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If we are part of a greater plan, how come we struggle so much?

So a friend of mine asked this question after she read this post. I am not sure I can fully answer difficult questions like these, but I will at least try.

Well, not that I think this is some kind of rule at all, but I believe that there are different kind of struggles in life and about 95% of them, if we were to look back and evaluate each one of them, we would probably be able to observe that we had played some kind of part in it. We often know what would be the wise thing to do in many situations and we choose not to do it and, sometimes, not only we choose not to do the wise thing but we go ahead and do the very opposite of what we know we should do. Then we struggle, we suffer and we decide to be blind to the fact that we brought this on ourselves.

I believe God placed a seed of everlasting nature inside each one of us (Ecc‬ ‭3‬:‭11‬ NIV) and we can often distinguish wise from unwise. We instictively know what is right, but we often choose to convince ourselves that the unwise decision is actually a good idea because: 1) it’s not like I am harming anybody, right?, 2) everybody else is doing it, 3) I simply don’t feel like doing it because it will cost me something right now, etc etc.

In these cases, well.. 1) You’re actually harming someone. Yourself. 2) Everybody else will have their own consequences and regrets and just because you don’t see the consequences of their actions, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Just think about how many secrets and regrets we’ve had and how many times we’ve suffered without others being aware of it. 3) Doing what is right will definitely cost us something right now, but it will also set us free. Choosing to act unwisely will take us to a place of regret later on, causing a lot more pain in the process.

Wisdom is, most often than not, self-evident.

Not everything is in our hands to control, of course, but I do believe that if we started thinking in terms of wise vs. unwise and decided to really do what is right, I am absolutely sure we would not struggle that much. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Eph 5: 15-17)

Yet, sometimes we suffer the consequences of someone else’s unwise choices. And there’s also many kinds of evil in the world that will do us harm. When we were young, our parents would say things like “I don’t like this friend of yours” or ” You shouldn’t hang out with these people – they are up for trouble”. Parents know that. They don’t always apply this knowledge in their own lives, but they sure know this truth. “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Prov. 13:20) If our parents/counselors/menthors really thought life was nothing more than chaos and random suffering, they wouldn’t worry so much about who we walk with. They know wise people help us build our character, rebuke us and give the right example. Unwise people neglect or even destroy the opportunities that have been given to them, but mostly they’re great at taking other people to the pit along with them. This is why it is so important to belong to a community that provides accountability. Paul said in his letters that we must “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Th 5:11).

It is easier to spot the unwise decisions other people make. We often see things more clearly when it is not about us. I really think we should make things less about us and more about God and our neighbors. If we look at every situation through the filter of “what’s in it for me?”, we’ll end up bringing a lot of regret into our lives. I have made way too many bad decisions in my life before and, being a Christian, I guess there’s a moment when we have to decide that these days are over. Personally, I have been trying to deepen my relationship with God and know His will, so that hopefully my decisions will always be made through this filter. And every time I feel a bit lost, I end up wondering what He would say about it. You know.. like when you know exactly what your mom would say if if you asked her opinion on a subject.

Now, there’s also this third cathegory of struggles we go through that really have nothing to do with with us, like accidents, illnesses, natural disasters and evil. I acknowledge the existence of such problems, of course, but I also think the average person that asks the question “if there really is a God and we are part of a greater plan, how come we struggle so much?” is more likely to be “struck” by the everyday struggles of life, so to speak. Not that these things aren’t real, because they are. I feel like there’s too much ground to cover before getting to them and I am not, if ever, qualified to even try to explain why God allows these things to happen. However, I think people who ask these questions must realize they are not the only ones who think about these things. There is nothing new under the sun. Countless people have wondered about these things. There is a lot of literature on this subject and the best that I know of is The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis. The thing is, there is really no excuse for not going after the anwers, unless you are an Atheist.

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On the meaning of life

There is this thing I have been constantly thinking about lately and it is the idea of purpose. We all hear people talk about ‘wanting to find their purpose in life’ but most of them actually end up spending their whole lives without giving it too much thought and some only start thinking about it as they’re getting older.

