The Right Philosophy Won’t Save You

Ladies and Gentlemen, as I’m sure many of you have realized by now, I am a Control Freak.

I know. It caught me unaware, too. (I kid, I kid!)

And I am this way, a grasping, clamoring, rigid, inflexible, unreasonable person because I am afraid. I try to control everything because I am controlled by fear.

I find it most prevalent in my parenting. I’m sure it shows up in other ways, as Hapa Papa has surely experienced personally, but I notice it most in my parenting because strangely enough, my children happen to be little humans and do not obediently truck with everything I demand of them. (For me, this is the single, most infuriating and crippling thing about parenthood.)

I think I would have far fewer full on nuclear standoffs with my children if I just saw my belief systems as what they truly are: a way to order and control my children. (In fact, I believe this to be true for all belief systems – whether they be religion, political affiliations, even science. They are our methods to order and control our worlds.)

Instead, I fool myself into believing that what I’m imposing on my children is a life or death battle – the key to them growing into upstanding citizens and good people. I draw these ridiculous lines in the sand wherein if they don’t finish their yogurt for breakfast I am going to let them starve to death and never feed them again or if they don’t put on their helmet I’m going to throw away their scooter and all their other fun ride on toys and never let them go to the park again.

I do so because deep down, I am convinced that if I just make my kids do XYZ, then they’ll get into Harvard (or UCLA) and then they’ll become a doctor or something and be successful and have a good and happy life. Yes. All this from eating their fucking yogurt.

Until I had children, I never realized just how superstitious I was as a person. After all, wasn’t I an enlightened and educated person? Didn’t I believe in a God who was bigger, more powerful, and more merciful than even my education and religion? Didn’t I also believe in science (albeit, less powerful but still pretty awesome)? (And no, I do not find God and science to be mutually exclusive.)

After I had Cookie Monster, I used to pray over him when I nursed him to sleep at night. I would start out praying for Cookie Monster to have one or two traits that I thought would be key to him being a good person – but then, I would just keep adding to the list – and then qualify the entries with other “must haves.”

I wanted him to be happy, but not too happy. Suffer, but not too much suffering. Just enough to give him character and compassion for others. Be smart. Work hard. Have enough money but love the poor. The list kept growing longer and longer and more and more qualified, until I realized several things:

1) My laundry list of things was indicative of my True beliefs – the REAL desires of my heart. They were the things that I thought made a good life and would make Cookie Monster happy.

2) I have NO idea what makes a person happy or have a good life. Plus, my prescription for what I thought a good life entailed may well have turned Cookie Monster into a horrible person.

3) Ultimately, I want Cookie Monster (and all my children) to become people whose desires are after God’s own heart. And to beg God to allow me to be unbroken enough to recognize it when I see it.

But let’s be real. That last prayer is terrifying. God is not safe. God takes who you are and changes you. And that change usually hurts. A lot.

It’s hard to admit that having the right philosophy about child rearing or race or sex or religion – all that good stuff and the stuff of contentious culture wars – all that stuff won’t save us.

No matter how great our theory, we still have to go through the messiness of life. Kids still get cancer. Spouses still cheat. We might lose everything. All sorts of shitty things still happen – and we have no control over any of it.

I am owed nothing. Tomorrow isn’t promised. It is not guaranteed. God isn’t obliged to me. Doesn’t need me. Doesn’t even maybe care about my elaborate prayers or rituals or must haves. I mean, he probably cares WHY I do these things – but the things themselves? May as well be empty gestures. Superstitions.

That is what I find the most maddening. Isn’t that why I subscribe to these various thoughts? These various dogmas? To guarantee my kids won’t be drug addicts, will get into Harvard, won’t be teenage parents, and won’t be sick or poor?

But what’s the worst that could happen? (Well death, I suppose. But if I truly believe in Heaven and the goodness of God and how this life is just a preview, then though I be grieving, is it really the WORST?)

I can’t even open myself up to these “worst” possibilities because my overactive brain will continue to spin out of control and next thing you know, I have barricaded my children inside of our home and only allowed Hapa Papa to go out to work because some risks are acceptable in order for me to keep the lifestyle to which I’m accustomed. (Jokes! Them be jokes!)

Times like these, when fear threatens to overwhelm, I can’t even turn to God.

