I was talking with a friend a few days ago about how we each handle life's anxieties and mistakes. I made some kind of comment about screwing something up badly, he responded sympathetically "oh wow, that's terrible" and I remarked "What? No! I'ts hysterical!". He was confused, and asked how is it I'm able to laugh at things that most people find really painful.
I've been thinking on that question and I realized it all goes back to one of my favorite books--Ecclesiastes.
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
I think on these words a lot. Like, daily. I find so much freedom and joy in the utter meaninglessness of everything in my life.
Things I'm worried about?
Ambitions I strive for?
Things I think I can't live without?
And in that context, the effort I put into chasing these things, or worrying about them, or fearing them all just becomes so.... absurd.
I had this friend in college. He told me when he was a child, he thought eating the crusts of his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches would give him ear infections. Like.... what? I remember crying from laughter as he explained how his child-mind came to a conclusion that he thought was completely logical at the time, but was now one of the most ridiculous things we'd ever heard.
But how was he to know that at the time? He was just some dumb kid, too small to see the truth. It made sense to him then.
When I look at my life from an eternal perspective, I picture Jesus and I in the new earth reviewing my life. And we watch this mortal-me run around afraid of being alone, afraid of never being loved, trying to find security in comfort, spending all my energy on things that are completely meaningless. And we laugh because we see clearly the absurdity to spending money on what is not bread, labor on what does not satisfy.
The things I deeply want won't be satisfied with shallow solutions. The weight of eternity is not in whether I marry, or how well I lead a project at work. It's in my devotion to the Lord and my efforts to see his kingdom come in this world.
So when I catch myself despairing over something in this world, I can't help but laugh at myself for caring that much about a mirage in the first place. And once I see the true absurdity of my situation it always gives way to joy for what God has planned in the eternal.
My roommate told me last week that it's our last year living together. There's a whole lot more there, but this isn't the place to get into that.
I've decided I'm going to buy my own place and live alone. And the more I think about it, the more enchanted I become with the idea; a space that I can invite anyone and everyone into.
A place where I can feed people and let them escape the cruelty of the world for just a little bit.
Where they can come and be relaxed and feel safe and loved.
A house dedicated to what I most want to do-- love people as deeply, sacrificially, and personally as I possibly can.
There's something about meeting the earthly needs of hunger and safety that so perfectly pairs with spiritual healing. Water to wine, feeding the 5000.... Christ himself satisfied this in so many. Fulfilling the very human, very visceral need while offering a deep spiritual answer.
I'll need to get better at a lot of things. But I can't wait to see what God will do.
(Also if you think my kitchen isn't going to have a sign that says "Why spend money on what is not bread?" then you don't know me at all.)
I've wanted one for y e a r s now. Mostly because:
- I think they're pretty
- It will probably frustrate my family, which is always fun
- There's something about permanently marking my body with my commitment to Christ that strongly appeals to me.
Maybe it's because I live such a comfortable life, but I can see so clearly how...easy it would be walk away. I find myself wanting to walk away. Not for like big, dramatic reasons, but the small things that creep in without noticing.
For example, these past 2 weeks I've realized I kind of like a boy. But it doesn't seem like this boy is entirely devoted to God--oh, he prays before eating and can quote Bible verses, but is the will and work of God primary in his life? I know, deep in my heart, that if I ever marry I want it to be to someone I can co-labor with; someone who spurs me on towards the Lord when I am tired, who encourages me, who challenges me. And I'm not sure this boy could do that.
But the shallow part of my heart that likes him. And it coos so sweetly about how nice a life it could be, if maybe I was just a little less rigid in my faith--less uptight, less "legalistic" and "judgmental" about how other Christians live.
So yeah. I see where my heart is bent.
That's part of why the permanence of a tattoo sounds so appealing. People make the commitment to get married usually when things are going well and they're happy--and when life gets difficult, it's the commitment that drives them forward. The rings they wear are maybe "just" symbols, sure, but as humans we're always looking for ways to make corporeal the intangible. It helps us remember.
