Friday, July 15, 2016

Just Don't Want Stuff

Had a brief exchange with a friend today who was wondering why God has allowed so much hardship upon the two of us. I replied that it probably was meant to allow us to see things that we wouldn't otherwise see.

I answered dispassionately about a question that obsesses me: why are things turning out this way? Why do I have no moral luck?

Well, that's wrong - I have the best family ever!

I see Facebook friends trying to adopt and become foster parents, and I have the gall to pity myself? Okay, I am too fertile, but rather too fertile than infertile. By far. I know that I will someday be on my death bed and looking out on my family with tremendous pride. I adore my annoying children. And, for as hard as marriage is and for as full as it is with disappointment in the other, I am very lucky to know Anne-Marie. But only an idiot, imbecile or St. Joseph worships the wife he has been married to for seventeen years. (Celibates worship their imaginary wives too, btw.) No one elicits worship from a sane person.

But I am poor as sh** and very discouraged. Should that permit me to make Psalm 51 my own? Eli, Eli lama sabachthani. 

Life, for some of us, has not turned out the way we had expected. We expected too much, evidently. We had expectations that could not easily be fulfilled. If you expected to get a 'normal' job and work at it everyday and then do other normal things, like swimming and drinking beer and watching TV, then you probably got what you expected. If you had somehow expected to have a Corvette while earning a mechanic's salary, giving the nature of your hope, I am sure you adjusted to the disappointment rather well. People who hope for Corvettes most of all from life are people with rather 'normal' personality types. I like Corvettes - don't get me wrong - but what kind of car I have to drive is about 78th on my list of things to think about.

Would I (and my wife) be happier if we had more 'pedestrian' desires? 

I think this is a crude way to phrase what I am talking about.

All people want respect, security, meaningful employment and freedom from want. How we define these things might differ, as well as how we rank them relative to each other. 

And yet, if I was satisfied with my life in relation to these things, would #78 jump up to, perhaps, 12th, 4th or 1st place?

We all make fun of that person who treats their drink at Starbucks as the most important concern of their day. Or, we do it about our aunt who can't stop talking about how their neighbour cuts his grass. Other people's concerns are laughable to us. Perhaps something of ours are to them.

I secretly mock people who treat the issue of home decoration as a thing. I can barely afford to keep my house from looking like a crack house. But you know what, I can easily see myself some day coming to take pride in a well-arranged home. I used to think that someday I would have a home office outfitted by Bombay Company. Now I just want a carpet relatively free of juice stains. I buy the cheapest computers and deride those who have to have Macs. But if I had money would I suddenly 'need' one myself?

We all want a better, easier life. How we define that for ourselves is a product of two things primarily: our upbringing and our personality. 'Need' is not simply the product of our highly elevated moral sense. About twelve years ago we found ourselves living in one of the worst apartment complexes in my home town. Yet I looked around and saw a lot of perfectly contented people there. What was the difference between them and me? I grew up in a house in a nice middle-class neighbourhood down the road and many of these people probably grew up in apartments just like the one we were in. It was a little traumatizing to me. At 20 I thought I could live, and should live,  in Calcutta with Mother Teresa. At 28 I found myself living in a ghetto with my children and wife, deeply ashamed. Why shame? Because I was brought up to believe that hard work and material prosperity were steadfastly bound together, like two stars locked together in orbit, that the one always followed from the other. I picked up the idea that material failure (i.e., falling short of my middle class ideal) is moral failure, in other words. 

"Well, that's not true, Colin! A Christian like you should know that!"

Do you want to be punched, imaginary voice in my mind?

"You shouldn't be sad, Colin. Christ is risen!"

You're really asking for it, voice.

Life is funny. Although I believe in the Scriptures, and the Scriptures say that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose," (Rom 8:28) how we are to interpret this is quite another matter.

You might have an objectively unhealthy marriage. You may not communicate well, you may not be having regular congress, etc.

You might be unemployed, underemployed, not living out your training.

You might be spending your time taking care of an autistic child, rather than writing the great American novel you had thought you'd be writing by now. 

These are not, I say, insignificant things. As a Christian we are told not worry about stuff like this. People say stuff like this mean well, but they are jerks. Jerks can be right, but oh-so-wrong too.

There is a passage from St Cyprian where he talks about giving up so much to become a Christian and how hard it was to make the choice. He talks about his life-long hope to become a governor, about no longer being able to attend fancy parties, and all that. From our high-horses we say things like, he should not have worried about stuff like that! 

People telling me not to worry about not becoming a professor, writing important books, etc., is the same thing. What if my children grow up and leave the Faith? Should I not care about that either? What if they get addicted to drugs, visit prostitutes, what if, what if... Should I care about none of that?

People care about what they care about. And they define their relationship with God accordingly. The Hebrews were honest to call this relationship a contract (i.e. covenant) with God. We are dishonest with ourselves when we tell ourselves that we have no conditions on God.

1 comment:

  1. Mmm, I like your point. I grew up with a lot of "don't worry about it" or "it'll be fine" or my favourite, "offer it up" being said to me. It just all felt like a complete dismissal of any hardship I was facing. Because it's true - we care about what we care about. Just because someone else doesn't care about it as much, doesn't mean it's not just as important to us - or just as difficult as any other problem. Why is it so hard for someone to just say, geez that must be tough. Is there anything I can do to help?