Why? Because God doesn’t promise me that life I want. He doesn’t promise me that everything will be smooth sailing and easy. He just promises to be with me. And what’s the use in that if I didn’t get what I want? (Of course, I bury these thoughts deep, deep down. You know, as if it were actually a secret from God. Mercifully, God has done little to shatter my illusions thus far.)

No, instead, I turn to statistics. Cold, hard numbers. The odds are ever in my favor and that is enough to comfort me for a little while.

Here’s the thing about my small, fearful heart. I do not believe that God is really that good, let alone that God is actually enough. I don’t believe it and I NEVER want to be tested and taught that is so.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

Truthfully, even if I had the “correct” theology, it won’t save me. No philosophy or religion will.

Or even in the narrow scope of parenting, no matter how perfect I am in my parenting (be it Attachment Parenting, Free Range Parenting, I Don’t Give A Fuck Parenting), my kids could still end up a drug addict, in prison, homeless, or dead in a variety of ways.

All my tightly clenched fists have done is unravel me. I am falling apart. My words on paper seem together, but I am not. I am a hot mess right now.

I feel as if I’m coming apart at the seams. As if something inside me has shaken loose and won’t play ball and go back to its proper place: hidden.

Change is hard, my friends. I confess, since my last breakdown back in November/December, I’ve gotten into a more placid place and evened out a bit. I had deluded myself that 4-5 months of therapy was all I needed and BOOM! I am healed!

But, no. The things that drove me to therapy just got ably pushed down and buried after the first few weeks. I have been deflecting and skimming the surface of what I am now for the past few months, mistaking candor for vulnerability.

They are not the same. And I am not very vulnerable.

I feel cracked. And I fear I am cracking like a mirror to be shattered rather than an egg birthing something new.

I really want to be made anew.

 

Denial Is A River

Lately, I’ve been trying out (again) Julia Cameron’s suggestion to write three pages a day first thing upon waking. The idea is to just write and brain dump everything out of your head and that will kickstart creativity. Even if you have nothing to say, you write, “I have nothing to say” (or something similar) for three pages.

It’s been less than a week.

Who knew my brain would freeze so early on in this daily process? I feel as if my thoughts are chugging through molasses. I didn’t think I’d have to resort to, “I have nothing to say,” over and over again for at least a few more weeks. I suppose constant interruption by Glow Worm isn’t helping but that can’t be helped. Otherwise, when would I get anything done?

I have to get used to this new reality. Which is hard because I insist on eating uninterrupted or reading or writing or cleaning or whatever. Of course, when I try to do these things during the day, I am interrupted constantly.

I hate that.

No, seriously. I truly despise it. So I try to cram in a whole day’s worth of stuff from 9pm-6am. No wonder I get nothing done because by 9pm, I just want to do fun things – certainly not write or do work or anything remotely resembling productivity.

Dr. T has repeatedly told me that I just have to get used to doing things in small ten minute increments during the day. Hapa Papa, too. But it is frustrating and I don’t care that I am in complete denial. LET ME JUST DO SHIT IN BLESSED PEACE AND QUIET ALREADY!

However, the other day, I was reading a recent Christianity Today article and the writer talked about how she was no longer able to have quiet times now that she is a mother. And that’s Ok. And her relationship with God still grew.

I can’t believe that was a crazy thought to me. OF COURSE her relationship with God could still grow. And yet the article was freeing. In fact, I DO think a relationship with God has to look a certain way – you know, like a college student with a moleskin journal, some hipster glasses, sitting in a cafe drinking tea leisurely or staring at a beach or something.

Not only that, I expect mealtimes or errands or cleaning or writing to look a certain way, too. In relative ease and silence. On a laptop in a cafe. Or in blocks of uninterrupted time. Which is crazy because that is no longer a reality. Or a remote possibility. Unless Hapa Papa doesn’t work and stays at home with the kids. (But then, we’d have no money or food so either way, these situations would not resemble my fantasies.) But even if he were at home, he wouldn’t particularly care for it if I left the kids to him the whole day (which I have done) all the time just so I could eat, run errands, clean, or write. He really is a saint.

I think a lot of times, I am so angry or frustrated because what I’m experiencing in a given moment is not what I had hoped or expected or wanted. Which is so crazy because how long have I been a parent? 5+ years now? HOW CAN I STILL BE SURPRISED THAT THIS IS MY LIFE?

But perhaps I’ve lived in denial so long (eg: lying about my father, to my father, to my family, lying about work to myself re: financial advising, lying to myself about my major or WHATEVER) that I’ve lost the ability to correctly see reality – especially as it pertains to me and what I want or desire.

