push. pull. yes. no.

friends, i come before you today to tell you, among many other things, that i believe i have – albeit unintentionally – egregiously misinterpreted one of Jesus’ statements in the gospels.

Jesus tells His followers that whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it. (see: Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24.)

it’s one of my favorite verses – i even put it on my facebook bio, piously defining myself by the pursuit of losing my life daily.

after some self-examination, i think i’ve found that i may look at it entirely the wrong way. i think i make too much of a command out of it, instead of a promise. i also think that i – again, unknowingly – read it more as, “you must first become positively miserable and be stretched in every direction to find your life in Christ.”

wrong.

let me give you some context.

at the turn of this year, it seemed like something God was trying to do in my life was to drag me out of my comfort zone, but more specifically, to get me to use my time differently – to more intentionally use my time for others, instead of protecting my personal time. i had a job that was a little demanding in the sense that i could wake up at 6AM to a work text, and then i’d immediately go to work and put out fires, leaving me desperate for some relaxing time at home when i finished up. it kind of made sense that i’d protect my personal time – because i was terrible at balancing work and life. so, i rarely had people over, i rarely poured into friendships, i rarely went out and socialized – i was really focused on keeping hold of my time. i’d give it up when i was ready.

then, one day, i think a switch flipped, and as tends to happen with human beings, i swung to the other side of the spectrum. i felt like i had to say yes to everything and everyone – and i felt bad if i didn’t. i started mentoring a young man, i started making more friends and felt the need to spend time pouring into those friendships. so then i started marking up my calendar with appointments and evening activities, 6am coffee chats and 7pm meals, movie nights, date nights, parties and other social happenings, not to mention three jobs (which don’t even add up to a whole lot of hours, but seems overwhelming when looking at a planner.)

then i started looking at friendship as an obligation. i began looking at mentoring as an obligation. these things i wrote in my calendar were beginning to run my life, even though they began out of a genuine place of goodwill. my life was – well, to be honest, has been – filling up with “have to”s and not “get to”s. i obsessively made a list in the front of my 2018 planner of all of the things i need to get to on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, sitting there in black ink, my little idol. my idol of living a satisfactory, approvable life. my way of insuring that, if anyone doubted that i had priorities, they could look no further. “i write your name down in my planner, you are important to me.” my way of insuring that everyone knew i was living by that phrase – i’m seeking to lose my life, to give up my time, to invest in people.

but, if i can be honest with you (too late!) it’s not made me happy. and what’s worse – i haven’t even really been spending time with a ton of people! for a little while, i’d been meeting with a few guys on a multi-week basis, but that’s sputtered out over the holidays. and that’s kind of the point, actually – because in the back of my head, there’s this voice that says, “this is what you should be doing. you’re not ‘living intentionally.'” i don’t know about you, dear reader, but i live my life by a lot of (too many) shoulds and ought-tos. here are a few of mine:

“i should go to that social function.”

“i ought to make sure i make time for _____ this week.”

“i should visit my parents soon.”

“i should be better with money.”

“i ought to read my bible more.”

“i should do better at remembering who to pray for.”

over and over, time after time, day after day. these voices go back and forth, accusing and condemning and tilling the soil of guilt, uprooting the flowers of grace that are trying to bloom.

you know what just occurred to me upon thinking about that promise from Jesus?

 

who tries to lose something? i mean, seriously. apart from thinking to put a $20 bill in your jacket at the end of winter so you find it next fall, nobody sets up to lose their keys, their wallet, their cell phone, their starbucks gift card, their social security card. no, you try to find it, but you don’t have to try to lose.

i wonder if maybe we start to lose our lives when we pursue things that bring us deep joy. i don’t mean to sound hedonistic — but maybe if we focused more on letting the gospel run its course in our hearts, then we’d discover that, without even realizing, we’d lost our life for Jesus’ sake.

and maybe that means getting rid of some distractions. maybe that means discovering what’s acting as a misnomer for joy. you can laugh at me if you want, but – i’ve found that for me, that’s stuff like playing video games. i start and don’t want to be interrupted. i’ve actually experienced this time and again over the course of my life…sometimes it’s the things i intentionally seek to make me happy or provide respite from a stressful day – video games, movies, time in solitude, etc – that make me more miserable. it’s kind of like buying flowers for your girlfriend  because you’ve been a jerk and now you’re trying and manufacture a good feeling – it doesn’t work if you don’t come at it with a good heart.

i’m not really sure how to land the plane today. my therapist and i talked about this the other day – how life seems dictated by the shoulds and the ought tos and how that’s just a recipe for misery. we often come to resent what we ought to do. we resent the things that push us and pull us and stretch us in directions we don’t want to go (or aren’t ready to go.)

