Lies

This open letter¬†from a widow whose husband recently killed himself hits close to home. (If you can’t get past the paywall, I’m also attaching it as a PDF here.) He was an attorney, and that’s what I’m trying to become right now. The letter is titled “Big Law Killed My Husband,” and I’m expecting to work in Big Law for a while after law school. She says that he lacked “self-compassion,” and I’ve found that the same is true of me.

What struck me most about the letter, though, is the part about why she thinks he did it: “Simply put, he would rather die than live with the consequences of people thinking he was a failure.”

This man believed, first, that failure was worse than death. And second, that the only way to avoid failure was to die. Both of these are lies from hell.

I can tell that I’m wired similarly to the way this man was. I am predisposed to believe these same lies that he believed. I pray that God won’t let me.

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Trust

We think of trust (and faith) as cognitive states: to trust someone is to believe that they won’t let you down. It’s hard to force yourself to believe something that you don’t believe. And yet we’re supposed to trust God? How do I make myself do that?

But we misunderstand trust if we think of it as akin to belief. It’s more than that. Trust is something we do with our bodies and our wills, not just with our minds. And because of that, we can trust someone even when we don’t really believe that they are trustworthy. We do so by relying on them, by putting ourselves in their hands. You don’t need to be confident that someone will be faithful with what you have entrusted to them; you just need to do it.

So faith and trust are not states of mind. They are practices. And the result of that practice, provided that our trust is well-placed, is a sense of greater security and confidence in the person we have trusted. There will, of course, always be room for doubt to creep in, but the practice of trust does not require us to be free from doubt. And our past experiences give us good reasons to persist in trusting in spite of our doubts.

Given that trust is a practice and not a cognitive state, how do I trust God? With people, trust feels more concrete. I can ask a professor to write a letter of recommendation for me, for example. But with God, asking for things feels different. There are some things you don’t ask God for (like letters of recommendation) and other things you would only ask God for (like good health, world peace, etc.). Plus, when you ask God for something, it’s not like he (ordinarily) responds and tells you that he’ll do it for you. We have this understanding that God knows even better than we do what we actually need, and for that reason he might not always give us what we ask for.

For that reason, I think that trusting God is largely about focusing on the big picture, rather than on the details. God has told us how the story ends: we are to be made perfect as his Sons, heirs of his eternal kingdom, so that we can love him and take joy in him forever. But what about everything before that? What about the things I’m doing right now? God never promised that I would get into my dream school or get my dream job. He never promised that I would find a wife and start a family with her. He never promised that I’d be free from disease, or that I wouldn’t struggle with anxiety or depression.

From my perspective, all of these things are supremely important. And the fact that God has not guaranteed any of them to me is sometimes scary. But I remember what God has guaranteed me: the resurrection of the body and eternal life. Salvation. Doesn’t that outweigh all of these other goods that I care about so much?

Trusting God isn’t about believing that he will give us everything we want. It’s about accepting his guarantee and affirming that it is enough for us. Being saved from sin and death is enough. Being made an heir of God’s Kingdom is enough. Being made holy is enough.

Which brings us back to the question of how we can practice this kind of trust. You can’t just force yourself to believe that God’s Kingdom is better than landing the perfect job. But there are things that we do that can help us to see the world differently, practices that focus us on God’s plan instead of on ours. One of those practices is Sabbath. Taking time to rest instead of working requires us to trust that God will provide for our needs. To rest in such a way is to affirm that God is in control, and that the goodness of our existence does not depend on what we do or accomplish.

Another such practice is generosity. Choosing to spend our scarce time, energy, and resources on other human beings is an affirmation of human value. When God created us, he found us “very good.” Sin distorts the picture, making us feel like we need to earn our worth. But when you treat others as image-bearers, you affirm the inherent worth of all persons, including yourself.

I pray that God would grant me greater faith in him through these practices and others. That he would open my eyes to see all the good things he has created. That he would make me free to enjoy them instead of striving after other goods. And most of all, that he would remind me at all times of the sufficiency of his grace for me and for all the universe.

Rest and Procrastination

One of my problems is that I can’t easily tell the difference between rest and procrastination. Yesterday I wanted to get work done on an assignment, but I did not. I was tired and really did not feel like working on it. At the end of the day I felt somewhat disappointed in myself. My will was too weak to overcome the desire to be idle.

Fortunately for me, I have a fiancee who is wiser than I am. She interpreted things differently. According to her, I was tired, and I needed to rest. It’s not that my will was overcome by laziness; it’s that I was just too tired to get anything done anyway, and the best thing for me to do was to take a break.

I tend to mischaracterize rest as procrastination. I assume that, with enough will power, I can do anything that I set my mind to. But I have limitations besides a lack of will power. I have limited physical energy, emotional energy, and creativity. And if those limitations are stopping me from getting things done, then trying to force it is unlikely to help. Stepping back and letting myself recharge is all I can do.

I’m sure it’s possible to go the other way, too. People might think that they’re just resting when, in reality, they’re putting things off because they don’t feel like working. It’s not always easy to draw the line between rest, which is absolutely necessary, and procrastination, which is best avoided. In fact, where the line should be drawn probably varies significantly among different persons and different circumstances.

So it requires wisdom to tell the difference. And it also often requires an outside perspective. One of the reasons we can’t do life without the help of others is because we often fail to see what’s really going on. I interpreted my lack of progress on the assignment as a sign of laziness or weakness of will. But there were other interpretations available that I could not see without help.

I am blessed to have people in my life who show me grace even when I am not disposed to receive it. Hopefully I start to internalize that grace and stop viewing myself in a harsher light than is helpful.