Originally published in Journey of Peace in January 2012
This one addresses a conflict with self with some hints of a conflict with God. Perhaps in addressing the conflict, peace can be found.
My mother had this saying when I was growing up. She would say it when she undertook a remodeling project around the house. In the midst of a torn up kitchen, bathroom, living room floor or fallow garden plot, she would declare, “It’s gotta look worse before it looks better.”
Lately, I have the sinking suspicion that the words of my mother might also have something to do with the rest of life. Particularly when it comes to personal growth, people tend to look worse before they look better.
I wonder why this is. I wonder why, as I develop a more consistent prayer habit, I more frequently act like a jerk. I wonder why, as I cultivate a deeper awareness of God, I more often treat people badly. I wonder why other people endeavoring to change, to quit smoking, to quit porn, to eat better, or find a new direction in life have such a rough time of it. My friends and I, on our various journeys of change, are anxious, agitated, fighting back fears, susceptible to self-loathing, cynicism, hopelessness, and sometimes we’re just plain sad.
The conflict with self is that I believe I should be better by now. I believe I’m doing right things, healthy things, better things…and still have nothing to show for it. I’m still a mean, selfish, indulgent person. Why can’t I make myself change? Why can’t I make myself better?
The conflict with God is wondering…where the hell is He? With awe and reverence. And I remind myself that He is present and powerful and compassionate but also sovereign and holding the world together in the palm of His hand but sometimes when I feel stuck in my own s-…in my own issues, those thoughts aren’t very comforting. I want a burning bush now! I want a linen wrapped ex-corpse walking from a tomb! I want to be healed and healthy and a nice person who is always patient and kind to my wife! Is that so much to ask God? Just one little dose of sanctification, extra-strength?
I ask the question, “Are any of my efforts worth anything?” and hope that I’m not alone in this puzzlement. I ask myself, thinking back to what started my process of change, “Was it really real?” and hope I’m not the only one questioning my Higher Power. I ask myself, “What do I know this week that I did not know last week? How am I different?”
Best I can figure, I know now that I can’t quite make change happen all by myself. (@#$%, you mean I actually need that Divine Figure to whom I was just venting? Ay sheesh…) ….(Oh double @#$% you mean I need those other people who are just as messed up as I am? Oi…) Much as I want to be the ideal self-actualized, sanctified person…I am just not as put together as I thought I was.
I need people.
I need God!
Best I can figure, when I have achieved a success or a growth point, I don’t have any right to be cocky or arrogant.
I can’t criticize others for growing differently.
I can’t dole out cheap cliches as comfort measures or life solutions.
Moreover, best I can figure, change is a loooong process. I sorta knew this, but now I’m figuring it out again. Any real learning or growth or change that happens is systemic and holistic. It takes my body, mind, emotions, thoughts, and relationship. That takes time.
I must press on, even when I feel like scum.
I must think about things that are true, not simply feel fears that are false.
And again, depending on your theology…there is a God who has extended extravagant favor. If this is a belief you hold as true, then there is a type of lifestyle that must follow. God’s favor, once given, cannot be undone. Therefore, whatever you think of yourself, or whatever others think of you, there is no justification for quitting. Whatever growth journey or task you are undertaking, if you’re one of those that believes in God’s eternal favor, then you are bound to continue on the path you have chosen.
Meanwhile, support groups and friends with whom you can be completely open are great as well, but that will be the topic of another blog.
To all my fellow travelers…may the Peace of God enrich your lives