So I want some kind of tattoo-- something that symbolizes my relationship with God, or my commitment to his kingdom, or something to that effect-- so that my permanently transformed spiritual self is in some way reflected in my outward physical body. A reminder to me of my vow to serve him, and that I have been forever changed by his spirit.
Also, they're pretty.
I work in a predominantly male environment..... specifically a socially-inexperienced-male environment; as a sweeping generalization, developers aren't always the most extroverted people. These are single adult men, living in a society that tells them not to be emotional or need people, who chose a career where they spend all day alone in their office.
I see the human need for intimacy starkly played out almost constantly.
Most of the guys have (at some point) told me "I don't really like people". But once we started getting a group together for lunch every day, they happily took a break to hang out. They'll come to every movie night, trivia night, or weekend brunch. For a group of self-proclaimed loners, they sure like to be social; though at first it's always tinged with a shaky uncertainty of whether they're really included.
It also manifests in more damaging ways. I know guys who have never had a close friend--who think they're not capable of close friendships. I see guys falling for the first girl that shows them even the barest of platonic care, because to them it's the greatest affection they've been shown in a long time. Others protect themselves by becoming so cynical and jaded that I think I finally understand what it means to have a heart of stone.
Loneliness is killer. Literally. This study found that "The influence of social relationships on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality." People are meant to be with people.
We have a deep desire to be known intimately, almost as deeply held as our fear of the same.
I know I feel a tension between my hopes to be fully known and understood, and my absolute terror that if anyone actually did, that there would be no possible path forward for our relationship. It's one of the terrible and beautiful things about God--that we cannot hide from him, and yet he does not reject us. I more often focus on my fear of the first, rather than remembering the lavish grace that comes with the second.
Loneliness is imprisoning. The less you feel known, the less you believe it's possible for someone to know you
Sometimes I feel weird trying to minister to my coworkers at a tech company. It's nothing at all like the slums of Kolkata--we have bougie fizzy water in our break room refrigerators. But when I look at them, all I can see how fervently they're seeking for what God can provide them.
I don't need a tragedy to shake my solid ground;
Pride has really fucked me up.
I take every good thing in my life and I attribute it to my own effort; every bad is somehow a trial God sent me through that I overcame. I have the most pitiful collection of "merits" that I jealously guard. I can't bear to give them up--they've become my very skin, the way I create my Self each day. I'd have to flay myself in order to return them, to scrape off the layers of Competence and Confidence and whatever else has grown invasively, choking out the spirit I'm meant to be showing.
Was it C.S Lewis who remarked how naked you'd be without even your skin?
I tried to pray about it this week in church--tried to say "God, please rid me of my pride" but I couldn't. I didn't mean it even a little bit--I don't want God to remove it because I can feel how much I've placed on it. I can see how much I'll lose. I don't want him to touch what I've precariously built--leave it alone. It might be shaky, but at least I know it.
So I changed the prayer. "God, show me my pride and make me repulsed. Make me disgusted at what I've done. Maybe then I'll let you get rid of it". I'm not sure I mean this one, either, but it's closer.
I'm so unwilling to submit myself to the humility of not knowing, not understanding, of trusting God and stepping out when the bridge is invisible.
I still have no idea why I'm in Madison, why I have this job, these friends. I hate not knowing. I just want God to tell me his will. I need to know that I'm doing the right thing. I need that security, that affirmation. I want to know that I've done well. I want to please him. How the fuck am I supposed to do that when you won't talk to me, God? If you'd tell me I'd be calmer. If you told me, I could trust you. If I knew what you wanted I could do it without question. I would, right?
It's all pride, every bit of it--the idea that God owes me explanations, the idea that if I'm doing the "right" thing I'm a child more deserving of his grace. And as God tries to root it out of me I spit at him for taking away the "good" I think I've found. I'm so content with so little. I refuse to put down scraps of stale bread when he offers a feast. Pride convinces me to resist the healing work I need and resent God for offering it.
