Sometimes, Life is a Roller Coaster

The last year or so has been quite a roller coaster ride, particularly the last few months.  Last spring/summer I was dealing with debilitating, unexplained pain which had me nearly wheelchair bound.  This turned out to be severe endometriosis, which culminated in extensive surgery.  I felt far better immediately after surgery than I did for the months preceding.

But then not long after I was allowed to resume normal activities, I spent several months fighting a recurrent sinus infection, which turned out to be MRSA in my sinuses.  I haven’t had surgery for that, but it may be necessary soon, probably before cold and flu season hits full swing.

In spring of this year my daughter was struggling with severe depression, for which she ended up medically withdrawing for the semester and spending a short stint at a mental health hospital. Then at the beginning of summer, I broke my ankle.  A month later, our 15 year old dog and my grandfather, who I was extremely close to, died within a couple of days of each other.

So yeah, the family has been through the ringer.  I’ve been generally crappy at savoring anything lately, and not really accomplishing much at all, to be honest. I’ve been far more inclined to become a hermit. I’ve withdrawn from people, from activities, from life. But I am acutely aware that it’s not healthy for me to continue that indefinitely.

In the process of trying to diagnose my unexplained pain, one rheumatologist said he was pretty confident I had fibromyalgia.  Not long after that they found the endometriosis, so honestly I kind of dismissed the fibro diagnosis.  I think I was mostly hoping that with the surgery, anything that could not be attributed to my other illnesses would be resolved.  Unfortunately, that has turned out to not be the case. I am still really struggling with “swiss cheese brain” (fibro fog), pain and swelling in various muscles, and profound weakness and fatigue which doesn’t respond as well to my Addison’s medication as I would like. So it’s put me in a state of not remotely caring about much at all. I haven’t even been doing things that I normally enjoy.

Of course, those of you who have dealt with depression know that this is prone to happening to someone who is sinking into that quagmire. We don’t feel like doing things, so we stop doing things we enjoy. We don’t feel like interacting with others, so we withdraw from everyone. Naturally, this makes the situation worse. Depression is a black hole that sucks you in and spirals down further the more you cut yourself off from those things.

I’ve talked before about depression, and I’ve been on medications for it at a few different points in my life.  But not one doctor has urged me to see a counselor, or even suggested that it might be a good idea. I’m not trying to diagnose or treat anyone else, but I think that tends to be a mistake. I have become more and more convinced that in most cases, if your depression is affecting your life enough that you seek medical help, then medication PLUS therapy would usually be better than just medication alone. If you can find the right therapist, of course.

So I’ve been doing just that. If there is something I can do to help myself feel better, both mentally and physically, why would I NOT try that? Honestly, why haven’t I tried it before now? It may be partly because no doctor ever suggested it. It may be that I was subconsciously buying into the cultural assumption that only REALLY messed up people see a psychiatrist. But if it can help me cope better with the unrelenting, rapid-fire garbage that life has been throwing our family lately, it’s all to the good, and I’m in with both feet.

I’ve seen my new therapist a half dozen times now. I think one of the biggest benefits for me is that I feel like I’m taking some of the pressure off my husband. I am often a physical drain on him because of my health, I am a huge financial drain on the household, and I know the stress of worrying about me doesn’t help. But unloading to an outside person periodically has seemed to at least take some of that emotional burden off him. And although I’m not sure I’ve learned anything groundbreaking about myself, I think it’s helped me process the difficult stuff, especially the grieving. Stay tuned for progress updates, and cheer for the return of the enthusiastic, optimistic person that I am at heart. I’ve missed her, and I’m sure my family and friends have as well.

And if you’re struggling with depression, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. No matter how alone you feel, there is someone out there who wants to help you be well: a family member, a friend, maybe even someone you haven’t met yet, in the form of a doctor, counselor, or a hotline volunteer. Always keep fighting.

 

Advertisements

Are There Limits to Forgiveness?

I’ve written on forgiveness many times, because it’s something that is very important to me.  I don’t think it’s healthy to hold on to hurts that people have done to us, even if they have never asked for forgiveness, and don’t “deserve” it.  I realize that forgiveness is extremely difficult in some cases: I was not physically, emotionally, or sexually abused by a parent, family member, or spouse.  I have never been raped, mugged, or any of the those other horrible things that some of you have had to deal with, so maybe you think I can’t understand how difficult it is to forgive.  And you might be right.  But I do know what it is to be deeply hurt by something that someone has said or done to me.  And I know that holding on to that hurt, nurturing it, has never done anything but bring me further pain.

