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Pain and Suffering

The following post is disjointed and semi incoherent. I have left it as such on purpose. Incoherence and abrupt changes in the narrative when retelling a personal story is a sign of trauma. I have recently had multiple friends go through severely traumatic events. I have left my musings in a format that is I intend as an embrace to their stories.

What do you do when faced with evil and suffering?

I typically remind myself that when Christ returns judgement day will come and the wicked will be punished and the righteous will be rewarded.

But this answer begins to waver as I am faced with greater evil and suffering. The last year I have met those whose spouse cheated and left them, watched young people avoid the feelings after being abused and five women who had been raped. One of them was raped while I was in the act of praying for her.

The light of future justice becomes a dimmer and dimmer light in the face of growing darkness.

How do I continue to believe that God is good in light of allowing such evil? Evil that could have been avoided by a text and one other person joining an event. Such a simple solution.

I want to alleviate suffering. Because of this I have a habit of looking for people who are suffering to help them. I developed a habit of seeing more evil and bad than good in the world. I fail to see the blessings and good that God provides.

              These things I hold to be true.

              God allows people to choose for themselves.

              When people sin it is because they are carried away by their own lusts.

              God prevents us from sinning in many ways that we do not see.

              We never know the whole picture of how God is working in our lives.

              Pain and suffering is sometimes the only thing that turn us to Christ, and that will always be worth it.

              But I wonder, how do I know that turning to Christ is worth it? What do I see now?

David laments the success of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous in the Psalms. He cries out to God in honesty as he looks at the suffering of the world. Why? Where are you?

              But he declares, “I am confident of this, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

              If I believe this I must look for it. I must be thankful for the good that the Lord does provide. The sun, the rain, health, friends, embraces, prayer, and recall to mind all the past times he has come through.

              I want to ‘do justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly before the Lord my God’

              In response to seeing pain and suffering I want to do good. Treat others well.

              I must praise God that I have been counted worthy to suffer for the sake of showing others goodness.

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Loneliness 1

Loneliness. You are not alone in your loneliness. And yet you are alone. So very very alone.

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Reddit, Discord and other social media platforms allow us share and speak with friends and strangers. Cell phones, Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, and Facebook video calls allow us to see and talk to loved ones with the push of a button. Personal vehicles allow us to see friends in person at distances that would have previously prevented friendships.

Lonely. I am still lonely. I went rock climbing with a friend. We got dinner afterwards. As soon as she left a massive wave of loneliness swept over me. I live with family. I have a great relationship with my family. Yet I am still lonely.

Loneliness is a negative emotion that tells us connection is missing or broken. A good connection requires presence (the act of being fully engaged with the other person), and common experience (doing something, understanding the other).

For six years I relied on texting and phone calls. My close friends were hours away and my work routinely prevented me from seeing them. But it left me wanting. I wanted to be with them and not where I was. Now, even when with my friends I imagine and hope to be somewhere else.

I got used to my phone as a placeholder for human connection. Checking my phone gave a tiny relief to my loneliness. My phone was a very bad coping mechanism. I found out later that checking our phones impulsively is due to the brain being trained to release dopamine by checking our phones.

              Even though I have consistent time with the my closest friends who are wonderful people I still have my bad habits. Silence in conversation? Pick up the phone. Think of something to say to someone else? Pick up the phone and text them. Can’t be funny myself? Grab my phone and find a TikTok.

              We can change our emotions by changing small actions. Find the one small action. The easiest one you know you can change. It doesn’t have to be a magic bullet, but one that is part of the change.

              Below is my train of thought that got me from loneliness to stop checking my phone.

              I am lonely because I am not fully connected. I am not fully connected because I am not fully attentive and engaged with my friends. I am not fully engaged and connected because I have the emotional desire to be or do something else. I want to be elsewhere and do other things because the cell phone gives the false impression that it will heal my loneliness by connecting me to someone else (the dopamine burst).

              When I go to my friends house I tell them, “I am struggling to focus on being here and not check my phone. I am going to put it on ‘do not disturb’ It will only ring if one of my favorite contacts calls. Other than that I am not going to check it. Please call me out if I do.”

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Processing vs Choosing

              I enjoy figuring out the internal world of emotions, feelings, and how the past affects what we choose today. It is like a giant puzzle. I love reading books on how our brain is developed and how counseling brings coherence to our stories and changes how our brain functions. I am just about always observing my own thought and emotional process.