I tried to think of what I should write about after years of silence here. I have no clever observations, no snarky commentary. All I have is what I'm trying to process through. So here's a raw journal entry from me. I'm going to try and write here again--hopefully much sooner than this last time.
[Bet you didn't think I'd ever write about hope, did you?]
There's a blue post-it note on the inside cover of my Bible.
I'm not really sure how it got there. I don't think I've ever owned blue, unlined post-its. The handwriting is mine, so it's a fair bet that I contributed to its creation and placement. I've become so used to seeing it that I've stopped seeing it; but I saw it again this morning.
love that makes suffering more acute
It's not even a full sentence, so I date this around 2012-- back when I first took linguistics and really reveled in the arbitrary nature of grammar. [And yes, of course my post about hope includes suffering. Surely you expected this?]
Lots of people have written about how more acute suffering indicates a more acute love. In that relationship, the suffering is an indication of love. In the line on my post-it, it is more clearly stated that it is the love that causes the suffering. I don't know what prompted me to put in my Bible, but I like that it's there.
Being a Christian means living in a glorious love. We, by the grace of Christ, are able to live each day in the assurance of our salvation. Jesus was the propitiation for our sins--past tense. It is finished. We are reconciled. We are free to pursue God unhindered and work to restore right relationship between ourselves and the earth, and be peacemakers among others. We are free to choose something other than sin. This is true love, that the Lord gifts this to such creatures as us!
And yet, there is an undeniable tension. Because the more in Love we are, the more pain we see. When I was not a Christian, it did not pain me to see others scorn God. It did not hurt me to see parents snipe at their children, and children mock their parents. I may have been saddened by world tragedies, but they did not cause my soul to cry out.
I did not know what glory creation was meant for, so I did not care how far away it had fallen.
The work of the Christian--rather, one particular work of the Christian--is to choose engaging in a love that makes suffering more acute. The hard part about this, for me, is that choosing to engage in this love often equates to choosing hope.
If I am to choose Love, I am bound to abiding by Love's words. Which means I must accept Love's promise of a restored kingdom; I must believe in a new earth where every tribe, nation, and tongue worships together; I must trust that every child of God will be reconciled to Christ, that every heart God has chosen will ultimately turn to him.
If I hope that these are true, then I must act as if they are true. Which means I must love others, knowing that many will reject me. I must preach the Gospel, knowing many will reject Christ. I must seek reconciliation between cultures, and feel the tangible pain each time a news story breaks .
I must fully hope in Love in every way, knowing that this act will make suffering that much more acute.
It's a hard call. It's one thing to work through some kind of trial, something we normally think of as "suffering". It's another to know that, because we've chosen to accept God's Love, His love in us causes us to feel brokenness more, feel suffering more.
We feel the brokenness of our neighbors acutely, but resolutely go forward sharing Christ's love. We mourn with those who have lost, yet share the hope of God's promises.
We suffer acutely with the world because we have been Loved on the cross, and hope in the final culmination of that Love in Christ's return. It is this love and this hope that causes us such pain, but the suffering is evidence that our eyes and hearts are being formed into ones like Christ's.
I feel much suffering for the world lately. It is easier not to choose hope. It is easier to harden my heart, to give into cynicism, to expect less. But it is not possible to do this and remain in Love. To be in love is to hope for its triumph, and to feel the pain of the difference.
Fruit and Labor
"So....this is what I was doing during the second part of the sermon," my friend hands me a piece of paper. "I think these are all the main points I want to bring up. Am I missing anything?"
I scan the sheet in front of me--she's outlined some strong theological points regarding why our church's current rhetoric on singleness is both damaging to the members, and in some cases unbiblical; she's bringing it to the leadership.
