Struggles of a Sheep: Part II
October 3, 2014
In some ways, the struggles I had described in the last post have somewhat disappeared. I have adjusted as my workload has come down a bit. This week, I still had something three nights during the week, and I have started classes now so many weeks will be like this, but overall, my workload in terms of teaching has settled down. I am now ahead of schedule in terms of preparation and although I need to make some adjustments week to week, overall things are moving in the right direction.
It is tempting in this moment to just ignore my earlier struggles. Chalk it up to busyness and tiredness and move on. But as I said last time, I know something deeper is going on here. I don't want to ignore it, even though it would be much easier to do so (and, in fact, I started and deleted this post something like 3 separate times). At the same time, however, I don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill--yes, this is something I am working through and learning about, but at the same time, I recognize that God is so good amid hard times and that it is not like even when things are busy that I am somehow distraught or downtrodden or defeated. There is certainly victory in Christ throughout the struggles, pain, and suffering, but the main point of me writing is not to find the salvation that I already know I have in Christ, but rather to learn and grow and understand God all the more.
As I mentioned last time, I believe this has to do with trusting God, living in the present, and resting in Him. On the first note, I realized that there is a fine line between trusting God (or more specifically, Jesus, the person of God) and trusting in things eternal. A lot of my feelings of DDD and uneasiness about my busyness came from a desire for meaning in the things I did, especially those things that required a lot of time. For example, driving up to Berkeley three days a week (and sometimes through traffic) takes quite a lot of time! Not to mention spending 20 minutes per paper providing comments to students about their research projects, the hours that go into prepping for each class, and sitting in my office eight hours a week waiting for students to hopefully come visit me in office hours. All of these things require a lot of time investment, and the "payoff" generally seems elusive and unclear. I have a tough time gauging to what extent are my students "getting it." I want them so much to enjoy the class, to interact with me, and to grow from their experience. Yet because of student expressed complaints, lack of interaction, and problems in class structure, it often feels like my efforts are wasted and unseen.
Am I doing anything that is making a difference? Does any of this time spent translate into eternal meaning? Is this worth it?
It's very easy for me to start getting discouraged because of thoughts like these. After hearing Thomas preach about trusting in God as the center of our lives, I started to realize that I thought I was doing that, but actually, my trust was misplaced. I value meaning and efficiency WAY too much, and I tend to think that it must be okay to value these things as long as I am valuing the eternal nature of them. In other words, isn't it good for me to want my time to be spent investing in the kingdom of heaven? Isn't that what God wants? Doesn't he want my heart to be focus on things eternal?
Well, the short answer, I am realizing, is no, that's not what He wants. Yes, God wants us to want things eternal and unseen, to focus on them, but not in such a way where we REPLACE our relationship and trust in Jesus with wanting to be effective for the kingdom of heaven. It seems like such a slight and small distinction, and I honestly had no idea I was doing this. I fully believed that my desire for more and for things eternal was a good thing, a God pleasing thing, and that it was just plain frustrating to have such desires. And while I do think there is something good about wanting those things, God's first and foremost desire for us is to know Him and trust Him, and that can never be replaced by anything, not even "good spiritual things" like wanting to invest in eternity
I have been thinking about what this means "on the ground" for me. As in, what changes? For one, I think I need to let go: simply let go of desiring to much that I would have this eternal impact. Trusting God means knowing that He will use me. Period. This isn't something I need to worry about or focus my energies on. Instead, I trust in Him and live my life with Him. The other thing that changes is that trusting Jesus means enjoying our time together--really remembering and making an extra effort to spend quality time with Jesus, just hanging out, talking about life and busyness, and not forgetting what His love means to me in these situations.
Second, when it comes to living life in the present, I realized that I spend almost all my mind space thinking about the future or the past. I seriously never noticed this, which is a little weird because of how much time I spend thinking of this. I think before I just thought that I tend to think about the future a lot, but upon some self-inspection, it became quickly clear that I also spend time replaying the past. I often think about what I could have said or should have done, and if I am not speculating about the what ifs of the past, I am thinking of how I should change it in the future. How should I fix this now that I am where I am? What should I do?
I love what Henri Nouwen wrote about the Here and Now. He says that Jesus came so that we could live in the present. Jesus taught us that God will take care of our future--we do not need to be worried or anxious because tomorrow will worry about itself and because God takes the best care of His children. And, when Jesus died on the cross for our sins (all of them past, present, and future), he made it so that we never have to worry about our mistakes, our sins, our past. Because of the way God takes care of us both in the future and the past, we can live in the present.
