Recalling a Sermon on Contentment

I haven’t listened to many sermons in the last few years, but I did tonight. It was a simple message, but it helped me see some blind spots.

The preacher shared a quote from Voltaire. It basically said ‘God created man in his image and man has attempted to return the favor.’ What this means, is that we try to create a version of God in our mind that fits our life. If we value financial stability and providing for our family above everything, we twist God into this being that understands when we hoard our money and don’t give with open hands to the poor. If we value romantic relationships above everything, we twist God into this being that understands and welcomes our sexual sin.

The preacher said we should twist ourselves to align with God instead.

“There are things about Jesus that I don’t like,” the preacher said. “There are commands that Jesus makes that are hard for me. But we cannot twist Jesus into something we like. We must twist ourselves instead. Die to ourselves and learn to cling to Jesus more.”

He went on to say that Jesus was radical. Jesus didn’t know where he would eat the next day. Jesus didn’t know where he would sleep the next night. But he still relied on God. Because Jesus was radical, we should live radical lives too; giving our security away so our brothers and sisters can eat, abstaining from sexual immorality when the world promotes lust.

The preacher said the reason we are not content is because we don’t really believe that Jesus is enough to sustain us.

These are things I have been hearing in church circles for a long time, but they struck me tonight. Dying to myself is hard. Believing ‘Jesus is enough’ all the time is hard. But twisting God into my own image does not work.

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The truest sentence

I feel alone more than a lot.
My friends love me and I’m lucky for that.
They don’t know how alone I am though, they can’t even comprehend it.
They walk around with all these connections and loved ones and spouses.
They wouldn’t know how to define the word.
Some people say ‘depression’ cause they want to be part of the club.
Some people can’t stop ruminating about killing themself.

Like, I have a bad day and I make plans to end my life.
But what surprises me, is that I make plans on the good days now too.
Like dying sounds kinda peaceful and nice and I sigh a contented sigh when I think about it.
I never asked for this life.
I didn’t go around begging for it.
But here it is.
This big, crazy mess of sad and tired and confused and alone.

There’s some good in there too.
And despite my most concentrated efforts and furrowed brows and clenched fists, I keep right on living.
Sometimes I wonder if the ones who really want to live, like have big gusto and whatnot, die young and their time gets added on to the end of my life.
Is that how God works?
Whatever you want real bad, he gives you the opposite to test you?
Kinda seems like it.

When I was 6 years old, I thought life was just about Jesus.
That was it.
No other things.
Just me and Jesus talking about how much we loved each other in our sunday school shoes.
I didn’t know there were any other things you could believe (my little kindergarten self shrugs his shoulders).
I told people I would die for Jesus.
I was very sure of myself back then.

Sometimes I think God really loves me.
Sometimes I think I’m growing from my suffering.
I like to look at the world through that lense, but sometimes I’m bad at it, ya know?

Randomly, I’ll think of God as one of us.
Ya know, a fallible human that’s just real big and powerful who’s trying all these different experiments and he keeps messing them up and he feels really bad that he’s messing up so he just gets stressed out and cries a lot.
This makes me have compassion on this human-God I’ve imagined.
But, if I’m honest, I don’t think God is really like that.

God is this real complex idea/being/creator/force/power/grace that we have boiled down to something really simple so faith doesn’t scare us so bad.
“I can’t believe in a God who would do that!,” we all say at one point.
But I bet he’s so much more than a figure head in the sky or an old man that our mom told us about when we got scared in elementary school.
I bet he’s the connecting tissue to every living thing.
I bet he whispers to us when we look at a big tree and say, “That is so beautiful.”

My friend said she knows God is real because “there are small bugs that light up hot summer nights with magic, and they’re slow enough to be held in our hands.”
She said that she knows God is real because, “The trees turn a soft pink and deep red twice a year with no other colorful purpose than to be enjoyed.”
She said that, “there are one million types of laughs and my friends bring out my heartiest.” And lastly she said because, “My friend went into the darkest depth of a mental hospital and knew in his core that his job was to love people there.”

That last line was about me.
The funny thing is, my friend who wrote those lines four years ago, doesn’t believe in God anymore.
I think she sometimes believes that there could be a God, but she definitely doesn’t believe that he is good.
And haven’t we all been where my friend is right now?
Haven’t we all said, “There’s no way that goodness is at the center of all of this chaos.”
I’ve been there, in her position, earlier today even and I bet I will be there again tomorrow any some point.

