Wednesday, November 11, 2009

anxieties for self and for others

I have to admit that many times I feel that I am hardly fit to be called a Christian. My failures and fears loom larger than any possible success I could have in my walk with the Lord. And were my own anxiety about my failures not enough I end up being anxious on behalf of people I love. I have been a worrier at heart for much of my life. When friends and family are in bad patches it is hard not to feel as though part of me is miserable with them. I have not realized the degree to which what my friend said about himself is also true about me, that I can't be happy unless my friends are happy. I am not sure whether or not this is healthy or an example of being able to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

Sometimes it is easier to not share what you have anxieties about because you feel ashamed of them or how you deal with them. It seems as though there is no possibility of escaping sin. David lived ou this reign being a weak father and yet is counted among the saints. He had numerous wives and murdered a man without, on the surface, temporal punishment. Scratch the surface and we see that the discipline he received from the Lord was not just gut-wrenching but probably caused him to despair of life itself. His elder son was an unrepentent rapist whom he dearly loved and did not have the heart or will to discipline. The younger son murdered him through conspiracy and eventually stages an insurrection proclaiming himself king and seduced one of David's most trusted advisors to join him, having sexual intercourse with ten of David's concubines in the process. Eventually this son fell after a battle to Joab and David lamented that son's death so much that Joab told David to stop disgracing Israel.

Then, even at the end of his life yet another son, apparently hearing rumors of David's impotence, decided he had a shot at the throne. David in his old age gave counsel to Solomon to kill in cold blood political rivals that threatened the united kingdom or whom David swore to not kill himself. David was a man of sorrows who faced sorrow because of his sin. I wish that I could have that kind of sorrow for my sin but often I feel numb. I have also gone through life wondering if I can do anything right and if I will ever measure up. I have let the expectations of others define me in some bad ways. I have feared people more than the Lord. Truth to tell I am not sure I can say I am fit to be a Christian ... and yet Christ seeks out the lost. The more lost and broken I feel the more I must remind myself the Father sent the Son to seek and save the lost.

For much of my life I have been obsessed with death and its inevitability, its unavoidable arrival. I have gotten advice on how to avoid this or that sickness or problem but all of it misses the reality of death and the inevitable day of death's coming. If despair is doubting the goodness of God's promises then I have to confess I am guilty of that where this life is concerned and I often wonder whether God has anything good planned for me in this life.

I have also come to realize that I struggle with the things I have hoped for and wanted over the last fifteen years that I don't have. The reasons for not having these things are manifold but are summarily: 1) I came to feel the dreams I had were stupid, silly dreams of youthful naivete or selfishness and set them aside as unattainable; 2) I came to feel that my wants and needs were basically selfish; 3) that many things I wanted I wanted because they were basically idols or shortcuts to obtain things that I felt imcompetent to attain; 4) these were things that I not only didn't have but was told in so many ways I NEEDED to have in order to be valuable as a human being.

It is this fourth point that is particularly bitter for me because I have often felt that despite Christian shop talk about having no Lord but Christ and eschewing "functional saviors" the people who talk like this not only have functional saviors themselves but have even been, in my admittedly limited perception, guilty of promoting these functional saviors over the years. None of these functional saviors Christians promote as rubber-stamped by Christ is quite as odious to me in terms of presentations and arguments as marriage. Now I have married friends and family and it is not too strong to say that I adore them! I love my married friends and family in ways that trouble me because of the level of, well, emotional vulnerability I feel just recognizing the degree to which I care for them.

Yet at the end of the day I feel as though I can't reconcile wanting to be married myself with following Christ. My experience and observation has been that while marriage and sexuality may be life-giving experiences for others they have the odor of death and dissolution to me. I have seen marriages fail and I have seen romantic relationships pursued at the expense of friends and loved ones. I have seen sacrifices made to the god of romantic fulfillment and I both hate it and am fascinated by it. The ambivalence I have is what makes it feel impossible to know how I should feel about it and when I have spent so many years with Christians who seem to believe that being married really and literally makes you a better person or speak as though marriage is what actually makes you a man it energizes a part of me apt to despair. I can't persuade myself that the thing itself is not worthy of being attained but I can't persuade myself that I want that enough to attain it or that the costs of attaining it are worth the trouble--eventually I come to the belief that even wanting that must indicate there is something wrong with me and yet that itself seems rather pathological.

