Escapism

Running from our problems never resolves anything; it simply postpones the emotional despair.  In fact, it can even heighten anguish since we are stuffing it down in our hearts rather than dealing with it productively.

There are many ways to escape.  Some people drown themselves in TV so they don’t have to think about the issues.  Sadly, others jump into sin believing the immoral high can compensate for the discouragement.  Retreating to a vacation is also a potential outlet.  For me, it is projects.  When I get discouraged, I typically work on something around the house.  I occupy my mind with some fix it job.  And, if I can’t find something to fix, I look for something to improve around the house, e.g. a touch up here, a spot clean there.  So, if you come to my house and see a lot of improvements, you should probably ask me, “So what is really going on with you?”

Truth be told, I do a lot of thinking when I am working on projects.  It helps me process life.  I sort through the issues.  I reflect on decisions that I need to make.  It even helps calm my emotions.  Yet, the principle reason I do projects is that it helps me feel accomplished.  I enjoy looking at something I have done and think, “Well done.”  The problem with discouragement in life is that I don’t feel a sense of satisfaction.  The projects provide that for me.

Beautifying your home might seem like a wonderful form of escape, but it has a couple of downsides.  First, it wears me down.  I get tired.  Eventually, this adds to the discouragement since fatigue starts to color my perspective on life.  My wife and I have had conversations about an appropriate amount of escape, e.g. enough to process life without getting exhausted.

The second downside is that it doesn’t resolve the issue.  It simply masks it.  While I might process it to some degree I am not fully addressing it.  Or, if I am dabbling around with it, it is merely in my mind rather than quietly with God.  I banter around thoughts, processing the issue again and again, only to discover I have a clear sense of the issue without a clear sense of the solution.  I think this is one of the principle problems of escaping from our issues.  It never really resolves anything; it simply delays or suppresses it.

Luke 5:16 states, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  In the midst of his busyness, he appropriately dealt with the issues by communing with God.  He did not run to the market, fix a table (he was a carpenter), or discuss it to death with his disciples.  He quieted his heart so that he could gain divine perspective from God.  Rather than run from any issue, he confronted it in the healthiest way possible, in communion with God.

Oh, this sounds like a much better approach to difficulties in life.  And to be honest, the end result is not only freedom but joy as we have not wasted days and weeks running from our despair only to realize it is still kicking around in the crevices of our mind.  Dealing with it honestly and quickly allows us to address the issue then wake up tomorrow with joy. Granted, it takes work.  Yet, it beats the alternative.

Chasing Happiness

Apparently happiness has a price tag:  $75,000.

According to a 2010 Princeton study, a person needs to make $75,000 to maximize happiness.  Here is the argument.  If you make less than that amount you are not happy because life is too hard.  Bills that are due become a source of anxiety.  You find yourself wishing for a little extra to buy something for your family.  When you can’t afford it you become discouraged.  As an aside, I wonder what the majority world would say about the “hard life” of Americans.  On the other hand, if you make more than this amount, life is too easy.  You can buy whatever you want, whenever you want.  The result:  you do not appreciate the value of saving up for something. In other words, life is taken for granted which impacts happiness.  The magic figure is $75,000.  It allows you to enjoy relative comfort by having the ability to buy some nice things and you are thankful because you had to work for them.

The natural tendency when you read such a study is to immediately think about your own income.  Where is my happiness on this scale?  Do I need to make just a little bit more so that I can truly be happy?  Or should I go to my boss and say “I want to be happy I need you to give me a pay cut.”  I will admit it would be fun to see the reaction.

Ok, I understand the principle.  It makes logical sense to me.  In fact, there is some biblical support for it.  Proverbs 30:8-9 states, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.  Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’  Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”  We are human.  If we are struggling it impacts our emotional outlook.  Life becomes stressful.  If we are too comfortable we feel entitled.  I get it.

Yet, I think the answer lies deeper than a monetary figure.  I mean I have met a lot of people who make very little and are extremely happy.  The same is true for those who have been blessed.  Part of the answer lies in trusting the principle.  If we don’t believe that $75,000 will make us happy we will keep chasing happiness by purchasing things only to find happiness never arrives.  We keep thinking “just a little bit more” then I will be happy.  Sadly it never comes because our happiness is dependent on stuff and stuff breaks.  Yet, if we believe the principle, we can at least begin to say “I have enough” which moves us towards contentment.

Deeper yet, I think the answer is not in some magical income level (that is pretty superficial) but in our approach to what God has given to us.  It is about our priorities in life. Am I making money for status or to provide for my family?  Is money functional (e.g. to buy some nice things and take my family on a nice vacation) or is it for my ego (e.g. look at how successful I am).  I think this is what Jesus had in mind when he stated in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Yes!  Happiness is not found in an income level but in God who never breaks down or rusts.  It is found in trusting in God for my daily needs regardless of my income level.  It is found in remembering my identity is in Christ rather than stuff.

Stepping into Someone Else’s Shoes

I was driving to the store recently.  I approached a stop light.  It happened to be red.  I slid my car over to the left hand turn lane and waited.  There were several cars in front of me.  I was enjoying some relaxing music as I waited.  As soon as the light turned green the car behind me honked.  I mean the driver honked within a nanosecond.  The first car in line hadn’t even begun to turn.  Now, I have had people honk at me when I got distracted and forgot to move.  I have even experienced someone beeping when I did not move after a couple of seconds.  Yet, this was a first with someone honking before the first car even turned.  I became a little agitated.  I turned to my wife and said, “Unbelievable.  People are in such a hurry.”  I shook my head, drove through the turn lane, and glanced at the driver as the person sped around me.  I saw an elderly woman hunched over the steering wheel zooming past me.  Clearly, it was Mario Andretti’s mom.  I said out loud to my wife, “Oh, may we grow old graciously.”