Maybe if you think of God as a metaphor for goodness, it’s like taking a step.
And hugging a stranger who’s crying is like taking another.
And sweeping a child up into your arms is like jogging a bit.
And talking a friend out of suicide is like quickening your pace.
And telling a friend your painful story is like running.
And then you’re hugging and sweeping and talking and telling and loving and kissing and helping and singing and hoping and praying
and then you start thinking.

I want to be about goodness.
I want it in my life.
I want to help and I want to grow and get better.
I want to be about goodness.
I don’t really care what you call it.

My family

I am somewhat of a deity.
Not in a mighty sense or as bright as God’s shining light.
But I am a deity in the form of understanding.
I can see where people come from.
I can see the pain of where they have been and I’m able to factor that into my view of them.
I’ve noticed that other people don’t seem to have my superpower.
They have been so blunted or splintered from fear or hurt, that they can no longer look at their fellow man (who might think differently than them) with the same sort of familial lense.
But I can.
I see my brothers and sisters.
I see every living thing too.
The mistakes and quick tempers.
The mountain tops and bitter valleys.
I take it all into account, which would make me a pretty good judge, but I don’t want to reign down decisions on my family.
I want them to see how closely related we all are.
How when we help with our right hand our left one benefits.
That we are God’s body – running and falling. Investing and squandering.
If I succeed, then we all succeed. If I fail, then we all fail.
I’m not passing on until all of you are coming with me.
I simply won’t lose a single, solitary one of my people.
This is my heart, for all living things.
I am somewhat of a deity.
I have been gifted a superpower.

Vulnerable

You can set someone free with your vulnerability. You can quiet a fellow human’s fears. You can spur them on. It’s not necessary to have your hurts mastered, before you share them, so please share them. The impact of uncovering moments you are ashamed of, will reach further than you could ever know. It will save lives. 

I’m Not Asking

I will never know
how hurt you have been
and are.

You held it together for
years. Then one day it all
came apart.

Maybe you saw it coming,
but couldn’t believe it would be
a new reality.

Reality sounds kinda nice
compared to what every
stunted, splintered day in this hell feels like.

I hope you can have some good
before you go. There’s been a mistake
in how much broken you were handed.

I pray peace for you, even when you
really frustrate me. I want to hear
more joy in your voice.

Not one more moment of pain, Lord.
Not one more God-forsaken moment.
Let’s see you redeem.

I call upon you now to right this ship.
To make impossible good out of
insurmountable bad.

I’m afraid I’m not asking.
I’m telling.
Right now, show my mother … love like she’s never seen.

Mental Illness Happy Hour: Volume 4

4

Just watched A Beautiful Mind. It’s a really solid piece of art for sure. It struck a chord with me. People who know my life and what I’ve been through, know that I can relate to the sentiment crafted by director, Ron Howard; a story of mental health and struggle and hospitalization.

Some parts were difficult to watch; like heartbreakingly, gut-wrenchingly difficult. Scenes that depict being strapped to a bed with leather buckles are hard for me because I’ve lived those scenes. I’ve writhed in agony while hospital attendants mocked me and laughed at my humiliation.

I was made to feel subhuman during almost all of my hospital stays. I, like Russell Crowe’s character, have felt completely trapped and paranoid in hospital situations. I don’t really understand PTSD as well as I do my own disorder, but seeing those scenes triggered a deep seated revulsion.

Those are some gut reactions.

I’m also thinking a lot about Jennifer Connelly’s character, who plays Crowe’s wife. In the movie, she is tasked with loving a man who fabricates whole realities, has make-believe best-friends, can’t always be trusted around their daughter and is schizophrenic. She confesses that she wants to leave her husband during the rigors of him finding help. She cries out several times to God and breaks things in her house; clearly hating the hand that she has been dealt.

I have a lot of insecurities around my own relational ambitions. I have to wonder, at times, if my wife, one day, won’t feel similar to Connelly’s character. That dealing with my madness is an impossible task.

I give my insecurities so much power every day. I tell myself that I’m not good looking enough. That I’m not in shape enough. That I’m not Christian enough. That I’m not stable enough. That I’m too crazy to receive love from a woman. It’s messed me up pretty bad. I’ve sabotaged a lot of relationships because I don’t know how to love myself well.

But I believe there is redemption for me. The middle of A Beautiful Mind is gruelling, but in the end there is redemption. There’s god-damned-Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning-redemption. And more than that, there’s beautiful-loving-wife-right-by-his-side-redemption. That makes me believe that good is out there. I think we can stand anything in this life as long as there is a fair amount of redemption sprinkled in; when we can see a purpose to our struggle. That at some point, we are raised up out of our suffering.

I’ve taken a lot of losses on the score sheet the last 6 years, but I’ve gotten up out of my bed every day. Right now, that seems like a lot.