Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stop Being a Pleaser

I am a pleaser; I need others to be happy… with me. I need their thanks and adoration. I need congratulations and thanks. I need the nourishment it provides my ego. It builds me up in ways that I just can’t do for myself. If I am something in someone else’s eyes then I matter. Can a work of art evaluate itself? No, so how can I find worth in myself?

I don’t like me.

I don’t like who I am or who I've been. I constantly find others that I can be someone else around and then be loved for that mask. I find people who can give me praise for my deeds and wisdom and find value amongst their words. I seek out that affirmation like a dehydrated traveler in a vast, empty desert. Every drop hits my lips like a wave of refreshment bringing life back into my soul. It never lasts long enough and when my skin turns dry, cracking like an old piece of leather, I frantically reach out for the next bit of praise.
I am the worst kind of parasite. Latching on to someone, bringing them something they need but in turn I am using them for their love. Every act I do for them brings me some little morsel of nourishment to my broken soul. Drinking as often as possible fills me up immensely and drives my ego wild. When that relationship has dried up, when the superficial feedings are not enough or when they try and get too close I run. I detach and go elsewhere for my meals. I hide it well, but secretly my heart cries out for the love that they may have given me. My pride gets in the way and instead of humility and vulnerability I place up a shield around my heart, around my mind. With cleverly crafted words, faces that hide my inmost emotions and lies layered upon lies I can cut ties in an instant. Sometimes there is scarring left behind but most times I can leave someone alone and take the scars upon myself. “This is for the best” I tell myself. Feelings of guilt mix so well within the feelings of fear that I can trick myself into believing that leaving is what’s best for them, that leaving is the noble thing to do. That I can take all the pain that would have befallen them and hold onto it for myself. I leave, a small child somewhere within cries out, blubbering through tears and agony to be freed.  I do my best to quiet this inner voice and remind myself that I am strong enough to do this on my own.

I’m not.

I am not strong enough because relying on my own abilities has gotten me nowhere. All these patterns are useless and bring me more and more pain. Instead of calling out for help in my times of trouble I internalize feelings that long ago should have been shared with another. I hide away hoping that no one will see my shame and recognize my pain. I put on mask after mask and the only tell tale sign of my own internal turmoil is the occasional outburst. There is pain and anger only inches below the surface but I guard the entrance into this world with such force that anyone who approaches is waved off all too quickly.
Too much focus is put on my safeguards that I never truly delve into myself.

Sure I tell people I am fine and I fool myself into thinking I am doing it on my own, but this is another layer of the lies. So much of my energy is focused outwardly and on distractions that I never truly seek out the darkest places within myself. Part of this is out of laziness. Who wants to dig and sort through the piles of junk that have been untouched for years? Most of it is out of fear, fear of truly facing myself. Fear of finding out the truth about just how fallen and broken I am. Without knowing the whole truth I can further delude myself into thinking that it isn't that bad. I can continue living a charade of someone who isn't hurting and focus on so many other things around me. Beyond this I do not delve out of another fear, a greater fear. A fear of something so utterly unbelievable that I makes my soul want to hide at the very though. A fear that I am loved and have worth outside of the eyes of another. I am afraid of this realization because it is so foreign to me. I am afraid because it would be such a hard pill to swallow that trying to visualize it makes my lungs tighten against themselves, forcing the air from my being.

God, bring me the ability to let go of my need for approval. Let me stop hiding in the praise and words of others, finding my value and worth there is never enough and I know I am meant for more. Teach me that while I cannot do this on my own that the adoration of another is not who I am, it is not what makes me loved. Remind me that I can never find enough love from someone else to justify my eternal life. Show me your love. Show me how to love myself and to find myself worthy of love. Show me how to open the lock so rusted with years. Help me God to see in me what I know you see in me. Amen.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Trust the Inner Voice

The inner voice is supposed to tell me things that are true and good. It is supposed to guide me and be my solace in times of great need. Then where is it in the pain? Why is it hardest to hear when I need it the most? Why after screaming in agony is there silence? The voice is supposed to be there and yet at times it seems impossibly far away or nonexistent altogether. If only the voice were louder, easier to hear amongst the distractions of the world. At times this is my greatest test, just trying to find this voice amongst my life. In fact I would say it is where I fail most consistently. There is an ever present dichotomy within my mind. I hear the voice tell me the things that I should follow and know but the other half of me is craft, quickly dismissing truth for the lies of this world. I have dreams and passions given to me by the inner voice but my own inner demons are all too good at reminding me of the obstacles that lay ahead and the failures of my past that prevent my success. The term contradiction doesn't even seem strong enough in these moments. It feels as if my body is being torn in at least half, if not into uncountable pieces, by all the arguing voices in my head.