"I think that's everything we've talked about. And these last two points here?" I flick the bottom of the page "Dang. These are good. I really hate the whole "singleness is temporary so make sure you're actively trying to get married or you're not growing!!!!" thing."
"I can't believe I'm doing this," she mutters distractedly before answering. "But yeah, just-- completely aside from the fact that singleness isn't a transitional state for everyone and you shouldn't assume that, isn't that the point of Jeremiah? To settle in that transition and put down roots and serve God where you've been placed now?"
Transitions. Two years out of college and one year after my current job, I do feel like I've reached the other side of the Early 20s Major Life Transitions--with the exception that I'm moving next weekend.
As my roommate and I planned to transition from one apartment to another, we were constantly thinking about how permanent this was. In my head, it'll probably last a few years and then maybe I'll look at houses. But even knowing that our new place would only last us 1-3 years, we were asking the question "Is this a place where we can invest in the people around us?" Some of reasons we chose the apartment we did were that 1) Two of her friends will be in the same unit as us 2) The management seems involved and around, and 3) The physical structure of the units makes it possible that we could get to know our neighbors. It seems like a place we could invest in.
The apartment is a transitional place to live--but that doesn't mean we're not settling in it or treating it seriously. I'm buying an area rug, because you don't live in a place for a year and not decorate. You invest in your home, you make it beautiful, you invite people in.
Just because you're in a transition, doesn't mean you don't press into it.
It's very easy to treat transitions as temporary because, well, they are. They don't last, and eventually some life event happens: you move, you get a job, you get a spouse, you get a dog, whatever. But there's this very real danger in treating transitions as temporary because you end up placing undue weight on what might happen in the future, thereby neglecting the reality of now. Additionally, depending on what thing I'm treating as a transition, I might be wrong--I may never marry, I may never get a dog. It might not actually be a transition.
If I treat unemployment as a transition and assume employment in the future, I might be too lazy and have poor work ethic currently, or idolize employment to the point of having anxiety.
If I treat singleness as a transition and assume marriage, I may either indulge in overly selfish living or idolize marriage.
And, as my very wise friend pointed out, this is not biblical. When the Israelites were exiled, God commanded them to put down roots in their exile. Was he going to restore them to Jerusalem? Sure. But that didn't mean they could neglect holy living in the now--they needed have homes, families, and jobs and continue to serve him from where they were. When Paul speaks of finding the secret to being content in every situation, doesn't that count even the temporary ones? Or are only the church sanctioned life stages included?
And isn't it a bit absurd to discount transitions as too temporary, when even our very lives on this earth are fleeting like breath?
My point is this: those of you who read this blog are maybe in a life transition, and you are maybe feeling that you're on the cusp of something greater--that you're about to enter into something exciting with God, that soon something really cool is going happen in your life. And that might be true.
But I think we should all be intentional (sorry for saying "intentional") with how we treat transitions. Even if they are temporary, they shouldn't be discarded or treated like a waiting room. Don't rob yourself of the chance to live holy where you are. Like the exiled Israelites, live into your transition--you can worship God fully, and even pursue the next stage in your life without discounting the value of where you are now. Why on earth should God be restricted to only certain stages in your life?
Fruit and Labor
I knock twice on my coworker's office door, and enter without waiting for a response. She swivels around to face me as I enter.
"Thanks so much for coming. I have no idea what's happening--it worked yesterday!"
"No problem! We'll check your benefits build and some system-level settings first, since those are more likely to cause the problem you're seeing. Can you open your records?"
This is a simpler problem than the usual; a minute in, and we find the source of the issue.
"Look here," I circle the mouse around a table on the screen. "When you build these records, you have to link them by--"
"Are you single?" my coworker interrupts. I try to re-interpret her question to make it fit the context of what we're doing, but there's a limited number of ways to relate that to health insurance benefits.
"Uh, yeah. Anyway so once you have your limit you need to add--"
"Why are you single? Do you like it? Don't you want to get married?"
