Thursday, October 21, 2010

What to expect when you're not expecting

So, I am once again going to blog my thoughts from last night's addiction recovery group. Yay!

This week we talked about Step 3, Trust in God. In the words of the original Alcoholics Anonymous, this is the step where we make "a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."

As we read, something stood out to me. It came from a talk by Boyd K. Packer, in which he said:

Perhaps the greatest discovery of my life, without question the greatest commitment, came when finally I had the confidence in God that I would loan or yield my agency to Him–without compulsion or pressure, without any duress, as a single individual alone, by myself, no counterfeiting, nothing expected other than the privilege. In a sense, speaking figuratively, to take one's agency, that precious gift which the scriptures make plain is essential to life itself, and say, "I will do as thou directs," is afterward to learn that in so doing you possess it all the more.

The phrase that jumped out at me was "nothing expected other than the privilege." Maybe this was because I have been thinking a lot lately about some important relationships in my life, and the way these relationships are affected by expectations-- whether my own or someone else's.

For example, I have a roommate we can call Brooks. He's a real clothes horse; he likes to look good. He also likes to help other people look good. So when I leave for work in the morning, I'll often run my clothing choices past him, or ask for his advice. This continued coaching on style is a great benefit that I gain from his friendship. But I did not become his friend because I expected to get something out of it. And he doesn't expect that I will only be his friend so long as I get compliments on the ties he picks out. Of course this must be so, because friends don't treat each other as mere means to an end.

Unfortunately, my relationship with God is sometimes centered around expectations. My prayers are always most fervent when there is something that I want. To some degree this is unavoidable and even acceptable. After all, Jesus said if we want something, we should ask for it, expecting that it will be given.

But my prayers are not always going to be answered in the way that I would like. God gives good things not just to good people, but to all his children. And sometimes the things I ask for, I just don't get. Like, last year some goon stole my laptop. I asked God for it to be miraculously returned (and for the thief to get hit by a bus). But it didn't happen (as far as I know). That was hard. I don't know that I have ever prayed harder than I did in January and February of 2009. But, okay, maybe my desires were a little selfish.

On the other hand, and more to the point of our discussion last night, I have asked a lot of times for God to change my heart and free me of all the stupid self-destructive behaviors that have plagued me since I was a boy. I think that's a pretty good thing to ask for. But it hasn't happened yet, and sometimes that is hard for me to understand. I feel like I've put a lot in, and I want something out.

But that's not the way it works. I don't earn his grace. I draw near to God not in the expectation of being showered with goodies, but because I love Him.

I know He loves me, too, and he has promised me that in His own time, He will remake me into something new and wonderful. But waiting is hard. I don't know when that is going to happen-- and maybe it's wrong even to think that it will happen all at once. Maybe it happens bit by bit. Lots of important things happen that way. So, I wait. And I try to trust God, and keep drawing near to him, expecting 'nothing other than the privilege.'

And maybe a laptop.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

meine kleine kerzlein

Greetings, imaginary readers. I am sorry to have neglected you so long. But in my defense, you do not really exist. Also, I have been seeing this girl, who we will call Hello Kitty. She's very nice, and I like her a lot. Also, she speaks Japanese.

Anyway, HK and I were talking a while back about my calling. Right now I am a group leader for the church's Addiction Recovery program.

And one thing I love about being in AR is that I get to basically share my testimony, my faith in Jesus, every Thursday night. That's pretty great! And I was saying to HK how I wish she could come, just so I could share that with her. Unfortunately, the group I lead is just for men, so that's not possible.

But it occurred to me that I could blog it-- that I could write down here what I said there. So I decided to do that. And so now, two weeks later, I am finally going to give it a try. So here is one thing I have been thinking about sharing tonight at our AR group.

Tonight we are talking about step2, which is hope. In step two we come to believe that God can restore us, free us from our addictions. This is not always easy for me to believe, in large part because these patterns of thought and behavior have just been with me so long. It seems that I am always fighting myself, that my first impulses are always wrong.

For example, I have a bunch of quizzes that I told my students last week I would grade and return today. Last night I started on them, but I got tired of it and quit without finishing. I went to bed early, telling myself that I would get up early and get them done. When I woke up at 6:30, instead of getting up right away which is what I do most mornings, I went back to bed because I didn't want to work on them.

So when I got up, I told myself I would give myself a little time and then get them done in time for the big class, which meets at 11. Well, at 10, I hadn't started grading, so I said I would get them done in time for the section meeting at 3. And then I put it off a bit, and then it was lunch, and then I decided I'd better shower, and suddenly it was 1:30 and I had only 45 minutes to grade before I had to go catch the train. The whole morning had slipped away from me.

I decided to sit down and send out a quick email to let the kids know they wouldn't be getting the quizzes back today as I had promised. And my first impulse was to make an excuse, to lie to them and say that I had graded them but wanted to make sure that my scores were in line with the other TAs. I had used this excuse before, and it was plausible enough. But why lie? It doesn't make the kids any happier than the truth. They just want their quizzes back, and if they don't get them then the reason is more or less irrelevant. It's just that my impulse, honed by years and years of covering for my addictions (like procrastination!) is to lie.

So anyway, I was typing this out, and somehow my pinkie hit the stupid button on my laptop keyboard that makes the web browser go back one page. (I hate that button.) And when I went forward again, the lie I had typed was lost. And as I started typing again, I thought better of it and told them the truth. I was not handing the quizzes back today because I had not graded them. And I sent it off, and felt better.

Is that enough reason to hope? After all that disfunction, after all that self-destructive behavior, after all that indulgence of my addiction, can I find a ray of sunshine in the fact that I wrote the truth after the lie serendipitously disappeared? Yes. I have hope because I told the truth, even if it not at first. I have hope because I let myself feel bad about covering up my addiction in time enough that that guilt could motivate me toward better behavior. And I feel hope because of that providential little accidental bump of a key.

I know God is looking out for me, always. I know that he has sent his Spirit to light a little candle in my heart and show me a better path than the one I am inclined to follow. I know that each time I chose to follow that better path I become a better, happier man. And as I continue to make these choices, my inclinations change, too, through the power of Christ's love and his sacrifice.

Yay hope! Yay candle! Yay me!