January 29, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about complacency. I started a job on October 13 that I still like. Who would have thought that enjoyable jobs are out there. I’m paying off the credit card debt that I accumulated in graduate school. I’m paying all my bills on time. I’m trying to make my apartment comfortable without the help of my mother and two sisters who are much better at nesting than I am. I’m even putting a little money from each paycheck into a savings account and a Simple IRA.

In other words, I appear responsible. Perhaps I’m not building equity through home ownership, but a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to explain what I meant by that. I do now. I have business cards, for goodness’ sake. I take my truck in for routine oil changes. I’m like good ole reliable dad without a wife or children.

How did this happen? I remember having a conversation with my parents about finances. My mother was trying to convince me that financial security was very important–and thus, very attractive–to most women. So, if I wanted to attract a good woman, I should practice more financial prudence. I think this conversation came up in relation to my sharing my plans with them for another adventure. My habit was to gut my bank accounts and travel to a far off country and take pictures and write poems and return knowing that the world was, in fact, my playground. After my mother tried to offer a reality check, I delivered what I thought was a brilliant counter-argument: the right woman would love me for who I was, not what I could offer her.

Now I see that both our points-of-view had problems. My mom was making a generalization, and I was more concerned with justifying my spending habits than thinking long-term. I criticized people my own age who followed the life-itinerary they accepted passively from Western culture or church culture or a “Christian” education: graduate high school, go to college, earn a degree, get a job, find a spouse, start making payments on a mortgage, have babies, and so on.complacency3

I resisted this itinerary. It seemed like unquestioning acquiescence to the status quo. Shoot, so many people get divorced these days that you’d think more young adults would get to know themselves and their motivations really well before entering a covenant relationship. When I get married, I want to stay married. I don’t want loneliness or insecurity or horniness or discontentment to drive my decision to spend the rest of my life with a woman. I want that decision to be about her. Sure, I’ll bring all sorts of hidden fears, wounds, and needs to the table. That’s unavoidable. We’re bound to blindside each other with junk from our families, past relationships, and sins. However, I’d like to think that deeper self-awareness might enable me to focus on what is within my power to change–myself, by the grace of God–rather than try to change her.

For example, I get irritable right before dinner if I’ve been drinking coffee all day. As the caffeine leaves my body, I tend to be negative and critical. I also need time by myself. If I don’t have some space for solitude, silence, and prayer on a regular basis, I don’t treat people well. I develop tunnel vision. I only see how people have failed and disappointed me. I take on a posture of defensiveness. If other people can’t meet my needs, I’d better protect myself from their needs. In other words, who I want to be gets turned upside down. I am most content when I am serving other. I most like being me when I respond with kindness, gentleness, and patience rather than fear, sarcasm, and criticism. When I die to myself, I gain myself. When I look after the needs of others, my own needs are met.

If caffeine withdrawal makes me irritable but I didn’t know it, I might point a finger at my wife rather than myself. Why did she forget to pick up milk? Why does she leave trash in her car? Why doesn’t she turn off the lights when she leaves the house?

sea11If solitude, silence, and prayer keep me centered in the reality of God-with-us in Jesus, then I will be much less likely to attribute my best friend’s failure to call me back to his lack of respect for me and other. I may have the grace to acknowledge that I am a victim of my own expectations rather than some grave injustice.

In his goodness, the Father provided me a job. I have shown my gratitude by saying, “Okay, God, I can take it from here.” Then, I mess up a good thing. I know that what I do is less important than who I am becoming. The Father is transforming me into a person who can meet others where they are without putting pressure on them to be who I want them to be.

My prayer is that I not wake up as a 45-year-old husband and father and realize my relationship with Jesus lost its intimacy and fire years ago, when I stopped trusting him for my welfare from moment to moment. I am afraid of that kind of complacency. Even more than a wife and family, I want to be a saint. I want to be one of the holy ones of God. I long for purity and holiness.

My deepest desires are for things that I cannot provide for myself. I hate to admit it, but I am in need. I have a need. I need Jesus right here, right now, to walk with me on the Way everlasting.

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