So maybe my definition of forgiveness is different than most.  What I mean by forgiving someone who harms you, regardless of whether they ask for or deserve it, is that you choose not to let it continually rip you apart.  You acknowledge that the damage has been done, and that the person who did it is probably broken in some way.  This does not require that you condone what they did to you, or make excuses for their behavior, or spout trite phrases about how you’re glad it happened because it’s only making you stronger.  True, it may make you stronger, but you don’t have to be happy about the situation.

I have also blogged more than once about removing destructive people from your life.  And when you look at these two ideas side by side, they may seem contradictory.  But really they aren’t.  It is never healthy to have constant contact with someone who is harmful to you, whether it be physically or emotionally.  So how do we reconcile these two ideas?  Well, that is far easier than the forgiveness itself.  Let’s take one of the more extreme cases: spouse abuse.  Nearly everyone will agree that it is best for you to remove yourself from the situation if your spouse is causing you harm.  Completely removing that spouse from your life is far easier if children are not involved, but even then contact can be kept to an extreme minimum, and limited to only situations where you (and any children) remain safe.  Don’t assume that I think this is EASY.  I’m just saying it’s possible, and that it’s the best possible response to a terrible situation.  However, just because you have removed that person from your life does not mean that they can’t continue to harm you.  And here’s where forgiveness comes in:  only if you make a conscious decision to forgive (not excuse or condone) the abuse, can you begin to heal.  This is the difference between letting the wound develop a scar and developing “proud flesh” around the wound.  Make no mistake, whenever someone wounds us deeply, there will be a scar.  But if we are constantly ripping open that old wound, it will never have a chance to heal. You can choose to forgive without remaining in a place where you are at further risk. If you are in an abusive relationship, please contact someone outside the situation, like The National Domestic Violence Hotline or a local abuse resource; something of this magnitude is something no one should have to deal with alone.

Now that we’ve talked about such an extreme example, it seems ridiculous to compare the little things that people do to hurt us.  But I dare say that we sometimes hold on to these little hurts just as tightly.  When we have someone in our lives who has hurt us repeatedly, we start to assume that everything they say or do is explicitly meant to belittle or cause pain.  Maybe that’s human nature; maybe it’s an attempt to protect ourselves from future harm.  But I’m going to throw something out there for you all to contemplate: there are very few people out there who are intentionally horrible people.  Certainly there are some who are inherently self-centered and inconsiderate.  But most of the time, they do not consciously make the decision to deliberately hurt others.  Does this excuse their behavior?  Absolutely not.  But there may be a legitimate reason that this person is so emotionally stunted that they are unaware of how their words or behavior are harmful.

So at this point we have a choice:  Is it possible for us to sit down and discuss with that person the things that they do that are hurting us?  Obviously this is the ideal situation.  It may be that once the person realizes they are being hurtful, they will make changes to prevent it from happening again.  If it is a repeated behavior, the change may not be instantly complete, but we must make efforts to acknowledge that the person is at least working to change.  Because certainly there are things about myself that I am working to change, and I’m not always successful.  (Keep in mind, I am no longer talking about the extreme case mentioned above; I am not suggesting that a victim of abuse sit alone with their abuser and tell them how they have hurt them.  There are other, safer ways to deal with that situation.)

If we refuse to let someone know that what they are doing is hurtful, we can expect them to continue with the hurtful behavior.  We take away from them the opportunity to grow and improve themselves as a person, and perhaps we even fail to protect others from their harmful behavior in the future.  We haven’t even given them a chance to change.

So when I have advocated removing detrimental people from your life, I have been talking about those who have been told that they are harming us yet willfully continue to do so.  If there is someone in your life who continually puts you down, belittles your life/dating/career choices, or otherwise makes you feel small and worthless, even after you have tried to express to them how this hurts you, it’s time to limit your exposure to them.  Like I’ve said before, it’s not always possible to remove them from your life completely, but it is possible to limit their opportunities to hurt you.

