Thursday, February 23, 2012

God and Dissatisfaction

Here's a question I've been wrestling with lately:

As Christians, as committed followers of Christ who believe that He has overcome and is restoring the world (and ourselves) unto completion, do we have a right to be dissatisfied with our lives?

And just to clarify, when I am talking about dissatisfaction, I am not talking about being unhappy or experiencing pain (emotional or physical or otherwise) or grieving or mourning.  Obviously, there are times in our lives when bad things us.  Sometimes, really bad, hard things.  And I do think that we have a right to these emotions...because, for one, I think they are kind of out of our hands.  We feel what we feel.  And two, I think they are healthy and helpful.  Our feelings of pain help us to acknowledge reality, and maybe they help us to see it for what it really is.  And in the process, they bring us to a point where we can identify what it would look like to continue moving forward, new scars and all.

So, sure, I think we have a right to these emotions, which in my mind are natural responses to the world we live in and the circumstances that happen.  But my question is about dissatisfaction, and whether or not this, like other emotions, is something that we have claim to.

Just cutting right to the chase...dissatisfaction seems, at its root, to not be a reaction to the things that happen to us in this world.  Anger, sadness, happiness, frustration....all of those seem like reactions to me.  Dissatisfaction seems more like a conclusion we reach on account of these circumstances.  For example, I might be unhappy about a situation I find myself in because it was not what I expected.  I think I have a right to that feeling, nor do I really think I could force myself to feel happy (and I am certainly not suggesting that we force ourselves into emotions we just do not have).  But dissatisfaction grows from these types of feelings.  Feelings of unhappiness or disappointment are like the fertile ground from which the weed of dissatisfaction can grow.

So after experiencing negative situations and emotions in our lives for a long enough period of time, I think the conversation in our heads turns from "This sucks." to "I don't deserve this." We reach a conclusion about life---that it has not submitted itself to our picture of perfection, and how dare it?.  We all do this.  How can we not?  But nevertheless, my circumstances and my reactions to them turn into a value judgement about life.  That is where I start to wonder if we have the right.

See, if we take things back far enough, we see that our feelings of dissatisfaction with life lie in the fact that we are not sovereign over life.  That the things we will do not always happen.  Yet, as Christians, isn't this precisely the basis of our hope?  We believe in a sovereign, all-good God who is living, active, and continually willing things for the Good.  Moving things in the Right direction.  And us....well, we are not always moving things in that direction.  Our hope lies in the fact that God is bringing about the Good with and in spite of us.  So when we experience tough circumstances in our lives and, rather than communicating those in an honest conversation with God, we jump the track and board the train of dissatisfaction....aren't we in fact telling God, "I should be sovereign, not you?"

Because if that's what is happening, I don't think we have ground to stand on.  I just simply think this is wrong. None of you want to live in a world where my will is sovereign, believe me.  I would love it.  You, probably, would not.  :)

This is all not to say that we should be walking around with smiles plastered on our faces, pretending we're satisfied with life when, really, we aren't.  I certainly think that honesty about our situations is something that is healthy and necessary.  But I think we need to be aware when we make that critical leap from emotional responses to our situations to conclusions about life on account of our situations.

How's that?  Clear as mud?

What do you think?

I Give Up Self Sufficiency

A year and a half ago, as I hugged my coworkers goodbye for the last time before moving one thousand miles away to Atlanta, my boss handed me a card.  Inside was the most wonderful note thanking me for all of the hard work I’d put into my job over the years.  My boss was a woman who I admired more than almost anyone I had ever met, and her words were so precious to me.   But at the end of the card…the very last line, in fact…she wrote something that I haven’t forgotten.  She said, “We’ll miss you here.  But we know that God has bigger and better things for you, and we can’t wait to see what those things are!”

Although those words were meant as a blessing, my heart sank the second I read them.  I didn’t believe with any part of me that I was moving on to bigger and better things.   I knew what I was moving on to.  I was 8 months pregnant with our second daughter, and I could see an endless string of days at home stretching out before me.  Of course, the work I would do at home with my children would be important, but it suddenly seemed so insignificant in comparison with the life I had been living in the working world—a life where I was making an obvious difference, helping people, showing them God’s love.  There was a big part of me that wondered if God had forgotten me.  Or if it was some cruel joke that just as I was where I had always wanted to be, He moved us away.

And so, believing wholeheartedly that God had either forgotten or didn’t care about my desire to do something good and important with my life, I forged off to take matters into my own hands.  We soon settled into Atlanta, I had our baby girl, Caroline, and then I began to sign up for every possible thing I came across—looking, I suppose, for the bigger and better.  I became a room mother for Molly’s class and I took on a part time job tutoring in the evenings.  I became a part of moms groups and playgroups and library groups and church groups and neighborhood groups—sometimes stepping into leadership positions without even a thought.  And as you can imagine, it didn’t take long for me to be completely overwhelmed.  Not only that, but I wasn’t satisfied.  I wasn’t feeling appreciated or like I was really making a difference.  I was just the schlep who was doing all of the things that no one else wanted to do.

It was at this low point that God broke in and showed me what I was doing.  I had taken it on myself to build up my life and establish my reputation—apart from Him.  In refusing to believe that God could possibly be at work in me, moving me on to the bigger and better without a burgeoning career or position of importance in the world, I’d come to rely fully on myself.  As long as I was advancing in a way that was expected, I had been willing to follow God.  But as soon as advancement meant trusting God to use me in a much less visible situation, I had bailed.   

