When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. – 1 Corinthians 13:11
I had a really weird dream two nights ago. I am still a little troubled by the vividness of it.
In my dream, I was being forced to have an arranged marriage. I entered a room full of encouraging well-wishers, all excited to present their chosen bride. I recognized the faces of the people. I knew them all. They all wore plastered smiles on their faces, the faces of people overjoyed to present a wonderful gift. One by one they shook my hand, encouraging me, telling me that I would love “her”. As the crowd parted, I saw my would-be bride. Standing before me was a rather large, slow-moving, very old nun, with gnarled and sagging skin, stooped over and supported by a cane, dressed complete with a habit, and wearing a dangling large gold crucifix around her neck.
I was stunned.
This was the bride they had been so excited about. This was the beauty they were presenting. This was the love they had promised. I was appalled and confused. Was this who they were really offering?
My confusion turned into obvious dislike. Some in the crowd gently asked, “Are you not pleased with your bride? She has much to offer. Great wealth, history, influence, and stability.” I said, “Those are wonderful. But you promised great beauty, and I see none, feel none.” Then another part of the crowd spoke up, “Oh you carnal young man. How shallow are your requirements? You find no beauty because you don’t know what beauty is. She is beautiful.” “She has respectable qualities”, I replied, not wanting to insult the crowd. “How blind are you? How lost are you? How naïve can you get?” the crowd asked. “What do you want? Perfection? You are not perfect yourself. You have nothing to offer, but she, she can offer you so much.”
The crowd, now turning into an upset mob said as one as they surrounded me and the old woman. Tighter and tighter their circle around us got, pushing us closer together. The closer I was to her, the more despicable she became. She hissed at me, saying, “Who do you think you are to not love me? Look at all these people who have loved me. Look at what I have done for them. And you, in your arrogance, won’t embrace me? You foolish boy.” I was a few steps away from her. She was holding up her arms to embrace me, with her left hand holding her crucifix necklace out to me. I could feel the push of the crowd inch by inch moving me forward.
Then I heard a baby’s cry. I could not see any baby, but I could hear it. And it seemed I was the only one in the crowd who heard it, since the others were too busy trying to execute the forced marriage. I turned to where I thought I heard the baby, and ducked under the legs of the crowd, crawling determinedly to get away from that old woman and find the helpless child instead.
I saw a door in the far wall past the growing crowd, and I stood up and made a run for it. I could hear the disappointed crowd’s accusations. “Fool! Fool! Fool!” they chanted. “Fool!” I looked back the old woman, who was now inflating herself bigger and bigger, whether she absorbed the crowd or squashed them, I do not know. I knew that if I didn’t make it out the door soon I would be crushed by her.
With much urgency, I ran to the door, only to find it locked. I asked the white man by the door for a key but he did not reply. I sought around the door frame but could find none. I tried to pull and push the door but it would not move. I could sense the old woman growing towards me quickly. In my desperation I started knocking on the door, calling for someone on the other side. When that didn’t work, I started banging on it. Harder and harder I banged on the door, desperate to escape the ugliness about to envelope me.
Then it broke. The door broke. Just in time, I was able to kick the rest of the door to give me enough space to pass. I found myself standing in a beautiful garden with three rivers, and two massive trees in the middle. And lying on the grass was a beautiful child. The most beautiful child I had ever seen, lying vulnerably with only strip of white cloth, but full of joy and life. There was no fear in the child. The crying I had heard turned out to be laughter. And he looked at me. I knelt and picked-up the child, said to him, “Hello there, beautiful one.”
Then I woke up. #db
I’m learning to forgive myself
I’m learning to forgive others
I’m learning to be patient
With myself and my brothers
As neither of our journeys
Can be called without stain
And too many of our moments
Must be recalled with a pain
In the deep parts of our souls
Where thorns in the flesh stab
A pleasant tickle at first prick
Then a deep wound and ugly scab
They are painful to sleep with
These multidimensional tears
And my self has been bent much
In bone-breaking wrong cares
So I spend many night awake
Many, many early mornings too
Reflecting on my inner darkness
Praying to be more like You
But where do the broken start
When the broken are also blind?
Is there hope of reclamation
When much has been undermined?