If there is someone who is constantly attempting to suck you into their drama, constantly wailing and bemoaning all the little things that are wrong with their life, it’s time to limit your exposure to them.  We should definitely strive to have more positive people in our lives than negative ones.  Does this mean that we abandon friends when they are going through a tough time?  Of course not.  I’m talking about those people who refuse to see the positives in their lives, regardless of how much they have going for them.  I’m talking about people who would rather complain about what they don’t have than be thankful for what they do.  If you have attempted to point out to that person how their negative attitude is harmful to themselves and others, but they shrug it off by saying that’s just the way they are, then they are not interested in growing and changing and they don’t need to be a huge influence on your life.  But don’t just cut them out of your life without giving them a chance to better themselves. And acknowledge their attempt to change, even if that change is slow.

I have really been struggling lately not to fall into the “poor me” trap.  It’s hard some days not to think, “Ugh, I’m so miserable, why me?”  There are few days that I can honestly say that my pain level and my energy level allow me to behave like a “normal” forty-two-year-old, performing tasks that I SHOULD still be capable of at my age.  Most days I feel more like eighty than forty.  Some days I am in mourning for the loss of my youth, and all the things I wanted to do with my life.  Some days I find it easier than others to remember that before I was diagnosed with Addison’s, one of the very real possibilities was MS, which would unequivocally been far worse. I truly hope that if I get to the point where I am spending too much time wallowing in self-pity and I’m bringing others around me down, that someone will tell me rather than just cut me out of their life because I’m too depressing.

So I guess what I’m saying is the same thing that most of my posts come down to: balance.  We have to strike a balance between forgiveness and protecting ourselves.   Balance between giving people the benefit of the doubt and realizing they’re not interested in changing.  Balance between being there for someone going through a rough time and keeping our own positive outlook on life.  It’s not an easy balance to maintain.  But it’s definitely worth the struggle.

I Choose Joy

Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  We’ve had a lot of things going on in recent weeks (months), and I’ve been having some back problems that have made it pretty darn uncomfortable to sit at the computer for any length of time.  But thankfully my awesome doctor has prescribed some new medication and started me on physical therapy to regain my strength from being a forced couch potato, so all is well (or on its way there, anyway).

Those who know me know how frustrated I’ve been to be tied to my recliner, unable to do all the things I’ve wanted to do.  And most days it’s been hard not to complain.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs to vent their frustrations every once in a while, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s been a real struggle to keep myself from falling into a pattern of continual grouchiness and/or whininess.  God bless my exceptionally patient husband (and the rest of my family) for putting up with me.  I know I’ve been particularly short-tempered as of late.

I recently got invited to become “Facebook friends” with one of the receptionists at my doctor’s office (I’ll not call you out and embarrass you, but if you’re reading this, you know who you are), and I was happy to get the invitation.  See, when I first met her, I was still trying desperately to find a doctor who was willing to work with me to make me well, not just “good enough”, and willing to learn about a pretty obscure disease.  She was the first person I talked to, and has never been anything but kind, cheerful, and enthusiastic.  Have you ever met someone and instantly thought you were kindred spirits?  She is one of those people. This girl reminds me of myself 20 years ago.  And I find that nearly all of her posts are uplifting and encouraging, things that just make me smile, so I’m so much happier to see something from her pop up on my newsfeed than most of the political, negative, woe-is-me or woe-is-our-country crap that I often see.  Even as rarely as I’m on Facebook, I’m already glad she asked me to “friend” her.

I think there are two main parts to choosing joy in our lives, and one is primarily internal, the other a little more external.  First, how do I view and think about myself and my circumstances, and second how do I view others and my relationships with them?  Today I’ll just talk about my attitudes toward myself, and deal with my attitudes towards others in my next post.

There’s an old-ish song (1994) by Larnelle Harris called “I Choose Joy”.  The video is pretty goofy, but I love the lyrics.  Specifically, the line that keeps coming back to me is: “I’ll never let the problems keep me down”.  Note that it doesn’t say, I’ll never let the problems GET me down, because that is entirely unrealistic, but I won’t let them KEEP me down.  That’s important.  Everyone has times of discouragement, but it’s when I allow myself to wallow in that and remain in a state of self-pity and despair that I have a problem.  Now I’m not saying that someone who has clinical depression can “wish” their way out of it, but I will go so far as to say that even when medications are necessary, they cannot work as well alone.  I have to make a conscious, sometimes daily, even minute-to-minute decision to choose joy.  I repeat, I’m not saying you can magically think yourself out of depression.  But I truly believe you CAN mentally trap yourself there, regardless of medications.  I shouldn’t think of depression as a pair of handcuffs, where if I just have the right key I can open them, click, and then I’m not carrying that burden any more.  It’s more like being bound by a spool of unbreakable thread. I have to unwind myself a little at a time in order to get free.