OMG.

I just realized that I am rather inflexible a person. I am not as I previously prided myself in being – an easy-going person.

I have turned into my mother.

I am reminded of the high/low maintenance concept. (I always thought I was a low maintenance woman. But really, I am – according to Hapa Papa – the worst kind of high maintenance. I’m high maintenance but pretend I’m low maintenance.) It’s an alternative version of the Madonna/whore complex. Just another way to control women. To keep them in their place. To make us want to please men by having us compete and compare with one another.

But I digress. (And one day, I will write my overdue rant about high/low maintenance and how that is all just a crock of shit. But again, I digress.)

It’s like how I am with the kids. Easy going until I’m not. And you never really know when that threshold will be crossed. How are my kids ever to know when Mommy is going to be ok with something or not? Talk about walking on eggshells.

It reminds me of my father forcing me to listen to classical music and saying when he comes back, he should be able to stop a piece anywhere and I should be able to sing the next few bars accurately. Otherwise there would be consequences. Not sure what they would have been, but whatever. I would panic and right before my father came back to visit, I would play the tape over and over again (especially while I slept) so that I wouldn’t get in trouble. It didn’t matter. My father never remembered. (But what a way to kill enjoyment of a thing, yeah?)

My father really was a dick.

Where was I going with this? Oh, yes. Denial.

I think I would be much happier if I saw things as they really were: messy, chaotic, and full of frustration. Then, when my children didn’t miraculously eat everything quickly and silently, or when I inevitably ran late for school, or whatever, I wouldn’t go insane with fury.

I have more to say about Reality and Denial and perfectionism and how I often perceive people making truthful observations as judgmental and personally insulting, but it’s late and this post is meandering enough. I will expound upon that in some future post. Until then, we’ll see if calibrating my expectations to align more with reality makes a difference. Hopefully, that isn’t just another, subtler form of denial.

Wish me luck, friends! And give me some tips. How do you deal with your reality when it is not what you hoped?

A Crisis of Identity

One day last week, after walking my two older children to preschool, my youngest son and I walked past a house two doors down and saw a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. On a whim, I took a flyer from the box and when I finally got a chance to examine the specs, I immediately contacted my realtor.

Currently, we live in a home about a five minute walk from this new place. We love the area and particularly enjoy how close we are to all the fantastic schools and parks. We also love the home we are currently in (we bought it when I was pregnant with Cookie Monster) and hadn’t thought to make any changes until I saw this particular house.

The place we’re considering is almost double in size and with three growing children and perhaps one more in the near future, this home would more than comfortably accommodate our family of five (hopefully six)! Other than what my mom considers a bad feng shui front door (it leads to an outgoing street), this house would be an amazing environment in which to raise our kids. Not only would our preschool be two doors down, (I mean, I could leave Glow Worm napping at home and pick up the kids with no problem), but our kids are familiar with the neighborhood and the park down the street.

Obviously, anytime you look at a house double your current one in size and amenities, what’s not to like? With that said, I am in love with the built-in bookcases on the top floor. I love the large rooms, the extra surprise spaces like the office and the bonus room, the lovely built-ins in the kitchen and the office, and the great natural light in all the rooms. The backyard is the perfect size (ours currently has a giant, useless slope in it) and with the spa (or as Cookie Monster calls it, the “comfy comfy”), so much fun. Plus, we are big fans of the third garage space where we can stow all our crap (I mean, essential kid stuff). What a luxury!

What then, is the problem?

(Also, a little too late since we made an offer Friday afternoon.)

Well, here’s the thing. I always considered myself a simple person. I told myself when we moved into our current place that we wouldn’t ever upgrade – even if we did have four children. After all, people live in much smaller spaces all the time. I don’t believe kids have to have their own rooms (and even in the new house, they’d share) or require a ton of space. And when I just had Cookie Monster, it didn’t seem necessary. In fact, even with the three kids right now, our house seems just right. A lot of it is due to the way my house is laid out – it seems much bigger than the actual square footage. But now that the kids are getting bigger and the age range of toys is getting larger, I feel as if our house is just stuffed to the gills with stuff.

I suppose I could just get rid of more stuff (gasp), but let’s not get crazy.

