Struggle, Loathing, and Masochistic Tendencies

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A few thoughts I left just kind of hanging in space last night, I want to try to unpack here tonight. If I can piggyback on something relevantgirl said in her comment–that American Christians are trite because we flee suffering–I’d like to offer a few (loosely connected) thoughts.

I think after six months of this blogging thing, it’s high time I told you what it’s all about. You want to know the real reason I’m here, writing every night? It’s probably not what you’re thinking and I’m sure you’ll be disappointed in me, but I don’t care. The real truth is, I’m trying to escape. That’s it. I mean, that’s not all, everything, the end. I mean, it’s just easier to write to escape than to attempt the other forms. At least I can be constructive while I’m escaping.

And something tells me (the voices, THE VOICES!), that you probably know that and I’m just making a big deal about nothing here. Regardless. The fun thing is, I can’t hear you, so I’m impervious to your protests. And besides, you don’t know yet what I’m trying to escape from. Wait–I’m going to tell you.

It would be easy to say it’s the job, the pressure, the intense responsibility, overflowing in-box, whatever. That’s certainly a factor. But no, that’s only, like, 12.36% of the reason. The real thing I’m escaping, the big percentage anyway, is the insatiable need I have to escape my fear of being a phony. If you’ve read Catcher, you know what I mean. It’s a disappointment, because it means I’m motivated by a negative rather than a positive, but I think after I tell you the rest, you’ll understand a bit better.

Relevantgirl’s comment struck me because I think it applies to me better than anything I’ve ever written about myself. And that’s saing something, because I write about myself a lot. I’m very self-absorbed, though I’m getting better with age. The worry is, that as I age, I’m getting worse at accepting the uncertainty and instability of life. And that is what I’m trying to escape: aging. Trading fearlessness for fear. As I get older, I’m not building resilience, I’m losing it.

Escapism is one of those things that’s publicly frowned upon, but privately practiced by all. Addictive personalities like mine are screwed at birth, but it’s no surprise that even the generally stable are prone to a few treasured fettishes. Escapism is pretty much the search for comfort, the same comfort that makes people into weenies, makes them rely on triteness and cliche, makes them into phonies to those who know real life through suffering. American Christians, by and large, are phonies. They aren’t suffering, as relevantgirl said, if anything, they’re padding themselves against all feeling. They’re getting older.

And maybe now I’m excited because I can finally say something about it without sounding like a typical cranky teenager. But—O, the humanity!—the very thing that releases me to speak, wraps me in its insidious grip! And if that isn’t the very essence of Holden’s dilemma, I just don’t know what is.

Maybe, what I’m trying to do is to catch a few of you before you go over the edge. We can escape together the apathy and the horrible, crushing whispers of Christian consumerism. Through honesty, through heartache, through struggle, loathing, and masochistic tendencies that could get us branded as modern day acetics or monastics, committed in community to the development of our spirits together. Aesthetes who are cognizant and responsible for the darkness we bring in with the light and not shunning it to the invisible corners of existence, but welcoming it as a natural result of the full truth.

Okay, maybe I’m not talking about true masochism. I don’t want to have to put any of you away in padded cells. And loathing isn’t really all that healthy either. But there’s so much to be said for the effort required in struggle.

I leave you with a quote from an unknown source. I like to think the source had realized the full implications of the wisdom he’d found and left his due recognition for someone else to claim. But it’s probably just that I forgot who said it. “Love is suffering.”

The greatest of the commandments is, in essence, to suffer.

Ed: (And then there’s this one, I also like, “If suffering brought wisdom, the dentist’s office would be full of luminous ideas.”)

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5 thoughts on “Struggle, Loathing, and Masochistic Tendencies”

  1. Such sublime angst–I think I’d lose my breakfast if I’d had any. Sorry, Mick, I should be nicer, because you certainly are. But seriously, your angst-ridden generation is a little much. Is it because you didn’t have any wars to fight? Or social causes to stand for?
    But more seriously, the idea that there is some kind of intrinsic value in suffering is just not Biblical. To say that God is calling us to suffer (when he said to love Him and our neighbor) is just wrong. That we WILL suffer as believers is true, but I don’t have to go looking for suffering to prove I love God.
    First, suffering is a result of the Fall–sin and its consequences introduced suffering. Therefore, suffering in and of itself is not good. God makes of it what He chooses. Sometimes He makes it an instrument of discipline or of refinement. Sometimes He uses it to set up His miracles or to teach us to trust. Whenever He allows suffering, it is not a whimsical decision, of that we can be sure.
    Second, God didn’t create us to suffer. He created us to glorify Him. Sometimes that means glorifying Him in the midst of suffering, but sometimes in the midst of blessing. Maybe what we oh-so-comfortable Christians in America really need to be doing rather than looking for ways to suffer is to look to God. Eyes off of self; eyes on Him.
    And thirdly, it really is dangerous to declare that American Christians know nothing of suffering. Do you know which ones worship with you every week who have lost a child? are caring for an elderly parent? have been through divorce? are battling cancer? who were just laid off their job? There are many ways of suffering. Also, what makes your blog-escapism from the fear of growing old better than “Christian commercialism” that might be escaping the fear of pornography or alcoholism or who-knows what else? Why is it that our personal sins seem like harmless foibles when someone else’s look like egregious monsters?
    OK, I said I should be nicer, and I didn’t get the job done. For that I am sorry. What I am hoping is that we as Christians can stimulate one another to love and good works.
    Maybe the problems you see in your Christian community need to be confronted head on, Mick, rather than escaped.