There is nothing wrong with occasionally saying, “Ugh, I don’t feel well”, but if every phrase that comes out of my mouth is “oh, my aching ____” or “oh, my terrible job/husband/friend/family member/life” or some other version of “woe is me”, my focus is in the wrong place.  I’ve seen the thankfulness challenges quite a bit lately (I guess they’ve been extended from just being thankful around Thanksgiving) and there’s nothing wrong with those, but I challenge you to make sure those statements are not superficial.  Better than saying, “Ugh, my back hurts, but at least I’m still breathing”,  I should be thinking something more along the lines of, “Ugh, my back hurts, but it’s better than it’s been at its worst, and I was able to fold a load of laundry today!”  I can’t be afraid to celebrate small accomplishments, but I have to make sure that my thankfulness for them is genuine.  I may not enjoy being a cashier or a waitress or burger-flipper or whatever, but at least I have a job while I’m looking for something better.  And there is nothing wrong with wanting something better, but I have to take care that I don’t allow myself to fall into the constant pattern of never being content with what I have right now.  I’ve written about contentment before, but it’s a topic that’s really important to me.  I just see so many people who live their entire lives with a “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” mentality, and never reach a place of contentment because of that internal attitude.

All this to say, we all struggle with challenges like this.  You’re not alone.  My frustrations might not be exactly the same as yours, but I do know how it feels to be frustrated with myself or some aspect of my life, and I know you do too.  But I issue you this challenge: try to be really observant about what comes out of your mouth (or what gets posted on your status, or tweeted) for the next few days, and see if you can add something positive, even if part of it is negative.  It might just be baby steps at this point, but we’ve got to start somewhere.  I’m with you on this; let’s keep moving forward together.  Choose joy in this moment.

The Quest for Enough

The idea of minimalism really resonates with me.  I’m not sure why I find it so appealing, except that I’ve never really been a big one for “stuff”, and it seems to generally cause more trouble than it’s worth.  But here’s the deal: it’s not the stuff itself that’s the problem.  It’s the attitude that the stuff is necessary for happiness.  That we have to own as much stuff as the next guy in order to prove that we’re as successful.  And sometimes we adopt the same attitude with other things in our lives as well.  I need to have not just the stuff, but the prestige, the house, the location, perfect body, the whatever.  And we even compare ourselves to others in completely abstract ways.  I need to be the most minimalist minimalist, the most eco-minded eco-warrior, the most successful, the most surviviest, whatever draws you.

Whatever things or accomplishments we want, we’re never going to be satisfied until we’ve got enough.  The problem comes in when we inappropriately define “enough”.  If it’s always more than what we have, we’ll never reach it.  While I’m not sure I want to pledge to not buy new clothes for a year, this post from Becoming Minimalist really points out our difficulties with contentment.

It might seem like I post on contentment a lot, and I guess I do.  Part of it may be because I struggle with it myself.  But part of it is because I think this is one of the biggest problems in western society.  We are never satisfied with what we have, because instead of seeing how much more we have than others, we look at those who have more than us.  This applies to belongings, homes, cars, spouses, just about everything.  Even primarily internal things (like wanting to be more minimalist) can become an issue if we allow ourselves to become discontent with the level that we’ve reached.

Now I’m not encouraging a sense of complacency, either.  We should be striving to improve ourselves where we can.  The problem occurs when we start beating ourselves up about what we haven’t yet achieved, instead of seeing how far we’ve come.  This can happen in any endeavor.  We can’t be proud of the 10 lbs we’ve lost, because we have another X lbs we want to lose.  We can’t be pleased with the progress, because we haven’t reached the goal.  This is why it’s recommended to break a large goal down into multiple smaller ones, that way we can celebrate the little accomplishments on the way to the big one.

