Archive for the ‘personal needs’ Tag

Saving Trust   1 comment

My achievement demon was finally beaten (as I posted), but it was a double-team effort, not a solo act.  Berly deserves special praise for her unusual trust and courage to stand with me in this battle as she lived out our fundamental commitment to support one another’s personal struggles.  It is a long story, a good story, one well worth telling, but too big for a blog.  The only way for me to escape my work-driven value system was to resist its demands, which meant choosing a job which was good for my soul but bad for my pocket.  I have been employed part-time and seasonally for 40 months as our savings slowly dwindled.  I have looked for other employment, but not aggressively, taking it at the pace my spirit has needed.  

Imagine how much trust and courage this has required of Kimberly and how badly I needed this trust when struggling with my own self doubt.  She has said many times, “we may lose our home, but we must not lose our souls,” and so we have continued to make the hard choice of trusting God to keep us afloat financially while we take the steps we have both needed to make room for our weary hearts.  Think how much Kimberly must trust me not to be selfish, not to take the easy way, not to use my struggle as an excuse to slack off, and to instead accept that I am doing all that I can within the sphere of my emotional strength, making the best choices I know how in harmony with my spirit.  We have built this mutual trust by sharing honestly, often, about our deepest heart issues.  We trust one another not to use our neediness to get an advantage over the other.

My win over this perverse accomplishment-based value system is not full or final.  I cannot suddenly begin to live as though I’m now free of its influence. as though this lifelong weight can no longer distort my self perception.  Don’t look for miracles here or you will be disappointed.  I am in recovery mode, and it will be a long, slow rehabilitation.  It will take whatever time it takes, and trying to hurry it would undermine the process.  But you can be sure that Kimberly and I will stay faithful to the path before us.

Posted January 22, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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You’re Really Okay with This?   5 comments

No arguments with my last Ayn Rand post, with my “selfish” assertion that I should care for my own needs before I care for the needs of others?  My primary moral concern is myself, according to Rand, and I agree with her.  I am ultimately responsible (before God) for my own soul, and it is immoral for me to make a choice that undermines my spiritual well-being, even if someone else might apparently benefit by that action.  I must not sacrifice truth or goodness, purity or faith, love or integrity for any cause, however good, because the end never justifies the means.  I must not be false to myself in order to benefit another.  No good ever comes from choosing against myself.

But what about a mother sacrificing herself for her children or a husband for his wife?  Is there no place for self-sacrifice?  I think I can best approach this question by considering personal gains and losses.  We all suffer losses in this life–not only those forced on us by circumstances, but those we choose for ourselves, for our own benefit.  I choose to lose income for a more fulfilling job, I choose to curtail freedom for the joys of marriage, I choose to forgo speaking my mind for the sake of peace.  In other words, I sacrifice the good for the better; the lesser for the greater, and ultimately, I am ready to sacrifice everything, even my physical life, for that which is fundamental to who I am–my heart and soul.

I think the term “self-sacrifice” is prone to misunderstanding in this regard.  I must never sacrifice my true self for anyone or anything.  I may often choose to suffer a loss for the benefit of myself or others, even great loss in extreme circumstances, but I cannot undermine my soul for the sake of anyone.  It would be immoral and ungodly.

IS THERE ANY LEFT FOR ME?

Many would agree with this theoretically, but in practice I think we regularly, though unintentionally, trade away our soul little bits at a time.  Instead of telling a friend that I need some quiet time, I keep talking on the phone.  Instead of taking a refreshing vacation, I spend the week helping a family member move.  Instead of taking a stand for myself at work, I yield once more to the boss’s insistence.  I don’t tell my spouse what I really think; I wear scuffed shoes to save money; I let the kids choose the radio station.  All of these choices seem godly, and they may be… unless they are slowly grinding down my soul, quenching my life, tripping up my dance with God.

