From a Book: Self-Worship Is Everywhere

“You are a liar and a coward and a thief. You think you have no master, and so you are lawless in your self-worship.”

Eli flushed. “I have no love for myself.”

“Self-loathing and self-worship can easily be the same thing. You hate the small sack of fluids and resentments that you are, and you would go to any length, and betray anything and anyone, to preserve it.”

-from Dandelion Fire (Book 2 of the 100 Cupboards Series) by N. D. Wilson, Loc 1941

Afraid to Write

Sometimes I just hate writing. And I love it. But I hate it.

It’s aggravating.

I found myself nodding along with Michael Crichton when he wrote: “If you’re a writer, the assimilation of important experiences almost obliges you to write about them. Writing is how you make the experience your own, how you explore what it means to you, how you come to possess it, and ultimately release it.”

But I just can’t seem to get myself to write most of the time. I use the easy excuse of “I’ve just been really busy and haven’t had time”, but that’s not true. I don’t write because it’s often painful. But it really is the way that I explore the events of my life and possess them and release them (to use Crichton’s terms). And there’s a part of me that feels stuffed with unreleased experiences, because I simply won’t to toil through smashing them out in words.

And maybe it’s because I really hate to just lay it all out there. I’ve been under the vague impression for several years that I’m just a private guy who likes to keep to myself. It’s probably more accurate to say that I’m terrified—and, correspondingly, incredibly insecure. I don’t think I could put a good number on how much of what I do is simply an effort to get affirmation from others. More than half the time? Almost all the time?

I don’t really know, but I know it’s a lot. I remember being shocked in college when in a single semester I was told by at least three people that I was afraid to take risks. I frankly didn’t believe them. I’m not sure a whole lot has changed since then. I’m still scared and I still think I’m not.

So, I’m writing this post (about writing—ha) just to write. Because I need to. I keep putting it off because “I don’t have anything to write about”. Gotta start somewhere…

Lukewarm

My wife and I were having one of those tough conversations Monday night where we really dig deep into the things about our lives that we hate. You know, the stuff we don’t ever won’t to talk about because even acknowledging it feels like too much to bear. No, it’d be better to just let sleeping dogs lie and act like they’ll never wake up.

Well, we woke them up.

I haven’t stopped thinking about that conversation since it happened. Which is probably no big surprise since I process everything internally and usually over long spans of time. And I’ve learned that I process things better in writing than in speech. Annoying sometimes, but true.

The crux of the conversation Monday was that we’re sinking and have been for a long time. Sinking in loneliness. Sinking in worldliness. Sinking in hopelessness. Sinking in selfishness. Sinking in debt. Sinking in To-Dos. Sinking in kids. Just sinking.

As we talked, I kept getting mental flashes or maybe glimpses of Jesus’ words to some of the churches in the revelation given to John. First: “You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” The “coincidental” (ha!) background to that thought was earlier in the day when Courtney was recounting all of the amazing things God had done in our lives over the years. Miracles and divine encounters. God reaching into our history. Our oldest was blown away because he didn’t think those things happened anymore, only back in Bible times. And interestingly, since he’s been born they truly seem to have disappeared.

So there it is, laying there. God once did all these things for us. Then we got all analytical and cold, forsaking the love, the energy, the passion we once had. And it’s like he’s still working things together for us (in some clear ways over the years), but more in the background and less tangibly. In some ways it feels like when the Spirit of the LORD departed from King Saul. And that’s not really one of those guys whose path I’d like to follow.

The other passage that stood out: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth… You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

That’s probably the best way to describe my heart: lukewarm. And it’s been that way for so very long and I didn’t even realize it. Not cold and dead, but not hot and fiery and alive either.

Room temperature.

Tepid.

Meh.

Over the past several years, I’ve lived this seemingly obedient life. I’ve done the whole church thing. I married a woman after God’s own heart. I’ve had lots of kids and filled my quiver. I’ve pursued the orphans. I’ve moved my family into a place that most flee. I’ve pursued seminary. I’ve been a pastor. I’ve started a church. I’ve opened my home. I’ve worked hard at a job.

But it’s not been real. Not deep down. And it sounds so horribly cliché to even talk about it. “Going through the motions”. Yeah, that’s it, but so much more devastating than that. Because I’ve dragged a whole clan of people—nine others to be specific—into a blind alley at night, with no way to turn around and darkness on every side. And I’m ready to handle it because I’m armed with what—a smartphone and an empty wallet?

“I’m just not so sure how well this plan was thought through.” Exactly.