Yet, again, against all wisdom
Of logical and illogical reason
I take hold of Your grand love
That is constant in every season
I am truly wrapped in beauty
Wrapped in beautiful grace
I find my lost self found
When I stop to seek Your face
In a Corner with My Anchor
I think one of the most important abilities a person must develop, particularly someone who aspires to make a dent in the world, is the ability to cultivate times of healthy isolation. For me, this is a time to recalibrate from the busy of work of doing back to the deep work of being. It’s a moment to correct my regularly erring perspective, to remind myself of the whys behind my whats, and to repent of my sins, of which there are many (I don’t say that to be self-effacing). Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I’m a bag of conflicting traits. I’m a writer who has a hard time finding the right words during normal conversations, many times saying the perfect wrong thing and causing myself a lot of embarrassment. I’m a disciplined individual, waking up while it’s still dark, exercising regularly, working diligently, yet have a hard time with moderation – If I’m going to do something, I find myself taking it far – which can be great for good activities and bad for things such as my temper, self-pity, and overworking. I can list more contrasts but the point I want to make is beyond a description of my conflict but a reminder of something I wrote about before:
WE ALL HAVE INNER CONFLICT.
While some may seem less of a contradiction than others, everyone suffers from the ebbs and flows not only of the thoughts, feelings, and conditions within us, but also of the environment and people around us. We all must navigate the great world we live in and our own vast soul. Having contradictions doesn’t make someone more or less special. Contradictions make us human.
But they also get us into trouble. They hurt our reputations, our reliability, and our ability to be consistent, which is an important part of success and growth in anything.
So while we all have inner conflict, we must all strive towards SELF-MASTERY, and we do this through the practice of SELF-DISCIPLINE.
As we do something in a disciplined manner, we develop mastery of that thing. It’s the same with life.
When we are faced with frustration, and if we react to it, we reinforce the power of circumstances over us. But if we don’t react, if we pause and chart a wise response, we increase our power over circumstances.
If we are afraid and we let the fear dictate our next steps, we allow fear to define our decisions, and fear has a great way of making our decisions smaller and more selfish. But if we face the fear, we strengthen our character and in the process develop courage.
If we are faced with injustice, and all we do is grumble and complain without taking on the responsibility of our part, then not only are we useless to Justice but a partner of Injustice for it is unjust to hold others accountable for what we ourselves have failed to fulfill. But if we aim the judgement on ourselves, focusing on the plank in our eye instead of the spec in another’s, we find that we become agents of beautiful change, not because we are self-righteously attacking the wrong in others, but humbly dealing with the wrong in ourselves.
These examples are hard and I have to admit I have a long way to go when it comes to responding properly instead of reacting, but with the practice of self-discipline, I believe that self-mastery is achievable.
Someone once told me that we shouldn’t be mastering ourselves but should make God our master. It’s the type of uniformed comment that I find is typical of people who have not taken the time to refine their latest favorite sound bite. It’s the type of comment I tend to hear from people who are uncomfortable with doubt, naturally narrow minded from being spoon-fed, and have the luxury of a superstitious worldview. I do believe that God should be our master, but not in the way that He will somehow magically drop that one right decision I’m supposed to make, or lead me to that one right job I’m supposed to take, or that God mastering us is exclusive of us mastering ourselves. On the contrary, I believe that making God our master means offering ourselves up to Him as living sacrifices, not so much saying, “God, You make the decisions.” but instead “God, not my will but Your will. I CHOOSE to do Your will.” I believe that to make God my master is not to surrender the act of decision making to Him, a privilege He gave us when He gave us freedom and choice, but to use that freedom, my free will, to choose Him. That may seem like a simple difference but the implications are totally different. The belief that we’re supposed to let God make decisions for us puts the responsibly of our decisions on Him. But believing that our decisions are our own keeps the responsibility with us. Are we going to use our freedom for Him?
Without the practice of self-discipline, we will be reactive to the things around us and within us, and will find it difficult to use our freedom for God. To say that the self-discipline that leads to self-mastery isn’t part of making God our master is to forget that God Himself is love, and that the Bible tells us that the “greatest of these is love”, and that true love requires the freedom of choice. To love someone is to choose them, not because you are unable to choose otherwise, but because you find them most beautiful.
I believe that self-mastery in the Biblical sense is to become so awesome for the pleasure of the God you love, and for the people He has called us to love, who He Himself loves most.
You choose to believe not because you don’t have a choice, but because you choose to please God with faith.
You become a hard worker not because you don’t have a choice, but because you choose to be a good steward of the talents and time He gave you.
You become a good husband or wife, not because you don’t have a choice, or because you’re obligated by society, but because you choose to love your spouse the way God chose to love you.
You serve others not because you don’t have a choice or because you have an obligation to some institution but because you choose to love others with action.
You choose to run back to God over and over and over again, not because you’re perfect, or some robotic holy man, neither because of your obligation and accountability to others, but because you love Him, meaning that at the core of your heart is a deep desire to choose the path brings you closer to Him, simply because you find Him most beautiful.