A Strange Habit

 

I have developed a strange habit over the years. You might say that I hadn’t really developed it like any other habit which grows over time. This habit is really not so much like washing one’s hands or biting one’s lip as it is an instinct, although it is curious for an instinct just the same.

 

What I do is this: whenever the lights go out suddenly or I come into a place where I really can’t see much of anything at all because of the darkness I instinctively close my eyes. I have no idea when or how this odd habit began and definitely no guess as to why. I do not know if it is something other people do as well or if I am the only one. But for whatever reason, I close my eyes when they aren’t being any use.

 

Now, of course our habits and reflexes are often not rational and I stand no chance of seeing any better if my eyes are closed. As dark as my surroundings may be I certainly stand a better chance of seeing if my eyes area open. If they are closed they will miss out on the use of even what scant light might still be there and won’t be ready when the light does come on. At the moment I need my eyes most they are shut.

 

I have noticed, however, a similarly curious habit of the soul that makes little more sense than the silly thing I find my eyes doing in darkness.

 

People, even of the thoroughgoing Christian sort, often ask how faith can stand in times of trouble. They look out the window at a world gone awry and wonder how they might rely on God. The look inside and ask how they can still hold onto God when all else tears at their grip on Him. How, in short, can they have faith when all looks bleak and frail?

 

These poor souls are closing their eyes when the lights go out. Asking how we can have faith when all seems dire is like asking how we can bother with our parachute when we are falling. If further analogy is needed please picture a sailor panicking and jumping ship in a storm.

 

I had a conversation with a young lady who was wondering how close God is when we are in pain. No small question and one that the Biblical writers asked as well. But for the believer God as closer to us than we are ourselves for He makes His home within us. He is not afar off but is closer than here.

 

Do not close your eyes in the dark. Hold to the one who is here, no matter what dark fear is snarling around out there. That, friend, is faith.

 

At Once

If you have ever anxiously desired something, whether to gain something you lacked or to be free of something you wish you did not have, you know what it is to want something at once. In fact, I really cannot think of too many scenarios in which someone would not want something at once. Typically when we say that we want something in five years it is because we know it is not available to us right now. Perhaps forestalling having children or pets might be an exception but few others come to my mind. When we want something we usually want it at once.

Part of the nature of sin is its duality. Sin contains conflicting desires. Psychology professor and author Daniel Yankelovitch illustrates this well in his 1981 book New Rules: searching for self-fulfillment in a world turned upside-down. He writes: “If you feel it is imperative to fill all your needs, and if these needs are contradictory or in conflict with those of others, or are simply unfillable, then frustration inevitably follows. To Abby and to Mark self-fulfillment means having a career and marriage and children and sexual freedom and autonomy and being liberal and having money and choosing non-conformity and insisting on social justice and enjoying city life and country living and simplicity and graciousness and reading and good friends and on and on. The individual is not truly fulfilled by becoming ever more autonomous. Indeed, to move too far in this direction is to risk psychosis, the ultimate form of autonomy. The injunction that to find one’s self, one must lose one’s self, contains the truth any seeker of fulfillment needs to grasp.” While there is quite a lot to unpack in this statement please notice the problem and solution Yankelovitch presents. He says that we pursue conflicting goals and find nothing wrong or even contradictory in doing so. We want our cake and to eat it too. We want two different things at once. The solution, he says, is to lose oneself in order to find oneself.

Having is never greater than being. Often in wanting to have something we are really wanting to be something. If I want to have a large house and expensive car I may really want to be rich, powerful, important. Greater than obtaining what we want at once is to be at once. What you are is more than what you have. We are people of conflicting desires; the God of the Bible is a God of paradoxical nature. He is at once merciful and wrathful, comforting and frightful, loud and silent, penetrating and forgiving. Do you want to be human? Be in conflict within yourself. Do you want to be like God? Jump from your sunken ship and discover the one who brings together in Himself all things at once. Let go of having and take hold of being. His real blessing and promise is in giving of Himself to your self, not in giving into the maw of your battling desires all shrieking to be fulfilled.

Jesus of Nazareth once stood before his disciples and announced that he would suffer and then lose his life and rise again and offered them the same if they would follow him. Peter tried to stop him from saying such things but Jesus taught them a darker solution when he said: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”