So, here I am, eleven years of marriage, six biological kids, two foster/adoptive kids, living out of place in the ‘hood, chasing a pipe dream of a home-based church, working in a cubicle, treading water, riding a stationary bike, chasing the carrot that’s always just out reach.

Does it sound like a mid-life crisis? Probably. I’d really rather put a more biblical name on it: sin. I’ve been chasing who-knows-what for so long that I left my first love behind. And I’ve dragged my family down into the depths with me, like the dad charging ahead dragging his toddler by the wrist.

My only hope here? That Jesus is knocking. Not same lame-o “Jesus just wants to come into your heart and save you” but like he actually said: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Really? He still loves me, even after everything? He really is still there, desiring to come in and feast with me, to share with me everything?

It floors me. And it’s the only hope I can cling to, because I feel like a total wretch. Shoot, I am a total wretch. But not forsaken, not too far gone, not lost. But definitely wandering afield, blind to the dangers around me.

And now? Now I’m praying. And trusting hard that what was true 2,000 years ago is still true now. That he really is there. That if I come near to God, he will come near to me. I’m praying for wisdom and for true repentance, not just words but deep conviction and genuine action from that. And I’m praying that I can actually lead my family toward the Promised Land instead of the barrenness of the wilderness. 

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.”

Is this earnestness? Is this repentance?

God, I hope so. May it be so.

More specific thoughts to come, if the Lord wills…

Enough for Today

Let me add a bit to my last post about needs. I already pointed out that God gives as much as we need when looking at the story of the Israelites receiving manna. That’s not the only place, though. When Jesus is teaching the disciples how to pray, his simple prayer includes this line: “Give us today our daily bread.” Or the slightly different line from Luke’s account: “Give us each day our daily bread.”

We take it for granted that we should have enough for today and tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow and a whole bunch of tomorrows after that. We pray for enough money and resources to give us a really nice cushion.

Jesus says to pray this: give us enough for today.

Not enough for retirement.

Not enough to cover that emergency that might happen.

Not enough for my kids to go to college.

Not enough for next week.

Not enough for tomorrow.

Enough for today.

That feels downright impossible.

Maybe that’s the point.

Bittersweet

Not much to say today. Got hit with the news this morning that some friends–husband, wife, and two sons–were killed in a car wreck last night.

Like that.

Gone.

I haven’t had much contact with them over the years, but the sporadic contact was always characterized by one word: encouraging. And in the way that builds up your soul.

Gone.

Like that.

Death stings today. It’s bitter. But sweeter than bitter. Because death’s sting had been dulled. These four are with Jesus today in paradise by grace through faith. I rejoice for them as I hurt for those of us still waiting.

I don’t have tears. But I ache in my soul. I wish I’d thanked them for their kind words. I wish I smiled as easily as he did. I long for more than piddling along in an empty life.

They are part of God’s tapestry. Part of my tapestry. And I doubt they knew before now. But I’m grateful to God for them.

As Much as They Needed

Before I get to the musts, I think I need to work my way through the needs. Because I suspect that the way I view musts is connected to the way I view needs. And vice versa. But I think the “needs” are more foundational, so I’m gonna camp there for a while.

For today, I simply want to point out that God will provide what we need, when we need it. In the wilderness, God provided manna and later quail to meet the food needs for the Israelites (Exodus 16). But he was very clear that he would give “as much as they needed” and no more. In fact, that were supposed to gather as much as they needed only, because the extra would spoil. They needed only “enough for that day”.

There were some who tested it. They ended up with maggots and rot and stink. Because they ignored God and tested him.

When am I getting maggots and rot and stink because I want to collect more than “enough for that day”? Not that God can’t give us abundance—that’s not my point. Rather where am I testing God to make sure he give me enough not just for today, but for tomorrow and the next day and the next month and the next year? I wonder that about 401k accounts all the time. But that’s easy for me, because I barely have one and would rather keep that money for today. How about all those times I hope I’m gonna win McDonald’s Monopoly so that I never have to worry about money again? How about hoping for a random check to show up in the mail that will fix all our money problems? How about hoping our mortgage company will send us a letter that our note has been paid in full?

I’ve hoped for all these things. I’ve prayed for all of them.

More than once.

Sigh…

Maybe I just can’t stand the thought of literally having to depend on God to provide me with the money to buy the food we need each day. Maybe it’s not a maybe. I can’t stand the thought. I would’ve collected more manna than I needed for the day. I would’ve been one of those dudes. Because I don’t trust God enough to give me exactly what I need for today without demanding more.

I don’t want God to give me just enough. Because then I’ll need him. Every. Single. Day. And I’ll just have to believe that he’ll keep providing everything.

The fact that this feels so hard proves how small my belief.