              I lived with a gentleman that did none of this. It was rare that he would say something like, “you think I do this because of this?” Maybe three times in the entire two years I lived and worked with him. He just saw a behavior and changed it. If something made him mad he was mad. If he should not have been mad he realizes it and then doesn’t get mad again.

              No analyses. No working through emotions to find out reasons causes etc. No mulling over why there is angst, pain, or hurt. He just accepts, “yup. That sucks” and then in a few hours he will be over it. He is perfectly successful and takes care of his fiancé and his friends well.

              Typically this makes me uncomfortable. Most people I know that just decide to ‘change’ are really just ignoring issues. They don’t work through past pain and trauma and then their expectations and coping mechanisms affect me. I prefer my way. Or I did.

              I mull over the same experience for weeks. I try and find the root of the roots, root cause. If I just find the past experience and base motivation then, maybe, I can change my feelings. This is a good skill in that I can usually communicate how and why I feel what I feel. But it is not good when the same issue keeps coming up over and over again.

              Brain scans show that bringing coherence to past experiences changes how our brain functions. But if constant mulling over the past causes other bad behaviors, or delays change in behavior it can be bad.

              God does command constant self evaluation. We are commanded to do good. God tells us that, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

              Sometimes does obedience take internal processing? Absolutely. Sometimes just choosing never seems to work. But other times we need to just let our feelings go, get over ourselves, and choose a different path. Choosing in this manner, like anything else, is a skill that must be practiced. But it is a good skill to have in the endeavor to live well and love well.

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To My Plant Friends

              I love my plant friends. Walk into their house and there are plants. Everywhere. I am not a plant person. I am bad at taking care of plants. I just can’t keep them alive. I give them too much sun. Too much water. I am also bad at taking care of people.

              Cameron would tell you this isn’t true. He recently told me I respond to him well. I listen, I only offer advice when asked. I care for him while respecting his autonomy.

              I am good for Cameron. He wants to grow in a way that fits my methodology and thought process. He likes the amount of light and water I naturally offer. But I cannot say I am good at taking care of people because ‘people’ includes those who don’t think like me. They need different levels of sun and water.

God has recently been using a young gal to humble me. Constantly. She doesn’t aspire to the same ‘level’ of growth. She doesn’t want to work through past demons. She just goes through life changing habits without overthinking. Sort of.

I try to push and influence her behavior. But it never works.

She does have episodes of growth. She sits me down and brings up difficult topics and clearly states what she feels, what she wants, and what she is working on.

It has always been after my absence. Not my presence. Won’t talk for three or four days and then a sudden blooming of analyzed feelings and desires. I am more of a hindrance than a help.

She is the plant lady.

She grows on her own.

Paul tells us in 1 Cor that one person plants and another waters, but it is God who makes them grow. I over water and force sunlight and get frustrated when leaves wilt or get burned. But it is not my place to expect or demand growth. My place is to be good and do good.

Plants don’t communicate the same way people do. They tell you in subtle ways when they need water and sun. If you overwater they may grow mold. If you give them too much sunlight, they get burnt. When do we water and sun plants?

When they ask for it. It may be nonverbal. They may be unconscious in a ditch in need of medical care. Or crying and motion for a hug. It may be like Cameron who asks directly and clearly.

When we aren’t asked; we do good and shine as little lights for Christ. The plants that like to grow in sunlight will grow. The ones that don’t, won’t.

If they need space. Give them space. God grows plants in the darkness and the desert as much as the sunlight and the rainforest. Thankfully even those that we over water God gives grace to grow despite us.

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Tik-Tok, Tuesday, and Love

         

I want a good marriage. But what does that mean?

               We are inundated with movies, tv shows, and tabloids that emphasize a hot steamy romance. It is fairly common knowledge that the chemicals underlying the passionate love dissipate between the 6 month and 2 year mark. Most towards the shorter end of that range.

               Country artist Jake Scott released a song, “Love is the Tuesdays” in 2018. The song runs counter to the image of blissful highs and lows and emphasizes daily moments. “It’s not just highs and lows, and champagne toast, I’ve come to know that love’s not only the best days, or the worst days, love is the Tuesdays” Jakes song calls attention to the steady enjoyment of life with another person.