it reminds me of what the Bible says about letting your yes be yes and your no be no. (now, please, exercise discretion here, because sometimes obedience isn’t fun) don’t you think it’s better to say yes to things you actually want to say yes to? don’t you think it’s better to say no to things you don’t actually want to do? to be clear – i believe this criteria is best understood under the premise that the gospel transforms our want-tos – nevertheless, doesn’t that sound like a better life? a life not lived out of obligation and/or fear of what people think if you do/don’t do something? isn’t a friendship best built out of a genuine desire to know a person, instead of meeting a quota for friends?

may we be a people so transformed by the gospel that we say yes to the right things and no to the right things, all in the right heart. God, let us not be pushed and pulled by our calendars, but let us enter each relationship and activity with a full heart and a spirit motivated and animated by Yours. 

 

value.

have you ever found yourself doing a little dance with God about something? i think of it like the “potty dance” – that little series of uncomfortable movements you do to try and make yourself not think about how badly you have to go to the bathroom, to distract your body from its primary urge in that moment.

let me tell you what this post is gonna be: this post, like a lot of others, is gonna be me being honest with you about some stuff. stuff i’m not sure if it’s better to talk about in private with a few trusted friends, or to just put it out there. (though, i am learning a degree of discretion, which is perhaps why i don’t write everything on this blog anymore…) leading up to this post, i’ve tried to write a few things in the last few weeks, but they all seem to amount to this summary: life is hard, there are elements of being alive that just suck, and i’m trying to figure out how to cope with that. i decided, instead of blogging all of those out, to go see a therapist, which i start soon.

but this feels like something to be shared, i reckon. i want to share it mostly because i know how lonely of a place Afraid is. that is, i know how lonely it is when you’re scared, especially when you’re not sure if anyone else would talk about it. so i’m not trying to imply that i’m worse off than you or better than you for talking about it, or anything like that, just aiming to shine a bit of a light in what can be a lonely place.

that “stuff” i mentioned a paragraph ago, i’m gonna name it: today i’m gonna talk about money. lately i’ve felt a little frustrated with the scope of what men talk about when they talk about struggles, because it seems pretty limited — it seems like most guys talk about their issues with porn and lust, or they may talk about how much they’re working and how tired they are. maybe that perception is wrong – maybe i just feel a little caged – but i can tell you here and now that my own thoughtlife comes under much heavier attack from artillery such as “you are irresponsible, unexciting, and self-centered because of how you use what little money you have” than it does from lighter ammunition like, “you’re a creep.” here it is: money is a much bigger struggle for me than pornography is.

in my own experience (and i do wish to stress that it is my experience, because i would hate to make a sweeping generalization on the impact of sin on different people) the roots of pornography and lust do not burrow as deeply into the ground of my heart as do the roots of greed, envy, and comparison. that is, i find that the gospel still has to chip away at the latter roots than it does the former.

i suppose i should address why i brought up the potty dance at the beginning of this entry (at risk of randomly using the word “potty” without reason) — this morning, i dubbed a term i’m calling the “paycheck squirm.” i’m referring to the mental gymnastics i do in the days leading up to a paycheck to convince myself it’s all going to be all right. for instance, one of my strategies is to not do a whole lot with my friends. one reason being because my self-esteem is at a low and i just do not feel fully up to it; another reason being that i can feel easily caught in a catch-22: if my friends suggest going out for a meal, or talk about something we should do together, a group activity that may cost a few extra bucks, then i feel trapped and conflicted — my preference is to do things with my friends, but i also like to do things i can afford. and, of course, that is no fun to admit: “hi friends, who i love dearly and would LOVE to sit around and watch a movie or play games with, i am not going to go do this thing with you, simply because it costs money.” (and, of course, thankfully, my friends are not the type who only ever want to do things that cost money. i think the number one reason i’m glad i’ve given up drinking is because it adds up so quickly, and i no longer feel that to be social, i have to spend $5-$10 every single time i go out.)

i’d like to revisit the first reason i listed above: my self-esteem is at a low. i think, if i’m really honest, that it’s all too easy for me to buy into a worldly perspective on money instead of a gospel perspective. that is, the worldly perspective says that money makes you powerful, money makes you flexible, money makes you interesting. so if that is your perspective on money, it stands to reason that your self-worth will ebb and flow with the balance of your bank account.

it’s that gospel perspective that still needs to sink in: that your (my) value isn’t directly linked to the amount of money you have. that you can be interesting, you can be fun, you can be generous, even when you don’t have a lot of money.