Needs and Musts

I want to highlight this very real tension I feel between needs and needs in my life. Because it’s an incredibly elusive line between the two and because one type tends to overshadow the other. Despite drawing an artificial line between two words that are roughly equivalent, I’m going with needs and musts to help illustrate what I mean.

When I say “needs”, I’m referring to the things our bodies (and possibly souls) require that they will not be refused. Like hunger. Sustenance is a need and our body will scream to us–sometimes with the very noticeable gumbly tummy–when that need isn’t being met. Or sleep is another. Our bodies need sleep and will literally shut down if that need isn’t being met. Or oxygen. This one fights back very quickly. Or going to the bathroom. Not trying to be gross here, but it’s another non-negotiable with our body. The body will fight back if the need isn’t met.

But there are another list of things that are probably also needs in a very real sense, but they don’t have that same instinctual pushback. These I’m going to call “musts”. With these, I’m thinking of things like relationships and community and communion with God and knowledge and instruction. This incredibly amorphous category contain items that are very real needs (or musts, as I’m going to say it), but our bodies and souls don’t have the same level of instinctual survival mode about. Oh, it’s there. Why else would people be in incredibly horrible relationships or part of a cult or pursing worthless means like they’re ends? Because our souls do pushback, but much less noticeably and with much more subtlety.

Having made the distinction, I find that my life and my to-dos and my daily goings-on are almost exclusively centered on needs and I’ve left no space for musts. And my soul is crying out in desperation for the musts. For deeper relationships. For a oneness with God that surpasses anything I could imagine. For knowledge that takes me “further up and further in”, not trailing through a series of BuzzFeed articles.

So, here’s my goal: to post daily however often I get to it on the topic and bring to bear the Scriptures along with the wisdom of men speaking by the Spirit to point me back to the musts. Because the needs–needs that can’t be ignored–are crowding out the musts. And I’m wondering if, in writing about this, I’ll discover that I’ve subbed in needs in place of musts and false musts in place of trust musts. I have no doubt that this has happened. But I would like to discover my waywardness, repent of it, and drink from living streams that will never let me thirst again.

And I invite you to journey with me through this, as I find my Marthaness and look for Maryness.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Walk with me to find and choose what is better.

Hopeless Wanderer

One of my big struggles in life is the pull to be a lock, stock, and barrel member of my generation. Which is to say, a full-out cynical, anti-authority, anti-institution, I-think-I’m-specialer-than-everyone-else-in-the-universe card carrying member of Generation Y. Which is a topic I’ve posted on before.

I’ve recently discovered Mumford and Sons (yes, I know I’m way behind there) and their song “Hopeless Wanderer”. It’s a pull I feel all. the. time. I’m constantly marked by “a clouded mind and a heavy heart”. It’s like a plague. Because as “I’ve wrestled long with my youth” I find that the answers seem so far away and everything feels so uncertain. My wife and I were just talking about all the questions we used to have about everything–about God and life and mystery and hope. But we used to believe that every question had a findable answer, so we never stopped coming up with new questions. These days I’m so jaded that I don’t even want to ask a question because I’m pretty sure it will lead to that same dead-end “I don’t know” that becomes the answer to everything.

A “hopeless wanderer” if there ever was one.

I resonate with two particular parts beyond that, two parts that want so badly to dig out of this hopelessness. “How I long to grow old!” Maybe when I finally grow up (when does that happen anyway?) I’ll finally settle again into that conviction that most older folks I know seem to have. But more directly, “I will learn to love the skies I’m under.” Not as if I will ever be truly happy with this broken world, but I’ll love it in it’s disarray because it was made by God. And right now, I don’t. I feel hopeless far more than hopeful. But, oh God, change that in my heart!

(Note: I hesitate to post this video because they filled in four comedians for the band and it’s way funny to watch, in contradiction to the not-so-funniness of the song itself. So maybe listen the first time to just hear the song, then give it a second pass and watch to giggle at the silliness of those guys.)

From a Book: No Other Stream

stream-1351841092KWiA little long and maybe slightly confusing if you’re unfamiliar with the world of Narnia. But it still slays me to read it and so I invite you to as well. I’ve always loved Aslan because of how he made Jesus more real to me (more on this in the near future). He’s gracious and loving and king and mighty and magnificent and scary and perfect–all at the same time. And there’s no other place, no other stream, from which to find living water–water that truly quenches and takes away any more thirst.

“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”

The voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way. “Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion. It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion—no one who had seen his stern face could do that—and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.

Lewis, C. S. (2008-10-29). The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia) (pp. 21-23). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition. (Slightly edited)