I want so badly to cling to my own ways and my own self medication, fearing what will happen if I truly do trust Him.

 If I begin to walk the path He has for me, won’t there be more pain and suffering? Will it be worthwhile? Is the path at my feet even the one He wants or am I fooling myself so well that it only appears that way? Do I want these wonderful things for myself or do I truly want to please God? How can I tell the difference? Is there a way or am I doomed to this torment?

How do I protect myself from myself?

There are so many things I want to do with my life and yet there is always the fear that they are accomplishments for me and not for God. My pride always bubbles to the top leaving me questioning my motives. Will I become some power hungry man, living for his own ends? Will I love attention more than God, twisting gifts into my own personal pleasures? Will I hurt others for my own goals? Will it ever be enough or will I always be left wanting another morsel, another mouthful to nourish my own ego?

Can I ever be happy with being enough?

I want so many things in my life and for those around me. I want them to extremes so badly it terrifies me to think of living a life always thinking of more. I want to live a life that is enough for me but I don’t know how. Can I ever be OK just being me?

God, I need your voice in me daily. I need your words more than any others. I need clarity to know them well and to follow them well. I need a hushing of my own voice and doubts. I need your peace to rest a weary heart and conflicted mind. Without you I will always be split and never find the end. Teach me to know the difference between your voice and mine. Help me to see that there is something in store for me, especially when I don’t know how to see it. Remind me that what you have in store is more than enough and help me to be thankful for the life I have been given. Show me how to live where I am and not always looking for more. Help me God. Amen.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Stuff People Spend Money On

I was recently driving home from helping my brother move some furniture and flipping through the radio stations when a bit of DJ banter caught my attention. They were going on about the usual Hollywood gossip that doesn't interest me at all but what stayed my finger above the seek button was a mention of the projected income for Britain from the “Royal Baby” of Kate Middleton and Prince William. The number they spoke seemed astronomical to me, $121 million was the number one DJ threw out while the other went on to list some of the trinkets and experiences that were being sold to interested parties. Being a moderately skeptical person I did a little research and found that this number is one of the more conservative estimates with some experts quoting figures as high as $400 million. My initial reaction was that of disgust at the fact that out there were millions of people spending money on such frivolities that surround that child of someone they will never see in person let alone know. I began to crunch numbers about how much good this money could do if applied properly, as I often do when I hear about outrageous uses of large sums of money (which if you are weird like I am; the low estimate, 121 million, could feed over 1.5 million children for a year according to Feed My Starving Children’s donation page).

 I was a few equations in when I realize that I had to stop myself. I was unjustly judging these nameless, faceless people whom I know nothing about. I was ashamed at their frivolity when I had no knowledge of their true natures or motives. I heard that number and in a way told myself I was better than them because of what they were spending their money on.  I do the same thing whenever I see someone extremely wealthy, even before I hear or see an action of theirs my mind wants to wander to the ways in which I would use the money more wisely. It is all too easy for me to see the wealthy people in the world and call them out for not sharing their riches without knowing the truth of their finances.I play the "what if" game in my head and believe it or not I come out looking like a pretty stand up guy compared to whoever they are interviewing on MTV cribs that day. It is especially difficult for me to see someone sitting in a church pew making a six figure income and knowing that the pastor and his family are living paycheck to paycheck. Instead of ever knowing how they may have helped others I take my limited knowledge and form a quick judgement about them.

I quickly took the opportunity to reflect on myself and my own lust for money. Let me tell you, it was uncomfortable. 

