The Art of Being Alone

Everyone has a theme. Listen to a pastor long enough, and you'll hear it a hundred times. Read every blog post I've ever written, and you'll start wondering (as I do sometimes) if I ever write anything that can be appropriately designated "new." Read all about what motivates Dickens's characters, and you will eventually discover the motivations of Dickens himself. Generally, the things that we cannot stop talking about are the things that we ourselves struggle with the most.

If you're not sure what your weaknesses are, here's an easy way to find out: turn off every piece of communications technology that you possess and find a completely isolated place to spend time in relative stillness with nothing more than a journal and maybe a Bible (or a particularly meaningful book - I might bring along Chesterton's Orthodoxy, for instance). Then stay there for, oh, five hours? Longer, if you can manage it. Usually, if you're not afraid of doing some honest self-inquiry, you'll begin to face all the things that you've been dodging because you haven't had time for them.

Right now, I'm on top of a mountain somewhere in the sticks of eastern Alabama. It's not that far from civilization, but far enough that I don't feel like driving to the nearest Starbucks (the shortest route is 21 miles) to pretend that I'm having human interaction while my host, Leah, is at work. In addition to being apart from people, I also feel out of step with time: Alabama is on Central time, but I'm barely a mile from the Georgia/Alabama line which also marks the time transition. Is it 7:51 right now or is it 6:51? It's like the rest of the world is moving past me in perfect synchronicity, but I am standing off to the side, as if I were a pedestrian walking (illegally) along an interstate. All the disjointedness makes me feel isolated. It's one of those exhilarating moments where I get to choose between going sane or going crazy, and it's kind of fun (no Wilson yet, but it's just a matter of time).

Anyway, one of the things that I have realized during the past few lazy days is that I am in a molasses swamp of purposelessness. This is not really a surprise - such discoveries rarely deserve to be called true epiphanies - because if you read any of what I have written over the past few months, (I think) it frequently deals with living in such a way as to accomplish something meaningful. It's not because I'm particularly successful at living that way, but rather that I need more help than most people and so I have to thought vomit a lot to figure out where I'm going right or where I'm going wrong.

One of my favorite high school teachers, Mrs. Myers, once said that some of the best teachers are the ones who have struggled to grasp the material because they know all of the places where a student could get tripped up. They have traveled the same road, seen the same sights, and gotten sidetracked at the same places. As such, they have authority to guide another through that stretch of learning. It doesn't make the struggle any less painful or difficult for the individual who had to undergo the process, but it does redeem the struggle because that person has won the ability to help others over the snags.

We don't always get things right. In fact, I would hazard a guess that 87% of the time, we're running around like chickens with our heads cut off. But the beauty that arises out of the pain is that our suffering can, with time, become our message. Maybe Douglas Adams was right when he commented on the singular stupidity of humans who can learn from others and choose not to, but there will always be a few people who are listening. And therein lies the redemption - therein lies the hope.


Shame and Water

Guilt makes a lousy companion, like a thunderstorm always waiting at the edge of your mind. Any moment of sunshine and delight can be all too quickly quenched by a sudden downpour.

We had this phrase that slipped in during the Father Heart of God week at dts: "From love, not for love." The idea is that when we know we're loved, when we fully comprehend that we have nothing to work for because all that we need is already ours from Him, we walk in unimaginable freedom. God's love is like the Drano that clears away a lifetime of pipe-clogging gunk. A child runs in from outside covered in dirt, and Mother doesn't withhold her love until his face is clean. She loves him because of who he is and what he is.

It's a beautiful thought, but it's one that I forget all too readily.

Once upon a time, David Blanchard told me that one of my greatest weaknesses is a tendency to hide myself behind my accomplishments (for the record, I did ask for his opinion). He's right, and it arises from what is perhaps an all-too-common tendency to live by the approval of others. Don't be controversial, don't stand out too much, do as the Romans do. Because the fact is, it's tiring to have to defend a non-traditional perspective. Fasting for "religious reasons," going to church on Sunday, not drinking as part of a vow, even listening to the ever-dreaded Christian music... But oh, that spiral of silence has a steep slope.

The problem with living for the approval of others is that you can't please everybody. Eventually, you get to a point where you've successfully placated a new crowd, but you're ashamed to face your old friends. Oh, maybe you don't do anything too terrible - maybe you call yourself the good kid of the group. But you still find it hard to look in the eyes of the people who believe in you, who have known you at your best, because what if the light of hope is dimmed by disappointment?

Sometimes, I don't want to go home, because it's too tiring to remember what I'm supposed to say and how I'm supposed to act. Sometimes, I resent the circles that I move in now because I don't want to be weird or stereotyped, but I don't hold the most vocalized popular opinion.

"Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness ... There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear." (1 John 4:17a&18a)

Usually I treat this blog as my own personal dump site, because I don't want to be too preachy. Well, if it's preachy, I'm not sorry this time. I hope you know that you're loved. You are loved fiercely and passionately and forever. So am I. Like anyone, I have faced doubt. But doubt doesn't get the final word. At the end of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that three things remain: faith, hope, and love. Of these three, faith and hope will one day become obsolete, as the object of our faith is before us, and we need hope no longer because all hopes are satisfied. All that remains is love. It was there at the beginning, and it will be there at the end. You cannot disappoint a God who knows you front to back, death to birth, and everything in between, because He already knows the story and He re-wrote a better ending. That's the kind of love that casts out fear. That's the kind of love that makes us daring and bold. That is the kind of love that gets the final word.


French Fries

Tasted ocean on your lips.
Thus far, ignorant of the flavor of memory, then
The transformation of a meant microsecond:
A battering ram on the door of my heart,
Making way for the flood.
Storm and cessation,
Peace and passion.
I have been held by fire
(But not burned),
Soothed to sleep by waves
(But not drowned).
Will I ever wake again?


C'est La Mort

Alone in a crowded room. A girl clears her throat, carries on her conversation, one word building atop the other, moment by moment: a life passing on the other side of table. Does she notice? Does she feel the breeze stirred by a world turning the hands around the clockface? Stephen Crane wrote of the indifferent furor of nature, his oilerman facedown in the surf while the boat full of weaklings survived. Is this all there is? Minutes ticking by and - nothing more.

And I have to shake my shoulders and laugh, perhaps a bit cynically. Of course there is more. The thought brought into daylight looks absurd. Oh, but do I live like life means anything? As if my own future were a rock that I must push forward, head bent down, back straining. Do I remember what the horizon looks like? Some days. Sometimes, when the sun sets, I look up and catch sight of glory and seeing, remember too other twilights that were beautiful like this one but in different shades and hues.

Am I really alone here? Do You sit with me? Do You breathe this air You've created, or do You experience its delight through my delight? The wealthy man's tongue is dulled to the flavor of rich foods, and he rediscovers their joy when he feeds the poor. I do not realize the mechanics of learning and of numbers and patterns until I see the light dawn on Nicole's face as she grasps a math lesson and surpasses it in the scope of her understanding, and suddenly I appreciate the process, the elegance of the numbers, and the human intellect with its imprint of the divine. You made a beautiful world and called it good, but its goodness circles back when we give You praise for all that You have created.

Taste and see. Eat the mystery, that your eyes may be opened - not to the knowledge of good and evil, which blinds us, but to the earthshaking revelation of awe.