Tuesday, May 30, 2006

On Being Content & Worrying

“The funny thing is I’ve never felt this content in a relationship before,” a good friend said to me as she sat picking apart long greasy fries and sipping diet coke from a short straw.
“It’s scary, isn’t it?” I asked as I knowingly smiled back at her and nodded.

And it got me thinking… Why is it when a relationship finally reaches the critical stage of comfort that we begin to freak out and question everything? Why is it so easy to become discontented by contentment and doubtful when there’s no indication that we should be?

What is it that makes comfort so uncomfortable for so many people?

If there’s one thing my girl friends have in common it’s that they never want to put too much stock into anything – especially a new fling. (A Coach wallet, a Louis Vuitton purse, and a new line of Mac makeup - maybe, but never something as uncertain or potentially permanent as a relationship!) So, of course, I was surprised when one of my best friends who’d flown solo for as long as I’ve known her announced that she had since become someone's girlfriend. As do most twenty-somethings, she went through the initial stages: cautious interest, experimental flirting, and a testing of the waters so-to-speak before she dove in head first. And much to her surprise, she was actually happy. Yet while happiness was easy to relish in, it was a sense of contentment that launched a sea of red flags. (As the saying goes where women are concerned: if nothing is wrong, find something wrong.) Eventually something will go wrong along the way, won’t it? Sometimes it's easier to have faith in that -- and often safer.

For women (I can’t attest to how men think and doubt they usually can either where matters of the heart are concerned), when you reach a level of comfort in a relationship, it can only mean one of two things: you’ve either found a good thing and the feeling is mutual or you’ve seriously deluded yourself somehow along the way and are in for a crash landing. If there is one thing a girl wants to avoid like plague it’s a false sense of security – better to have none at all. Fortunately for the girl in question, it doesn’t seem she’s wandered into such territory and I think that things might very well work out as she hopes. Yet, by entertaining doubts, she’ll unnecessarily hold back somehow or fail to enjoy what she’s found as fully as she might otherwise have.

For trust to grow – like anything else – time and patience are required. Perhaps it is best to remind ourselves that those initial feelings of comfort do not always blossom into the type of contentment that can last a life-time. But we should still take heart in knowing that time will ultimately tell. I’ve learned that to a large degree in the last year.

With M, I’ve found a contentment I never thought possible – and I don’t think I quite realized just how much until I had this little chat with my friend last weekend. I’d been so busy trying to keep up with work and wedding planning that I hadn’t left myself time to worry – at least not about anything other than which reception venue to choose or which cake design I liked best. In the interim, I’d been too busy just enjoying my life with M to allow my mind to wander. For whatever reason, when I nodded my head and offered my opinion on the matter, I felt surprisingly mature and it just hit me that I was exactly where I needed to be in my life. That I was living proof that there doesn’t have to be fear in love. That things really do work together for good.

Sometimes, I think I’m too busy to realize how blessed I really am. I’m glad I took the time today…

...have you?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Would it Be Better To Forget?

Lord knows I’ve tried on several occasions and in many different entries to write about the value of our pasts. And still, that does not keep me from retracing the same arguments in my mind and wondering whether or not it’s an absolute truth.

And it got me thinking… Does the pain of our past always serve some purpose? Or should we instead be seeking “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” by deciding to forget?

For those of you who have seen the movie (I highly recommend it by the way), you may already know where this is going...

If it were possible to forget the past, if it we were somehow able to erase the painful memories entirely from our recollection, if we could manage to wake up tomorrow believing it was nothing more than a bad dream who's details we cannot remember – would we? Should we?

Everyone deals with heartache differently. Some of us learn and grow in spite of (or because of) the things that previously hindered us and others harbor negative feelings and emotions until they turn cold. For those of us able to look back and push aside the bitterness and see the bigger picture, even the most tumultuous past can seem like a blessing. If we hadn’t been where we were, surely, we wouldn’t be where we are. But there are still some people who are forever trapped in the past, who cannot help but relive their mistakes time and time again. They cannot go forward. They cannot move on because instead of looking ahead or up, they are forever looking back. They are bound to stumble. I’d like to think there’s a happy medium, but I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I know how difficult it is to find the middle ground. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of faith and more than anything it takes time. Healing comes slowly.

