Category Archives: Thoughts

Fatigue: Welcomed or Warred Against

I’ve been thinking about fatigue*. Depending upon the situation fatigue may be a good or bad thing. I thoroughly enjoy the feeling of being tired at the end of the day. It’s the type of feeling that lets me know I worked or played hard enough to wear myself out. In this sense the fatigue is almost comforting.

When fatigue overstays its welcome and shows up with my alarm, then I am not so comforted. Then I despise fatigue and seek to destroy it. The same goes for afternoons in the office, when the computer screen sings its textual lullaby and I desperately want to put my head on my desk. In the morning I fight back with tea (usually black, but sometimes green). In the afternoon I resort to chocolate. All in the name of feeling alert.

So I guess I should be happy about fatigue. Sometimes I get to embrace it and rest, which is good. And other times I fight it, and the fight leads to glorious things like Earl Grey and chocolate.

Yes, simple physical weariness is not so bad. The fatigue that is based on weariness of the soul or spirit–that is not so easily vanquished. The mental tea and truffles are conversations, books, and prayer. Somehow I find it easier to eat chocolate when I’m tired than pray–that’s something I should work on.

* The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fatigue as: “the state of being very tired : extreme weariness.”

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A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis)

Several years ago I picked up an old copy of A Grief Observed at a book sale. C.S. Lewis wrote the book as a journal following the death of Joy Davidman, his wife [1]. It is interesting to read words that are not written from comfort, amusement, or ease. Lewis writes raw reflections. The pain he is facing is very evident. He acknowledges truth, yet claims to feel broken.

Early in the book Lewis writes of this brokenness. In the midst of loss he talks of losing motivation, and then, the loneliness:

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be–or so it feels–welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

Lewis does not conclude that God does not exist, instead he concludes that he (Lewis) hurts and is grappling with things that he is trying to understand. That vein continues:

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?

One of the things I admire about Lewis is his refusal to believe things solely for comfort. He rejects the notion that he will experience a reunion with Joy ‘on the further shore’ and regain the happiness and fulfillment he had for a time on earth. He insists that the future is more than a repeat of a happy past–there must be more.

Some of the strongest words are found in Lewis responding to people telling him Joy was “in God’s hands.” The rawness of his responses are felt. He points out that she was in his hands before she died and terrible things happened to her–why should God be any gentler after she departed this world? He also mentions that this same God sentenced his only Son to death. In another part of the book he questions people who do not fear God because He is good. Lewis asks: “Have they never even been to a dentist?” His point is that terrible pain may be inflicted to bring about good.

Lewis talks about his faith as a house of cards. He speaks of his intellectual knowledge of pain, suffering, and the temporal nature of earthly happiness. As he compares what he knows and what he feels Lewis acknowledges a disconnect. He should not feel so shattered. Is knowing of the suffering of others and living out suffering different? He states:

 Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this? No. And it wouldn’t for a man whose faith had been real faith and whose concern for other people’s sorrows had been real concern. The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which ‘took these things into account’ was not faith but imagination. The taking them into account was not real sympathy. If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came. It has been an imaginary faith playing with innocuous counters labelled ‘Illness’, ‘Pain’, ‘Death’ and ‘Loneliness’. I thought I trusted the rope until it mattered to me whether it would bear me. Now it matters, and I find I didn’t.

And a very challenging point follows shortly after:

Indeed it’s likely enough that what I shall call, if it happens, a ‘restoration of faith’ will turn out to be only one more house of cards. And I shan’t know whether it is or not until the next blow comes . . .

One of the things that seems to be haunting Lewis is his future interaction with Joy. He seems to intellectually know he will never get the past back again, yet struggle with being at peace with the issue. His conclusion is that he does not understand. He points out that humans are good at asking questions God finds unanswerable. Things like” “How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round?” So with unanswered question plaguing him, Lewis concludes:

  And now that I think of it, there’s no practical problem before me at all. I know the two great commandments, and I’d better get on with them.

I’d like to have a beer with C.S. Lewis and talk about life.

[1] The story of Lewis and Davidman intrigued me. Based upon the book I thought they must have had a long marriage and full life together. When I investigated I was surprised to find out they met late in life and were only married four years (from the time Lewis was 56-60). Davidman was diagnosed with cancer before their wedding.

 

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Reading Hardy and Responding

One of my favorite phrases is “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.” It appears in Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Because I use this line, and the shortened “Far from the madding crowd,” I have been asked many times if I have read Thomas Hardy’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd. Eventually I began to wonder about Hardy’s book: if a book uses one of my favorite phrases as its title isn’t it probable that I will like the book? And so I read it.

The following comments may contain plot spoilers about the book–so fair warning–though most of my remarks are not about the book.

It fascinates me that I chose to read Far from the Madding Crowd right now. It fits very well with my life experience in 2012. In fact, I have never identified more closely with characters in a book than I did with some of Hardy’s creations. At times the dialogue mirrored actual conversations I had so well that it caused me to remark out loud as I read it. It produced a mixed reaction. At times I would laugh at the similarities–at times I would feel sick. Regardless of the feeling, it left me thinking about some things that have been weighing on my mind.

We would like to believe that our love will not be called to die.

