Saturday, January 15, 2005


Refinding the Way

We're told not to seek our own happiness. What are we supposed to do if it
drops into our laps? Hmm? Tell me that, please. Is it a temptation from the
devil? A flash in the pan, brief rain in the long desert, evaporating even
as it's noticed? What if it stays? A gift from God, or just treacherous
emotion inviting trust just so that it can disappear at just the right
moment so that I'll drop onto the spikes of daily life?

People in love are supposed to be happy to the exclusion of all else. How
does this happen?

All I see is responsibility. I might be allowed to be happy when all the
work is done, all the loose threads knitted up into something strong.

OK then, I become happy, and that makes me a target. Everyone who's unhappy
promptly goes to work ridiculing how I feel and how I act. "It'll never
last. Not real. Think of ... (fill in the blank, there are lots of reasons
not to be happy) How can he be happy when I'm not?"

I've had lots of practice at getting lost. One natural response is panic.
I'll never get anywhere from out here. Gone for good. Can't go forward
because I had no real goal in mind and just sort of got here by following
my nose, can't go back because if that place were any good I'd have stayed.

This is made more complicated by following Jesus. He beckons, I follow, he
finds the way and makes it possible for me to go on. Gives me the strength
and the heart. Then I find myself out in some very strange place and panic.
I can't just go back to where I was because much of what supported that
life has been dismantled. It's either God or nothing.

So we have to make this work. I run around and chase my tail for a time,
burning a hole in the ground. Downward spiral, circling the drain. Trying
to figure things out on my own because historically my mind is all I've
had. What happened to the Holy Spirit, that wonderful gift? He's still
there, having promised never to leave me, but I'm making so much noise I
can't hear him.

Somewhere I fell off the path. When truly lost it does no good to retrace
the route backward to find the point of departure; one spot in an unknown
forest looks much like another, especially when there's no sunlight for
shadows nor slope for physiographic differentiation of location. I cling to
the rock, trembling. Afraid to ask God for help because I've screwed things
up again, and then Satan moves in with all kinds of distractions. Signal to
noise ratio goes to hell and I'm left there, lost sheep on a cliff in the
howling wilderness.

Internally it's possible to go backward, step by step, and find the point
of departure. The Holy Spirit has a most excellent memory. Back and back,
three days of work, a mountain bike ride, four days of rain and depression,
a week of work (more or less), a weekend devoted to sand sculpture, back
and back some more. Life group. December 9, and a story called "Natural
Evangel." God patting my head. "Good boy." Growl. And departure.

Happiness is a bribe. Look out; they just want something. If something
makes me happy it's a problem. Intellect rules: I'll allow the feeling if
there's a reason for it. I'd rather not feel it at all because I don't
understand it and it tends to rock the tender boat. Wouldn't take much to
sink it so I rule the emotions. Smooth and steady, that's the way.

God tried to get me to allow happiness, but he violated a strong survival
rule. No uncontrolled emotion. I closed the door in his face.

Because I don't know much about emotions in general, and happiness
especially, God has to put more effort into teaching me these things. He
probably overdid it that Thursday night, wanting to make an important
point. It's OK to feel good. There doesn't even have to be a reason for it;
emotions come and go with their own rhythm. I didn't want to be bribed,
didn't want to be God's little helper getting rewarded by a pat on the
head. What I really didn't want was the life changes that would come with
having a happier outlook on life. That kind of lamp can't be hidden. It'd
be like putting a searchlight on top of the submarine. "Here I am! Here I
am! Go ahead and shoot."

So, I slipped. I didn't want God's hand to hold my foot so I looked the
other way and kept slipping.

God really doesn't ask that much of me. It's very easy for me to fall into
judging myself for all the big things I don't do.

It's just absurd to think that the God of the Universe was simply and
purely delighted, with no ulterior motive, when I honestly told the man at
the life group how the Holy Spirit works in my life. I had just the right
experience to speak to that specific person, and God was not only delighted
with the way I shared, but also with his own graceful guidance at getting
the two of us to meet. Thirty-odd years of my life were behind what I said,
and God has worked in every moment of that time to keep me alive.

God is also pleased when I write these little stories. I do better when i
write, and perhaps others get some good from them. God expresses his
pleasure with a sort of glow I feel. I've responded to his Spirit. God,
happy with what I'm doing? These little things? History's heavy-hitter
Christians would look upon me as a child happy when he gets three blocks to
stand on top of each other. Well, we have to start somewhere. Deserts don't
grow forests overnight.

Maybe one of these days I'll allow this to make me happy. "I can do all
things through Christ, who strengthens me." Eventually. Happiness makes of
one a very shiny lamp, and I'm much more comfortable with being dingy,
unnoticed off in a corner someplace.

And my panic at not being the kind of person God wants me to be? Whose idea
is that? All God has asked me to do is be honest and write stories. I'm the
one who looks ahead and tries to become the world-changer. Maybe it'll
happen anyway, one story at a time.

It's still a mystery. God's love. His way of rebuilding, infusing me with
his Spirit so that he does all of the work. Why? And why is he happy with
the results?

2005 January 14

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