But let’s cut line, here. A huge house with double the mortgage and expenses is NOT a simple lifestyle. A house this size is completely unnecessary and it seems somewhat wasteful in terms of space (oh, the glorious space!), resources, and monetary outlay. We would have to significantly alter the way we spend money (oh, ok – the way I spend money), and we most likely would not be able to have extra classes for the kids (eg: martial arts, dance, piano, etc.), at least, not for awhile. Plus, not only would our mortgage increase a LOT, it would take us thirty years to pay off the house whereas with our current house, we will likely be done by the time Cookie Monster starts college.

It seems to be a giant pain in the ass. But the HOUSE!! It’s BEAUTIFUL! And HUGE! And the built in bookshelves!! (My inner nerd longs for an actual library in my house – complete with a wheel-mounted ladder!!!)

You see my conflict? I almost want the sellers to counter with an offer we absolutely can NOT afford because then the decision is made for me. No moral and existential debate and discomfort. Just a definitive, “No.” But if it works out, then I have an internal crisis! Am I one of those people now? (I mean, we are already, but it is significantly easier to hide when your house is smaller.) Will I be flaunting wealth?

I know. I know. This is totally a 1% problem. But it is still my life and my problem!

Is it moral to have such a large house with its accompanying expenses in a world of such great need? Is this the right type of environment I want to provide for my children? What will I be teaching my children if we move to a bigger house? Is it even as big of a deal as I’m making it? I mean, plenty of people live in big houses and are good, moral, generous people. (I really don’t mean to imply that they are not. This is clearly my personal issue.)

But even more than that, is a bigger house really going to make me happier? Is it worth having to be a lot more careful about our spending habits (which we really should anyway, but right now, there is significantly more wiggle room) and sacrificing an easy lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed? Is this going to be a habit of mine where I am constantly trying to upgrade the outer trappings of our lives? Is my house going to look awesome on the outside but have no furniture on the inside?

Ultimately, I just worry that I’m being sucked into the American lie – that bigger is better at any and all cost. I worry that I am traversing a slippery slope and soon, I will become a person that my college self would find anathema. I worry that this is a step closer to being out of touch with what is the norm and that my “happiness baseline” will gradually increase until I require ever more and more. I worry that I will choose more and more to turn a blind eye to injustice and inequality because it will threaten the way I choose to live. I worry I will become the rich young ruler and that it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for me and my children to enter the Kingdom of God.

I worry that I am being unfaithful and that at the end of days, Jesus will look at me and say he never knew me. That he was hungry and I gave him nothing to eat.

Am I over-thinking things? Or worrying about that which has yet come to pass? (Especially since we don’t even have this house.) How do you resolve such dissonance in your own life? Let me know in the comments.

The Gatekeepers of Heaven

As I’ve gotten older and more life experience (as well as met more people with different life experiences), I’ve become more and more liberal in my theology and thinking. (Oh gracious, I’ve become more and more hippie-like and this disturbs me.)

I feel as if there are fewer and fewer lines of distinction on what it means to live a “Godly” life. Evangelical Christians would have you believe that you have to do XYZ and look a certain way before you are “Saved” but really, I think that’s just bullshit. That’s just the new Pharasaical order.

If you think about it and consider the patriarchs of the Christian/Jewish faith and their lives, they really don’t fit into the nebulous “Christian standards” very neatly. Or at all.

For instance, what about Abraham? He married his SISTER. Ok, HALF-sister, but still. EW. He whored her out repeatedly to other kings (I don’t believe for a second that she always remained untouched). On top of that, he had a concubine because his wife was barren.

What about Lot and his daughters getting him drunk and impregnating them? That’s right. daughtERS. Plural. How drunk do you have to be to not realize you’re having sex with your DAUGHTERS?

What about Israel (aka: Jacob)? He had two official wives and at least two concubines and at least thirteen children (of course, we only know the names of his twelve sons and the one daughter who was raped).

Or Judah, Jacob’s son? He visits a prostitute – who turns out to be his widowed daughter-in-law, by the way – and impregnates her. When he tries to turn her out for being a whore (hypocritical, much?), she sends him proof that it was he who did the whoring.

What about Joseph? He married an Egyptian and had two sons and I’m pretty sure they weren’t brought up in his religion, etc.

Or King David? With his hundreds of wives and concubines, he commits adultery and murder. He may have been a great artist and a man after God’s own heart, but he sure messed up his kids and condoned the rape of his daughter. (Well, perhaps condone is too harsh of a word. But definitely doesn’t do a damn thing about it.)