Killing love intentionally is a terrible thing. It hurts. Thankfully the need to kill love intentionally is not a common occurrence [1]. In stories the triumph of love is the expected outcome. We celebrate when love wins. Love is not meant to die, yet in life it often does. It is usually a slow death, brought about by neglect or distraction. A cold wind chills the heart. Eyes once fixed begin to roam. It is a form of entropy. Without input of effort, without input of energy, love will die. These instances are tragic. In these situations there are often distraction and oblivion as love dies. The real pain arrives later in realization. Sometimes, however, love must face a more intentional and necessary demise. One day the conclusion is reached: if you love her, let her go. In these cases the final act of love is to let go.

Letting go is the hardest thing [2]. It doesn’t feel heroic or good. It just hurts.

Free will means love might be called to die.

When love is sentenced to die I wish that the right thing to do was to hold on like Westley in The Princess Bride. He responds with “As you wish” when he is rejected. Years later when Buttercup is in trouble he rescues her because he never gave up on her. What a great story. Yet in life a decision must be respected. Devotion against someone’s wishes looks more like stalking than noble pursuit.

Life and love do not have maps.

In Far from the Madding Crowd love is called to die in three conspicuous cases. The responses of the characters to this verdict varies. None of the three exhibit behavior that I would endorse. Boldwood goes mad and kills someone. Troy lies and deceives. Oak lets go but follows [3]. What strikes me about these responses is that they are so diverse. The author infers that real love looks different than a mere passion. It is convenient that only one character exhibits real love. I think the book would have benefited from another noble foil. In life and love you will find millions of stories with different outcomes. Sometimes the same tactic results in disparate outcomes.

Miscellaneous Notes

I enjoyed Hardy’s writing very much. His comments about perception were interesting. I enjoyed the way he explained the cause or motivation for failures and problems. The characters in Far from the Madding Crowd are believable–they have a combination of good and bad, with the complexity and messiness encountered in real life. I wonder if the fact that Hardy was in a good relationship and about to be married factored into the tone and outcome of his book?

Disclaimers: I believe there is a major difference between love that exists between people in a marriage covenant and love that is between people outside of that covenant. My comments are not intended to apply to those who are married. While I have spent a lot of time thinking about these things, this post was written as a free flowing monologue and contains thoughts still under development. Life is serious, but I don’t take myself too seriously.

[1] I am speaking only of a noble love here. I think we must kill loves that are not noble on a regular basis.
[2] Based upon my experience this year I can say that it is far more difficult than writing a dissertation.
[3] I have a hard time believing that Oak could keep himself so carefully in check all those years and that Bathsheba would be okay with him in the picture when he initially shows up.

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Holiness, Happiness, and Honesty

A.W. Tozer wrote a book  titled Of God and Men that was published in 1960. It is a series of short essays arranged as chapters. One of the essays is titled “Holiness before Happiness.” Tozer has some interesting things to say  (you can see a PDF of the chapter here). The main points of his argument are that humans wrongly see happiness as a right, Believers often place more value on happiness than holiness, and “God is more concerned with the state of people’s hearts than with the state of their feelings.”

I’ve been thinking about this.

I agree with Tozer, but I have questions about how I should act accordingly. My questions center around the role of happiness and sadness in the life of the Believer and how they should be portrayed. This leads to questions of honesty.

In the interest of moving from a theoretical discussion to an actual situation I will use myself as an example. As the first half of 2012 draws to a close, I realize I have never had a year in which my beliefs and feelings were more disparate. I am very aware of the embarrassment of riches in my life. I have been so blessed. And yet a sadness has permeated me. I would state it like this: “It is well with my soul, but my heart hurts like hell.”

I don’t write this to elicit pity; I’m more interested in analyzing the situation. How valuable it is to be honest about sadness?

Someone I respect and admire recently mentioned he was sad. I was shocked at how much this affected me. I’m not happy he is sad, but I find encouragement that my experience is not unique. His moment of candor was refreshing. Many times in life we preserve the public illusion that all is well. We put on a plastic smile. We are above struggling. We do this out of fear of vulnerability and in the name of social grace.

And this is what I find myself wondering about.

We live in a fallen world. Pain and sadness are inevitable. How should a Believer respond?

I have many more questions and comments, but I’ll reserve those for conversations.

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Thinking About Accomplishment

In a moment of accomplishment a wide variety of responses are possible. I’ve been thinking about this recently. I picture a person climbing a mountain. After a long, strenuous ordeal that person stands at the summit. In that moment what is the first response? A feeling of power or a feeling of weakness? It would be possible to dwell on the strength it took to arrive at the peak. Thoughts like I’m unstoppable! or I conquered this mountain! might come to mind. But it might be very different. It might be something like This mountain makes me feel small or Look at all those higher peaks! or I’m lucky to be alive! or How am I going to get down?

Or maybe self is forgotten. Look at that view!

After the initial thrill of achievement, accomplishing goals also throws a spotlight on other aspects of life. Some of these things may have been forgotten or ignored during the climb or the pursuit of the goal. Suddenly the question of whether the goal was worthy of all that attention must be answered.

That’s where I find myself right now. I do not regret my decision to pursue a graduate education in plant science, but I have been thinking about the things that really matter to me. A wise person once told me: “Ben, someday you’ll experience happiness that causes sadness.” At the time I did not know what he meant. I know now.

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