It’s not so much that I struggle with it, it’s more like I’m fascinated by it. First of all, it is really hard for me to understand how anyone could spend so much time of their lives without even considering there might be something bigger, more important than themselves. I know I can’t expect everybody to be as interested in this subject as I am. And I can totally understand someone who claims to be an atheist. Really. But I just don’t understand how it is even possible to not care, to not talk to other people and decide if they believe there really is a God or not. It just seems to me like too big a deal to simply not care.

Anyway, I have recently gone through the book of Ecclesiastes again and this book always makes me think about our purpose in life under the sun (as in ‘this world’ or ‘this life’). I mean, at first, I totally understand how this book could look like it is just sad and depressing, but when we really stop and meditate on it, it really proves itself to be so unbelievably powerful!

Solomon says (Ecclesiastes‬ ‭2‬:‭3-11) he tested himself with pleasure, wealth, hard work, women… All his eyes desired he did not refuse them. And that he found it all MEANINGLESS. Everything. Everything.

Solomon reflects the experience of many who seek their validation through what they do, who they are, how they look etc.. and what I believe he is saying is that he learned this never brings about contentment or meaning. Everything is meaningless. And though it is tempting to believe that we are going to make it meaningful somehow, I don’t think we can do that. Just like Solomon, we seem to be constantly searching for meaning. I guess what he is really saying here is that whatever we do under the sun will always be meaningless if we look at our lives individually, for each of us are just a small part of a greater plan. We can’t see the whole picture yet.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (…)

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13‬:‭9, 12‬ NIV)

I believe we will never fully understand the ways of God and that we should quit looking for meaning IN all these meaningless things in our everyday lives. I understand our purpose in life is to serve Him and be a small part of the bigger picture that, as long as we are under the sun, we will not be able to see and, therefore, understand. Someone in my small group compared our lives to “threads in a giant tapestry that our Heavenly Father alone has the privilege and pleasure of viewing in whole. It should be our pleasure to serve Him with this attitude of trust and through this comes meaning/purpose and contentment. Now, he said, “if only I could apply this to my life 24/7”.

I loved this giant tapestry metaphor. It’s exactly the way I see it too. And I also told him I remember this passage of a novel by Stephen King when the characters find “the Beam” (which kind of means “the path”). So it goes like this:

“Roland nodded. “Nor is that all. We can actually see the Beam.”
Susannah looked over her shoulder. (…)
“Not that way,” Roland said. “Look down, both of you(…).”
They did as he asked.
“When I tell you to look up, look straight ahead, in the direction the needle points. Don’t look at any one thing; let your eye see whatever it will. Now—look up!”
They did. For a moment Eddie saw nothing but the woods. He tried to make his eyes relax . . . and suddenly it was there, the way the shape of the slingshot had been there, inside the knob of wood, and he knew why Roland had told them not to look at any one thing. The effect of the Beam was everywhere along its course, but it was subtle. The needles of the pines and spruces pointed that way. The greenberry bushes grew slightly slanted, and the slant lay in the direction of the Beam. Not all the trees the bear had pushed down to clear its sightlines had fallen along that camouflaged path—which ran southeast, if Eddie had his directions right—but most had, as if the force coming out of the box had pushed them that way as they tottered. The clearest evidence was in the way the shadows lay on the ground. (…).
“I might see something,” Susannah said doubtfully, “but—”
“Look at the shadows! The shadows, Suze!”
Eddie saw her eyes widen as it all fell into place for her. “My God! It’s there! Right there! It’s like when someone has a natural part in their hair!”
Now that Eddie had seen it, he could not unsee it; a dim aisle driving through the untidy tangle which surrounded the clearing, a straight-edge course that was the way of the Beam. He was suddenly aware of how huge the force flowing around him (and probably right through him, like X-rays) must be, and had to control an urge to step away, either to the right or left.”*

Obviously, it’s just a novel but when I was reading this specific chapter, I immediately thought about this issue of purpose (I told you I had been constantly thinking about it lately). I am pretty sure this is not what Stephen King had in mind when he wrote it, but this passage has become my personal metaphor to the idea of purpose in life. I couldn’t possible have thought of a better way to explain how I understand the small part that each of us play in the course of the universe.

