Home isolation and away pt. 3

At this point I had two options. I could either find ways of occupying my time by giving into my cravings or fight it and overcome myself through discipline. I decided for the latter. As time slowed down and I was faced with empty days, questions that kept coming back to me was, how will I use the time I have right now instead? How do I embrace and learn contentment with unproductive time? It was no less a reorienting of both what I valued and the rhythm of how I lived.

Instead of compulsively checking my phone and emails and messages I found myself sketching and reading and writing and cooking regardless of how productive and successful these attempts were at the end of the day. The earlier frustration and boredom slowly gave way to calm towards the end of the week. In the silence there was just the slow plodding of living each day in silence, obedience and dare I say it… joy? What was important was just being before God and trusting him to provide and guide my activities for everyday. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who said that man would not live on bread alone but on every word of God?

What I think I’ve really been learning is that boredom is essential to being human. It’s just something we have to get through use our time well and create things out of love whilst developing a deeper self knowledge. Don’t get me wrong. The boredom was scary. It was scary how quickly my mind jumped to the mindless scroll of entertainment on my shiny little iPad. It wasn’t even a thought but an impulse that just led me on. I just couldn’t stand being bored! It was like a restless itch that you just had to scratch on your back. Though Pascal had been gone for nigh 400 years, his saying that much evil was done from man’s inability to sit by himself in his room still rang true with me.

The 19th century philosopher Kierkegaard once thought that the ideal human being was someone who could sit silently before God. He described our human condition as one deeply driven by anxieties like those secret fears that keep us awake at night. We can always drive it out though by delaying sleep at much as possible and by preventing ourselves from ever being alone with our selves. Yet without boredom, we never truly face these anxieties and deal with them. They continue to unconsciously drive our often irrational and erratic behaviors and come out when we least expect it like at a family dinner that erupts into World War 3 from the spillage of one tea cup.

We never truly come to know ourselves and in that way we can never become who we are. And we can never really be saved. To us our problems will always be out there and someone else’s. This makes me wonder…what else do we miss out on because we’re unwilling to be bored?

Home Isolation and Away Pt. 2

The last week has been a blur as I look back at the seven days in my apartment where time itself seem to have been eradicated. I remember craving fast food like fried chicken and pizza and chips. I also had a repeated impulse to check my phone or to watch an endless stream of youtube videos or play video games. There was always a low grade anxiety in the background that made me edgy and irritable and impatient when I spoke to my wife or felt guilty about how ‘unproductive my day was’.

They were all like symptoms of withdrawal. Maybe I was addicted to fried food and social media. And like an addict, I didn’t know what to do with myself without those things in my life. Going through it wasn’t pleasant to say the least. But at least now I knew the things I that controlled my life more than I thought I controlled it.

Social media promised me a sense of connection with others and reality as long as I was constantly engaged replying to and checking messages and feeds. Fried chicken, burgers, fries and pizza promised a world of quick and easy enjoyment every meal with minimal cooking and preparation. But all they did was make me more anxious, more impulsive and impatient and unable to enjoy living more deeply.

Joy takes time. Depth is slow. A gardener needs to plant and prune, water and fertilize his soil before he can enjoy the fruit of his labor over many years. All that fast food and social media gave me was something to run away from who I really was and what I really wanted: meaningful connection and activity.

How do you balance being still before God and working in faith?

Dear Captivate slido person,

I assume you’re a real person. But if it was a bot’s question, I’ll be starting to worry for humanity. Nevertheless, thank you for asking it. It took me such a long time to write this because it’s such a big problem (and you asked a good question). So rest assured you’ve done us all a favor because you’re probably not the only one asking this. You’re wrestling with the importance of being before God and the work that you’re doing for him. Perhaps they almost seem like opposite ends of a seesaw. When one goes up, the other goes down.

I think it is a distinctly modern problem to see them as an either/or. If being still before God is opposed to working in faith, doesn’t that mean that the latter is more important? After all, Christians want to be first and foremost faithful people. And by gosh you’re right — there’s so much to do! How can we possibly be faithful with all the possibilities before us to do good? Aren’t we making time for God, the king of the universe, by doing his work? Maybe if we get time at the end of the day, or week, or month, or even year… we’ll get around to being still before him then.

Knowing that you have to be still before God on top of all that you have to do for him is a sure fire way for a guilty and joyless life. But what I want to encourage you to see is that faith is not a work. It’s the posture of your heart. As one lecturer of mine said, “faith is not trusting more in God, but trusting less in yourself.”

Being still before God and working in faith are not opposed to one another. In fact, being still before God is what it means to be faithful. It is its essence. It is in that stillness that we acknowledge our dependence and our need for him. Being still is like the breath of our soul. Have you ever tried to move around just by exhaling? It’s not fun and it doesn’t last very long. Inhaling by being still before God is necessary before doing anything else.

Let me elaborate on this. We need to decrease before God, so that he can increase. The reason why being still before God is essential to faith and even is faith, is because faith is not obedience, which is why Paul says he is charged with bringing about the obedience of faith (Rom. 1). Faith resides in the deepest corner of our heart as the object of our ultimate trust and dependence. To be a faithful Christian is to make a movement of the heart, change its posture, to trust less in ourselves and more in God as the one who establishes and justifies our existence.

Faith is how we see. When you understand this it changes everything. Our modern Western culture, especially in Sydney, values life based on productivity. It’s the first question we ask to find someone’s identity besides their name — “what do you do?” So of course faith is what we produce because it is our work that justifies our self worth and our life. It’s hard for these habits to go away when we become Christian because they were so ingrained into our old imagination of the world. You may even measure your faith based on how frequently you read the Bible and pray or how much you serve at church.

But we never measure up do we? Maybe you’ve felt the guilt that comes with spending time alone or with God. After all, there’s all this work that God’s calling and beckoning to you with. Being still before God feels like doing nothing. It feels like faithlessness. Doing nothing is so detestable to our culture that not being busy can even seem like a sin. We’ve got to be busy even on our vacations! Yet whilst we as humans are busy looking at outward appearances, God looks at the heart (1 Sam.). In fact, his eyes run to and fro on the earth looking for someone who first and foremost, fears him and trembles at his Word (Ps; Deut. 6.5). Remember the story of Mary and Martha?

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Lk. 10.38-42

My prayer for you then dear Captivate slido person, is that you learn like Mary to choose the good portion, to sit at Jesus’ feet, and learn silence, obedience and joy before him. And just like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, you will know that your Heavenly Father cares for you, that nothing you do will change his love for you, and that his peace which surpasses all understanding, will be with you. Like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, your work will be seen in all its beauty and God given glory. Because it is his and not yours. You simply have to be.