Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Old Habits: Do they (N)ever die?

Everyone has one.

Most of us have more than one.

You know what I'm talking about.  That sneaky, often dark, quiet habit that lurks around you, waiting for the opportune moment.

Everyone's got their own special brand of a habit they wish they didn't have.  No one talks about it: mostly because we wish we didn't have to.

Sometimes you can go for months without it even crossing your mind.  Then, out of the blue, it consumes you.  You succumb.  You enjoy it,  You are relieved...until you're not.  You come out of the reverie incredulous.  Again?! Where did that come from?  You waffle between resignation, frustration, guilt, and apathy.

Whatever.  This is normal...normal for me.  Ain't nothin' new.
Are you listening to yourself?  Self, don't resign to this.  You're better than this, and you know it.

3 years ago, I wrote about this.  Present day...yes, I still feel these things.  And yet, I still struggle.

Philippians 4:8-9:"Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."

Well, that's easier quoted than lived.

I can hear protests to this--in fact, I have protested this--saying: eh, it's just your thing.  Everyone's got one, it's human nature.  *Shrug*

SO?!  One of my favorite sayings from my dad is: "should be and is be are two different things."
Just because something is, doesn't mean it should be.  Just because this is normal, doesn't mean you need to resign yourself to it.  Surely we can break these habits.

Romans 7:21-25: "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin."

2 Corinthians 12:7-10: "So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger o Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, 'my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."

So this is a good thing for me?

I get it when Paul says they keep him humble, he was doing all sorts of incredible things.  I'm a fairly normal graduate student: I'm not healing people.  I'm not doing anything fancy to bloat my ego (in fact I regularly need a boost in that department).

Again and again I am confronted with the thought that this is an opportunity.  What?  An opportunity for what?  To fall into an old crutch?  To resign myself to the same old, same old?

No.  It's an opportunity to ask for help.  It's an opportunity to step back and realize: hey, maybe this is happening because I'm trying to do something right.  Maybe this is a sign of other things in my life that are working.

Maybe, I need to recognize that side of things, meet the challenge head on, and be better than I have been.

The minute you resign yourself to not being better, to falling back into old habits, to not taking a step forward towards truth and a better self...that's the minute life wins.  Luckily, our lives are made up of lots of minutes...because life has beaten me for a lot of those.

But.  The next minute...that's a whole new battle, one that I haven't lost yet.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

I've always been fascinated by the character John the Baptist.  He's the crazy dude at the beginning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that ate bugs and honey and ran around in camelskin clothes.  He was born about 6 months before Jesus was born, by one of Jesus's parent's cousins.

In all 4 accounts, he is mentioned right at the beginning as the "voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,'" a quote from the book of the prophet Isaiah.  He is the man sent to warn people of the coming of Jesus, his Messiah.

"Prepare the way of the Lord."

This command is very heavy in my thoughts during this time of the year...every year.

The Western Church celebrates this time of year as a season of Advent:  meaning a season of preparation and expectant waiting for the [memorial of the] birth of Jesus.  It is a celebration of the beginning of Jesus's journey...and thus, the beginning of ours [Christians'].  According to the church calendar, Advent began last Sunday, on the 29th, with the first candle lit on the advent wreath: hope.  Typically, bits of Scripture regarding the bloodline of Jesus are read during the lighting.  Because of this tradition, I do not allow myself to be actively grouchy about the excitement of Christmas once Advent has begun.

Well...not aloud, anyway.

I've gone to craft stores twice this week to find candles for an advent wreath in my home, and other simple decorations (a plain pine garland?  Impossible to find without glitter and fake cranberries and snow).  Both times, I nearly got into multiple wrecks, I had to maneuver around crazy parking jobs, and I had to fight crowds to get in the door and down the appropriate aisles.
Once I reached my destination, in both Hobby Lobby and Michael's, I was accosted with pop covers of already pop-y Christmas songs, people disagreeing over ornamentation, empty shelves, disheveled half-full shelves, flashy figurines and santas, reindeer lists painted craftily on canvas, and SO MUCH GLITTER.  So much.  I didn't speak to anyone--not that I'm normally in the habit of speaking to strangers in craft stores--and yet I still found it hard to maintain a neutral facial expression.

It doesn't matter what aspect of Christmas we talk about, I can usually find something about which to be disdainful:
It's about giving!  Do you ever give without expecting anything, not even thanks, in return?
It's about family!  Ever had a Christmas family gathering without failed expectations?
It's about the decorations!  Glitter. 'Nuff said.
It's about Jesus's birth!  He was probably born earlier.  Also most of our decorations are things we took from the Pagan celebration of the winter solstice/birthday of the unconquered sun.

This does not make for pleasant, kind, graceful, uplifting conversations with...well...anyone.  So I do my best to keep it to myself.

Why then, share it here on the interwebs, for everyone to see the ugly internal dialogue I have with myself every December?
Because I hate it.  I hate that there is this much hatred within my heart for a season that brings people back to what is important to them.  I hate that I am the downer at the dinner table that spreads vitriol instead of good cheer.  I hate that my face does not reflect love and mercy when I see someone clutching handfuls of sparkling ornamentation for her home.  The rest of the world literally is on their best behavior during this season (we'll ignore the US shootings for now...subject for another time), why am I on my worst?

I need an attitude adjustment.

"Prepare the way of the Lord."

The intent of Advent is to prepare yourself, your home, your life, and your heart for the (symbolic) reception of the gift that is the birth of Jesus.  There is much preparation occurring all over is evidenced by the forever-empty shelves in stores across town, and the forever-clogged streets.  We prepare for the coming of family, the exchange of gifts, the (hopefully) colder weather, the end of the year, the end of the year sales, the huge amounts of food we'll cook and consume...the list goes on.

Everywhere I turn I am bombarded by loud, gaudy, and commercialized gifts, sales, songs, stores, buildings, and parties.  All of those things are already against my natural matter what month it is.  All of those things are exponentially compounded in the month of December.  All of those things appear to me to be focused on a show that is a product of Christmas becoming a business.  The fact that any holiday can be so cheapened by--paradoxically--pouring millions of dollars into it repulses me.  The fact that our culture as a whole spends so much time with the outward signs that shout "hey look at us preparing for Christmas!" breaks my heart, because it shouldn't be about your outside.  It should be about your inside.

Jesus made it pretty clear in Matthew 6 that we are supposed to give, pray, and fast quietly so that it is a secret, not shout it from the roof or trumpet it in the streets.  Obviously, he wasn't talking about Christmas, because he wasn't quite that meta, but I would pose that his stance would be the same on this: he was pretty consistent.  This time of preparation should be about your own heart, and the hearts of those you love.  John the Baptist, that crazy, homeless, bug eating hippie, asks the most poignant question for this time of year...and for any time of year: are you ready?  Are you ready to receive the only gift perfect you'll ever receive?  Here I am, a voice crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight.

Are you ready?  Am I ready?  Based on my grinchy attitude, I'd say "no, not yet."  So, I'm going to continue to sit in my decoration-less closet until I am.