October 6, 2015

Thinking Out Loud

Today is one of those days! Yes, I am stressed, and I am trying very hard to keep everything in my life under control. First, I am not feeling well. I think the semester is taking its toll, and right now, that means that I am feeling the crush of all my "to-do's" falling down hard against my time line. You see, I have four classes in process along with two doctoral courses. Second, I have my other responsibilities here at home. The care of my parents, my son, and keeping a home is getting to be a bit much for me to handle. Then, if that weren't enough, I am not feeling well. I am tired, and I think I am on the brink of having a relapse (Chronic Fatigue). So with all of that on my plate, I am feeling like my life is becoming too much for me, too heavy, too stressful.

I blogged about my feelings the other day, and frankly, since that time, I have seen my attitude and my approach go from good to bad to worse! Yes, I have sunk low in the mud, and I am feeling the press of burden weighing me down. Yesterday got the best of me, and I really came "this close" to quitting. Yes, I admit it. Yesterday, I was ready to chuck it all in and walk away from teaching for good.

When You Are Ready to Quit

I read this quote from the movie, "Rocky," today. It got me thinking about why I want to quit, and why I believe I must "keep on, keeping on." I love Rocky Balboa, and I love the "Rocky" movies (well not all of them, but the first couple were good). This quote speaks to life really well...
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!
After I read this quote, I thought to myself, "Doesn't Sly Stallone have a good grip on life?" Yes, I know. Sly Stallone wrote this bit of dialogue for his character, Rocky, to say to his son in one of his later movies. I thought about these words, and while they certainly are not biblical or scriptural, they do ring true in many ways. First, life is hard. No one who has walked on planet Earth can say that life has been easy for them (if they are honest, I mean). Second, there is no guarantee that "life" is going to treat you well. And yes, often we are left to make the most of what we are given at birth -- be it a handicap of some sort -- or some other obstacle we must overcome. Third, no matter if we work hard, if we are smart, if we do all the right things -- there is no guarantee at all  -- that we will find happiness, success, or financial gain. No matter what the purveyors of the 'power of positive thinking' say, we are not born with any "given's." We are born, we live, and we die. We take our chances, and we deal with "life" in the best way we can.

The writer of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says it this way:

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.

Yes, there is a time appointed for every season, every thing, under heaven. Everything has a beginning and an end, and the result of our work is toil, hardship, and difficult work. In the following verses, 9-10, we read,

What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils? I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves.

Life is hard, it is difficult, and in the end, man dies. He is like a wisp of grass, a blade that is here today and gone tomorrow. It withers and it dies. Yet, we read in verses, 11 and following that God has made everything for a purpose. 

He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.

The writer of this short book suggests a moderate approach to life, a realistic and down-to-earth way to see all of life. He likens good work to a gift from God. He says in verse 12, "I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God." 

Making Sense of it All

If we take these words to heart, we can learn a valuable lesson from these verses. So often, we get the mindset that life should be good, that it should be filled with all possibility, and in that sense of optimism we seek our own good. We say "I can do it," and we set out to prove to ourselves and to those around us that we are capable, able, and proficient enough to do whatever we set our mind to doing. 

In America, especially, we have a "bootstraps mindset" that says that if we just tough it out, stick to it, and persevere, we can overcome anything life sets before us. In true Rocky Balboa style, we scale the steps of the Philadelphia courthouse, we rise to the status of champion, and we win the fight.

Cut. Stop the film. Let's get real, people!

Yes, this is such a good story on film. We cheer, we shout, and we believe "Hey, if he can do it, so can I." The problem with this mindset is that it precludes any notion of God. It is man-centered, man-focused, and bent on elevating man above that of any other creature. It is idolatry. It is seeking to show that man is capable of doing anything, and that in doing so, man doesn't need to believe in God, to worship God, or even acknowledge the existence of God.

I feel like I have been hit hard. Just like Rocky says, life has hit me really, really hard. I am winded, and I don't have the strength to even walk to the courthouse steps, let alone run to them. I am tired, and I want to quit. I want to walk away from all the responsibilities, and I want to do something easier, less stressful, less intensive. I want an easier path, I want to experience a more gentle life. I want to take the comfortable road, the one where I can ride in that "air cooled" bus and simply look at the window as the scenery passes by. I don't want to work hard anymore. I don't want to do anything that is going to require me to expend all my energy, and to "go the distance." Yes, I want to curl up into a little ball, and lay down and let "life" pass me by.