I spend plenty of money on non-necessities every day. I enjoy video games and movies, neither of which is essential to my existence. I go out to restaurants that would be considered beyond lavish in many countries without a second thought. Who am I to declare that these people should be spending their money in any other way than what they have already done? Just because the perfect self I have in my own head would do something different the real me isn't so sure I would. Is it important to want to take care of the needy? Yes but blaming others for not “doing their part” is not the way to go about it. It is hard for me to want to give up on my luxuries just as it is hard for everyone to. I live in a pretty low income part of town and there are plenty of days where I pass a homeless person on my way to buy groceries. I would love to help everyone I pass but sometimes it's just not in the budget. On the other side of it, if my bank account suddenly grew a few extra zeros would I still be in such a generous mood? Would my desire to give money away disappear with extravagant wealth? It is incredibly easy to say that we would act a certain way in a given scenario. It’s easy to give away something that isn't ours; it becomes that much more difficult to actually put my money where my mouth’s at (a perfect use for that phrase if there ever was one).

Those faceless people I judged earlier may already have donated their money and time to charity; why not let them find some joy in a goofy trinket about some famous baby? The wealthy woman in the pew next to me might have tithed plenty of her income and the church is struggling for some completely unrelated reason. That CEO might not believe what I believe about the world, so how can I justly look down on him for not living to my same credo? Besides if I were in his shoes could I say for certain I would spend any differently? Sure, in a perfect world the money spent on non-essentials would go to help those that don't have enough for necessities, but the world we live in is far from perfect and God gave us the ability to chose what we do in our lives. Who I am to judge others based on what they do with what they have been given, I am only responsible for what I do with what I have been given. God won’t look at me on judgment day and tally up percentages of giving; He will look at me alone and pass judgment on my actions without comparing them to the actions of another. Nor will He grant me any greater reward for passing judgement on those around me, and He surely will hold me accountable for the times when my anger was unjustified. I will face Him alone and when the time comes I would certainly be deemed unworthy. Thankfully I will have someone there who made sure that my selfishness and unrighteous judgement will not be held against me. 

P.S. The radio DJ’s got me thinking about this but some of the ideas were inspired by a great blog written by the guys in the great band Emery, check out their thoughts on a similar topic here . 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Walking Around Your Abyss

So I've been reading a book for the past few weeks. It is by far one of the hardest books I've ever read. It is called "The Inner Voice of Love" by Henri Nouwen and it is an edited version of his journal during a particularly difficult time in his life. Each "chapter" is something Nouwen refers to as a spiritual imperative, something that must be clung to to overcome. Some have been easier than others and some have not applied to me. However most are powerful and terrifying. I decided to keep a journal of my own thoughts whilst reading his. These are my thoughts concerning the first imperative, Walking Around Your Own Abyss. In summation Nouwen details that we must be willing to face our own abyss and realize that filling it will take time. It won't be filled all at once but we should nonetheless take small steps to slowly see it filled. 

Also sorry for the long post, emotions sometimes can't be word-capped. 

My abyss… My abyss is deep. Sometimes I want to cry out because I think it is deeper than anyone else’s. Too deep to fill. I want to give up, to run away, to hide from it and never speak of it again. Hiding behind platitudes and masks is easy. Looking into the darkness stretching beneath me is hard. It scares me like nothing has ever scared me before. How do I fix this? Is there even a way to overcome such a wide chasm? Thankfully it lies underground; the only way to truly see it is from the edge. I can usher people around and away from it most of the time. Directing their attention elsewhere is simple enough that most never know it exists. They can never know it exists. They would run too quickly if they ever how deep and dark it is. Their smiles would too quickly turn to disgust and their eyes would frantically search for something easier to look at. Their legs would respond with such vigor, leaving no time to explain but only empty space where they once stood. I would be alone again, both glad they didn't stay long enough to become enveloped in my shame but secretly wishing they had stayed only a second longer. Just a moment longer of their warmth would have helped in breaking the chill in my soul.