I am learning to listen to my heart when it tells me what I truly need, and if I need it, then it is my moral obligation to meet that need to the best of my ability.  Others will push me to compromise myself and will make me responsible for meeting their wants and needs.  They are in essence making me their savior, but that role belongs to One alone.  If they truly need something, it is God’s responsibility to meet that need, whether or not he uses me.  Grace is the breath of life, and I must put on my airline oxygen mask before helping my child with his or we will both succumb. 

Posted September 28, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Is Selfishness Evil?   9 comments

The Giving Tree (for those who don’t know) is a children’s book that tells the simple love story of a boy and his tree.  As the boy grows, he loses interest in the tree except as it can benefit him, so the loving tree slowly gives itself away a little at a time to the boy–apples to sell, branches for a house, until finally…

Many see in Shel Silverstein’s book an example of unlimited, sacrificial love.  I see a brilliant example of co-dependence.  Is it a virtue to harm myself in order to help others?

A year or two ago I read a quote from Ayn Rand’s book “The Virtue of Selfishness,” and was intrigued by her siding with selfishness against altruism as our ethical necessity, our moral calling.  (She did not distinguish between selfishness and self-care, which is a complex contrast to untangle.)  Here is an example of her perspective, which rings true to a lot of my own life experience:

Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit [i.e. selfishness] is evil….  Observe what this beneficiary-criterion of morality does to a man’s life.  The first thing he learns is that morality is his enemy: he has nothing to gain from it,  he can only lose; self-inflicted loss, self-inflicted pain and the gray, debilitating pall of an incomprehensible duty is all that he can expect.  He may hope that others might occasionally sacrifice themselves for his benefit, as he grudgingly sacrifices himself for theirs, but he knows that the relationship will bring mutual resentment, not pleasure—and that, morally, their pursuit of values will be like an exchange of unwanted, unchosen Christmas presents, which neither is morally permitted to buy for himself….  If you wonder about the reasons behind the ugly mixture of cynicism and guilt in which most men spend their lives, these are the reasons: cynicism, because they neither practice nor accept the altruist morality—guilt, because they dare not reject it.

I had that guilt of never doing enough for others, but instead of cynicism I practiced and accepted the altruistic morality of denying my own needs (because the needs of others always trumped mine).  This conviction that my own needs did not matter left me with a sense of worthlessness.  Is selfishness evil?  Is it always virtuous to give?  I’d like to explore in a few blogs some of Ayn Rand’s views.

Posted September 11, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading, thoughts, Uncategorized

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Who Writes My ‘To Do’ List?   2 comments

This is not a thought topmost on my mind these days… I wrote it some time back.  But I thought it was worth sharing.

Many conservative Christians direct their lives by a long list of expectations handed down to them from various sources (family, church, tradition, culture, etc.), many of which purport to be fundamentally grounded in Scripture.  I know this is how I spent most of my life, but for me it was the letter that killed the spirit.

I was raised to believe and obey the Bible.  At a foundational level were direct and clear commands that seemed to make a lot of practical sense, saving myself and my relationships much grief: don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t gossip (or in positive terms, be honest, be fair, be kind in what you say about others).  It doesn’t take much wisdom to understand the importance and relevance of these commands.

But along with these direct commands, I was taught to identify and live by biblical principles.  Here the footing got very unsteady, for who was to say what principles should be applied in this way by this person at this time to this situation?  Let me give one general principle, stewardship, focusing on one of its corollaries, efficiency, limited to one resource at my disposal, money.  The principle is: spend as little money as possible for the greatest good.  The Bible does not say this directly, but we all know this is what it means when it warns us against greed, tells us to be generous instead of self-serving and to be “rich towards God,” etc.  I said “we all know,” but some of us struggle with such a simple reduction of many passages to one principle.  Even if we agree that a given principle is worth following, we still find the devil in the details–a given application of that principle.  Let me list a few quandries:

1) How do the hundreds of other principles laid out by levels of priority interact with this principle, limiting it, redirecting it, even overriding it?  What kind of good should be done (for instance, is it more important to give Bibles or give bread); who will receive this good (for whom am I most responsible); what other resources will be used in the accomplishing of this good (will it be cheap but take “inordinate” time); may I consider my own interests, talents, vision; what positive or negative side effects may come from this expenditure; am I permitted to solicit money or borrow money for this goal; and I could go on for many pages.

