What Matters Most

I am often distracted by my own self interest. Instead of living into the image which God has created in me, I manipulate my image to become important to others. I even consider my image to be of some import on its own. Masking my emotions is one way I try to manage my image, and this feeds my addiction.

On the other hand, I can also be absorbed by another’s presence. In a group I can fade into the background, become invisible. God does not want this either. With God’s help, when I am in touch with my centered, image-bearing self, I operate from a solid inner base from which I can speak and act without apologies – humbly and convincingly. When this paradigm is operating freely in me, I don’t even notice it.

So when I accept myself as image deo, that is fully an image bearer of the Almighty, then I am free to be me. Then I am completely me, no strings attached. Of course, this matters to God because he wants me to operate from this solid inner base that he has created in me. It matters to other people because when I am totally myself in relationships, I am differentiated from others and thereby act in a caring and a challenging way at the same time. God’s love in us is not anemic. It is robust. As a result I become more confident and that is why it also matters to me.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

“Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Psalms 19:12-14 ESV

http://bible.com/59/psa.19.12-14.esv

Without Restraint

Lord, I pray that my spirit might be in step with your Spirit.

“The years that lie behind you, will be remembered only as the way that led to your new life.” – Nouwen

The sordid details of my story still scourge my heart. I long for the time when they will not haunt me. I want to tell my story freely but not compulsively. I want others to see that when I am powerless to control my addiction and when I fully surrender to Christ, then the grip of my lust loosens and I regain my footing to walk in step with God’s Spirit.

This is the season for the full disclosure to my wife. The video of euphoric recall presses upon my chest. Breathing is compressed and shallow. My heart gallops as if running from the pain. I hope and pray that she will not be crushed by the iniquity of my actions. I do not want to see the pain re-enter her eyes. My soul weeps as the day of disclosure draws near.

When I return to my story urgently, it enlivens my current suffering in light of past experiences. I long to speak of my past from the place where it no longer dominates me, and I can talk about it slowly with a sense of distance and of freedom. As I live forward, my past will not loom over me. It will lose its weight. When I am free to speak and live and have my being as a servant of Christ, I remember that my past was God’s way of making me more compassionate and understanding towards others.

Two Roads Diverge, Part 3

At His right hand are pleasures forevermore.

I am a person that looks for his own pleasure and usually in all the wrong places. It is very easy to find someone to bring me pleasure, but it is always only temporary. However, the pleasures available to us from God are always available. I think it is a matter of knowing when and where and how to open ourselves to those pleasures.

I think of a sunset. Most people turn their head to watch a sunset. It is unlikely you’ll find a sunset to which you respond, “humph.” Even the worst sunset brings shalom to a hectic day. Yet, the sunset doesn’t last forever. It’s gone before long, and that is what gives it so much pleasure power. If we were bathed in a lifetime of the sun setting, perhaps following the turning earth in a super fast airplane just above the ground to have a continuous look, the gasping pleasure would become, “ho hum.” It would be the same if we stood at a great waterfall, forever, or walked the ocean beach, forever, or stood at the top of a high mountain, forever. The reason we experience such intensity is because, whatever the pleasure, it is fleeting. So the pleasures from God are not unending, but their availability is forever.

One more thought, or actually a question, “Is pain a pleasure intensifier?” It seems to be so for me. The emotional pain I have caused in myself and others seems to make my sense of joy deeper and wider and higher. Sometimes when the pain is raw and intense, each long and yawning breath is a gift that brings life and peace and hope. Each and every breath is itself a joie de vivre. Lots of pleasures at God’s right hand are as simple as a breath if we know when and where and how to look.

Pleasures are shafts of God’s glory touching our sensibilities. – C S Lewis

Two Roads Diverge, Part 2 Revisited

In His presence is fullness of joy . . .

I’m still figuring this one out and think it is one of those life long learning opportunities.

Sometimes I feel like I’m addicted to everything. I use stuff to avoid my emotions, especially the strong ones. I hide from fear with food. I suppress anger with gambling. For resentment or stress, there is acting out sexually. Sometimes I find myself even trying to ignore feelings of deep joy.

My counselor is helping me to understand myself. I’m in the middle of a formal presses of full disclosure to my wife about my acting out sexually. Talk about strong emotions. I was suggesting that I just have a beer before or after the upcoming session where I will be telling my wife the nitty gritty of my past. The counselor smiled, like she does, and said I don’t want you to drink before the session and I’d prefer you sit with your emotions after. WTF does sit with my emotions mean? We talked it through. Emotions won’t kill me; they are not good nor bad. They just are.

So for the second time today I sat – we’ve got this great new chair that is perfect for this – through my emotions. Funny thing, today I felt a rush of an emotion that I identify as full joy. I was thinking about a couple. They are some of my best friends. We have cycled across the country together. Tomorrow is Steve’s birthday. Tears ran to the corners of my eyes and down my cheeks. My breaths were deep like the ocean. Complete gladness welled up inside me. And I sat there. Before, I think I would have tried to shake the feeling off, like there was a spider on my hand. Instead, I sat with my own feeling and bathed in the joy. I was surrounded by water that was soothingly warm and my muscles relaxed. It was refreshingly cool and exhilarating at the same moment.