               Everyone says this is what we want. The unexciting, healthy, committed, caring relationship. But do we really? I don’t think so.

               Tik-Tok is both a huge time waster but also an app that shares stories of the mundane. Unlike Instagram that trended towards the perfect photo, the road trip adventures, and highlights, Tik-Tok emphasizes the mundane. Is your hair a mess? Doesn’t matter. Room a mess? Who cares. Lighting terrible? Not a problem. What do people watch? Literally anything. It is just a bunch of boring people doing boring things.

Every part of life is to be enjoyed. Work to play, exploring the outdoors, and significant events. All things were given to us by God. All blessings are from him. Learning to enjoy those things is an important skill for relationships.

               Married couples on Tik-Tok are not shy showing off impressive spousal displays of affection. They are also not shy in putting arguments, frustrations, and partners foibles on camera. The husband rants about the wife leaving clothes all over and ends with giving her chicken nuggets. The wife complains that house work isn’t done or that she just doesn’t understand what he is thinking.

Are these cruel jabs? No. They are simple people expression genuine irritation underscored by a much deeper sense of love and belonging. Though much time may be wasted, at least Tik-Tok is counter cultural to our obsession with emotional bliss and Disney moments. Tik-Tok brings us back to Tuesday.

Good marriage and calling on marriage

              A good marriage is one that consistently puts the other first and chooses the couple unit. How well do you put the others needs first in communication, survival, emotional well being, etc.? This is a metric for all relationships. “and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

              The second portion I assert is choosing the couple unit. This is the wisdom part. Sometimes putting the other person ‘first’, I use human comparisons, may put the couple unit at risk. At times we will have to ask the other person to bend or put in more effort for the sake of the couple and the couples calling.

The constant call upon the married persons life is to choose and return to the other as a couple. This also helps decide on where time is spent in wisdom. We are called to love everyone. But time and resources are limited. After creating a marriage covenant we choose to love them first before others. They are the deciding factor (not their feelings but them as a person) in how our time is spent. All of this together is then subject to the purpose of the marriage before God.

The call on the couple is living out the Kingdom mandate. The terminology of ‘Kingdom mandate’ or ‘kingdom call’ is undermined by our separation of secular and sacred. The ministry to win souls and be in church is the sacred and eternal – everything else is temporary and secular. When this divorce within the Christian life takes hold of our psyche the only way a couple can be doing good for the Kingdom is in church ministry. Difficult to do when you already work a full time job. I argue the Kingdom call is supporting the other in whatever good work is before them in Christ. This may include activities together or encouragement for when they are apart. This is a broad simplification and is intentional. Live life well. The Christian walk is as simple as giving a cold cup of water to someone who is thirsty. So do good and enjoy what the Lord has given you.

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Marriage is undefined, singles are lost, and pastors are the problem

In my last post I critiqued a lack of creativity and definition of a good marriage. My concern in defining marriage well is for the purposes of dating. Dating for the Christian is a process aimed at marriage. Marriage needs a clear definition for the single person to pursue.

Marriage and relationships are common issues for pastors to cover. So why is there still confusion? Pastors are the problem, but it is not really their fault. Most pastors writing books on dating went straight into the pastorate after college. They are in a bubble when it comes marriage, choosing a spouse, and the Kingdom of God.

I agree with the pastors, authors, and psychologists that claim a marriage needs a goal bigger than themselves. Gary Thomas in his book “Sacred Search” and “Sacred Marriage” (one of the few dating books I recommend) rightly claims that a kingdom minded view is the best view for the call upon our marriages. For those going into fulltime ministry the ‘Kingdom Call’ is easy to see in their marriages and provides an easy filter during the dating process. Those not going into full time ministry do not have such an easy structure.

Concerning the dating process, Church ministry itself the filter – there are general expectations on a minister and their spouse. The girl or boy that has the same mission will already be in church. It is a neat little ecosystem that is simple and strait forward.

Outside of church this becomes complicated. I want to run my own business. This means long 90-hour work weeks. I may be in Law school and starting at a new firm. Long work ours. My work may require traveling. I can’t volunteer at church. How will I find a spouse there? What is the common calling of spouses that are a lawyer and an engineer? An artist and a city worker?