For years before I met M, I lived life in the shadow of a past I couldn’t out-run. I decided before I was 21 that I had, had my shot at happiness and had ruined it and I made up my mind that every future attempt at love would fail. And it did! I saw to it. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy that I would not admit to as I sabotaged one relationship after another reminding myself that nothing would repair my broken past. Regardless of the steps I often took in spite of myself to move on, I was too wrapped up in the things I could not change. I couldn’t forgive myself. Even when I thought I was moving on, I was just running in place. And it’s sad to say, but it took facing the demons of my past in the most confrontational way possible before I finally put it in perspective. It took almost losing everything to realize everything I had right in front of me.

It took time. And it was not long before I started to see M for the gift he was intended to be in my life -- a realization I would not have been able to come to had it not been for the contrast with my past. And it brings us back to the same line of reasoning: that we could never appreciate the day without the dark of night and we could never know what is good without first knowing the bad. Yet, for those who have not yet seen the day or stumbled upon the good, it may seem ludicrous. The pain of the past may be nothing more than painful. Yet, there is still hope.

If we can look back even on the bad times and remember some spark of happiness, some shred of a memory when we felt joy, then we have something to look forward to. (Those of you who saw the movie may be remembering that one moment that the main character tries to hang on to, which makes the painful past worth remembering.) If we could just believe that God will not let us settle, that the best is yet to come. If we could pinpoint all the times we were low and God pulled us up. If we could realize the truth: that God hasn’t put us here to punish us or keep us down and that sometimes, down is the only place we can look up from, it would be easier not to look back. It would be easier to see the past as a piece of the puzzle, as a thread in the tapestry. It would be easier to trust that someday we will understand the reasons that have been concealed.

If we don’t remember where we’ve been, how can we know where we’re going?
I’m glad I know now. It was a lesson worth learning.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Entertaining Doubts

“Cannot you not hear? Cannot you not see? And if with words You could change the way things are arranged Surely you'd be speaking, speaking no change

The music was blaring through the apartment as I made my way around it cleaning up from last weekend’s events. It was a song on a CD that I had listened to countless times, but for whatever reason it felt like it was the first time I was really hearing it.

“Oh and I pray, my prayer's not heard. Could it be your death, death to mortal words? Oh, and see her pain, and drain and drain. Could you be deaf, and blind my friend?”

In spite of having always known that Dave Matthews Band was secular, it had always moved me to hear these objections to faith put so plainly. Despite being a Christian long before I was introduced to DMB, these were notions I had also struggled with. And listening to the songs reminded me of how difficult it often is to understand a God we cannot see and not always understand. For whatever reason, the music deepened my faith because it clarified for me how necessary blind faith often is.

The song in particular used an example of a suffering child that the singer believes God could save if He wanted to. Because nothing is done to spare the child or ease it’s pain, the singer concludes that there is no God and if there is, He is not a loving God.

“Oh, so I'm praying all at night. And I wake up praying the whole daylight. I pray to you, and hear my request. I ask of you to save this baby Oh, look at the girl. Awful inside, is cancer-eaten, is life-deprived. And if so by who? Could it be you?
I see no need for a baby's wisdom for you.”

This is the classic disconnect between the unbeliever and faith. It is two-pronged. It’s the argument that on one hand, if we are to believe that there is a God we must accept that He is indifferent at best and on the other that if there were an all-powerful God who could correct the situation, He would, so there isn’t one. Listening to the lyrics of DMBs songs, these notions are clearly illustrated.

“If at all God’s gaze upon us falls it’s with a mischievous grin, look at him

The problem of pain, as C.S. Lewis wisely noted is one that plagues the believer and nonbeliever both. Even for those who love and accept God, it’s sometimes impossible to come up with an explanation when we witness needless suffering or unspeakable tragedy that seems to serve no purpose. It is at times difficult to trust that God is working when we cannot see it and accept that in order to allow free will, the problem of pain must exist. Yet in order for us to make choices, we must be given a range of possibility, we must be allowed to make bad choices that hurt others or ourselves as well as good choices that help others, otherwise we’d be no better than puppets.