This is another example where I’ve come to believe, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God . . . Only God [can] say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ

Grace and peace to you in Christ who gives mercy sufficient for today,

Henry

P.S. Two Paths Diverge, Part 2

I struggled a few days ago with my post on in His presence is fullness of joy. I forgot to mention one incident that I think captures the nuanced difference between happiness and joy. I was walking the other day and trying to wrap my head and heart around the nature of joy referenced in the line above. I was sort of trying to conjure up a joyful attitude, but it was a rainy day in Seattle – one of those fifty degree, dull gray, winter days with no leaves on the trees. Without thinking I stopped to let a car back into the street. The guy inside waved through the window and smiled. As he was driving away, he even rolled down his window and gave me a thumbs up. I felt a twinge of deep satisfaction and shouted “sure thing” as he drove down the street. I didn’t feel happy. I was cold and the dreary rain did not let up. But I did feel something that lightened my step a bit. Was that joy in His presence? Maybe.

Resentment

I’ve been reading lately about resentment. I’m generally a nice guy. I smile at folks, laugh at their jokes, and listen to what they have to say. As an introvert, it is sometimes hard for me to actually engage in a conversation, but I frequently try to make small talk. So when I thought about the possibility that I might add resentment to my list of addictions, my first thought was, “no way.” And right behind that thought came the epiphany , I was resenting the the notion that I was addicted to resentment.

So begrudgingly (with resentment), I’ve added it to the list. Yesterday, this addiction was confirmed. I meet with a small group of guys on Monday nights to talk about my addiction and recovery. They have been very gracious and kind to me. Yesterday, however, when texting about the details of the upcoming get-together I received the following texts. I’m putting the screenshot with the names redacted.

At first glance this probably looks like a guy taking advice from his friends but let me tell you about what was going on inside. I got angry about “spidey’s sense” and advice. It was my wife’s birthday and I had already thought through going out. She was sleeping off the stomach flu (a nice gift from someone on her birthday, 😦 and wouldn’t be waking up any time soon. I resented my friend for even bringing up the idea, and when a second guy affirmed that I should stay home, I got even more angry. That’s resentment pure and simple.

Twelve step recovery process insists we face everything honestly. I want to be known as a thoughtful guy, a nice guy, a person who thinks everything through and then makes a good decision. I didn’t take well to the challenge that maybe my decision was not the best one in this case. I acquiesced with, “Ok. See ya next week.” But, I caught myself thinking my friends didn’t know what they were talking about. Moreover, I resented they had even considered I was not taking everything into account. And, I was angry.

The good things is that I was honest with myself about my anger. In the past, I would have buried the anger and eventually would have acted out my addiction to keep from acknowledging the feeling at all. Honesty, acknowledgement, baby steps toward recovery, and now writing about the event are progress, but I’ve got a long way to go.

Two Paths Diverge, Part 2

You make known to me the path of life;

in your presence is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

I’ve had some trouble trying to understand the second phrase in this verse from the Psalms. “In your presence is fullness of joy” brings two mind two difficult questions for me. When am I in God’s presence? What is Joy?

At first glance, these questions might seem easily answered. After all, isn’t God omnipresent and isn’t joy that deep gladness we have knowing we are in God’s loving hands? For me, there is more of a mystery here than comes to light in these somewhat simple answers.

If I’m constantly in God’s presence, then how and why do I sin? Even if God is everywhere, I must acknowledge God’s ubiquity in order for it to have an impact on my life. I suppose it is a little like the perspective of a small child. I remember a time when our children were quite young, around 4 and 1. The oldest had just received a Christmas present that included a bunch of marbles. I was using a camera to capture the moment, but since I was behind the large video camera, he ignored the fact that I was in the room. His mom was behind the wall in the kitchen. He dumped the entire container of marbles out on the floor and they went everywhere. His mom heard the commotion and said, “Oh honey, why did you do that?” His reply was, “I didn’t, David [his little brother who was sitting there watching] did it.” The whole thing was caught on video.

I don’t believe he would have blamed his brother if his mom had been there present with him. We tend to behave differently when we are in the presence of others. Just take the anonymity of the internet as another contemporary example. There is a ton of evidence to the fact that people think no one is “watching” when they post text, pictures, or videos online. What we do when we think no one is watching reveals a clearer picture of our true character. It that is true, then it must also be true for our actions before an ever present God. So, we must be mindful of his presence to experience fullness of joy. But what is joy?

For me, this is even a harder question. Some writers think that joy and happiness are the same. Others say happiness has to do with circumstances and joy is unrelated to what is going on around us. Joy is somehow deeper, more related to our frame of reference than to our current situation.

When we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, we have the opportunity to experience a deep peace and gladness knowing that we are traversing the path of life that God constantly reveals, bit by bit, as we are able to receive it. So I can be sad and still experience joy. Joy has nothing to do with happiness. Full joy is God’s grace in my life to live through each moment, good or bad, as though God is right there with me. Moreover, I cannot begin to understand joy without grace because I don’t have it in me to see moments as God sees them. According to His Word, all opportunities, even trials, are a means for me to become perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

In His presence is fullness of joy. When we acknowledge God’s moment by moment presence with us on the path of life, we can experience full joy. This is another example of His grace and mercy at work within us. When I look at the opportunity in this moment to experience God’s loving presence, I see two equal roads.

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

So, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Grace and peace,

Henry