Concerning marriages, the ministers’ job is clearly involved in advancing God’s Kingdom and doing his work. They can work 40 hours, feel accomplished and then relax in their own time. How does the career person serve God with minimal free time? When I worked for a Fortune 50 company, I had two free hours a day. A portion of that time involved meal prep, cleaning, and daily chores. How does my future spouse and I work on the Kingdom calling together when we have separate vocations?

Good Marriage

Secrets to a good marriage. Take a good marriage to great. Have a healthy marriage.

These phrases ooze out of book titles, sermons, and conversational pleasantries. They are as pleasant as losing your keys. What is a ‘good marriage’ vs a ‘bad one’. Can I get a tester at the hardware store? Is there a list of ten key items so that I can grade my relationship? This would be useful and absurd.

Yet, that is what we are looking for. A test to objectively critique a relationship. What measuring rod do you use for two human hearts? The modern desire for measurable knowledge turns a rod intended to measure into one used as abuse. Yet sparing the rod spoils the relationship.

Without any clear guidepost we won’t ever find what we are looking for. If we don’t know what a good marriage is we won’t ever be satisfied in one. We may find it. But we won’t know we have found it. “This is cool. … Better keep looking” the search never ends.

 “It is always in the last place I looked” Is true bey comical definition. I never found something and thought to myself, well, better keep looking under tables and around corners (except in the hunt for a spouse). Once you find it the quest is completed and there is satisfaction. But if you don’t know what that ‘it’ is, then the looking can never stop.

Not all who wander are lost. But some who wander are most definitely lost. If the destination is the goal, but you do not know the destination you are most assuredly lost when wandering. If you are enjoying the journey as the goal then you can wander to your hearts content and be satisfied. If you want a destination as the goal then the destination must be known.

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Relationship Skills

I had the opportunity to be friends with my ex, I’ll call Holly, and visit her over the weekend in LA. I sat behind her at the bar while she was doing dishes and cooking breakfast. She shared mixed feelings for a guy she was talking to over the last few weeks. Holly stopped, turned off the water, and turned around to look at me. I looked at her bright blue eyes.

“I shouldn’t be sharing this with you. It isn’t considerate of our relationship. I am sorry.” She said with all care and sincerity.

I muddled something incoherent in reply and looked out the window or something. She waited. I returned I contact and shrugged. Satisfied she changed the subject and returned to cooking.

I do not know anyone as adept at communication skills as she was. The more books I read on neuropsychology, communication, relationships, and emotional intelligence the more I am amazed at how she just does everything naturally. No research. No books. Just good well intentioned relating.

I have had a few dates with young girls who are very present and engaged. It isn’t a completely lost art, but it is definitely difficult to find. I think it is an affect of social media and cell phones. Eye contact has become increasingly difficult to manage. Many are so lost and disillusioned that they have difficulty ignoring themselves long enough to really listen and engage with another human being.

That is the goal. Learn the habits that lead our hearts to putting the other person first. Some of us naturally put the other first. Others need a lot of help with lots of practice. I lived genuinely selfless before others and developed a severe selfishness disorder. The last five years have been fighting to get it back. I still fail regularly.

A few months after this interaction I unfortunately didn’t think of Holly first. I put her in an uncomfortable situation because I couldn’t die to my own desires first.

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Celebrate our Independence

USA Independence Day is a celebration of America’s separation from Britain. Typically it is a celebration of freedom. Os Guiness claims in his book Last Call for Liberty, Great Britain considered themselves free. In contrast with the other European nations they were. The United States were the free of the free. We took liberty to the extreme.

Christians typically are ones to take pride in the freedom of the American experiment of freedom. Unfortunately, some go so far as to call our nation a Christian nation. Some critique of America and say it is, “post-Christian”. Either claim is a misuse of ‘Christian’.

A Christian is one who follows Christ. Nations do not follow Christ, people do. The misuse of the term degrades the word when we use the same one to identify ourselves.

Christians in America do have unique was to conduct themselves in the Christian life. As we celebrate our independence and celebrate freedom this ought to include thankfulness to God for giving us opportunities that we have. It is from God that we have the political challenges we face and it is from him that we have the significant freedom to live well.

What is the most Christian response to freedom? Diligent use of that freedom to do well, thankfulness to God for that freedom, and consistent prayer for those that are not as fortunate. It is in God’s good nature to shape nations and shape his people by those nations. As we celebrate our country let us also celebrate the many blessings it affords us in thankfulness to God.

Happy 4th of July!