 I occasionally take handfuls of dirt here and there and toss them hopefully into the abyss. I dig into the earth around me and feel accomplished with every grain as it scrapes along my skin and finds its way beneath my nails. Carrying it to the edge, the weight of the soil feels wonderful on my arms. My head lifts just a little bit higher against the gravity around me. The journey is long enough to tire me; my shoulders ache and shiver to hold the dirt up. My legs weaken enough to remind me that it won’t be easy and each step gets harder. As I stand on the edge and release the handfuls or bucketfuls into the hole for a second I want to smile knowing each speck of dust brings the bottom closer and closer to the surface. In moments the smile fades and my head falls towards my chest. Before a breath is finished the dirt has left view and disappeared into the dark, leaving me to realize how pointless handfuls can be. My mind races with calculations and the numbers of handfuls needed grows exponentially. With every zero added to the end a nail is placed in the box around my heart, sealing it away. Trying to protect it against the hurt and pain that inevitably would come in attempting to fill the crevice.

I walk away from my abyss.

The path is hard to follow but it eventually leads me to someone else. They are haphazardly throwing load after load into their own abyss. With a feigned smile I offer to help. The work is hard and dirty. Sweat dripping from our brows we bend and strain our backs against the weight of each shovel full. When we can work no more the hole seems just a little smaller. It is enough to feel accomplished. They smile at me; I smile back knowing something has been done. They offer to help me fill my whole the next day. With an aloof persona I assure them I don’t need help. I’m doing just fine with my own darkness. I come up with some excuse to remind myself that I don’t want their help, or that their strength is better saved for their own struggle and need not be spent on mine.

Trudging back my crater starts out as a speck in the distance, something I could easily overcome. Hope fills my lungs and I think for just a moment that I can do this, I can fill it. As I approach closer and closer the crater grows and grows.  Bending down I fill my hands, my pockets, my shirt; anything I can fill carries dirt with me to the hole. Reaching the edge, the heaviness unbearable, I toss all of it in. Again before fresh oxygen can fill my lungs the darkness consumes my effort. I hit my knees and weep, the darkness oozes up out of the abyss and creeps in around me. Just before it closes in I see someone in the distance dumping a load of soil into their own abyss. I struggle to my feet and begin trudging in their direction. Maybe, just maybe this time I can help them and let them help me. Maybe I can set my heart free and allow them close to my shame. Maybe…

God, remind me that each grain of sand is useful and worthwhile. Remind me that darkness will become light and that the abyss can be filled. Remind me that it does not go on forever and that hope is not foolish. Help me to know that handfuls can be meaningful and that grains of sand do add up. Show me that progress can be made no matter how small it may seem. Teach me to allow you to aid me in my abyss, teach me to confront it head on and allow others to see it as well. Remind me that not everyone will run at the sight of it, that it is not too big for you or those that love me. Help me God. Amen.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Relationships Part 3: Change

So here we are at the finale of some of my musings on relationships. This one hits home for me in a lot of ways because of who I have been and continue to be, and also because of the unique individuals that God has placed in my life. I want to change the lives of those around me but I know that I cannot simply wish them changed and it happen without some action on my part.

We need relationships to become whole beings, without them we live only half a life. In removing relationships we severely hinder our ability to experience and we give up the power to become more than ourselves. Within relationships we find meaning and purpose beyond what we could give ourselves. It means facing our greatest fears, discovering our deepest desires, and giving up ourselves for the sake of someone else. They are so difficult simply because people are difficult. We are moody, confusing, irrational and messy. Getting in close with someone means being willing to get messy, both in your own swirl and theirs. But getting messy should be the end goal because wonderful things happen when we live in relationship with others.

In college I was told a very simple yet incredibly profound truth about living in community; you can only impact someone from up close. There is so much in this simple phrase that we often forget to apply to our daily lives. One of our primary inclinations as a living being is to protect ourselves from any and all threats including threats that are not physical in nature. I am speaking about the threat of someone getting in and knowing who we really are. In allowing another person in to our hearts we are allowing ourselves to become incredibly vulnerable. The knowledge they obtain could very easily be used to utterly destroy us. This is a terrifying prospect for anyone but some are able to overcome it more readily than others. This fear drives us to build barriers to keep everyone, and sometimes even ourselves, from the very core of our being. In doing this we learn skills to keep anyone from ever really having an impact in our life.