I realize how often I am easily discouraged and how often I lose hope. I know that I should take comfort in the life to come that I will receive through Christ's resurrection and faith in His faithfulness ... but all of my life I have felt as though the way I am and will be judged about that is measured by Christians who look at me and implicitly and explicitly tell me that I don't measure up. I'm not on fire for God enough, what I have is just head knowledge and intellectualism and not "living" faith. What I have is not good enough compared to what they seem to have.

I struggle a lot and often unsuccessfully with being angry and resentful that I have encountered so much of this mentality among brothers and sisters in Christ. I'm enough of a failure already without being reminded of the ways in which I am a failure. I have grown weary of being told in different ways that my sacrifices, whatever they may be, are not acceptable to the Lord because they are not the sacrifices people think I should be making. My heart has been broken under the weight of the expectations of others and the expectations I have placed upon myself.

I can't blame others for my own idols even if those idols were given to me. I still accepted them. I struggle with the temptation to feel that it is better to not risk than to risk and fail. He who would save his life will lose it but he who loses it for the sake of the Lord will save it. I don't know what losing that entirely means, losing it for the kingdom. I am not gifted as an evangelist and do not feel called to ministry and even though I affirm that every Christian has the ability to be part of the body of Christ and serve and love others in some way I admit that I feel as though my life and training has made me, as the colloquialism goes, so heavenly minded I am no earthly good. I know this isn't actually or literally true at alL but it is hard not to feel that way when I assess myself. My own expectations mix with the rhetoric of those who say a man should go get a real job, get married, and have a legacy (i.e. make babies and all that other stuff a certain man has expounded upon) to form an excruciating, emotionally toxic brew.

I have anxieties because I have seen friends immerse themselves in this sort of thing and come out the other side broken and cynical. I have come out of it broken and cynical and feeling as though I have been used and discarded even though I know that's not a rational way to put it. It isn't uniformly true by a long shot and I know who has been an encouragement and a blessing and who has found me more useful than found me a true friend. I have to remind myself that the prophet says on God's behalf, "Can a mother forget her own children? Even if that happens I will not forget you."

Casting care upon the Lord and sharing our anxieties with Him means that we will pray without ceasing! In this world we will have tribulations but we are to take heart for Christ has overcome the world. Dying ... yet behold we live. If Paul despaired of life itself yet soldiered on then he is an example in the faith. For all of David's extravagant sins and failures after each failure he turned back. Let me be that sort of saint, one who despite sins recognizes that salvation is from the Lord. If brothers and sisters in Christ have promoted idols that have been rubber-stamped in their minds by Jesus; if brother and sisters in Christ have like Pharisees made themselves the measure of interpreting the Law, placed themselves in Moses' seat, and declare what we must do and be to be truly human ... I remember that James said, "Not many of you should desire to be teachers because we will be more sternly judged."

Someone I knew once said that the irony is that most of the people who talk the most about "grace" display it the least. A fellow I met once said that Calvinists do not realize how legalistic they are because they fool themselves into believing that because they have "the doctrines of grace" they are not legalists. It is easy to talk about "principles" and "methods" and how you are committed to "principles" and flexible about "methods" but I have seen Christians transform principles into methods and then stick with the methods, never really admitting that it had all devolved into a works righteousness. I have seen too much of that in my life and it makes me angry but I let myself get suckered into sticking by those sorts of people. But clearly I am rambling and rambling. I have come to realize that the pit of anxiety I have dug for myself is like a miry bog, a swamp of water and clay I cannot extricate myself from. Has the Lord forgotten me forever? Will the Lord deliver me from the clay pit in which I have become stuck?

Even in the midst of my failure the deliverance I hope for from the Lord is ultimately beyond death ... but I have come to realize, painfully, how much of a THIS LIFE success Christians want you to be to ensure that you're not only not a failure but even on the same team, a Christian at all. While I don't begrudge a person forsaking the faith in Christ over these sorts of disasters it makes me sad. Those who do not perservere may yet return to the Lord but our own idolatries do not exonerate us with respect to others. Temptations will come but woe to the man through whom they come. What happens when tests (temptations) come from fellow Christians? There is mercy in the end ... but there are times when I wish that there was some justice in this age. When I see how friends and family struggle it makes me even less optimistic than my admittedly not-optimistic self. But I digress. I have to remind myself that the Lord said, "Behold, I make all things new" I have to remember that no matter how often I may fail and feel discouraged that in Christ, new creation. ... as dying ... and yet we live.

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