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“Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Psalm 90). He IS God – from everlasting to everlasting. And what am I? Not only am I just one these trees that together with many other things will eventually form one whole picture, but also I like this idea of looking straight ahead and not at any other thing to being able to SEE this Beam that will guide me IF I stop looking at the wrong places or isolated events – i.e., if I stop looking at things individually. Now, the truth is once we see it, we cannot unsee it.

*Excerpt From: King, Stephen. “The waste lands.”

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It is well

I seem to have been bumping into quite a bit of reading material about God’s silence recently. I haven’t searched for any of it nor have I felt like God is currently silent in my life either. But like I said, it’s been happening a lot lately, so I decided to pay attention to it. Yesterday, I was reading this psalm where David says:

We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago.
It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. (‭Psalm‬ ‭44‬:‭1, 3‬ NIV)

And he continues:

But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us.
You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us.
Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. (‭Psalm‬ ‭44‬:‭9-10, 13, 23‬ NIV)

I think he is saying something like “Well, yeah, God, I see that you have done some pretty amazing things a long time ago. I absolutely believe it and I also know these things would never have been accomplished without You. But what about me? Where are you?”

We know God is at work in many other people’s lives. Maybe we are at a place where we used to feel His presence and now we don’t feel it anymore. And when things don’t come out as we’d expected, we tend to think that He has abandoned us, or that maybe He is not willing to help us anymore. And though deep down we know it’s not like that, if David, who had such an amazing relationship with God, felt abandoned and frustrated from time to time, I think we should probably expect to feel like that too.

But I guess that’s when the idea that God invites us to refer to Him as our Heavenly Father becomes so important. There is this thing that I had never thought about before I became a parent myself and it is how our relationship with God has so many things in common with the relationship of young children to their parents.

Children will get mad at their parents because they have decided to give their older brother an extra cookie. Children will feel frustrated when they realize other parents let their children do things they aren’t allowed to do. As grown ups, we might think we’d be a whole lot more mature than that by now, but no.. We do that a lot too: only the extra cookie has become an expensive car or a bigger house.

But even though little children can’t help throwing tantrums and feeling so passionately about everything, their frustation does not last long enough for them to start thinking their parents don’t love them anymore. They don’t even think about it in those terms (obviously because they can’t), but they will always expect their parents to keep feeding them and protecting them, even though they get mad at them from time to time.

It is only as we get older and we go through seasons of difficulties that we start doubting the love of God for us. We may think God has forsaken us when we pray and there’s no answer in sight.

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (‭Matthew‬ ‭18‬:‭3‬ NIV)

Parents drive their kids insane because children want what they want and they want it now, but parents often know better. They have lived longer. Sometimes what their kids want would do them harm and they just can’t understand why. Or it could be that they want something but it’s not yet time for them to have it.

We must not forget that we can’t see the whole picture, but God does. He knows what is best for us and even when we think nothing good can come out of a particular situation, we Christians must know He can (and will) use it for His glory.

In the eyes of the world, it could seem counterintuitive and childlike to remain obedient to God and trust Him in the midst of pain and suffering. However, David never stopped praying even when he felt God was silent and I firmly believe this is the way God expects us to face times of trouble. He knows our feelings but He expects obedience and faith.

You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory;
In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. (‭Psalm‬ ‭44‬:‭4-6, 8‬ NIV)

Someone once told me that we must prepare our hearts for the storms in our lives. They will undoubtedly come, so we might as well be prepared because it is just not very wise to expect to know how to behave in the middle of a crisis. And I feel like maybe God is taking His time to engrave this is in my heart.

 
I have always loved ‘It is well with my soul’ – I’ve heard all about the story of that hymn and it’s absolutely amazing. However, I recently bumped into the song story of this amazing song and I think it is worth watching because I believe most of us can relate and it certainly adds a new depth of meaning to the song.