But here’s the crux of the matter, and I know I keep harping on this, but I think it bears repeating (because I know I need to hear it continually):  We need to stop comparing ourselves to others.  I can’t be the best you; I can only be the best me.  You can’t be the best me; you can only be the best you.  It has taken me about 40 years to realize the truth of this, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to constantly remind myself.  I have to be happy with the baby steps that I’m capable of taking today, knowing that even if I’m not speeding towards my goal, at least I’m making progress in the right direction.

So today I want to encourage you.  Don’t look around; look at yourself.  Don’t agonize about how much farther you have to go until you’ve achieved success (no matter what the goal is); look into your own past and see how much progress you’ve made.  If you feel like you’re not heading in the direction of your goals, make the necessary course corrections.  Go back to school, take on an apprenticeship, ask for on-the-job training, join a gym, find a co-conspirator working toward the same goal, whatever will help you reach the goals you’ve set for yourself.  And celebrate the tiniest successes.  No matter how slow your progress seems, it’s still progress.  Keep on keepin’ on.

How to Stay Healthier This Winter

On the heels of the nastiest storm we’ve seen in quite a while, we may be bracing ourselves for a pretty harsh winter.  To minimize our chances of getting sick, we know that we should wash our hands often, try to avoid people who are sick, and take our vitamins (because no matter how much we TRY to eat well, it’s likely we’re still missing something).  We might supplement with vitamin D and a few others, or try to boost our immune systems with Echinacea and zinc.

But how much does our attitude affect our health?  This article on the Mayo Clinic site discusses how positive thinking can have a dramatic effect on your health.

How do you react when you first start feeling like you’re coming down with something?  Do you try to stay positive that you might have caught it before it got too bad?  Or do you bemoan how terrible you feel, and how certain you are that it’s only going to get worse?

I’m not trying to say that positive thinking can keep you from ever getting sick.  A virus is a virus, and sometimes they just get us.  That’s what they’re designed to do, of course.  But keeping a generally positive attitude can do several things for you.  First, it gives a boost to your immune system, thus making it harder for the invader to get a foothold in the first place.  Second, it allows that heightened immune system to fight the invader more effectively and evict it sooner if it actually does manage to get through your defenses.  Third, it makes the recovery time more pleasant for you and those around you.

Positive people also generally tend to be kinder to themselves and take better care of themselves.  They eat better, get up off the couch and get moving more (but NOT obsessively exercise), and make healthier life choices (such as not smoking).  All of those things are certainly going to have a positive impact on your overall health.

“But I’m just not naturally a positive person!  I can’t be Pollyannna all the time!”  I call bull.  While some people do seem to have a naturally positive attitude, and some seem to be Eeyore, when it comes right down to it, most of your attitude is a conditioned, trained response.  Which means that if you WANT to, you CAN un-learn your bad habits.  Again, this may come easier to some people than to others.  But I truly believe that everyone can improve their outlook if they are willing to give it some work.

It all begins with self-talk.  We internalize everything that happens to us.  Those things that pop into our heads, unbidden, are often not very positive.  The stuff we say to ourselves has far more impact on us than anything that comes from outside.  True, we may be hearing bad stuff about ourselves from the outside, but it’s not until we believe those things to be true about ourselves and beat ourselves up about them that they really begin to harm us.

We may not have much control over the fleeting negative thoughts that pop into our minds without invitation, but we certainly CAN control how much we dwell on them.  We can decide whether we kick them to the curb immediately or allow them to take up permanent residence in our thoughts.

When faced with the thought “I am a horrible person because of X”, we can choose whether we agree with that mental negative and berate ourselves for every wrong thing we’ve ever done, or we can choose to contradict that thought with this:  “Yes, I may have made x mistake, but I have also done x, y, z, etc positive things”.  Counter the “Oh, I’m so miserable because I have this disease or that illness, or I’m just sick all the time, or I have no motivation or willpower or blah, blah, blah” with “no, I don’t like where I am right now, but I don’t have to stay here forever”.  Temporary illness will pass, and lifelong illness can be dealt with.  Sometimes life sucks.  It is what it is. But there are also plenty of things that don’t suck.  You can choose to constantly complain about all the suckiness, or make the best you can of a bad situation.

As for the motivation and willpower thing, ask yourself if you really don’t like that aspect of your character.  If it’s not something that really bothers you, then quit bemoaning it.  If it IS something that you don’t like about yourself, then CHANGE IT.  Don’t keep talking about how much you don’t like it.

