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.

 

Longing For Grace

For those of you who know me in Real Life, you know that I freak the fuck out and go from 0 to 60 in a eye blink. One second, my MIL is asking Gamera if she has a boyfriend (FFS, she is three years old) and the next thing I know, Gamera will be a stripper who needs men for attention and will be a strung-out junkie with a pimp.

Totally within the realm of plausibility, folks. Totally.

It is possible, perhaps, that my reaction was not in keeping with reality. That my MIL’s one off-hand comment will not forever alter the course of Gamera’s life. But that’s the way my brain works, people. I never said it was pretty.

I blame this all on a sermon I heard once (I think, anyway) about how all the choices we make in life can either keep us on the path of righteousness or diverge and take us away from that same path. Minor bad choices are actually slippery slopes. Like how an acute angle in geometry starts off at a minor angle, with the lines minutely apart, but if we go further out in time, at some point, the lines will be infinitely apart. I am plagued by the idea our choices in life are like these two lines, and if we make the wrong choice, no matter how small in degree, at some point further in time, the distance between the Path of Righteousness and the Path of Ruin will be infinite and they will NEVER MEET AGAIN. One misstep and you will NEVER get back to the Way, the Truth, the Life.

Imagine Time = r, Theta = minor misstep, and s = the space between diverging life paths.

Imagine Time = r, Theta = minor misstep, and s = the space between diverging life paths.

After all, the way of the Lord is narrow. And Hard. And difficult. And the way to Hell is broad and easy.

But what a terrifying way to live. What a stifling and constraining and graceless way to live.

I feel like this is my life. Graceless. Constant self-condemnation and judging. And fear. OMG, THE FEAR.

But the truth is, life is not an immutable straight line. There are infinite chances and opportunities. Infinite opportunities for “course correction.” And who is to say that there is only ONE correct way to live? I mean, just given the evidence based on 7 billion lives on this planet, and the 7 billion unique-ish situations these people find themselves in, I know that is not true.

Stated in a positive way, the idea that there is only ONE way to live, that it is the One Path to Rule Them All, is FALSE. A horrible, pernicious lie. (A lie that I hear often in churches, but let’s face it, comes in any and all directions. Just take your pick: organic, liberal, conservative, you name it, it’s got it.)

True love drives out fear. And if I truly believed that God offered perfect love, the kind of love that drives out fear and offers freedom, why do I buy into this pack of lies? (And it is a worthless pack of lies; a twist of the Truth to pervert and poison and obfuscate who God is.)

I long for freedom. I long for grace. I long to live a life as if it were okay to fail and to fail spectacularly.

I long for my kids to experience true freedom.

My heart breaks that even though Cookie Monster is so small and so young, (too small and too young, to be honest), he is already hampered by fear. He is already so afraid to fail. To look foolish. To be rejected.

I see it in the way he doesn’t want to try new things at preschool (mostly physical activities). I see it in the way he hovers on the edge of groups, the desire and yearning to join in on whatever activity the group is doing so painfully etched on his face, but him being too afraid to ask to play with the kids because they may say, “No.” I see it when he refuses to ask me for something he wants and instead makes a negative statement like, “I can’t play Halo” so that he has already rejected himself before I can dash his hopes.

I see it in the way Gamera will lie just to get my approval. And the way she cries and clings to me when she thinks that I disapprove of her.

It breaks my cold, dark heart.

I am devastated.

If only I could live my life the way I live my writing.

When I was in high school, I used to resent having to write first and second and final drafts. I found it the height of stupidity and a fucking waste of my time. I would literally have to “fake” a rough draft so that my final drafts looked sufficiently different and altered from the original. I mean, what was the point of writing a first draft? My first drafts were perfect. I would edit as I wrote so there really was no need to go back and change things. I mean, isn’t that what computers were for?

Then, in my twenties, I decided to write a book and that is where my perfect first drafts became my downfall. I would write a section and then edit. And then edit some more. And then edit some more. Then read my perfect words. Then edit some more. Which is great and all, to have a perfect set of 1,000 words, but 1,000 words does not a book make. Most books have about 65,000 words (a little more than your typical NaNoWriMo at 50,000 words), but either way, I was 64,000 words short.

So, I read about writing (because when writing, nothing is more useful and productive than reading about writing) and all the blogs and books I’ve read since then universally agree: you have to write. Just write. It doesn’t matter if it’s good, bad, utter shite. Nothing is harder than a blank page. You can’t do anything with it. Just write. Accept as a truism: You will write crap. A lot of crap. It doesn’t matter; that’s what editing is for. But you can’t edit what you don’t have, so you have to write.

That’s the beauty of writing: once you have stuff written down, you can delete it, you can write more stuff that is good/bad/meh, you can move entire paragraphs, you can do whatever you want when editing. Whole worlds are created and obliterated during editing. And then you can edit some more. But at some point, you will have to stop and move on. At some point, your writing will be good enough (or, sadly, as good as it will ever be).

Move on.

Accept that there may never be the perfect sentence. Just a bunch of good enough sentences.

And that, I find, is my perfect analogy for life. (If only I could buy into this theory in practice – and not just believe it only of my writing.)

You are never done until it’s done. (Even then, who is to say that is a permanent state of being – well, I suppose, for the sake of this argument, you are done in this plane of life.) There are few permanent mistakes (the laws of physics not withstanding) from which we cannot recover.

Most of life is a rough draft. We can edit and delete, but ultimately, we move on. We accept grace and forgiveness and try our best and we move on until we Move On.

So this morning, I wish you grace upon grace upon grace. Grace enough for parenting fails, for work fails, for life fails. Grace enough to cover a lifetime of sins, real and imagined.

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.