The constantly recurring questions. "Why are you single? Do you like it? Don't you want to get married?" They usually occur right when I first meet someone and they ask if I'm single, so this was actually far more polite because at least I actually knew the person asking me.
Lord, I am sick of them. I am so tired of having to defend the state of not being in a relationship. It's not that I don't want to talk about relationships or am basely offended when someone asks if I want to be married. It's the underlying assumptions and tone that always accompanies them--"Single? But how could you possibly be happy that way? What's wrong with you?" or being treated like a fascinating anomaly, or worse--being "encouraged". "Really? Single? Oh, good for you! Stay strong! I'm sure God will use you to do amazing things!"
So here. Answers to all your questions.
"Why are you single?
- Because I'm not dating or married
- Because I haven't been asked out
- Because I haven't asked anyone out
- Because I'm not interested in dating any of the people I know
- Because I'm not interested in dating in general, at least not enough to actively seek it out and put any effort into pursuing it.
"Do you like it?"
- Sometimes, yeah.
- Sometimes, no.
- Kind of how I imagine marriage. You probably are grateful sometimes for it and pained other times by it. Some days there are things that make you incredibly thankful and joyful, and some days there are things that hurt deeply and you pray to God in tears for help. But you bring the bad days to Christ, and submit the good to God and offer yourself up either way.
- Mostly, yeah, i'm honestly fine with it because I don't see it as a silver medal to marriage.
"Do you want to be married?"
- Sometimes, yeah. I see the good and potential for growth there. I see how you can serve God from that position.
- Sometimes, no. I see the good and potential for growth there. I see how you can serve God from that position.
- Sometimes, yeah. I'm really lonely and give into the lie that marriage would help.
- Sometimes, no. I think the church doesn't understand how to value singles well and I think I can better be a part of strengthening our family in that way from a single person's stance.
- Sometimes, yeah, because I think it would force me to deal with a lot of my most deeply rooted sins.
- Sometimes, no, because I remember the image of the woman in The Great Divorce who served the Lord so well from her position, who was able to be a comfort for the single and married, men and women alike. I want to be that. As far as I am from her, I know God could make me into that.
Now stop asking me these reflexively. Stop asking me these incredulously. Ask me instead what it's like to live single. Ask me what I find beautiful. Ask me what I find painful. Ask me what God's teaching me. Tell me what God's teaching you. Treat it like a legitimate, normal thing to be, and we'll get along much better.
Fruit and Labor
It's been quite the busy past several weeks. Friends showing up unexpectedly, more responsibility being added at work-- time is moving faster than I can track. I realized I passed my nine month mark at work last month without notice. December was the one-year mark from when my dreams were shattered as I was told I couldn't pursue IV staff. Did I really miss that? How did that come to pass so soon?
Today, I sat down after dinner hoping to relax before heading out to volleyball when I saw the date and realized.
Lent begins tomorrow. And I'm not ready.
I'm not prepared. I don't have a reading plan to follow this liturgical season. I haven't picked a book to go through, a topic to journal, a new spiritual discipline to practice, or any of that. I have been taken utterly off-guard by this season and am ill prepared to observe it.
This is unsurprising, really. Life does get busy, particularly after college. Responsibilities demand your time, and the consequences of not fulfilling them steepen. It's so, so very easy to let the ever-quickening clock sweep away your good intentions. Work, bills, chores; the small and ordinary dominate your time until you've forgotten to mark it. It's gone and you're left wondering how.
In college, it felt impossible that so many big, important changes could happen in such a short time.
Now, I wonder how so much time could have been consumed by the ordinary.
It makes me think of Ecclesiastes 2: 24
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God.
The daily work of our lives has a natural tendency to pull us away from God, be it from stress choking the life out of us, or an over-infatuation with our work that strays us. Ordinary time consumes. To be able to find a God-centered, holy enjoyment of work is what I need.
I need it because I hold my Bible in the morning but by the time I sit at my desk I've already been swept away by daily toil. Of course I'm unprepared for lent. I'm unprepared daily.