It’s not going to happen overnight.  It will not be easy to overcome years of conditioning.  We may have fallen into the negative self-talk habit so often that we aren’t really aware of it any more.  But we can retrain ourselves out of even the most ingrained of bad habits.  Is it going to take a lot of work?  Probably.  But it’s so worth it.  Your health and well-being depend on it.

What Makes Life Worth Living?

I think this is a question that people often ask themselves, but tend to answer very superficially.  In the article “What Makes Life Worth Living?“, author Dustin Wax reflects upon some of the things that are really important to us.  With Thanksgiving in our so recent past and Christmas right on the horizon, and many friends doing the “30 days of Thankfulness” on Facebook, it’s nice and fresh in our minds.  I don’t want to marginalize this exercise, because I think anything that causes us to focus on what we have over what we don’t have is a good thing.  But let’s not let it be a superficial thing, or let it only last for the month of November.  Dustin came up with these great points on what makes life meaningful:

  • Creating: Writing, drawing, painting (though I’m not good at it), playing music (though I’m not especially good at that, either). For others, it might be inventing something, building a business, coming up with a clever marketing campaign, forming a non-profit.
  • Relating: It’s not “family” that makes life worth living, I think, but therelationships we create with members of our family, and the way we maintain and build those relationships. Same goes for friends, lovers, business partners, students, and everyone else.
  • Helping: Being able to lend a hand to people in need – however drastic or trivial that need may be – strikes me as an important part of life.
  • Realizing: Making, working towards, and  achieving goals, no matter what those goals are.
  • Playing: Maybe this is a kind of “relating”, but then, play can be a solo affair as well. Letting go of restraints, imagining new possibilities, testing yourself against others or against yourself, finding humor and joy.
  • Growing: Learning new things, improving my knowledge and ability in the things I’ve already learned.

I think we all want to live fulfilling lives, ones that make an impact, lives that leave a legacy after we’re gone. But sometimes we don’t really know how to go about doing that.  It’s far too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life, especially this time of year, and end up just getting through instead of leaving our mark.

I know I am much happier if I have done at least something in one of these categories each day. Even on days when I can’t manage to check much off my “to-do” list, as long as I’ve done something fulfilling, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.  And sometimes I have to celebrate even the smallest accomplishment.

I’d like to make two points here:  First, let’s not beat ourselves up for not making every second of every day a Mother Teresa level activity.  Everyone’s gotta have down time, and everyone has times when they feel overwhelmed by everything that they have to do.  All the greats had their times of inactivity, and I’m sure they had times when they felt like they weren’t accomplishing much.  Seriously, they were human just like the rest of us.

Second, on the flip side of that coin, I think it helps to evaluate the value of an activity based on its lasting worth.  If I have an hour to spend, do I really want to spend it playing a video game, watching reruns of my favorite sitcom, or spending time with my family?  My time is at least as valuable a resource as my money, and what I choose to spend the majority of it on shows pretty clearly what is most important to me.

Ultimately, I think it all comes down to balance. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional mindless activity that has no real value in the light of eternity.  But if the majority of my time is spent on meaningless things rather than the things that will make a difference in someone’s life, I’m very likely to come to the end of my life with some pretty significant “death-bed regrets”.

So try to go though your coming days with this in mind.  Take an extra second to hold the door for a fellow Christmas shopper.  Make a call or send a message to a friend of family member you haven’t reconnected with in a while.  Take time to recharge your own batteries so that you have something to spend.  And give yourself the Christmas gift of reasonable expectations.  A Christmas celebration does not have to reach Martha Stewart level perfection to be memorable.  After all, it should be all about the time with loved ones anyway, shouldn’t it?

Merry Christmas to you all, and shower the people you love with love!

Getting Cranky with God

I think growing up in the church has a tendency to teach us some really bad habits.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying no one should ever go to church.  I just think that we spend too much time comparing ourselves to the “righteousness” of others, or to the “ideal” Christian, instead of being real.  We think that we should never have negative feelings or Get Cranky with God.