Yet, rather than blame the people who sin, we blame the God who allows us the choice. We reason: if He could fix it, He would. But if He did, it would rob us of what makes us human: the ability to decide, to believe or not to believe, to sin or not to sin, to help or to hurt, to do good or evil. It is entirely our decision whether or not we trust Him and put our hope in the notion that all things will work together for good, even when we cannot imagine how.

But the point of this entry wasn’t to try and explain it away or make excuse. It wasn’t to try and re-iterate the finer points in C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece or dabble in philosophical reasoning of my own. It wasn’t the concept of God’s indifference that struck me when I listened to the song that prompted me to write this blog. It was the notion that I hadn’t considered: That if we suffer when we witness pain and tragedy, how much more does God suffer BECAUSE He could change it?

At any moment, God could rearrange any situation (as the singer in the song requests). But it would contradict who He is and who He made us to be if He were to pull the strings, interrupt our actions or prevent consequences. Our actions and decisions would be meaningless. We would be playthings instead of people. Instead, God must sit by and watch us destroy ourselves and each other knowing that He had the power to prevent it but could not. It would be the end of the world as we know it. Instead, God must watch the creations that He loved enough to give such limitless possibilities to go astray. I can imagine that if it hurts us to hear about, it hurts Him a great deal more.

So why not scrap the whole thing? Why not stop the world as soon as a tragedy occurs?

I’d like to think it’s out of love. That in spite of our misdeeds, God finds a way to use pain to reach us, to teach us, to perfect and improve us, and that He works to comfort those who suffer through no fault of their own. And that, I guess is where faith comes in. Though every now and then I’ll hear the words to some familiar song and entertain my doubts for just a moment before realizing how fortunate I am to know the truth.

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Surely, He is watching.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sometimes it Takes a Storm

Why does God move so quickly for some and not for others? Why does He sometimes come as a “still small voice” and at other times “in the midst of a storm?”

Not too long ago, my life was a very different thing. One broken relationship followed after another and I was left cold, downcast, and unable to pray. Rather than “seek up,” I had chosen a course for myself that I knew was wrong. It had become an idol for me. In spite of various warnings, I was determined to have it my own way. I was fortunate that God had better plans, even if it took a storm to reach me.

I had been too stubborn to head the whispers, and in truth there were plenty of shouts I also disregarded. Yet, although I’d given up on God, He’d not given up on me. In the end, it took having my heart broken for me to be healed in the way I’d been seeking for so many years. Everything that I’d been holding on to, every past regret and resentment, was ripped away from me in one fell swoop. The lesson was great, but I was not a willing student. Though the method of instruction seemed so harsh, I was grateful once I understood its purpose.

Sometimes we have to fall in order to find the strength to stand.

I was grateful that God lifted me up from those trying times and am grateful still that I stand stronger now in faith. God rewarded my faithlessness and used my adversity to redirect my path. He taught me that I had to love Him first – and myself – before I could love somebody else. In spite of my impatience and strong will in the past, He was quick to bring someone into my life who I could share my faith and life with. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t thank Him for being harsh in correcting me, though it certainly took some time before I was able to.

When things are going well in our lives, it’s easy to forget God. In the beginning, we thank Him for providing for us in whatever way we desired, but over time, we focus more on our provision than its source. And if that provision gets taken away, we are the first to accuse God of being faithless. (I know, because this was my initial reaction to the turmoil that I so vaguely described above.) We take issue with Him though we seek to understand the greater purpose. We ask “why?” Sometimes the answer is obvious and we ask only to express our frustration and other times we ask from the depths of our doubt trying to make sense of what we cannot comprehend. Sometimes we won’t get an answer. We wait for God.

Yet, I’ve no doubt that in these times of trouble, God is present and is speaking. Whether as a still small voice or a raging storm, He is working. All we can do is remember His faithfulness and trust that in every adversity there is some lesson He is crafting, if only we would be patient to receive it. We need only prepare our hearts.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)

"The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord… A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." (Proverbs 16:1&9)