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I don’t believe. I know.

As I woke up this morning, the first thought that came to my head was ‘coffee’. So in my half asleep state of mind, I began to think about my coffee drinking habit. How come we develop habits and then stick to them as if they were the ultimate truth? Drinking coffee in the morning is true for most people. I know it is true for me. How come it is not always easy to make a habit out of something important to us? Why some of these habits are so difficult to give up? And what do my habits say about me?

See, I was raised to believe in God. Of course I was. I had well-catechized Catholic parents, thank you very much. I was never forced to go to church every Sunday when I was little, though. I just went because it was just like drinking coffee in the morning (not that my parents gave me coffee as a child, but you get the point). I didn’t know not going to church on Sundays. Our Sunday mornings too had become a habit. To my parents. To me.

I guess I believed what I was taught [not that I ever questioned it either]. But I can’t remember ever being sure about the existence of God, for example. I guess I never had to think about it in those terms. I was pretty comfortable the way I was. As a teenager, though, I knew I went to church every Sunday because I was supposed to. Not because I wanted to. Again, I never thought about it this way, but I was there probably because I was raised to believe in a God that required me to go to church every Sunday.

And though I would never have admitted it out loud, I was going to church mostly to avoid punishment for the sin of not attending church (yep…). I was not exactly there to worship. I was there to make sure God and I were in good terms. We did not have an intimate relationship, but we were there for each other: He was there to answer my prayers and I was in church every Sunday doing what I thought He wanted me to do so He could go punish someone else.

I had a huge faith crisis once. A friend confronted me with the book that was supposed to be modeling my way of thinking and that was when I realized how little I knew about what was on it. I knew a lot more than the average unchurched person, but I never thought everything I believed to be the absolute truth were but distorted and twisted fragments too often deliberately taken out of context so they could serve some kind of human purpose. I had the hardest time dealing with the loss of basically everything I had been taught. It was definitely the hardest thing I have ever gone through up to this day. Despite I knew that not everything they had taught me was inaccurate or biased, I was broken. I felt spiritually disrupted and incredibly discouraged.

So I gave up on God for some time (as if He was to blame). And I even remember saying things like: “The idea of God is an absolutely necessary psychological function which has nothing to do with the question of God’s existence…”. But it was not until later that I realized what the problem had been. Every time I was vaguely interested in something, I would most often than not dedicate some time to learn more about it. But when it came to God, I guess had never thought I needed to know any more than I learned in church. And the truth is that it was all so inconsistent, since I was repeateadly told that God must be the most important part of my life but, at that time, I was not even interested. Not until, of course, my whole ‘religious system’ was confronted by a girl my age.

By that time, I majored in Psychology and I thought Carl G. Jung’s theories were pretty much the only thing worth reading in college. I remember thinking he was so unbelievably smart and how everything he had written felt so true. I work as a mortgage analyst now, so I haven’t read any Jung for years, but I still think he was great. Anyway… I remember watching this very old video in which he was asked if he believed in God and he said “I don’t need to believe. I know.” I realize it might sound somewhat arrogant, especially if one is not familiarized with his work, but I have to say that I can absolutely relate – and I am not, by any means, suggesting my faith is finally free of conflicts. Neither am I implying that I have answers to all my questions. I am perfectly aware of how vulnerable my faith can be. And if I am totally honest with myself, I will be quick to admit that I come up really short in the faith department. And though all of it may seem so contradictory to the ‘I don’t believe. I know.’ speech, I really don’t think it is.

This blog is my account on the journey I started some time ago and that I am still in today. And no matter what stage of the journey we are in (I guess most of us are still in the beginning anyway), I believe in the constant pursuit of faith and wisdom. I believe God has placed a seed of everlasting nature inside each one of us (He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecc‬ ‭3‬:‭11‬ NIV), so unlike other creatures, the human heart will always be disturbed by the thought of God and purpose. But, just like any seed, it will not grow unless we feed it and give light to it.