A small glass of whine.

A couple of weeks ago, I bombarded two of my church’s pastors with a desperate email. I’ll save myself the indignity of posting it in this particular forum, but so you get the gist, I’ll sum it up.

A)    Things are hard right now!

B)     I want things to stop being so hard!

C)    Bad things are happening to me!

D)    WHYWHYWHYWHYWHYWHYWHYWHY?!?!?!?!?!?!?

"And bankruptcy, and people don’t like me, and FIREFIREOHGODFIRE!!"

 

They responded back that same day, the two of them, and both contained some really good advice. They were very sympathetic, and I really appreciated their input on things. That said, a couple of days later, I had gained some perspective on my trials (they didn’t go away, but they didn’t seem as overwhelming) and I started to feel a little embarrassed that I had emailed those guys in the first place. Now, to be fair to myself, at the time I didn’t feel like I was being melodramatic. And it’s not like I was being emo or complaining about problems that most people would say are insignificant.

“Dear Facebook: Tommy puked on my copy of Skyrim. Life is a cesspool of unending pain.”

 

But let’s attempt some perspective, shall we? Was my whining email really necessary?

I have a loving wife who is going with me on this weird-ass spiritual journey I’m taking. I have a great family. I have a bad-ass church that’s introduced me to some awesome friends. I have been cancer free for almost three years. I have a job that is paying me well for what I do, giving me great benefits, and has an awesome schedule. I recently bought a new car – a shiny blue Chevy Impala I like to call the ‘Holla ‘Pala’ because . . . I’m . . . extremely lame.

Ain’t nothin’ sexier than a reasonably-priced family sedan, am I right, ladies? Ladies?

 

The point is, life isn’t that bad. Why, then, is it so hard for me to focus on the good stuff that’s happening to me, and so easy to focus on the bad stuff? Perhaps that’s just part of the human condition. I dunno. But it’s clear that I could use some practice on keeping myself motivated when life gets rough, and not resorting to whining.

Yesterday, I was having a rough day again (for the usual reasons) and Brandi had some really awesome advice for me. She said, “Hey. Try this – stop whatever you’re doing right now. Open up Microsoft Word. Start praising God, and don’t stop until you feel better.”

Brandi isn’t the first person who has recommended praising God in call circumstances – my church’s pastors have done it on several occasions. And I use the word “recommended” deliberately. I’ve always hated the idea that God was this huge bully in the sky, and we had to praise him to avoid getting beaten up and losing our lunch money. So when I have, in the past, been commanded to praise God, my response was a pretty short, “No.” So why, then, is praising God recommended?

 Maybe because it works. I can’t say way.  I’m not a theologist, so I can’t say it’s because God eases us. I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t say that our brains just react well to thankfulness in any form. I’ve heard both of those things, though, so there may be truth to them. Either way, I took Brandi’s advice, opened up word, and created a list that I called, “Reasons why God is Awesome.” In the spirit of sharing, here is my list. I can’t do audio files on this blog, but if you would go ahead and imagine listening to awesome ’80’s metal while you read this, you’ll be experience this list the way it should be experienced (in my mind).

 

Insert wicked guitar riff. . . NOW!!!

 

1) There is something, instead of nothing. There is no reason for matter and energy to exist. It seems to me that the more natural state of things is nothingness – after all, nihilism is the path of least resistance.

2) God helps people clean their houses. Not just helps, really, but makes it possible to clean up messes that we ourselves have beat ourselves up over.

3) The popsicle. Kind of a personal reference.

4) He heals people – not just their emotions, which is easy to write-off, but also their physical bodies, which is harder to ignore.

5) He inspires people to make huge changes to the world. . . maybe because all change exists as a result of him, and the systems he put into place.

6) Because he allows us to make our own decisions, instead of being slaves to him.

7) Because he knows us 100% – and to know someone is to love them, even if you don’t agree with what they do. His omniscience makes love inevitable.

8) He gives me an opportunity to help people feel better about things. All I’ve ever wanted to do is be a guardian angel – even if I’m not qualified. And I’m really, really not qualified.

9) He brings people together – God is the shortest distance between all points.

10) As Jesus, he went through life with us. He got down into the trenches to smell the blood and shit with us.

11) Jesus is never satisfied with the appearance of truth, but only with the truth itself. He allows no-one to rest on their laurels, because we always have work to do.

12) He provides adventure to all those who engage him honestly and whole-heartedly. It may not be the adventure they expected, but it is adventure nonetheless.

13) He exists regardless of belief. You don’t need to believe in God – in fact, you often don’t want to, and he doesn’t disappear as a result like Thor, the Dagda, Diana the Huntress, or any of the other thousands of “marshmallow gods”.

14) He loves babies. Why does God need to care about babies at all? Why is that necessary? But he does, against reason. When we are living in accordance with his design, we value the life of a single child (even though it is, essentially, useless).

"I'm serious, son. Either you start mowing the law, or else daddy's gonna have to throw these Teletubbies into the toilet."

15) God does tons of things against reason. In fact, God  >  Reason every day of the week. That’s something that we have a hard time understanding – it’s been almost impossible to grasp since the Enlightenment.

16) Beauty exists. I mean, there is no reason for our senses to comprehend beauty at all. It serves no evolutionary purpose. We can appreciate beauty even in horrible circumstances, which shows that it isn’t something just on the top of the pyramid of needs. A person dying of starvation can still be moved to tears by the sunrise, when that person should really be using every single moment to look for food. So inefficient! So why do we perceive it? Because.

