lyef & thymes

Monday, January 31, 2005

Existential Angst

This weekend I suffered a bit of an existential crisis. In the end everything worked out, so don't start worrying, just read on.
So, this whole incarnation thing is kinda tricky, and since I met Jesus it has only become more and more involving. I used to live under a type of existential philosophy wherein I did whatever the hell I wanted at the time. It was more of a pre-determination by way of quantum-impulses sort of thing. I would be at home, thinking of coffee, and I would go out and get coffee. While I was there I would have an impulse to smoke a cigarette and would go outside and do it. I would think a comment in conversation and I would spit it out with no forethought as to it's implications. There was very little introspection or self awareness. I had no sense at all of any importance to anything I did. I didn't value anything except fulfilling the impulsive desires that came along. When I met Jesus a lot changed. Suddenly I found meaning where there was no meaning before. I saw an importance in my own existence. I don't mean to say that I became important, that I became a bigshot all of a sudden, but simply that in the act of believing that an all-powerful God had made me, I developed a larger sense of the ontological necessity of my existence. Basically I came to know that I had a purpose greater than simply following my impulses. That has proven to be a stunning revelation that has propelled me through some big changes in my life, even uncomfortable changes some of the time. The positive side of the knowledge that you are made for a purpose is that you know you can keep truckin' and that things will come around. The negative side of knowing this about yourself is that you can go weeks, even months without relaxing, without truly resting. To take this a step further, when you realize your own importance in God's created universe, you can fall into this performance anxiety, forgeting that God is able to keep you, and spending all day thinking too deeply about how to best acheive plans and aspirations that aren't entirely your own. Imagine having an employer who tells you that you are important to the company, but who fails to give you any guidelines to your role in the company, or how to do your job. At first you would enjoy a sense of encouragement "oh, I am important". But before long you would wonder what to do next, then think "I am not that important after all, as I don't know what to do around here, but everything still works out fine. These people clearly don't need me." This company allegory doesn't translate directly, but this is how I have been feeling about myself lately. I have kept myself so busy trying to "do my job", both professionally and spiritually, that I have engendered a sense of unimportance, thinking that I am tucked away in the corner, doing nothing, but somehow creation carries on just fine. Then this weekend I visitted a friend who was going through similar issues, and had decided that the moral constraints of following Jesus were not worth the trouble. There was a deep sorrow in her eyes, as though something big and serious was missing, but there was also a sense of emotional weightlessness. Nothing carried any importance. There was no burden of responsibilty or purpose to anything. It reminded my of my former Existential way of living. But tempered in the carelessness of living impulse by impulse was a small death that I had never known when I was living that way. Maybe it's because I had never known any better kind of life, and therefore didn't have that underlying self-awareness to turn my back on, as she was doing. It was the death of caring, the death of faith. Not faith in God, as a belief in the goodness of God was still present, but a death of faith in the whole arranging of life as they knew it. She knew that many of her preconceived notions about God, forgiveness, the Church, and living for Jesus were inaccurate, and rather than searching for the deeper truth behind it all, she has turned her back on anything that smacks of her old life. And to turn one's back on the way one has always lived is indeed a crushing thing. It causes immediate insecurities and anxieties that can only be seen as natural self-preservation instincts. These can cause such confusion about one's very identity, making one bring about a shocking change in personality that may be offensive to one's former friends and loved ones. I know, as I once did so myself. I went straight from being a drug addict to judging and alienating my friends for their habits with reckless abandon. I went from nascent profligacy to aggresive piety seemingly over night, and I made no apologies at the time. This friend of mine had been raised in church, and has now adopted a psuedo-christian world-view based on her own impulses, choosing to ignore any sense of greater purpose to any of this human incarnation. I travelled from having no understanding of meaning, and being a bit of a jerk, to discovering a new sense of meaning while exploding into a sense of self-righteousness that came with it. She has gone from being a kind, somewhat committed follower of Christ, to being a disenfranchised ghost in the society of people who are afraid of ghosts. I had once lived exactly as I now saw my friend living, perhaps without her sensation of alienation, sinse I had never belonged to anything to be alienated from. Now I have chosen to acknowledge and love my creator, and myself in the light of Jesus' love for me. And I do love my life. But for one day it seemed like maybe it would be easier, even better, if I had never learned of the greater life I am living now, that I might be happier if I chose to turn my back on the calling to a holy (which is to say 'set-apart for God' life that is constantly being offered to me. Perhaps it is simply because I was relaxing, having a few moments of rest from anything important or big, that I felt this way. For the first time in over a month I was really doing what God calls us to do every week, which is taking a day of rest. And the instant gratification of having no demands on my time was so glorious that I would have thrown out everything in my life that even seemed like a demand. Even as I was having these thoughts, God was about the process of wooing me all over again, causing the light to glean through the trees in just the right way to remind me that there is no greater beauty and joy than can be found in Him. The point of this blog is not to say that I have abandonned my christian faith for existential philosophy. Not even close. I guess the point is to say that I still, after seven years, and many trials, failures, and victories, have the capacity at any moment in time to doubt myself, and my decision to follow Christ. What surprised me about it is how much it shook me at the time. I guess I believed that my faith was above reproach, then found myself wondering if I really had what it took to live this life. Of course I don't but that's the miracle. I live it anyway. And what finally brought back the peace was advice from King David. He said in psalm 42 "Why are you so in despair, oh my soul? why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God for I will yet praise him for the help of my countenance. Therefore, while my enemies berail me, I will remember you from the land of the Jordan."
This verse tells us to remember God from better times. Is you soul disquieted? Take the time to remember a time when God was amazingly kind to you. That'll fix you right up, and bring hope back into whatever seems hopeless in your life. And furthermore, don't give up hope that you will once again praise God as you have done for the help that he gives.
I remembered God from the time he first revealed himself to me, and a thought came into my mind as I wrestled with my own existential angst. The thought was "where else am I going to go? Who else has the words of life?" And at that a peace came back to me. A smile spread across my face as I remembered that the God whom I had discovered years earlier was still the biggest and the best thing that had ever happened to me. I knew that in that very moment God had won me over again. He had wooed me with sunlight that had been ordained to shine there at that time thousands of years earlier, and through words written by King David about his own existential despair. In the end my existential crisis was just a blip on the map of my faith, but somehow I feel stronger for having gone through it, more hopeful that this whole incarnation thing is a good, it's a wonderful life. God Bless you friends.


At 7:02 p.m., Blogger mark said...


At 9:53 a.m., Blogger Michael said...

"Imagine having an employer who tells you that you are important to the company, but who fails to give you any guidelines to your role in the company, or how to do your job." - Ooo Ooo, that's my job!!! ;D
God love ya bouy!

At 10:07 p.m., Blogger Sgt Steve said...

Jake dude that was sweet reading!! I can totally understand what your saying, as in, I've been at a similar place, similar outcome. Very encouraging to hear the same results from a dear friend. Makes me think that I really am ok. haha, miss you dude.

At 5:20 p.m., Blogger Sgt Steve said...

i for got to mention, you win longest blog ever award. you beat bill fish by a few lines. good job.

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