The Art of Living with Yourself (3 of 3)

My dad once said to me “most people don’t know how to be comfortable in their own company” – at the time, I didn’t fully appreciate just how insightful this observation was. But now, given the ubiquity of smart phone zombies, lost within the back lit glow of their latest distraction, making them presently absent – his words seem to ring true. His point was that most people aren’t really practiced at living with their own thoughts for any length of time, relying instead, on external stimuli to keep them pre-occupied . . . to keep the resident disquiet of their minds at bay.

Perhaps you’re more familiar with this the other way around – someone being described as “comfortable in their own skin”. A sort of psychological assessment of well-being, identifying an apparent absence of inner conflict. Or maybe you’ve heard someone described as “knowing their own mind” – which is an apt description for someone who’s measured confidence is derived from their thoughtful discernment. So where do you see yourself on this continuum? How would others readily describe your default demeanor?

When we cultivate a humble and grateful heart, peace of mind invariably follows. To know such contentment is a virtue – but an elusive and ephemeral virtue, it would seem. But in the same way the virtue of patience requires that we slow things down so we can form a more measured and thoughtful perspective – contentment requires we widen our perspective, so as to place ourselves within a more discerning context. Which only begs the question — What exactly is it about us that tends to speed up and narrow our perspective?

As it happens, these are two prominent characteristics of addictive behavior. But in order to fully appreciate this, one must understand that addiction occurs on a continuum — both by degree and type. So the definition of addiction isn’t simply confined to the socially unacceptable behaviors, which often leap to our minds – but must also be applied to every misplaced desire that we allow to preoccupy our hearts. For whatever we’ve allowed to preoccupy the desires of our heart, invariably becomes the very thing that defines us. This is why any desire we place in competition with our desire for God, inevitably devolves into an obsession that can never be satisfied . . . in other words, an addiction.

girl-looking-out-a-window-by-Krista-Campbell-Photography-300x200So it really isn’t surprising that on some level, to varying degrees, we are all unsettled – given there exists a subtext of simmering addiction, attempting to define us . . . but in all actuality, it is attempting to redefine us. Because the core seduction of such addictions, is the notion that you are capable of defining yourself, on your own terms – by pursuing your addiction. And this notion will always and forever be at odds with the way that God has already defined you.

It’s a question of identity – are you what you say you are, or are you what God says you are? You’d think this was a no brainer – but that doesn’t make the conflict any less real. So when I read John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” — I get the distinct impression that Jesus knew we would be tempted to seek a peace of mind that wasn’t the peace he was offering. Which is why he leaves with us the Holy Spirit (verse 26), to remind us of our true identity. Because when we embrace our true identity, we are at peace with God . . . and ourselves.

Remember . . . you are who he says you are

Relabeling My Boxes

Hands down, the most adorably captivating conversation you will ever have is with a four year old explaining anything. Whether it’s the events of the day or something they’ve recently learned – because they are fully invested emotionally in the telling of it. Their eyes get big and expressive. Their hands float and swim like fish, punctuating every detail with theatric conviction. They seem genuinely surprised by every word leaving their lips, as if pronunciation were an involuntary act. Then as they become aware of the grin spreading across your face, they either become instantaneously shy, or they become even more enthusiastic, depending upon their temperament.

O, to have such an unencumbered innocence of wonderment animating us again – but that’s not the way that growing older works, is it? Seems like as soon as we get the least bit of a handle on communication, we become subconsciously aware that if our understanding of the world doesn’t conform to a conventional knowing of the world, we can quickly find ourselves on the margins of our culture. So we learn very early on, as a social skill, that our knowing of anything must be willing to choose sides on any given topic — because not knowing is ignorance . . . and nobody wants to be known as ignorant.

So as if reading from a script, we all act out the part of the knowing, thoughtful person – either within the trappings of our educational certitude, or in our postured arrogance of believing there’s no real distinction between our personal opinions and what is actually true. This is a persistent thread of modernity running from the Enlightenment until today – predicated on the self-possessed notion that everything can eventual be explained . . . so we assume we can know whatever pops into our heads to know.

Therefore, the thought that much of life is a mystery, making the knowledge of it too far beyond our comprehension, is strictly anathema to the purveyors of the modern project . . . for those who place their faith in what they think they know. This is how the way of God confounds the wise (1 Corinthians 1:26-31) – He does not ask us to explain what we know, he only asks us to trust in him . . . with a faith foolish enough to abandon what we think we know.

Tresaure chestIn my younger days I spent a considerable amount of time filling up boxes full of the things I thought I knew, each one, an endless repository of well-informed, perfectly explainable knowledge. No doubt, on some psychological level, I was compensating for a defective self-perception — hoping no one would notice. So this wealth of boxes were carefully labeled and inventoried – at the ready, on a moment’s notice, to give proof that I wasn’t ignorant.

So what I’ve discovered of late, out of the wisdom of humbled experience, is that ignorance is truly bliss. That ignorance isn’t stupidity – stupidity is over stating what you can’t possibly know. So when I’m invited to climb into the ring and wrestle theological or political matters with someone – I just smile and think “must be nice to have the certainty of knowing so much”. This is not to say that I don’t know what I believe – I know full well what I believe and why I believe it. But lately I’ve taken to relabeling all of my boxes with the label “The Mysteries of God” — as they have belonged to him all along . . . many of which are far too wonderfully inscrutable, for the likes of me.