We develop a checklist of the things we are supposed to cover when we pray.  Sometimes we even try to quantify how much time we should spend telling God how awesome he is, being thankful, and praying for the needs of others, then last of all (and least of all) asking for stuff we want or need.  A “righteous” person puts all of those other things before what they want, and a “good” Christian never experiences negative feelings like discouragement, depression, frustration, anger, doubt, and a litany of other bad thoughts.

That’s a load of bull, people.  EVERYONE experiences negative feelings from time to time, even the most upbeat of us.  Sometimes you just have one of those days where everything seems to go wrong.  And let me make a very important point here that I hope you will take to heart:  God doesn’t want to be your dictator, he wants to be your friend.  He wants to have a real relationship with you, not a regimented, closed, neatly-fitting-into-the-box relationship that conforms to your concocted definition of a “good” Christian.

So what do you do when you have one of THOSE days?  You talk to your best friend and vent.  You rant and rave and rail, and maybe even say out loud that life is unfair, because often it is.  But do we do that to God?  Do we tell him how frustrated we are, how discouraged we’re feeling, how angry we are at that exasperating family member or coworker, or even when we doubt that he’s there at all?  Most of us don’t, because it’s ingrained in us that we should be above that.  But the truth is, if we’re honest with ourselves AND with God, we DO have those feelings.  And it’s not like he’s unaware that we’re feeling like that.  Denial is kind of ridiculous if you think about it; we can’t hide our feelings from him, so we might as well be open about it.  

Let me say something that probably goes against the grain for some of you:  it is NOT a sin to feel angry.  I’ll dare to go so far as to say that no negative feelings in and of themselves are “sin”.  Jesus got angry, and he was tempted to do wrong things.  The issue is how we deal with those negative feelings.  If we have a flash of anger, vent, and let it go, that’s ok.  If we have that same flash of anger and hold on to it, stew, nurse it and feed it, dwell on it and allow it to fester until we actually wish harm to the person that made us angry, we have a problem.  The same applies to lust, greed, pride, doubt, and all of those other things that Christians think they shouldn’t ever feel.  It’s not having the negative thought that’s the problem, it’s what we do with it.  We can choose to let it control our actions, or give it the boot.

I know that is the exact opposite of what some people believe, and maybe even were directly taught.  It’s like we think that if we have negative feelings, it’s because we’re not right with God.  If we read the Bible enough, memorize enough verses, and pray enough, we won’t ever have negative thoughts.  But think about it:  if Jesus, who was without sin, felt anger, then obviously anger itself is not a sin.  If he was tempted, that means he actually wanted to do something he knew was wrong, and chose not to do it.  If he was an unfeeling automaton, he wouldn’t have been tempted at all.  Ponder that.  Sinless Jesus was tempted by bread when he was really hungry.  Tempted by power. Tempted to show off and be prideful.  And then chose NOT to succumb to temptation.  Jesus even complained to God, and admitted that he really didn’t want to go through with that whole crucifixion thing.  I mean, he knew exactly how excruciating it was going to be.  No wonder he was wishing there was another way out.  But then he went through with it anyway.

King David spent a really huge chunk of the Psalms complaining about unfairness, asking God to deal with his enemies, and even asking God why he allowed certain things to happen.  He often sounded off a “ping” to make sure that God was still there and still listening, because sometimes he felt like God wasn’t there and listening.  And sometimes it feels that way to us, too.

One of my favorite Chris Rice songs is “Big Enough”. It talks about how God can actually handle it if we go off on him.  He can handle it when we question him, even when we ask the really big, really hard questions.  Even if we wonder whether he’s really there.  He can take it when we vent, rant, and rail against the unfairness of a fallen world. When it all comes down to it, our God is big enough. If we don’t think he is, then we’re putting him in a box that is far too small.  And let’s face it, there just isn’t a box big enough for an infinite God.

So I challenge you (and myself) to be real.  Certainly we should be thankful for the blessings we’ve been given.  Confess our real sins if we need to, ask for forgiveness, and trust that he does in fact forgive.  But we shouldn’t spend our allotted time on the checklist items if the thing that is filling our hearts and minds is our mother’s cancer, or our best friend who was in a car accident, or our inability to find a job.  God knows what is really on our hearts, and he knows if those things are swallowing up all our other thoughts.  At that point, going through the checklist is just fake.   Rant and rave, gripe and complain, ask questions, even yell at God if you need to.  He can take it.  Because he’s big enough.