343. reboot the bot (part 1)
I wrote last week about how I’ve been learning a new way to approach the world – one where I see that my own needs and issues are just as important as anyone else’s. Some people have the opposite problem. They only see their own needs and have no qualms about making them known to everyone around them. The worst of these kinds of people are usually called assholes. Or celebrities. People who drive Hummers are also likely to fall into this category.
I lived in this self-efacing way because I thought that that’s what it meant to be a Christian. I was taught (and believed) that putting the needs of others above my own was what it meant to deny myself and take up my cross. I see now that that’s bad theology and a really bad way to live (is that redundant?).
But that’s how I’ve been living for just about all of my life. I bought into that interpretation of denial of self for a long, long time and so even though I now realize that God wants me to take care of myself and my own needs, I don’t know how to do that.
It’s like this.
In the movie, Runaway Bride, Julia Roberts plays a woman who falls in love over and over again but gets cold feet before getting married (often on the day she was to get married). She does this because she doesn’t know who she is or what she really wants out of a marriage. There’s a telling scene near the end where Roberts is sitting at a table with a dozen plates of eggs. Each plate has eggs prepared in a different way – over easy on one plate, scrambled on another, poached, hard boiled, etc. She tastes a bit off of each plate because she’s trying to discover something. See, in all of her previous relationships, she liked her eggs done the same way her partner liked his eggs done. When she was engaged to Bill who liked scrambled eggs then she loved scrambled eggs. When she was engaged to Eddie who liked his eggs hard boiled, that’s the way she loved eggs. When she finally came to recognize this pattern, she realized that she had to figure out for herself how she liked her eggs apart from the way those around her liked them.
In a more contemporary media example, in the TV show, House, House’s friend, Wilson, plays the nice guy who’s always trying to please those around him. In a recent episode, House realizes that Wilson has never bought furniture for his apartment on his own – he has always let his girlfriends or designers make the choices. Through his usual manipulative ways, House does everything he can to force Wilson to make his own furniture choices (to the point of selling all of his current furniture, leaving Wilson with an empty apartment). In the end, despite House’s best efforts, Wilson still cannot furnish his own place but he does end up making a different kind of autonomous decision that gets House off his back.
Anyway, I cite those examples because I’m very much like Roberts’ character and Wilson. In some ways, I’ve lived my life by proxy. I lived for other people, not for myself. And now that I see that and also see how destructive it’s been for me, I’m trying to do different. But I don’t know how. I know what kind of eggs I like but if left with a situation where I can do whatever I want to do for just myself, I don’t know what to do. And so I eat M&Ms and watch Hulu or TED or I just surf the web all day. And I don’t do those things because they’re life-giving, I do those things because they numb me out and I don’t have to think about how sad it is that I don’t know how to treat myself well.
And it is sad. Very sad.
Roberts’ character tried to resolve her egg dilemma by seating herself in front of a table full of eggs, trying a bit of each until she found a preparation that she liked. Me? Well about a month ago, before the start of the Summer Semester at grad school, I drove out to Yellowstone by myself. Why? Well, that’s a good question. And I think a part of me made the long drive out there to ask (as opposed to answer) just that question. But the truth of the matter is, I don’t really know why I drove out there. In part, I wanted to see if maybe immersing myself in the splendor of nature would be life-giving. I wanted to see if a long drive alone would be life-giving. I wanted to see if a few days completely by myself would be life-giving. In other words, just like Julia trying to find the kind of eggs she likes, I was trying to find out what activity I liked. Unfortunately, like Wilson not being able to find his own taste in furniture, I didn’t really find what I wanted out of my trip.
I think there was a part of me that thought that maybe by driving out into the lovely, lonely unknown, that something would reveal itself to me – that I would find something that I didn’t even know I was looking for. That was the best case scenario.
But that’s not what happened.
Here’s what did happen. I learned, first hand, that the continental United States is HUGE! Basically, driving to Yellowstone from my house in Seattle is the rough equivalent of driving around Oahu ten times (about 600mi, one way). I learned that I’m not a huge fan of nature. I mean, as beautiful and amazing as Yellowstone is, nature is not what fires my rockets. I learned that Old Faithful is underwhelming (for my Hawaii readers, it’s jus one biggah version of one blow hole).