17) Meaning exists. Nothing can have meaning without context – and for most things, context at most provides relevance. But meaning (more than relevance) comes from getting an answer to the most basic question of wall – “Why?” The answer, of course, is “Because,” and that implies an authority that has the power to make that decision.

18) God wants us to be together. It’s more than what I said with #9. Sure, God brings people together, but more to the point, God wants us to be together. He wants us to have community, and love, and support, and friendship, and affirmation, and early-warnings, and all of the drama that sometimes comes from it. God wants people to engage in the story – not just our story, but the story of everyone ever alive. How amazing. How utterly amazing.

19) Every now and then, he touches us in such a way that our world is shattered and remade. I can’t express how much this is needed, sometimes.

20) He’s totally unbothered by Atheists.

21) The Holy Spirit. I wish I could feel this more often, but when it comes, it’s always memorable. And weird, but in a good way.

22) Happiness without reason. Something about God makes our brains release endorphins like for free, like when we’re worshiping him. Scientists have explained why, I’m sure – and that doesn’t mean that God wasn’t involved. It just means God built a way for this to happen to us. And speaking of. . .

23) God built systems. Almost every single spiritual experience can be reproduced in a lab – and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean that God didn’t make it that way, it just means that we found a way to exploit the system. Knowing this makes atheists less threatening, I think.

24) God needs nothing from us. Everything that God wants from us is for our benefit, even if we don’t always understand it.

25) God has made a world where pain, suffering, death, insecurity, and inequality happen – and I may never really understand why. But God never leaves us in any of those circumstances, and doesn’t hold it against us when we leave him.

 

"Thank you Cleveland! You've been awesome! Good night!"

There you go – my list from yesterday. And yeah, it worked. I felt much better after I wrote all of that down. I don’t know why, since it didn’t change a single fact of my life or the trials I’ve been going through. But that’s alright – those trials are there whether I feel okay about them, or I feel awful about them. Since those are my options, it seems to make sense that I should chose the one that makes me feel better.

Besides, given time, I bet you anything God is going to make my life better in ways that I can’t even anticipate.

“Well, Daniel, the bad news is your body was destroyed in the fire. . . but the good news is, we built you this AWESOME ROBOT BODY!!!”

SCORE!!!

About Daniel Mitchell

50% of "What the Faith?!?!", a blog about two skeptics who turned to God for no apparent reason. View all posts by Daniel Mitchell

2 responses to “A small glass of whine.

  • Veronica M. Surges (@jurisdoctorette)

    Another GREAT post. I’m appropriating the thankfulness list for my own uses. I’m very thankful for everything in my life, but I’m NOT good and figuring out how to say it – and I think that the act of actually elucidating what you’re thankful for is extremely important in abiding with Jesus. my worship sometimes comes off more like a kid’s memorized bedside prayers (“thanks for my house, thanks for the food, thanks for the family, goodnight”).

    As an aside, this quote is great – “it didn’t change a single fact of my life or the trials I’ve been going through. But that’s alright – those trials are there whether I feel okay about them, or I feel awful about them. Since those are my options, it seems to make sense that I should chose the one that makes me feel better.”

    It’s awesome that you are figuring this stuff out already. I spent 26 years as a professional pessimist, which for me was a form of being terrified of suffering. Long story short, God worked through a couple different people to completely change that over the course of the last year. I haven’t taken a single dose of prozac or valium since February 2011, and my worldview is CRAZY different (that’s valley girl for a 180 degree change). Like, unbelievably different. Like, “only a real God could have changed this angry, depressed, overgrown teenage girl into a real human being” different.

    And the coolest thing on top of that is that this year has been awful. My family and I have been under so much spiritual attack – financial, physical, emotional, mental – and God has brought me to the point where I don’t fear suffering. I mean, that’s downright f’ing amazing. To live every day with abiding joy no matter what, man, what a gift. This is one of my favorite quotes:

    “Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised toward Your heaven, tears run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude…And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call ‘horror’ and still be able to say: life is beautiful.”

    A Polish Jew named Etty Hillesum wrote that at the age of 29. The “camp” she spoke of was Auschwitz, where she would die in 1943 after watching her entire family brutalized and killed. I believe that kind of transcendant joy is what God has for ALL of us, no matter what the circumstances are – His love is truly the “anchor for our souls” (Heb. 6).

    • Daniel Mitchell

      Dude. That quote from Etty Hillesum has punch. Thanks for posting that. Dang.

      A very good friend of mine has known me for over twenty years. She’s my best friend’s mom, so she’s basically helped to raise me. She always took me to church with them whenever I slept over as a kid, and she has always gently encouraged me to find God. When I discovered Hillside Church and started engaging God face-on for the first time in my life, I shot her an email to say “thanks for the patience.” Her response was, “Great! I’m so glad to hear you’re talking to God, that’s wonderful. Oh, and by the way, the Devil is now going to attack you like you would not believe. You’ve chosen a side and now you’re a threat.”

      At the time that she said that, I thought I’d already undergone some attack. I had no idea. The attacks can get SO MUCH WORSE! And I wouldn’t say that they’ve been as bad as they could be – far from it – but I’ve certainly had a lot of strife introduced into my life from seemingly out of the blue than I thought I would. The thing about being thankful to God in those times isn’t that it’s an obligation. We don’t HAVE to be thankful. However, it IS a defense. It gives us the perspective we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and move. It also makes it harder for us to be tempted away from the one thing we’re putting up with all this shit for – a conversation with God that puts our life in order and makes things make sense.

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