I spent a lot of time asking God about this place I found myself in.  A place that, to me, felt like absolute nothingness.  I wondered how God could want me to become nothing.  To not utilize the gifts and talents I thought he’d given me.  God didn’t answer these questions.  But he definitely did talk to me.  He told me to let things go.  All of the things that I was grasping so tightly, trying to use to create an identity for myself…he told me to let them go.  He told me to make space in my life so that there was room for Him to enter in.  He promised me that if I made this space and trusted Him to be enough, that He would be.

And so, very reluctantly, that is what I began to do.   I made space.  It meant not signing up for gymnastics AND soccer.  It meant not volunteering for every opportunity that came along.  It meant having entire afternoons, days, and weekends where we had no plans.  This was really scary at first.  I feared the long days, and I hated the conversations that began with, “So what have you been up to this weekend?”  I had to become okay with answering, “”Not much,” which was humbling.  As our neighbors jetted off, day after day, to ballet lessons and piano lessons and soccer practice, I wondered if I was depriving my children.  I wondered if I was depriving myself!  But, still, God would whisper, in those moments where doubt and insecurity crept in, to wait, to stand firm, to not pick up the idol of self-sufficiency that I’d just decided to lay down.

And then something amazing began to happen.  Into all of those empty places like the long afternoons and the open weekends, God began to fill, to become sufficient.  Spending so much free time outside in our front yard meant that our house became the place for all of the neighborhood kids to congregate in the afternoons.  Sometimes we have 10 or 15 children in our yard, and we are building relationships with them that we never would have if we were always going off in 5 other directions.  We’ve also become a stopping point for many of our older neighbors who walk their dogs in the afternoon. They walk past, we pet their dogs, and we chat…sometimes for a long time.  Though I thought that making space would relegate me to loneliness and deprive me of adult company, it has turned out that I often have more company than I know what to do with.  I have learned things I never would have otherwise…things like who is having surgery, who is sick, and who is just having a hard time.  And in the midst of all of this, I see that God has given me a place, an important position.  I am the one who is always around.  I am the one who knows about the hard things.  I am the one who has time to care.  I love that God is making me this person. 

But that is never the role I had for myself.  That, to me, was not the bigger and better that I’d hoped for.  I was too focused on becoming someone (not sure who)  and something (not sure what) to see what God was so clearly trying to show me…that he has a role for me right now, ministering in his kingdom.   It wasn’t until I agreed to let my plans fall away that I could see what God had for me.  And realize that his plans are not just enough, but perfect.
So, this Lenten season, I give up self-sufficiency.  I give up self-sufficiency because I am beginning to believe the things I’ve heard about our God all of these years:  That he loves me.  That he knows me…deeply, truly, and completely.   That he has plans for me—a destiny that he has crafted uniquely for me.  And that nothing, absolutely nothing that I could dream up for myself could ever compare to the life that God wants to give me.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The One Without

In my last post, I wrote about how I've arrived at this point of thinking that hearing from and responding to God is it. The point. Thanks to those of you who engaged in conversation with me about that.  I said that I would put some thoughts together on what exactly it means and looks like to hear God in my next post, so that's what I'm going to attempt to do here.  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts...especially as I feel like I'm in kind of strange territory here.

Let me just define my terms (or rather, term) to begin.  When I'm talking about God, the one we hear, I'm talking about a specific God.  I am not referring to a generic spirit, a source of energy or power, or a force in the universe.  I would venture to say that when people talk about this more general or overarching supernatural being, they tend to view the being as part of and inseparable from everything.  So, for example, if I think of God as energy, I might think of that energy as being everywhere.  Around me, in me, in you--part of everything, and indistinguishable from anything.   I think that--as the world has taken on a more secular flavor--the concept of God has not disappeared so much as blended into this idea of an energy that is everywhere.  However, I think that this is a mistake.  To buy into this idea that the point of life itself is to hear from and respond to God necessitates that we think of God as other.  As separate from ourselves.

I want to be clear.  I do believe that God created everything.  I believe that he is eternal, omni-everything, etc.  And he holds all things together.  So, in some ways, God is a part of everything.  But he is separate from us.  I am me.  God is god.

Why is this important, you ask?  Well, I think that hearing God is simply being able to recognize thoughts, ideas, and inspirations within our minds that are from without.  I think that if we start paying attention to the "without" moments in our minds and in our lives, we will see God.  And we will hear him.  Let me try and explain this (have I lost everyone yet?)

The easiest way for me to explain what I think are "without" moments are instances of what we normally call inspiration.  There is a reason we call the most amazing things in life (great art, music, literature, etc.) "inspired".  I think every artist, musician, and writer could tell you of times when they have surprised themselves with the things that they produce.  Sure, they would tell you that they spend countless hours honing their craft by building their skill level.  But there is a point at which skill plateaus, and I think that to get from skilled to great there is a leap of inspiration that needs to happen.  There is something that meets the artist or the musician or the writer from without, and it catapults what is happening to a whole new level.  Have you experienced this?  I do not consider myself an artist or really even a writer, but even I have had these moments when I look back at what I created and realize that part of that just did not come from my brain.  There was something else happening there.

I also think there is something to the idea of intuition.  Many of us have experienced moments in our lives when we knew something that we shouldn't have known.  In my mind, these are clear examples of One who is from "without".

So, how do we hear from God?  Well, I think we begin paying attention to our lives and trying to find these "without" moments.  Maybe we collect them, put them in our pockets and wiggle them around with our fingers.  And then we ask God, the one who is without, what he wants us to know about these things.  And I think that at that point, we'll be able to hear the answer.

Let me know what you hear.