Or Paul? He told people that it was better to be a eunuch for the Kingdom of God than to be married because then you could devote passionately to the gospel. Somehow, I have a feeling that Christianity would’ve died out if that were the case.

Please note, I am only bringing up the “faithful” in a long line of “faithful” servants. They were deeply flawed human beings – and yet, God still spoke to them and favored them. They were polygamous, murderers, incestuous, adulterers, and really, just a product of their times.

And yet, Christians constantly like to draw boundaries and lines of who belongs and who doesn’t. Okay. Let’s be fair. This is not a problem or distinction known only to Christians. This is a human problem.

If I am honest with myself, I, too, have my own ideas of who gets to be a “Christian” or not. For instance, I have a hard time believing that racists, sexists, misogynists, and hateful people can be “True” Christians. Or really, I have a hard time believing many of the vaunted Biblical heroes would be considered “Christian” by today’s standards. They were some deeply troubled and fucked up people.

John the Prophet? CERTIFIABLY INSANE. I mean, Revelations is one crazy work of fiction, right?

My point isn’t to nitpick people and be the Heaven Police. It is merely to say that God seems to cast a wider net than we do. Case in point: the parable of the vineyard workers.

Here’s the tl;dr version. An owner of a vineyard goes out at 6am in the morning to find workers at the local Home Depot. He picks up a bunch of folks and sets them to working, telling them he’ll pay the full day’s wage at the end of the day. He goes back to Home Depot at 9am, noon, 3pm and again at 5pm. At 6pm, the end of the day, he lines up everyone and starts paying the folks he hired at 5pm. He gives them the full day’s wages. So, the people hired at 6am fully expect to get paid their wages and then some. But when it comes to their turn, they get paid the same full day’s wages. The 6am (and perhaps the 9am workers, too) start grumbling about how it was completely unfair. They should have gotten more wages. What the heck? Was this guy a commie?

The owner gets wind of the complaints and asks the 6am workers, “Hey, did I neglect our agreement? Did you not agree to work the full day for this set amount of wages? Did you not think that was fair at 6am? Then what’s it to you if I am generous and choose to pay the later workers the same amount?”

I love that parable. If not because really, who are we to complain if God is generous?

It’s because we feel entitled to certain blessings and good things and “wages” that we start drawing lines around who deserves what and why. But in reality, who the fuck are we to decide who gets in and out of Heaven? When did God say we were the gatekeepers? And who is to say that God isn’t being generous with the wages in the first place? When did we become so fucking awesome? The appropriate response would be gratitude.

I also love it because clearly, I’m also on the benefiting side of the “last minute” workers – and let’s face it, all they really do is show up for an hour – if even that! It’s awesome. To receive unexpected and undeserved blessings. (That’s what I consider privilege: like, what sex/class/race/orientation/ability/etc. that I’m born into.) The appropriate response, again, would be gratitude.

Anyhow, my point really is that God lets in who He wants to let in and that culture is constantly changing. The only true criteria seems to be you have to be human (this is not to be species-ist) and a sinner. There is no way we would let in Abraham into the holy Church circles as he was. I mean, come on! What we consider appropriate changes with time. Are we wrong? Do we have to go back to Old Testament times? When if a woman was raped, she was given to the rapist as a wife and all the guy had to do was pay a donkey?

I am SO thankful that I do not live in Biblical times. Or any other time other than now. I am also deeply grateful that the pillars of faith were sometimes execrable human beings. That means I may have a chance at Heaven, too.

The Lie of Being Strong

These past few weeks or so, several of my friends have been hit with really hard news and family situations. Reading their status updates on Facebook is heartbreaking and at best, I can post an encouraging prayer or comment. (Not that my friends are actually looking to us to write the perfect comment that would solve all their pain and suffering. If only it could be so easy.)

Of course, being the nosy person that I am, I also read other people’s comments and encouragements. Inevitably, person after person wrote for my friends to “Be Strong” or “You’re Strong” or some variant of “God doesn’t give you things you can’t handle.” The first few just piqued my annoyance. But comment after comment in the same vein started to piss me off.

Why? Because they’re lies. Insidious, invidious lies.

Obviously, people aren’t writing these types of comments to be assholes or unhelpful. They mean them to be encouraging – and perhaps the comments are even taken as encouragement. This is not a diss on the kind and well-meaning people. This is a tirade against the lie.

