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.