Quantity or Quality? Brand or Generic? Organic or Inorganic?

2) How does this principle apply to purchases for myself?  What must I buy cheaply, and what may I take into account in deciding (the more expensive laundry soap that smells better, the fine quality suit, attending an ivy league school over a local state college?); what percentage must I give away (based on income, cost of living, family concerns, etc.); who decides and how does one decide what is lavish, normal, or frugal living; how much latitude (freedom) do I have; do my feelings matter in any way in making a decision.

3) What role do love and grace play?  Using this principle of financial efficiency, the disciples criticized the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume instead of giving to the poor, and they were rebuked.  It would seem the heart of the matter is the heart matters most, more than the behavioral choices we make, and that we need a level of freedom and faith to live out of  grace rather than law.  (I packed way too much into that sentence.)  As Augustine said, “Love God, and do what you want,” or as Paul said, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Posted April 29, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

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The Strange Turn   3 comments

I can’t do another thing!

The Lenten season is past, but not my Lenten blessing.  I committed to fasting from haste and hurry, and this became a remarkable source of peace for me, as I eased back on my sense of should.  I started this process over the last decade as I gradually realized that most of the duties to which I felt driven were not from God, and that I could choose grace over obligation.  As I ignored these duties, I felt the sting of shame and clung to grace rather than works as a remedy.

But my Lenten exercise did something very unexpected for me.  Since I committed to the spiritual exercise of slowing down (and therefore accomplishing less), I was struck by the conclusion that God wanted me to rest.  It was not only that I could choose to ignore the pressure of obligation, that God would be patient with me in doing less, but that God wanted me to do less, he willed for me to offload these unnecessary burdens.  Grace demanded that I stop forcing my soul and start listening to it and choosing for its needs.  God was not impatiently waiting for me to “hurry up and get with it,” but he was calling me to be as patient with myself as he was with me.  For some time my mind has been convinced theologically that God is more patient with my rate of growth than I am, but after focusing 40 days on rest as a direction from God rather than a concession to my weakness, my emotions were also convinced.  God has designed growth as a life principle to go at a slow pace, and if I try to push harder and faster, I will make things worse instead of better, like too much water and fertilizer on my squash.  I have always been an overzealous fellow.

No doubt many folks go too easy, and would help themselves by picking up the pace, not on the trail of duty, but of grace, stirred by the anticipation and joy and wonder of being transformed, of discovering how rich and full life can be.  Grace removes the drive of obligation not to make us spiritually comotose, but to set us free to find and embrace the richness of grace, its inspiration and glory and power and freedom and joy.  I still have a long way to go, but I am laying one more foundation stone of grace in making this my Year of Rest.

Posted April 10, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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Can Grace Go Too Far?   13 comments

Given a couple of negative responses to my recent posts, I apparently need to explain what I mean by grace.  I think there are some common interpretations of grace that can really take us down the wrong path.  One of the most common misunderstandings of grace is to equate it with freedom of action while equating law with restriction of action.  freedom and restriction of action are about method and context, while grace and law are about motivation and direction.  Grace does not play the high notes or the low notes on this freedom/restriction continuum, but plays the whole keyboard.  That is to say, it confines or releases as directed by love.

EVERY NOTE IS A GRACE NOTE

Law motivates by fear, shame, and guilt.  These are very legitimate motivations, because they point out how screwed up we really are, but if we try to remedy our fear and guilt by making better choices, we are doomed by our imperfections.  The fear and shame are not intended to drive us to work harder at being good, but to awaken us to our need of the grace of God (forgiveness, love, acceptance, strength, hope, blessing, in short, the gospel).