How I had forgotten about these aspects of my Lord and Savior! Even in being reminded of this, I still struggle to keep my mind space clear of thoughts on the past and thoughts on the future. It is so ingrained in me to just think about what I am supposed to do each day and to plan out everything to a tee. When I am working on one thing, I am already thinking about the next thing on my plate. Sure, this makes for a very efficient use of my time, but it also makes for a way of living life where I am not really LIVING it--instead I am merely moving through the motions going from one day to the next just passing time until my inevitable death. In other words, it isn't living at all.
If I am not thinking of the next thing, I am thinking of the last thing. There are some topics, relationships, and events that occur in my life that I can't stop thinking about. This often shows itself when I am trying to sleep--I start replaying moments and instances and thinking about what I should have done differently. Sometimes, this is directly related to my sin where I replay the sin over and over and think of why I did it and what I did wrong and try to figure it out like a moral puzzle. Sometimes, these events are not about my sin, but someone else sinning against me. Again, I replay what I think I should have done or how I should have reacted. The puzzle is different, but it's still a puzzle. In the end, whenever I am contemplating the past, I am striving for perfection. I am believing that 1) God wants me to be perfect, or rather that is the main thing He wants from me and 2) I can be perfect through just figuring out the right answer to the puzzle. My salvation and worth become pegged to whether or not I have the right action/response/decision/etc. for every given situation in my lifetime. The past takes over the present, and I can no longer live in God's freedom and love and grace.
I don't want this. This life that is constantly in the future or the past just doesn't make sense, and it makes for a life certainly not worth living--a life that God does not want for me. Instead, He wants me to be here, present, experiencing the gift of life. That is probably something that I don't really understand because I'm always expecting meaning to come (from the future or from the past), but it is certainly something I want to learn--how to live in the present and how to experience and appreciate each moment of life as a gift from God.
The final issue is resting in God. This is maybe the most difficult thing for me to understand. I think this is interrelated with the other two issues--trusting God allows me to rest in Him and so does living in the here and now (because it is easier to rest when you live in the present). But of all the issues, this is so hard for me to picture. I guess I have been living with some level of insomnia ever since graduating from college. I'm not really sure what it is, but ever since an academic colleague told me about his story with getting insomnia while working on his dissertation, I have recognized my sleeping issues as partly to do with the same issue--maybe it is all in my head.
In general, every night I feel like I cannot just sleep on command. I have to go through some kind of strange ritual where I wind down before going to bed. What's worse is that usually, I am really tired and exhausted, but sometimes those are the most difficult times for me to be able to sleep. There are these rare moments where I am actually sleepy and can just go to sleep without much interference and trouble, but these moments come maybe once a week (at most) and sometimes come in the middle of the day.
I realize that God's rest is more than just sleep. It is security and protection and fullness found in the freedom of the gospel of Christ. For some reason, even though I know this and have experienced this in my time with God, it is hard for me to just call it up whenever I need to rest (both physically and spiritually).
I think maybe this is because I have relied on myself for so long when it comes to rest, and that reliance has twisted my idea of rest as a whole. I think I started to equate rest with recreation or rest with having absolutely nothing to do or think about. I suppose this happened when I was in South Africa for the first time and then in Thailand for a year. My weekly schedule was so empty that I had so much freedom and I pretty much could sleep easily and whenever I wanted. I had no problem clearing out everything I needed to do for almost the whole week so that my mind was always clear with little to mull over.
Life back home is far more difficult. There always seems like there is something that needs attention. And I suppose if I equate rest with having nothing to think about, well... I will never be in a state of rest. And if I keep relying on myself to get rest, well... I will always be trying to finish everything I have to do and since that is basically impossible in any given week (when things are busy/normal), then I will never find rest.
God's view of rest is different. It is a view that has nothing to do with how much you have to do or how much you have going on in a given week. It is a rest that is deep, eternal, and forever with us. Honestly, the times where I experience entering this rest is when I enter into God's presence. When I sit before Him, meditating and thinking about Him, bathing in His love and grace, and listening to His still small whisper in my ear. When I come to Him without any agenda but to simply sit in His presence and listen to Him breathing. It is hard to imagine entering this rest constantly and especially in times when I am exhausted, because those times I feel frazzled and anxious and tired and in need of something--something that will provide me either a boost to feel better instantly or an off switch that shuts me down immediately. In this unstable state, I must trust God. I must ignore the future and the past. I must enter into His presence, His love, and His peace.
It is hard, but I know that learning this and living it out is an act of faith--one where I trust God to provide for me in that moment of exhaustion. I pray, Lord, that you would teach me all these things: to trust You wholly, live in the present where You are, and rest in Your magnificent presence.