The following day I woke up with a full day ahead.  I had a lot to do.  I had errands to run.  I had work to do.  And I needed to fit in some exercise.  On top of that we had to run to IKEA (30 minutes away) to pick up something for our house.  I was a little concerned about the time as we had to get to the store and back quickly because my son had some friends coming over to the house.  So, we rushed to the store, found what we needed, but then got sidetracked at IKEA looking through their showroom.  All of sudden we realized we had to hurry.  We jumped in line only to see what seemed like two clerks taking care of a 100 people (ok, slight exaggeration).  It did take a while however to get through the line.  To save time, my wife ran to get the car as I checked out.  We threw everything in the car and sped off.  I had 20 minutes to get home (MapQuest said it would take 30).  I quickly drove.  Fortunately, I didn’t get a ticket.   Yet, every time I pulled up to a stop light or stop sign my mind would bark “Hurry up” to those in front of me.  I found myself wanting to honk the horn at the slightest delay.  Then it hit me.  I’m not generally a cranky person but here I am in a hurry getting annoyed that people are not moving quick enough.  They are probably just enjoying the drive, listening to some relaxing music while I am on a mission.  They might even be glancing at me as I zoomed around them saying “What’s the rush.”

I turned to my wife and said, “It is funny.  I am doing the same thing that I was complaining about yesterday.  You never know what is going on with someone.  They could be late for an appointment.  They might need to get to the doctor for an emergency.  It might not be because a person is grumpy; there just might be a legitimate reason.”  She responded by saying, “It is very hard to get into someone’s shoes.”  Oh, this is so true.

We see life from our perspective.  If someone is in a hurry, we are quick to assign motive, “This person needs to grow old graciously.”  Yet, when we are in a hurry, people need to magically read our minds and pull over so that we can get to our destination.  I think this is why we are so quick to judge others and give grace to ourselves.  We presume to know their motives while assuming others should know ours.  Maybe if we took a few moments and tried to come up with some legitimate reasons for their actions, we would be able to extend grace.  Oh it is hard, but to be honest, it is how we live graciously – not finding more margin but extending the benefit of the doubt when that margin is squeezed.

Shot 100 Times

We watched the Passion of the Christ this past Friday as a family.  My wife and I had seen it several years ago.  Due to its intense nature, we held off on showing it to our kids until they were older.  My wife suggested this would be a great year to show it to them – to provide some meaning to Good Friday and Easter.  Watching it again I was struck at the intensity of the movie.  The brutality with which they beat Jesus was nearly too difficult to watch.  I found myself angry at the men who whipped him.  They laughed and mocked him.  My daughter who enjoys reading up on Greek and Roman culture indicated this was very common.  They were trained to do so.  We chatted as a family that it is amazing that Jesus survived the abuse.  A normal person would have died long before the cross.  Clearly, God sustained him to the cross so that he endured the full weight of our sins.  He was bloodied.  His flesh was torn apart.  He was mangled in appearance.  This was only the physical side to say nothing of the emotional and spiritual agony of enduring the scorn, shame, and separation from God respectively.  It brought new meaning to our family as we celebrated Good Friday and Easter.

Days later I am still struck by the “reality” of this movie.  It is not Photoshopped.  The scenes are not sanitized.  The movie contains subtitles which adds a realistic tone since Jesus did not speak English.  From my perspective, the movie accurately reflected not only the biblical details but also the culture.  The movie was real.  Appropriate since Jesus was real and the crucifixion was real.  Oftentimes, I think that Jesus is viewed in a mythical sense.  He was a person who lived thousands of years ago.  We worship and call on him as a Savior (in this sense he is real) but not with a sense of seeing him as someone with a real body and real flesh.  Yes, we affirm that he lived but I think he has become romanticized.  We quickly comment on his humanity as we jump to his spiritual nature.  He’s our friend.  He’s our pal.  Oh, I think we miss something very powerfully when we do so.  We minimize the truth that he lived here on earth fully as a person.  He wanted to be that close to us that he became like us.  Yet, he didn’t do so simply to show us empathy by identifying with us but to fully embrace our humanity for the sake of redeeming us.  This movie reminded me afresh that he was a man who suffered and endured like no other.

As a family, we also talked about how much he suffered.  My daughter indicated that it was helpful to her since she still had a Sunday school version in her mind.  Yes, it was painful but she found it hard to imagine how painful.  After seeing the movie, her comment was “it would be better in today’s day and age to say Jesus was shot 100 times, survived, and still had to go to the cross.”  Good point.  We live in a culture where violent images are everywhere.  We don’t practice crucifixion executions; therefore, we don’t have a vantage point.  Yet, if we think of someone getting shot that many times we have a mental framework.  He endured this pain and still God sustained him so that he would experience the weight of sin.  He suffered this much in order to remove the curse of sin.  He went through “100 shots” to express how much he loves us.  Yes, it is humbling.  Yes, it is overwhelming.  And yes, even after being a Christian for so many years, I find myself deeply grateful to have such a Savior.