My friends, if you are suffering, you don’t have to be strong. You don’t have to be a rock or have everything handled or under control. You don’t have to be anything you are not currently.

If you are overwhelmed, be overwhelmed. If you are weak, be weak. If you are spent, be spent. If you are grieving, grieve. If you are furious, be furious. If you are afraid, be afraid.

You have complete freedom to be whatever you are at this very moment. And if in fifteen minutes, how you feel changes – then you have complete freedom to be that as well.

Forgive me if that seems obvious. This is a particular area in which I get riled up about.

You see, it makes me incredibly angry when people who are suffering are told that they can handle things because God wouldn’t give them anything they couldn’t take. (A side note: This post is not to argue the existence or absence of God or address the topic of theodicy. You don’t have to agree with my worldview in order to understand my logical framework within my worldview.)

The idea that God only gives us things we can handle is complete and utter horseshit.

God promises us many things in the Bible; not once does He promise that He only gives us things we can handle.

Things happen to us (whether or not God allows it to happen or actively makes it happen to us is actually beside the point) and many times, we are completely unprepared and ill-equipped. When these things happen to us, they can either push us closer to or further away from God. And when well-meaning Christians tell us that we are strong or we can handle it, they are actually pushing us further and further away from God.

Why? Because if we are feeling weak but then are told that we’re supposed to be able to handle the pain it only adds to our burden. We feel pressure then to act as if everything is okay or be immediately healed when the truth is far from it. We put up a façade and hide from even God because we must be dropping the ball or are spiritually inert if we can’t get our act together.

It’s simply not true.

I get it. After all, 99.9% of the time, the only way out is through. And often, the way to do that is through gritted teeth, digging deep, and putting one foot in front of the other.

But persevering and being needy are not mutually exclusive.

You see, I believe in a good, merciful, and redemptive God. A God who repeatedly offers comfort for the weak. And when people tell us to “be strong,” we miss out on that comfort because we are too busy pretending to not need it. And before we can run to God, we first have to admit we are in need.

Now, I realize that this post is woefully simplistic and barely scratches the surface on the problem of pain and sound reasoning. That’s okay. I’m not really interested in that. Besides, there are far more in depth essays, books, etc. out there by far more talented people. I just want to be a reminder.

God can handle anything we throw at Him. He is neither surprised or flummoxed. God is more than enough for us in our pain. His grace is sufficient.

Sometimes Love is Easy and Sometimes, Not So Much

The hardest part of love, for me anyway, isn’t loving people in spite of their faults. In fact, it is the near constant reminder (especially when caring for small humans and listening to my own mother) that it is MY character flaws that prevent me from loving people well.

Yes, some people make it hard to love them due to prickly personalities or extremely annoying habits, but in general, I would say the fault is mostly mine. If love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self seeking, is slow to anger, keeps no record of wrongs, (among other things) I am screwed. (And that was just this morning.)

Truthfully, I love my kids with all my heart and soul. But then they talk back or don’t listen or scream or throw tantrums or revenge pee (I’m looking at youGamera) or do any number of things that drive me almost insane with frustration and anger and I yell or say mean things and I feel like a shit. Then we somehow make it to bedtime and they’re asleep and angelic and gorgeous and it is all I can do to contain my vast and unending love and devotion to them.

If only love were a feeling only! Then I’d be the most loving mother and wife in the whole world – the whole universe, even. But no. My kids (and most people in general) can only experience love by my actions – not my beautiful feelings. This is incredibly unfortunate for any number of reasons – first and foremost, that I am incredibly selfish and controlling.

Before I had kids, I never understood why Old Testament people would sacrifice to idols or perform any number of rituals or sacrifices to prove their love and devotion. I couldn’t comprehend why people seemed to love their rituals, superstitions, curses, magic, psychics, and fortune tellers, etc. But now that I am older and have three small humans I love and adore, I totally get it.

I totally get why people would make sacrifices at the altar of a god they could see, touch, and feel. Why they would flock to mediums for divination or healing.

It is about control.

You see, I would MUCH rather prove my love and devotion to God by following superstitions and religious rules and traditions. I want an instruction manual to get what I want, when I want, and HOW I want. Some people think the Bible is exactly that: a really huge and thick How-To manual on how to earn God’s favor. Hence, you get those health and wealth preachers and nonsense like The Prayer of Jabez.