This is not reality. I know it. I feel it, and after sinking down into the muck, and feeling pity rise up out of my experience, I realized that what I wanted is to be comforted in my distress. So often, we think what we really want is to be lifted out of our distress. More often than not, we don't want to quit or give up, we simply want to rest. We need a "time out" so that we can reconnoiter, so to speak. We need time to review our surroundings, to scope out the territory, and then to recalculate our next steps. It is like when you are on a long journey and you stop for the night. You need to rest, for sure, but you also need time to put what has passed by into perspective.

A Fresh Perspective

I wrote about this on my blog last week, how I am a reflective person, and how reflection serves a purpose for me. Reflection helps me to figure out the "big picture." I am not an ideas person, a visionary or a creative. So for me, I spend a great deal of time dealing with the 'details.' You know the saying that the "devil is in the details" well for me, it is more like the original phrase "God is in the detail." This idiom refers to the fact that within the details -- there is always a hidden, mysterious, thing that must be uncovered through or with or by using a careful analysis. I am a details type of person, and as a logical and rational thinker, I spend a lot of time pondering details, looking at how things fit together, and trying to make a rational picture out of random bits and pieces. I really do enjoy this kind of thinking. In fact, I would say that I enjoy deep thinking activities, deep diving into the rational and logical realm. I ponder deep thoughts, think about philosophy, religion, etc. In all, my mind seems to find the challenge worth the effort. I know that there are many people out there who do not feel the way I do. They eschew details, and would much rather be spontaneous. I am glad they are the way they are, because in truth, I am rather boring. My interest in details and logic, falls short when it comes to interesting conversation or debate. I simply prefer to just sit and think. A lot. Often. Without concern for time. Yes, this is me. I am a thinker, a rational person, and as such, I tend to enjoy the details.

Except for when I cannot find a solution. Yes, when I am sorting through details, that hidden mystery perplexes me. It is the "God thing" in the midst of all the details, and whenever I get too close to "it," then I find that I just cycle on down, spin and sputter, and end up face down in the mud and the muck. Why? Well, the Word says it this way,

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9 KJV).

I get to the point where I cannot figure "it" out, and the reason why I cannot figure it out, is because what I am attempting to understand is not been made known to me. I find that when I am at this point, stuck in the middle of the puzzle, with no way out -- then and only then -- must I stop looking, stop hunting, and stop trying to figure it out on my own. Yes, it means that I have hit the wall, so to speak, and the thing I want to know is not knowable at this time in my life. I want something that only God knows. I want to know something that He is not ready to reveal to me. Thus, I must rest. I must stop looking for it. I must trust that it will be revealed in time, and until then, I must be content to know the Knower. Yes, I must be content to know the One who knows my beginning and my end. In this way, I lift my focus from the details back toward the One who authored the details. In doing so, my perspective shifts from the unsolvable puzzle to the majesty of the One who created the puzzle in the first place. It all comes down to knowing, to knowing the One, to knowing how much is enough, and when to stop the search.

I have tried to figure out the details of my life, to sort through them, and I have hit the brick wall, the closed door, the locked gate. I cannot go forward at this time, I cannot search anymore. I must now rest, and be thankful for the good gift the Lord has given to me. I must take the gift of work, the gift He has chosen, and allow it to be enough for me. In this time, in this place, in this way -- it must be ENOUGH. I must learn the lesson of satisfaction, and that lesson is not learned in any other thing, place or person, but only in and through knowledge of God. Yes, I must learn that He is my satisfaction, He is my all, and in doing so, I will stop searching for the bits and pieces, and accept the fact that the puzzle I am staring at is His work, His creation, His masterpiece. I cannot do anything to add to it, to change it, or to reshape it. It is His work, and in His work, only He will say it is approved.

As I struggle to come to terms with the details of my life, I am reminded of this fact. I am reminded of the fact that the Lord needs me to stop getting mired in the muck. He needs me to stop sitting down and looking around in the dirt. He needs me to be active, alive, and involved in what is going on around me -- to see what He is doing in me and through me -- rather than what I see or think I see. In truth, He is doing a phenomenal work in me. He is making me new, whole, and healthy. He is changing my life for the better, and I am at peace in that process. I am letting Him have His way in me, and in doing so, He is retooling, reworking, and remaking me into the "thing" of His choosing. He is good. He knows what He is doing. And, I am at rest.

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