When in doubt — keep it simple

Walking In Light

I’ve never met a legalist who thought that they were one. Just goes to show you how powerful the influence of self-referencing can be. As the theory goes, there will always be someone else requiring a stricter adherence to a longer list of expected behaviors and enumerated misdeeds — so clearly such a person is far more likely to be a legalist than we are. But isn’t that just how a legalist would think – comparatively measuring themselves with those who aren’t doing it quite right? Ouch!

The Pharisees were expert in the art of comparative judgement. They were so devout in their observation of the law, that they went well above and beyond what was required . . . and they made darn sure everyone knew it. For them the value of righteousness and transgression were in how they were external expressions of conformity or defiance, and as such, the only indicator needed for determining a person’s worth and significance. And because the Pharisees kept the law so impeccably, their religious authority went unquestioned.

So when this carpenter, turned itinerate rabbi, comes to town, hanging out with the riff raff of the city, with a message that exposed their hollow conformity for the empty self-serving arrogance that it was (Matthew 6:1-7) – the Pharisees knew that their authority was being questioned, and their manipulative control over people was losing its grip. So they laid rhetorical traps for Jesus, only to be ensnared by their own deceitful intent. Until Jesus finally calls them out into the full light of day, speaking woe upon their self-serving hypocrisy (Matthew 23) – a scathing repudiation of the religious fiefdom they had been building for themselves in the name of God.

stepping-into-the-lightThey say light is a great disinfectant, exposing every hidden agenda, leaving no place to hide. For those who have spent their life in the dark this is a humbling undoing, stripping away the layers of bondage. But for those who have been pretending to live in the light, the true light is experienced as a far more searing rebuke – as it lays bare all of the hidden dark pretense of pride. So there’s no wonder, the common sinner felt invited to be healed and set free, while the self-righteous felt exposed, by Jesus’ words of life.

So when we come to 1 John 1:5-10, the invitation to “walk in the light” (vs 7) is best understood, not as a burden we were never intended to carry, but as a freedom that only the honest and humble can know. This is because this invitation to walk in the light has a conditional clause, we are to do so “as he is in the light”. The way of Christ is a humble path, so only the humble can walk freely in his light. But here’s the tricky bit – if you make being humble a task to be accomplished . . . you will have completely missed the point. Humility will never work from the outside in, it must come from the inside out. Now, here’s the great thing – it is the light of God within us working its way out that allows us to walk in light . . . so let’s join him in the light.

. . . and let him take your hand

Being Humble (7 of 7)

Standing in the church foyer before the service, I’m chatting it up with a friend when he asks me this non-sequitur question “So will you be attending that course, the church is offering this semester, on being humble?” I don’t reply with my first reaction, which is to tell him that I’ve been involved in a lifelong field-study of my own on this topic – and it’s been kicking my ass. Instead, I reply “No thank you, because here’s what my relationship with being humbled looks like – when I spot it on the street, I begin to run the other way until it inevitably chases me down, tackling me to the ground, pushing my face into the dirt . . . and frankly, I don’t like the taste of dirt.” to which after an awkward pause, he just looks at me with a blank stare and changes the subject again . . . I get that a lot.

In the legend of King Arthur, the quest for the Holy Grail is not meant to be understood as an external quest of archeological exploration for an artifact of antiquity, it is better understood as an interior quest – for the cup of Christ will only reveal itself to one of pure intent, one who is willing to sojourn the topography of their own doubt and fear . . . to be as the vessel itself, surrendered to its master’s will. I see desiring humility in the very same way. So for me, bullet point presentations somehow seems to miss the point – it just strikes me as antithetical to the very nature of humility. Like a bluesman telling you how happy he is to be singin’ the blues – attempting to be good at being humble is simply oxymoronic.

man-reaching-for-the-lightTrying to be humble is like a dog chasing its tail – the moment it sinks its teeth in, it regrets the choice. Whatever piety you imagine you might attain in such a quest will be the very first thing crushed under the heel of humility, because there are no half measures with true humility — invariably the humble path will lead you to a life of sacrifice . . . and a life of sacrifice will demand everything of you. Even Jesus wanted to avoid drinking from that cup.

So when the road your life is on becomes a humbled path, you will hold tightly to your breast the things most precious to you, only to have them wrenched from your arms and consumed in holy fire. Then like Job, you will sit in ash and disillusionment, while your family and friends gather around you to discuss exactly how you could have avoided this calamity. So are you still interested in trying to be humble?

We do not follow Christ by trying to be humble; we are made humble in following Christ. For it is in Jesus the admonition of Micah 6:8 is fully met “. . . to do what is just, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”– A humble life in an unjust world, doing what is right while loving mercy. If we could be humble apart from Christ, we would most likely take credit for it – how messed up is that? Paul sums it up best in Philippians 3:10 “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” So the way of Christ is the humble path, and it’s a lifelong course worth taking, but only because it allows you to more completely identify with Christ . . . and yes, it will kick your ass.

I am nothing
But the angels sometimes whisper in my ear
Yeah, they tell me things and then they disappear
Though I am nothing
Sometimes I like to make believe I hear