We cannot change or be changed at an arms-length.

To have truly meaningful, beneficial relationships we have to overcome this fear. If we ever want to be loved, a desire that is within each of us, someone will have to get in close to us. This can be a heart-wrenching process that requires us to destroy walls that had been thought indestructible. The process is often slow and arduous the whole way through, but the end result can be a beautiful thing. Love is the most precious thing we can give and accept as humans. It is something we need as much as sustenance and without it our lives become mere shadows of humanity. Once we have overcome these fears and accept love the true living begins. This is applicable to ourselves yes but it is also a principle we have to keep in mind in our dealings with others.

There are many arenas in life where we let our differences define us, sometimes this is shown in uncomfortable silence while other times it will appear as all-out war. In these moments we have a crucial choice to make; we must decide whether to keep ourselves separate and alien or to get close and do our best to understand the other individual. It would appear that the most common reaction is the former of these two which results in many of the confrontations we see in the media. This reaction is the one that leads to hate, anger, emotional abuse, and in certain terrible cases physical attacks. This is the reaction that often communicates the opposite of love regardless of the intent. The latter approach is one that is not used enough. The second one is much harder in many ways, mainly because it forces us to humble ourselves and be willing to listen without always having an agenda. However the second one can have the most meaningful impact with the most beneficial results. The second one more readily communicates love.

I think it very important that we learn to stop being afraid of being close to one another and be more willing to engage in the meaningful discussions and hopefully, someday, relationships. This is the only way we can ever hope to effect real change in the lives of others. This is the only way we can hope to be more than stereotypes and caricatures that define our understandings of one another. This is the only way we can truly love one another; not from across a debate floor but through a caring embrace. Going out for coffee and engaging with someone on a personal level will do more in an hour than days of arguing across a street will ever accomplish. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


So big news was announced today, news that is bound to upset quite a few folks and bring elation in another group. I am speaking of the SCOTUS decision concerning DOMA in which they struck down the act as unconstitutional. For those that do not know the Defense of Marriage Act included two particular sections that were surrounded in controversy. The first of these major provisions was that it did not require states to recognize same sex unions that were performed in another jurisdiction. In other words obtaining a marriage license in another state would not guarantee that your home state would give you the same recognition as heterosexual couples would receive regardless of their state of residence. The second provision declared that for any legal matters (taxes, benefits, legal proceedings, etc) that the term marriage would only apply to a union between one man and one woman. So while same sex couples could receive marriage licenses in the eyes of the government the two were not truly married and as such did not qualify for the same benefits that heterosexual unions received. The Supreme Court deemed this act to be unconstitutional which can be seen as an open door but at the same time can be seen an infinitesimally  small step on a long journey. However it is viewed there are those two sides I spoke of earlier; the ones who celebrated this as a victory and those that view it as a defeat. In the coming days and weeks these sides will be scrambling to argue the finer points of what it truly means to have this ruling. Since this issue has long been a touchy one it doesn't take a prophet to know the pattern of hurt and bitterness will most likely continue to some degree. Both sides will lob complaints against each other and at times there will exist a certain absence of decency and politeness. This is something that desperately needs to be avoided at all costs if this topic is ever to be discussed like civilized humans. We have all been given a wonderful gift in the ability to perceive how our words affect one another and this is a skill that will be invaluable in the coming months. We have to be able to present a front of disagreeing politely, discussing rather than arguing, and listening instead of trying to get the last word in.

I would not write this to give the impression that one side is more worthy of protection than another. Those that are for same-sex marriage should be held to the same standards here as those opposed. Yes those opposed to same sex marriage have a way of using language that hurts and comes off as rather inflammatory, a trend that hopefully will cease, but they are not alone in this. The other side of the fence can hurl demeaning comments just as deftly as anyone. I would advise caution though as those seeking “equality” can quickly forget what it was like and begin seeking that which is not truly equal. Let us not think that the pursuit of freedom is furthered by taking freedom from our fellow countrymen. Sure same-sex marriage might be legal soon but this does not mean the church should be forced to participate. After all the church isn't forced to change it's teachings on sex before marriage which is not against any laws that are enforced in the US.  If a church chooses to stand out against it, and they do so respectfully, then by all means speak your mind. There is that caveat of responsibility to the church however, the church needs to learn to use words of love and do its best to communicate in peaceful terms. There is some weight to the fact that being counter culture is always met with resistance but this can make lose sight that it isn't always as simple as “us vs. culture”. We are not on a battlefield of democracy; we should not be trying to win platforms of public policy or opinion. No, we should first be winning hearts with love and compassion.