Paul talked about this in Philippians, and i believe that it’s his words – although i have seen, heard, and considered them time and time again, and am only now coming to circumstantially understand them – that give me the most pause, and the most hope and encouragement. He says, in 4:12, that he has learned to be content in all circumstances, how to be abased, and how to abound. i think it’s funny that he uses the word abased, because that’s a pretty nasty word. it’s kinda up there in harsh descriptions, kinda like when Isaiah says that our righteousness is like a filthy menstrual rag, or like when Paul considers everything he’s lost to gain Christ as dung. abased doesn’t just mean poor, it means brought low; it means being dragged through the mud a little bit. makes me wonder if Paul maybe had similar thoughts to what i’ve had. maybe he felt the pressure and the pain of not having a lot of give, when it seemed like someone’s needs could best be addressed through financial means. maybe he, like me, wasn’t always the best at receiving. (maybe he was, i don’t know.) point is, to be abased is not just to be grounded, it’s actually a little worse than that.

i’m encouraged by two specific parts of what Paul says here: first, the implication is that he has been both. that is, provision can be cyclical. at times, you can live with a lot, and at other times, you can live with a little. God, it seems, lets us go in seasons. second, the implication is that contentment can be learned. that you can learn to be okay in both seasons – that you, like Tim Keller encourages us to do, can not let success get to your head, and not let failure go to your heart.

there’s a lot i haven’t said. a lot of emotions felt in the moments when i have to turn things down, when i have to say no, or when i’ve let someone treat me to supper because it’s not smart for me to pay for it. but i’m sharing with you today just in case you can say, “hey, me too.” or if it needs said to you, when you’re in your moments of feeling like you don’t have a lot to offer the world, or to offer yourself, or to offer people you love, then i’ll say it to you: me too.

if that’s you, then my hope is twofold: one, i hope you (and i) can learn to steady our hearts while our resources ebb and flow; and two (and within number one,) i hope you (and i) can learn the value of the non-monetary things we have to offer: our time, our attention, our wisdom, our compassion, etc.

 

dry. (a pointless update.)

dear friends, readers, listeners.

i don’t think it’s half as hard to admit this kind of stuff now as it may have been in the past, but — i’ve felt real dry lately.

you know that feeling?

i guess by dry i mean worn out (when nothing’s really that hard) a little deflated, a little uninspired, a little off the pace. whatever “it” is, you’re just not feeling “it.”

my blog domain expired around my birthday, and i thought about renewing it then, but i haven’t even necessarily had anything to write about.

so, today i’m doing the best thing i know: writing about how there’s nothing to write about.

no, but really, i’ve come to this realization: i misuse my time. you might even say abuse it. in the past few weeks, i have been so unbelievably lazy — i’ve read maybe twenty pages of a book, haven’t written a lick, haven’t really spent a ton of time with other people.

what have i been doing? well, i’ve been running a lot (which is good for my body, specifically my breathing,) i’ve been watching a few movies (which is kinda nice, because i have this big, long list of films i’m trying to see) aaaaaand i’ve been playing obscene amounts of FIFA. like, OBSCENE. i won’t lie — it’s one of those things that borders on worrisome for me, because it’s such an easy go-to.

oh, and i’ve got the ball rolling to start seeing a counselor. i’ve always heard it’s probably good to see one whether you “need” it or not – and i’m realizing that it would very likely do me a lot of good. main reason being that there’s a whole heck of a lot that’s different in my life than was the case 365 days ago…

Dec. 10, 2016: had a dog.

Dec 10, 2017: rehomed the dog in December.

Dec 10, 2016: worked at A Cup of Common Wealth

Dec 10, 2017: work at Chase bank, Lucky’s Market, and Southland Christian Church.

Dec 10, 2016: had few close friends to hang out with consistently.

Dec 10, 2017: have a group of 3-5 guys i try to meet with regularly, and a mentee with whom i agreed to spend an hour every week.

Dec 10, 2016: single.

Dec 10, 2017: in a relationship.

Dec 10, 2016: lived in one house

Dec 10, 2017: live in another (can’t really give addresses, because internet.)

So – my life is good. Really, i’m very happy. but a lot has changed, and i feel like i’ve blogged about this a hundred times, and my phrase had always been something to the effect of, “more has changed in the last year (or two, or three, or four, or five, or now six) than did in the first 21.) and that’s still true. and i guess it’s tough when you’re the type who likes consistency, but i reckon that’s not really what your mid-to-late twenties are for, is it?