Monday, January 27, 2014

Quagmire (warning: it's heavy)

Facing giants is scary.

It makes you want to run away.  Especially when those giants are in the mirror. 

Lately, my giants are those seem-nice-on-the-outside-but-nasty-on-the-inside types, like Comparison, Entitlement, and Expectation.

It's hard not to compare.  It's easy to feel entitled.  It seems only natural to hold expectations about life and the people around us.  But those ingredients mix up an enticing cocktail named Despair. 

Comparing is always such a big temptation.  Comparing my personality and presence; comparing my possessions; comparing my place in life; comparing my spiritual progress; comparing my kids and husband and their behaviors and accomplishments...I'm not sure what the lure is, if I think comparing will make me more content, or if trying to be like everyone else will make me happier, or if I'll gain respect by outwardly having it all "more together" than everyone else, or if I'll learn some grand life lesson that will change me forever...?

None of that really happens.  We all know that.  What does happen when I compare me and mine to others is that I begin to question my value as a person (because I'm not like so-and-so), I begin to question the value of my husband and children (because they don't behave or accomplish like such-and-such), I bury myself with unrealistic demands to make my life appear (or legitimately BE) more perfectly put together, I attempt to control those around me to fit into my grand plan of a perfect life, and I bulldoze any who color outside the lines I've drawn. Because my lines are obviously the right lines; the lines anyone else might draw (in my self-absorbed bubble) are irritating scribbles that impede the proper flow of life. 

It's stifling.  Comparisons stifle the beautiful creativity and individuality of each person, and of our communities as a whole.  Differences among us are beautiful and would the body function if all parts were the same?  How would we ever discover new great ideas if we all thought the same?  How, even, could we enjoy God's vastness if we all thought in the same dimension?

But I try and I try and I try and I try to be like those I hold as the standard, usually without even realizing that's what I'm doing or the futility of my endeavor, trying to create peace through the process of chaos...

It will never work. 

And failure after failure, discouragement leads to frustration, and frustration leads to hopelessness, and hopelessness leads to despair, and despair leads to anger and--perhaps more dangerous--a sense of self-entitlement.

I see a sea of people who own homes and have steady jobs and whose kids get to live in one place and keep their friends year after year, people who have stability, connections, friends, the recipe of things I consider to make up "real" life...and after the wishful longing wears thin, entitlement sets in: Wait.  Why are they better than me?  Why does everyone else get everything good in life while I struggle?  I deserve everything everyone else has!  I deserve to have everything I want!  I deserve to be happy!  It's the American way, after all--I have rights!

Do I? 

Here also Expectation rears its ugly head, because my rights to happiness include a long laundry list of expectations for life and for myself and for those people who surround me, mostly encompassing things to have and how to be.  It is a carefully crafted list, tediously created (of course not consciously!!) over a lifetime, and always amending, but is a harsh taskmaster and demands every last (impossible) requirement be met before handing over the precious reward of happiness.

And because I can't control my life situation and cannot claim that dangling carrot for myself, I do the only last thing I can do...Blame everyone around me for their part in my misery...and ultimately, blame God.  Why does God bless everyone else with good things except me?  Why doesn't God love me??

Then in the seeming injustice of it all, I let myself become angry, and the comparisons become judgmental.  The deception is that anger is always loud and eruptive.  Anger can come in quiet shades, also, in the forms of a critical spirit, an ungrateful heart, a selfish sense of entitlement, hostility toward others' needs, a tendency to invalidate anyone else's opinions, an inability to accept fault yet noticing everyone else's, always looking on the negative side of life...the shades are endless.

These chaotic feelings of want and devastation and anger often lead me to try to control people or things around me--anything I can.  Husband and children are easy targets, but it doesn't end there.  I attempt to control my household by keeping unrealistic standards of cleanliness and organization.  I might fall into shopping addiction by the lure of controlling what I am able to buy.  I might even fall into spirituality addiction, because I can control how "good" I am in measurable ways that no one can judge. 

These bottom-of-the-barrel times are hard, but they're also the times God's commands really make sense and feel less like stiff demands and more like cool water reviving a parched soul...

God says, "Do not covet."  Coveting is basically comparing yourself, and wanting what others have.

God says, "Forgive and forget."  Not, "Forgive, and then fix...everything that's wrong with them!"  I tend to get so emotionally complicated when there's been an offense, especially in my marriage.  I feel like I need to parse the issue, cut it apart and lay it open and assign responsibility to every last bit...I'm not saying it's not good to talk about things, but there does come a point when it does more harm than good.  So, just forgive.  Then forget about it.  Then love the offender like they deserve it!  Because they do, because God created them just as fearfully and wonderfully as he made me.  It's God's job to save people, after all, not mine.

God says, "Be joyful always...give thanks in everything."  You wanna know the surest way to punch these giants in the face?  Gratitude.  Comparison, Expectation, Entitlement don't stand a chance against a heart that's truly thankful for the priceless gifts God gives every day. 

And when you really think--past all those selfish longings--we are all, even the most-worst-off ones of us!--deeply, deeply blessed.  If we have life, we have unspeakable treasure--life is the most intimate and undeniable love beckoning of God to us!  And if we have shelter, food, clothing, health, family, friends...we are blessed. 

I am learning to lay everything else down and simply love as Christ loves us.  Unconditionally.  No strings attached.  Selflessly.  Forgiving so much for the same offenses that it seems OCD.  Without comparison, without expectation.  It's hard.  Good thing I don't have to do it by myself!

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