  2. Wow. Lots covered here. Good analysis of suffering, Becky. I agree with you and have almost nothing to add.
    However, I would contend that Christians are sometimes called to suffer. When God sent Ananias to restore Paul’s sight, He said, ” . . . for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Paul himself said, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Col. 1:24
    I won’t delve into the theology of this difficult subject beyond the observation that God included suffering in His plans for Paul’s life, and Paul embraced it. That said, I think you nailed the reason: we are created to glorify God. What that looks like in each life is for God to decide.
    As Mary said, the problem with many Christians is a belief that the American dream is God’s dream. We believe God wants us to be happy, healthy, wealthy, and movie-star gorgeous, and–if not all that–at the least comfortable. Then, when He doesn’t work things out after our will, we resent Him.
    We haven’t been taught the truth, and when we stumble upon it for ourselves, we massage it until it fits our pet paradigm. Surely Jesus didn’t mean for ME to sell all, to take up my cross, to be imprisoned for my faith, eaten by lions, sawn asunder, etc., etc.
    I’m not suggesting anyone should go looking for suffering, but we waste precious time and opportunity when we fail to see God’s hand in the trials that do come. Faith in adversity releases God’s power in remarkable ways. Think of Paul and Silas worshiping in prison.
    Self-pity (and egocentricism in general) is poison. So is envy. As Jesus said to Peter when he questioned Him about John: “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”
    So, our aim should be to follow. One He calls to embrace risk on the mission field. Another He calls to toil against the status quo in the publishing industry. Another He calls to eat chocolate. (Oh, pick me! Pick me!)
    I’ve suffered some pretty horrendous stuff. I’ve also experienced unbelievable delights. Given a choice, I’d take the delights any day. But I also realize when I’m trusting my Father’s love in the midst of suffering, I grow the most.
    Ah, the mysteries. Looks like I won’t be able to unravel them all in one post.
    I should stop rambling and go make dinner. Oh, and Mick — if you need a place to escape, there’s plenty of room at our table. Bring Sheri and Ellie, too.
    Interesting discussion, folks. Thanks!
    (Note: Though I wouldn’t mind claiming her thoughtful words, “Jeanie” is not I. Thought I’d clarify.)

  3. This is a good discussion.
    First, relevantgirl, I don’t think Americans have a corner on wanting an end to suffering. Witness the number of people from Elsewhere who migrate to the US. My guess is that many come here thinking this will be heaven on earth. Wanting release from the pain of this life is part of the human condition. But expecting God to give that release here and now is a different matter.
    Which brings me to raise a dangerous question. Is it possible that many of these “Christians” you refer to (“As Mary said, the problem with many Christians is a belief that the American dream is God’s dream.”) aren’t really Christians? Of course, we can’t know their hearts, maybe shouldn’t even concern ourselves with that. But the reason I ask it is because … well, of the Jews. Those Jews who were looking for Messiah to set up an earthly kindom missed Him. Wouldn’t the same be true today–I mean, we can change the language and call Him Savior, but if people think He came to save from poverty or illness or hatred, aren’t they really missing Him?
    I guess I’m aware there are “churches” out there that preach the gospel of acquisition, but I’ve assumed they are not part of The Church.
    Regardless, it is hard for someone living in this culture (American) not to get wrapped up into the capitalistic lifestyle (the comfort lifestyle). It probably ranks as number one in creating tension with the Christian lifestyle. Well, what am I saying? Scripture says that, in essence, so strike the “probably.” I think the existence of that tension between what God’s standards are and the standards of our culture requires us to be very aware of our attitudes toward money (whether we have it or don’t have it)–toward possessions in general. There but for the grace of God go I into a life of greed and avarice.
    Which brings me back to what I consider the key. Whether we live in America or Tanzania, the secret to handling suffering or blessing is to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. If I look at my condition, yes, I will be angst-driven, because this world … is no longer a great place to live. If I look at those around me, I will either swell with pride because of what I have that they don’t, or deflat in despair because I lack what they have.
    A related story. I heard Elizabeth Elliot speak once. She told of people’s reaction to her going back to the jungle after her husband had been killed. She said she would get some who would say, oh I could never do that. I just hate snakes too much to go into the jungle. She came back with, do you think I love snakes? I don’t. I love God and go where He sends me.
    Snakes or chocolate. Yeah, I’d vote for chocolate in a nanosecond. But only God knows what’s best for me. I just have to keep looking in His face and trust our good God that He knows what He’s doing.

  4. Becky, so glad to hear I’m making you sick. Please, feel free to use the complimentary bag conveniently placed in the seatback in front of you.
    I think we might finally have bridged the generation gap: Maybe many of those who claim to be Christians in America actually are not.

  5. < >
    Well, if I’d known you thought that, Mick, I would have had far fewer beefs with you. When you said “Christian community,” I assumed you meant what the article called “biblical worldview” Christians. That’s a pretty good term, actually, but like “Christian” and “born again” will probably get hijacked to mean something it is not.

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