And I suppose that’s all useful information, but it’s not what I was looking for.
I wasn’t disappointed or discouraged by this. I mean, I actually did enjoy parts of my trip (although I did not appreciate almost getting snowed in by a rogue spring snowstorm). It was what it was and the drive there and back was beautiful. Anticlimactic, maybe, but it didn’t suck. Basically, it was par for the course – not spectacular, not bad.
But now that I’m back, I do still wonder what gives me or where I find joy and meaning and fulfillment. In short, what gives me life? Where do I find love? Asked another way, where do I find God? Where/how does he reveal himself to me?
You know, I said, just a few paragraphs ago, that I didn’t know what I was looking for on my trip but I think I just realized what it was. Although it was lurking in my subconscious, I do think that my trip was about a search for God. I mean, I know I’m not a huge nature fan – I didn’t need to drive 600 miles to figure that out – so why did I choose Yellowstone as my destination? It has to be because at some level I hoped that by entering into a place where natural beauty is in abundance, that I would somehow encounter God.
And there were times, driving through the park, when I would just start praying. I’d be looking out my car window at some spectacular something and I would get the sense that God really is a god who creates beauty. And then I’d pray. But they weren’t the kind of prayers you might expect. Confronted with wonder and awe, most people would respond with praise. I responded with a raw, honest sort of frustration.
Basically, my prayers went something like this: “Look God, you and me? We have some stuff we gotta work out. So what do you say? Wanna have it out, here, now?”
Silence and the beauty all around.
The next day a snowstorm descended and I was stuck in my hotel room. Maybe that was my answer but if it was, I don’t know what it meant.
Switching to the MDiv program at my school and thinking about doing a church plant in a few years, I feel like I’m stepping out onto a very thin, unstable, uncertain branch and I don’t know if it can support the weight of all this unresolved baggage. Switching back to the MACP (counseling) program seems like the safer, saner (no pun) choice but…but I don’t know.
There was a time when the choice to switch to MDiv seemed so clear and strong and right. But now? I’ll admit that there are times when I wonder if I’m making a really bad move. Because if I end up with my MDiv degree three years from now and I still feel estranged from God then I’m going to feel really stupid.
But I’ve made my choice and I’m staying the course.
(I want to believe. Dear Lord, help my unbelief.)
My counselor, who’s a Christian, says that in most cases, relationship issues with God are worked out through relationship issues with people. I resisted this idea at first, but I’ve come around and seen the wisdom in it. Trying to wrestle through relationship problems with God can be like shadow boxing – you just end up hitting a lot of thin air. But people are physical, they’re there and palpable – their responses are far more immediate and sensate. And so I’m trying to rework the way that I understand and relate to God by reworking the way I understand and relate to people.
And that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms, but I’ve written enough for now. Maybe I’ll say more about how the way that I’m relating to people is going through some big changes in the next post.
I’ll end by saying that all this reworking feels very much like a reboot.
Sometimes with computers, little patches can be incorporated to fix software bugs while the computer is still up and running but when the patch is fixing something burried deep down in a more fundamental part of the operating system, the computer needs to be shut down and started up again from scratch. A running computer is kind of like a stacked layer cake. If the frosting on the top level needs to be adjusted, no problem, just make the adjustment. But if the base layer needs fixing, all the layers on top of it have to come off because if you tried to fix that base layer while everything else is stacked on top of it, everything may come crashing down. On a computer, the only way to get fix something deep down is to shutdown and restart.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. I’m still in school and I’m still working for my church and I’m still hanging out with my friends. Dishes have to be done, clothes washed and folded, bills have to be paid. All these layers and all the other minutia of life are active and can’t be shut down even though the adjustments I’m trying to make affect all of them. This makes my reboot tricky and messy and difficult.
But oh well.
Has to be done because all the buggy malware of my life is making my life miserable.