If I am honest to myself, I often want a sure-fire way to get what I want from God. If I just do XYZ then I am guaranteed my kids will grow up healthy/happy/successful/whatever. I don’t want a relationship with God – I want God to give me the stuff that I want! I want him to be a magical genie in a bottle. A supernatural slave.

In the same way, I would prefer to demonstrate my love and devotion to my kids by following a restricted diet than to not yell. It is much easier to sacrifice or follow rules than it is to have an actual relationship – you know, where I am kind and patient and have actual conversations versus just staring at my phone instead of dealing with my children as human beings with feelings and wants and desires of their own.

Usually I learn lessons about God through my interactions with my kids as a parent. Today, it’s the opposite. I guess I just assume I want a relationship with my kids (although now that I think about it, obedient robots can sound extremely tempting!) and don’t assume I want a relationship with God. Make of that what you will.

Acting on Faith

The other day, I briefly mentioned in my post about how I used to fake believing I was loved and lovable until I actually believed it. It occurs to me that perhaps I made it sound so much easier than it actually was. So, here is my advice to you if you find yourself in a similar situation (either in not believing you are loved or any type of belief you want to change). Really, it is just cognitive behavioral therapy, but hey, it works.

Stop. (I know. This is exactly what you’ve been trying to do.) But just stop. Stop figuring out why you’re a certain way. Why you’re doing the things you’re doing. Why you feel a certain way. If it’s wrong, the way you’re feeling and reacting. Just stop.

Do something else. Fill your time with something else. Even if it seems like a cop out or running away from who you really are.

Stop.

I found that when I was in the midst of a downward spiral and over-analyzing my actions and motivations that I just kept getting sucked back into a negative feedback loop of just how awful I was, how I was horrible and would never find love and be loved.

Then, I just stopped thinking about it. It was super hard, of course. But I stopped. I stopped journalling because all I did when I journalled was talk about it. I tried to stop talking about it with my friends. I read books that did not trigger these emotions. I watched shows and movies that didn’t trigger these feelings. I actively went out of my way to deny myself these triggers and feelings. I filled my mind and time with busy-ness and activity.

I stopped praying. (It was too much like journalling and wasn’t helpful.) If I DID pray, I would pray something like, “God, help me choose the things that I would choose if I believed I was loved and lovable.” Other times, the only prayer I could pray authentically was, “I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Then, I lied to myself. I faked it. I pretended to act as if I believed I was lovable and loved. I forced myself to act as if I were a whole and complete person who made good decisions.

Every time I was confronted with my old habits, I would actively choose to do what I thought a normal/healed person would do. I would ask myself, “What would a person who believed she was lovable and valuable do in this situation?” Then I would do it.

I would rigorously police my emotions and thoughts. Sometimes, it was all I could do not to go insane and say, “Fuck it. This is crazy. Who lies to themselves like this all the time and pretends they are ok?” I would despair that in one hour, I would be confronted at least five or six times with my old habits and have to “lie” to myself and talk myself out of it.

But you know, a lifetime of habit and thinking cannot be re-written immediately. It takes time. And eventually, what I was faking became second nature and real. Eventually (and it was a long time – at least several months before I stopped being depressed and sad ALL THE TIME) I was in an OK enough place to go back and examine what happened, why I did the things I did, and doing so no longer made me feel as if I was the worst person in the entire universe.

Eventually, I made it. I believed and actively lived as if I were loved and lovable. (Keep in mind, this took at least a year or more – and I still struggle with this every now and then, but the more I have ingrained in myself the new habit of acting healthily, the healthier I became.)

And you know what? That is what faith is. Choosing to act as if what you believe and hope to be true IS true. Acting before seeing. Shit, it’s even Biblical. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

Of course, this isn’t the ONLY way to go about it. This is how I got through it. And it occurs to me as I write this, that on a much smaller scale, I’ll get through this time of stress with the kids and that my problem with yelling and screaming has to be done the same way I changed my habits of thought. I have to catch myself in the act of yelling and stop. I have to pretend and lie to myself that I am a person who CALMLY deals with (or ignores) my children when I’m angry. And then I have to do it.

It will be hard at first. I will fail and blow it repeatedly – sometimes in quick succession. But then, gradually, I will have brainwashed myself into being a kinder, more reasonable mommy.

Of course, prayer and hope as well. But as my old boss used to say, “Hope is not a course of action.” Hope is fine and good, but it is through the act of doing, of slogging through my crappy temper and purposeful action that is the real work of faith.

I believe. Help my unbelief.