THE FACE OF THE LAW

Here is where confusion and misgivings easily catch us.  We know that fear and shame are powerful motivators, they have profoundly molded our behavior and the behavior of others towards us.  If you remove law, what will keep me in check?  We think fear and guilt make us good, when they really only change our actions, not our hearts.  Still, if  this motivation is removed, what will inspire us to go in the right direction.  If there is therefore now no condemnation, won’t I just act like a spoiled brat, won’t others “take advantage” of grace?  No.  It is impossible to “take advantage” of grace.  If you try, if you decide to fulfill every “forbidden pleasure,” it will leave you more empty, lost, broken, and even farther from the blessings of grace–not because grace resists you, for it always has open arms, but because you resist grace, which is the way of true peace, fulfillment, joy, love.  The only way to take advantage, full advantage, of God’s grace is to throw yourself whole-heartedly into his embrace.

Let me quote a reply I gave a questioning friend: In my mind “doing as I please” is a serious misunderstanding of grace, and is profoundly different from doing what my soul needs. The differentiation in my mind is not that the first matches my desires and feelings and the second matches my duty, but that the first matches superficial desires and feelings often at odds with my deeper feelings (e.g. choosing sex as a replacement for love), while the second is discovering my true feelings and true needs and seeking to meet those.  At this point in my understanding of God’s grace, I believe that my soul’s truest needs are never in conflict with God’s will, and if they appear to be, I misunderstand one or the other.

SAFE HANDS

Posted April 3, 2012 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Sucked Empty by Goodness   1 comment

I did not mean to suggest in my last post that our long, long lists of good behaviors are not in fact good.  I simply want to point out that they are not paramount.  Brushing our teeth, paying our bills on time, making soup for our sick neighbor are all good things, but the phrase, “the good is (sometimes) the enemy of the best,” comes to mind.  This aphorism is usually used to promote even higher, more taxing behavioral standards for ourselves, but I would use it to change the value scale altogether, to set a higher value on heart issues than behavior.

When I stop to compare how I treat friends with how I treat myself, I am often dumfounded at how disrespectful, rough, and unsympathetic I am to myself.  I would never tell a friend what I tell myself.  If a friend called me and said, “I’m really hurting right now, do you have time to talk?” I can’t imagine responding, “I’m not free right now, I have to cut the grass,” or “Really the only time I have to talk is Thursday 6-7.”  But that is exactly what I used to tell my own soul many times every day.  By the way I treated it, I was basically saying, “Shut up!  I don’t have time for you!  The dishes are more important.”

Over the last several years, I have worked hard at sloughing off responsibilities that made my soul feel it was of less value than some task.  Of course, this list is unique to each person.  For instance, skipping a meal in order to finish a project was never a sacrifice for me–but I did often suffer by driving myself to grind through a project when my soul was weary of it.  To each his own.

Many of you would be surprised at the things that distress me, and perhaps shocked at some of the things I have chosen to offload from my list of duties for the sake of my spirit.  Filing my annual taxes is always troublesome, and while I was still single, sometimes distressing.  As April 15 drew closer, my distress increased, but I had no emotional energy to force myself to complete them.  So in an effort to give my soul breathing room, I chose several times to file my taxes late and pay the resulting penalty.  Poor stewardship?  Of my money, yes, but not of my soul, and my soul is more important than money.  In fact, what more valuable investment than supporting my soul…so I guess it was financially good stewardship as well.  Thankfully, that spring dyspepsia is now eased with the presence of a life partner.

God gives us the strength to fulfill his call, but does he give us the strength to fulfill the calls of social norms or family expectations or friends’ needs?  I have too often assumed that my soul’s cries for help were the voice of temptation rather than the voice of truth, the voice of God calling me to rest.  Pain is the body’s signal that we should stop.  If we listen to it as a practice, then sometimes choosing wisely to override it can actually benefit the body, but if we typically ignore the pain signal, we will tear down our bodies.  I believe the same for our souls.  It knows better than our brain when something is amiss and needs addressing, and if our inclination is to ignore it, we tear it down.

BE AS GENTLE TO YOUR SOUL AS YOU ARE TO YOUR FRIEND'S

Posted April 1, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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