Observing liturgical seasons can be a way to reset your rhythm. Lent is a particularly good season for this, being one of abstinence and repentance. It's a season of re-orientation, placing yourself firmly as the receiver of Christ's sacrifice. As the sinner. As the needy.
Some traditions, like Catholicism, have special liturgical seasons like Lent. When not observing a special event, the season is simply referred to as Ordinary Time.
I think if I can re-orient myself in Lent, not only will my observation of Christ's death and resurrection be fuller, but so will be my observation of ordinary life.
Fruit and Labor
Today was my rebirthday. I didn't tell anyone. This should be a surprise to nobody, because I didn't tell anyone when I became a Christian, either. I just mysteriously started showing up to all the churchy, christiany things that I had previously vehemently refused to attend.
Anyway. The point being, 5 years ago today I encountered God in such an incredible way that I knew I could do nothing but follow him. I was broken and overwhelmed by Him-- I had no idea who I was saying yes to, but i knew that I couldn't deny Him.
I didn't do anything particularly special to commemorate that today. I went to church, baked way too many cookies, and attempted to go ice skating with some girls from work (Clarification: I did go ice skating, but the attempt was poor. I suck at ice skating). But I did spend some time reflecting on where I was five years ago, and where I am today.
I think I assumed that being a Christian would get easier the longer I did it. Surely the first year would be the hardest, as I realize the depths of my sins. Or maybe the second year, as I begin to grapple with how my life must match my beliefs. Or the third, as I have more responsibility for leading others? How about the fourth, as I try to transition into an """adult""" Christian? The fifth, as I learn what it means to die to self?
Truth is, they were all hard. Often in new or different ways than the previous were hard, but hard nonetheless. I know on an objective level that I have been slowly transformed. I'm not the same person who broke down in my dorm five years ago. I know I'm kinder. I know I'm less selfish. I know I seek the Lord more.
But it's not enough. My sin still burns. I feel it each time a word flies out of my mouth and I want to take it back. Each time I'm too tired to engage with others, so I'm rude to make them back off. I still hate the dark parts of myself and wonder when God will take them away. Isn't five years long enough? I feel myself asking God. When can I finally get better? When can I be whole? When can I be perfect? When will you fully kill the dark parts of me, and free me to be a better light for you?
I can look at myself 5 years ago, and look at myself today. I can see all the ways that God has grown me, and made me holier than I was. But the superiority I have today over myself from 5 years ago is the superiority a worm has over a maggot. Sure, maybe I spend a little more time out in the daylight, but we both still root around in the dirt and the dead things. Neither of us are capable of flying with the eagle.
It's hard to know that I'll never fly unhindered in this lifetime. It's hard to be stuck in the dirt, and be told that I need to continually strive for the sky despite never being able to reach it until after I die, having only glimpses of what it will be like. Not fully knowing the entirety of what i'm longing for, because I'ts too big and incomprehensible for such a small mortal. I know that everything God is doing now is making me into a person who will be able to approach Him in eternity, on no merit but that of Christ's.
I named this blog "Fruit and Labor" because of these: First, the idea that understanding the Lord is (in a sense) a fruitless endeavor, since I can never full achieve it. Second, because my life is dedicated to laboring for the Lord, for striving and seeking him, and producing fruit on his behalf.
When I became a Christian, before I knew who I was talking to, I said "God, if you're real, tell me now. And I will throw away my whole life to follow you." I am sticking to this, even though it will be in the next lifetime that I truly get better.
I imagine the next 5 years will be hard, too. I imagine God will continue growing me. I imagine he will stretch me and change me. I imagine some sins will continue to linger and I will feel their burn until I die. But before that day comes, I will keep seeking God regardless of whether I'm growing at the pace I want. Because I want Him. And I need Him, desperately. If nothing else, the continuous burning reminds me of this.
Fruit and Labor