Friday, April 29, 2016

I am useless

I tend to accidentally stumble into nihilism when it comes to my thinking, and accidentally into utilitarianism when it comes to my choices. I'm constantly exhausted and depressed from doing so many things for what feels like no reason.

At the root of this issue is the fact that I see myself as useless, and therefore, worthless. I feel inadequate and my internalized response is to be excessively adequate. And then I feel it doesn't matter, it serves no real purpose, and it is all in vain.

Last night, I was at my friends' house holding their new baby girl. She's pretty cute, and holding her was my chosen method of therapy after the horrible day I had.

Watching her mommy hold her, though, became a sort-of therapy in itself. This child does nothing practical, personally, for her parents. She has taken much from them and has only been able to return it to them in the form of dirty diapers. Her favorite things to do are sleep, eat, and stare into space. And she does all these things fairly well. Apart from that, she contributes nothing materially valuable. She doesn't work, she doesn't provide, and she certainly doesn't clean up after herself.

But her parents do not see her this way. My friend, pictured, is clearly (sorry) exhausted. She's getting used to an irregular sleep cycle centered wholly on the needs of a days-old infant who is entirely dependent on her for food, which she needs every couple of hours, at least. Still, her joy hasn't faded. In fact, I would say, it has only increased, a hundred fold, with each day that has passed since the day she learned that her child existed.

And that, y'all, is this sweet baby's claim to fame. Joy. By her very existence, she gives meaning and purpose to the actions her parents take and creates a whole new and exciting dimension in their lives. She offers them no material benefit. She costs them money, time, and energy.

But she is so worthy, so precious to them, simply because she exists, that her parents are willing to give all this and more for no greater purpose than for her own sake. She exists, and this is reason enough to love her.

Her parents don't need her to do anything for them -- because by simply existing, she is already enough. More than enough. She exists, in these moments, as a perfect image of what it is to simply "be loved."

Her existence itself is meaningful -- speaking such long-forgotten truths as "love creates" and "love ignites" and "love begets love." We call babies "adorable," and by it we mean "cute." But the adoration in her mother's eyes, and her father's eyes, since they first saw her sweet little face and perfect poofy cheeks, is real. It is more than finding her cute; she inspires a deep awe in them, not for any marvelous capacity she may eventually possess, or because of any usefulness (or lack of) she poses, but simply because she is.

How much more, then, can a God who is totally self-sustaining and never tired love us whom he loved into existence? We are the physical embodiment of his love, made in his own precious image, receiving from him at all times a longing, loving gaze. He adores us, even while we offer nothing of any use to him. He is in awe of us, simply because we are.

I exist -- and that is enough to bring joy to my Father's heart. By the simple fact that I am, his world is somehow enriched, though he was lacking nothing before me and gains nothing for himself from me. I add nothing to his existence, but he would not think to call me worthless. For all he has given me, all I can return to him are my sins and my failures and sorrows. And his love and his gaze remain the same. God loves me for my own sake -- and nothing I can or can't do has ever been able to change that.

To put all that in very few words -- I am utterly useless to God, and his heart is filled with joy simply because he brought me into existence. He did not create me to be "useful." He thought of me and willed me into being, to be and to be loved.

This is more than enough for him. When will it be enough for me?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Peter's Faith -- Alternatively Titled: The Future Of That Freak With Pink Hair

I dread being asked what I'm studying in college, because I know that as soon as I say "theology," I'll be met with a curious and pitying glance, followed quickly by, "Oh. What do you plan to do with that?"

And the honest-to-God truth is: I don't know. I have no idea.

For three years, off and on, I prayed about what I should do with my life. And this program at this school kept coming back to me. In 2014, I finally committed to it, and got started. I've enjoyed most of my classes so far, and my experience with the staff has been nothing short of delightful. And still, I'm tired.

I never planned to go to college growing up. It simply wasn't something I ever saw myself doing -- I hated school, and once I was out of high school, I relished in the freedom of work, having my own money, and free evenings.

And now, there's homework. Endless homework. Due to financial aid requirements based on my circumstances, I can't take a "break" without losing my aid. I finish one semester, and pick the next one up as soon as the following month begins. I don't get summer breaks. I don't get Christmas breaks. I don't get spring break. I don't have the option. I'll be following this pattern for the next four and a half least.

So, when people ask, "Oh. What do you plan to do with that?" My response is dressed in a half-hearted smile, a shrug, and drenched in exhaustion: "Whatever God wants me to do, I guess."

It feels childish -- unbecoming of an adult, especially one so typically vested in planning and scheduling and organizing. It is unusual for me to hope, to dream, or to wonder (unless the wonder is the result of worry).

We hear sometimes that Peter's falling while attempting to walk on water to Jesus when He called was the direct result of his turning his gaze from the Christ and focusing instead on the waves. It seems like a clear-cut story: we look to Jesus, and we'll rise above; we look to the storm, and we'll sink.

But are those the only two possibilities? Faith and failure? Is it possible to look to Christ rather than focusing on the storm, and still feel the wind and the rain as they buffet against us, pressing us against our doubt and our clumsiness and the gravity which demands our submission?

Is it possible to keep your eyes on Christ and still feel so, so tired? Anxious? Drenched from the rain even if not swallowed up by the sea?

My answer is so typical of me: I don't know. Maybe I'm not supposed to know. Maybe it's not my job. Or maybe, Peter, being the coward he was that I so easily relate to, would not have even stepped out of the boat if he saw his denial of Christ, the responsibility he would have for the Church at its dawning, and his eventual execution under the sinister Emperor Nero.

Perhaps faith's only goal was not to keep Peter from looking around him; perhaps it was to keep him from looking too far ahead -- not only away from Christ, but beyond him, behind him. Even Christ, from a distance, appeared as a ghost, and the Apostles were afraid (Luke 24:37). Peter couldn't see into the distance -- not the distance of that stormy night, and not the distance of his life on earth.

What would Peter have said if asked what he planned to do when he made it to Jesus on the water? Maybe the same as me: "I don't know."

"What's out there?"
"I don't know."

"What's happening?"
"I don't know."

"What will you do if--"
"I don't know."

And yet, his Master beckoned. He calls to all of us the same. We don't always know what the future holds, or what we'll do if this, or if that. We can't always say what will happen if we step out and go to where Christ calls.

But, God-willing, we can echo Peter's sentiment toward his Master:

Where else would we go?