 Perhaps instead of trying to boil down the differences to “right and wrong”, we should reach out and remember that we both fall to the same level and as such are both “wrong”.  “Nobody needs Jesus more than me” should be a daily chant of all believers, because remembering this simple truth helps us stay humble and face the world not in our pride but in Christ. I hear and read so many proclaiming that “no matter what the government decides Christ is still King!” now let’s remember what that really means. It does not mean that we should hate our brothers and sisters nor does it give us permission to judge them more harshly than we judge ourselves. Yes it is true that believers are called to stand for truth and in doing so we might step on a few toes, but the greatest commandments of all tell us to love. They obligate us to love first and everything else should flow from that love. So no matter where you stand; love each other. If you hope to stand for truth keep it passing through the filter of love and if you hope to become equally respected in the world remember that respect has to go both ways. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Relationships Part 2: Longing

In the last post I discussed a selfish side that each of us has. A part of our desire is to remain unknown out of fear of what cruel punishments being known would bring. If you didn't catch it you can read it here

Today I want to focus on the hope that we each have within for vanquishing the demon of fear. We do contain the antidote to the disease of shame, but it is not always an easy pill to swallow.

We have the counterpoint to the previous post, as humans we have this inborn desire to be connected to those around us. Whether you believe in a creator or not makes little difference because it is felt by just about everyone and is even accepted by just about every worldview. Humans are social creatures, a cliché line that has been the subject of many studies; we need others even if we don’t like to admit it. I no exception to this rule, I desire to know and be known. The process of learning another life is exhilarating in ways that solitude can never match. There is something so very special in being able to love someone well and knowing them deeply is an integral part of that. I am constantly learning things about my wife that I am able to use to love her better; this is a process I hope to never see the end of. Sure I could probably continue to love her if I never learned another new thing about her but it would never be the kind of love she needs and desires. However, in learning about her I am given new insight into her mind which allows me to be what she needs. This is also true of any relationship whether it be romantic or platonic. Then of course being known is a wonderful feeling that knows no equal. Having someone who can peer beyond the outer layers of flesh and bone, seeing who you really are is refreshing. My wife does this wonderfully and knows who I am no matter how many barriers I try to hide behind. Sure it might be uncomfortable but in the end it is wonderful having someone like that in my life.

As with the first side there are pros and cons that hide within the desire to love and be loved. It can bring our hearts to leap on every opportunity that comes our way. If this desire is left undiluted it can cause us to let untrustworthy people into our lives that do not bring health but rather destruction. There are plenty of people who do not deserve to be trusted with our inmost selves and if we let the pendulum swing completely to the side of trying to find love they can take things that should never have been theirs. This isn't to say that nothing but bad comes from loving indiscriminately. There can be some positives in that relationships can seem better, friends will be much easier to come by, and companionship is a very powerful medicine.

While there is an element of desire for safety and freedom apart from one another there is a necessity to have both in balance. We cannot live to one extreme without damage being done. I tried living to the defensive extreme and it left me in more pain and broken in ways I haven’t fully discovered yet. Like so many things in life we have to live a life of moderation. There are certain times where defending our hearts is necessary, there are relationships that should be kept distanced to some degree. It takes a keen eye to notice these and it occasionally takes an uncomfortable conversation to address them. On the other hand we need others in our life. Personally I need my wife desperately because I am incredibly stubborn in taking care of myself. She is close in and so has the ability to discern these moments from the rest, then she is able to care for me in the ways I need. We always love to say that we are stubborn enough for each other, and she is perfectly stubborn for me.

So we have the two sides of our desires for relationships but what do we do with these relationships once we have them? What is their power? In the last post of this short series I’ll give you my thoughts and experiences on just that.