a message of peace from God, medicine to his weary soul. Driving off, he barely kept tears back.

Loneliness

Loneliness is a terrible feeling. Part pain, part boredom, and part anger…

Sitting, staring at a wall. Staring outside. Looking at the birds. Listening to the wind in the trees. Staring, bored, restless.

Lonely.

It may have been mere seconds, but they stretched on as hours. The moments take longer and longer, as if being pulled apart by a black hole, as if being shred from your being. There isn’t anyone near you right now, but also, there is no one near you in heart. No close friends to call, nobody to see, not much to really do. You have friends, but in this season of life there isn’t really anyone there. God never leaves us, but His presence has seemed to dissipate.

Loneliness is a terrible feeling. Part pain, part boredom, and part anger, it tears at us like caustic acid, eating away our hope and courage until we are left staring blankly at a downpour because rain is the only thing that really feels good. Somehow it gives a visual to whatever it is that is happening within. Somehow, someway, in a small way, it tells us we aren’t actually alone.

Maybe it’s the cleansing nature of rain, washing away dirt, debris and any pain we have inside. Maybe. I just love rain, though.

Last night I met a good, dear friend who I haven’t seen in a long while, and may never see again. At first we shared formalities; job, families, school, plans for the future, but whenever I share about my plans for the future now, I say “I want to get a Master’s in counseling, because talking to students who struggle with anxiety and depression, and struggling with those things myself, I want to be able to help.”

Well, I share about my own struggles for a purpose, it eases people into sharing about their struggles with me, helping me to minister to them. It’s my way of saying, “I won’t judge you, I’m in the same boat, you are safe here.” It’s the entire idea behind this site. To share what I am going through so that we may all move forward together.

My friend asked me a bit later why I shared about depression, and I explained openly about my depression, and they proceeded to tell me of their own struggles, with depression, and especially with loneliness.

My heart broke.

Knowing how hard seasons of loneliness have been for me, my heart broke for my good friend. It sucks, and there really isn’t much I can do to help. One thing I can do, that I always try to do, I say, “well, that’s the way it is, and it sucks, and it’s OK that it sucks.” If it seems appropriate, I share my experiences, but usually I just let them know that it is OK to feel terrible, and it’s OK for life to suck. God doesn’t expect us to be happy all the time. There’s a time for laughter and a time for weeping.

I’m of a mind that loneliness serves a purpose, mostly because I’m of a mind that everything serves a purpose. There isn’t a single thing created that doesn’t show us or teach us something. The Preacher said in Ecclesiastes 3, “there is a time and a reason for everything under the sun.” The Preacher then pits seemingly good things against seemingly bad ones, showing us that there is a time, and reason, for all of this.

I’ve been lonely many times in my life, sometimes for short seasons, and sometimes seemingly for years. Feeling as if not a single person were there for you. Feeling the emptiness that seeps into every fiber of your being until you are willing to do anything, anything, to spend time with people who care about you. I’ve been so lonely, and it sucks.

Loneliness may suck, but I’m also so very thankful for periods when I had no one, nothing, and felt that pain of being left. I don’t want to go back to those times, but I wouldn’t trade what they have given me, either. Plus, I couldn’t trade away the intangible things those seasons have given me.

Because, loneliness has given me a better understanding of myself. Having time alone has given me greater courage, strength, and endurance to keep moving when things are tough. Those seasons have built in me a well of reserve and willpower that was never there before. Loneliness, it its own way, has brought me life. It has given me a more abundant life deep within my soul and oozing up around to help those around me. Even when I am depressed, it seems I always have a heart for those also going through those things. Periods of loneliness have given me the will, strength, and ability to do that.

If you were to introduce me to someone who has never been lonely, I would doubt their ability to understand themselves, and others. Perhaps that would be unfair, but I would. There is something intrinsic about being alone that pulls us deeper into the dark corners of our own souls, showing us our hurts, our angers, injustices we have felt but never spoken, wrongs we have committed but never repented of, and memories we have never reconciled. That isn’t something that can come up with other people around, it takes loneliness.

There’s a lot of writing about solitude, and solitude, truly, is “chosen loneliness.” Essentially, solitude is choosing to be lonely for a set amount of time. Solitude, or loneliness, allows whatever has been happening around us to seep up from the depths of ourselves, places where we hid things we haven’t wanted to deal with. Solitude is great to do regularly, to take a few hours a week for a walk, or 10 minutes a day. I spend most time I drive in silence. Whatever we need to decompress and open ourselves to what has been bubbling beneath the surface.

Sometimes God wants to do a bit more work than that. Solitude is great for day to day and week to week understanding, but sometimes God wants to bring healing over something from years or decades ago. Sometimes God wants to do something so new and unimaginable that He has to pull us aside, dig up the garbage, toss it out, and put us back on the path. Loneliness is God-given, I believe, even if it hurts.

Lastly, if you have gone through a season of loneliness or not, taking regular times for solitude, silence, and loneliness is good for us. It’s a regular spiritual discipline of mine, not just in the car but on walks a couple times a week and in the silence of a morning. Just let yourself be, whoever you are, whether angry or upset or sad or whatever, God can handle that, and letting those things come up with Him is far better than holding onto them or lashing out.

So to my friend, you may not read this, but I would say, “Live in this moment. Love the work God is doing, if not how He does it. We aren’t required to love the method, it’s OK if it sucks and you want to scream. God created emotions, He can handle anything you bring to Him. Loneliness sucks, but God created that too, and, He is in the pain and loneliness, even if it doesn’t feel like it.”

“Also, God is changing you, I can tell He has already begun the process, but He is still at work. You’ve always had a beautiful soul, but the light shone brighter last night. Pain, hurt, and loneliness has brought more beauty into your life, not less. It will continue to, but it won’t last forever. I look forward to seeing the completed plans of God in you, whether I see it here or in heaven.”