We recently taught our son to ride a bike. The first day was rough. He would weave this way and that, quickly taking a sharp turn into the sidewalk. Memories from my own first bike-rides came flooding back. I remember being as unbalanced as my son. My dad yelled the solution, “Stop looking at your feet! Look at where you want to go!” As soon as I, and my son, stopped looking down – fearing a fall, we balanced ourselves and magically began riding in a straight line.
Too often we walk our ‘path of life’ looking at our feet. This creates a chaotic and haphazard pattern – a path not constructed with forward-looking goals in mind or informed by logic, morality, or truth, but laid down in the same way my son’s was. These paths can be created by attempts to avoid imminent pain, or by following the winding of our own fleeting pleasure-seeking. This insightful poem represents this idea well.
By Sam Foss
One day through the primeval wood A calf walked home as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew, A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled, And I infer the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail, And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day, By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too, As good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day, o’er hill and glade. Through those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out, And dodged, and turned, and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath, Because ’twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed—do not laugh— The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked Because he wobbled when he walked.
This forest path became a lane, that bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road, Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun, And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet, The road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware, A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half, Trod in the footsteps of that calf.
Each day a hundred thousand rout Followed the zigzag calf about
And o’er his crooked journey went The traffic of a continent.
A Hundred thousand men were led, By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way, And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent, To well established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun, To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track, And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue, To keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred groove, Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood gods laugh, Who saw the first primeval calf.
Ah, many things this tale might teach— But I am not ordained to preach.
The calf will wander this way for shade, or that way to nibble on yummy grass, or may take a turn to avoid low-lying branches. The calf lays out a path without foresight or ultimate purpose. Generations after him many unquestionably follow his careless trail.
However, we must look towards our desired destination and turn away our attention from distracting temptations or obstacles. We, as parents, do not have to walk on careless tracks. We can lay down better ones.
When we become parents, we envision the relationship we want to have with our children – now and in years to come. We want mutual respect. We want to trust each other. We want to pass on our values and morality. We want our son or daughter to be capable of greatness, to be a positive influence on the world and their future family. So we intentionally walk a path toward this ideal, and encourage our children to join us. They may choose to wander from time to time, but a road laid in love can entice them back – especially after experiencing paths of chaos. If other parents abdicate their responsibility and leave their children to roam on trails laid by a degenerate culture or by ill-informed philosophy – that is their choice. Our choice is to intentionally raise our children, laying out a road with a destination fit for a King or Queen, not a cow.
“I do not think that the road to contentment lies in despising what we have not got. Let us acknowledge all good, all delight that the world holds, and be content without it.”
George MacDonald, Lilith
Often we are driven to envy or false disdain for that which we don’t, or cannot, have. “What a Dandy that man is, always fiddling with his hair!”, says the bald man. Beauty and achievement can be gloried in – even if we may not be the direct beneficiaries. The bald man can still admire a good head-of-hair. I can praise a well-decorated house, despite my own lack of style. One of the most difficult things to learn is how to be happy for someone when good things happen to them; to glory in another’s success. But first, we must recognize when we hold-back from celebrating with another’s good-fortune, or when we despise what we cannot have. In our honest introspection, we can begin to open the doorway to a more joyful interaction with others’ success.
If we can master this vicarious joy, we will always find a path to happiness- for beauty and good fortune abound. If we acknowledge all the delights of the world, one man’s gain can also be ours.
In the marvelous story, The Princess and Curdie*, by George MacDonald, we follow a lowly young miner, named Curdie. He comes to love and admire a wise and righteous old woman, a Princess – known as the “dear old Grandmother”. He promises to serve her, and she tells him that he must go and help the King. She does not say how he must help him, or where he must go, or what he must do – but she says he must go. And so, obedient servant that he is, he departs on his quest.
After many misadventures, he finds himself at the king’s doorway, on the run from the King’s own guard. He stops for a moment unsure if he should go in – as it would be impertinent of a lowly miner to enter the King’s chamber.
“He felt sure this must be the King’s Chamber, and it was here he was wanted. Or, if it was not the place he was bound for, something would beat him and turn him aside. For he had come to think that so long as a man wants to do right, he may go where he can. When he can go no farther, then it is not the way. Only…he must really want to do right, and not merely fancy he does. He must want it with his heart and will, and not with his rag of a tongue.”
So often we question our place; we doubt our path or we don’t understand how or why something will be accomplished. We also doubt our own motivations – “Am I truly trying to do good, or am I just seeking praise or acting out of self-righteousness?” Here Curdie is confident, however, because he really wants to do right – with his heart and his will. He isn’t seeking glory, or riches – he doesn’t care how many likes he gets on Instagram or if the other miners will be impressed by his courage. He just wants to do right. He wants to obey the truth he has found.
So he moves forward, into the unknown. As we all must. And when he hits a wall where he can go no further, he turns and finds another way. In the story, we see him reach many of these “dead ends”. Yet he does good on the path that leads there – so perhaps they aren’t so “dead” after all. Curdie, in one way, has found the answer to the complexity of life. Rather than needing to know the why, how, or where of life – he only knows that he “really wants to do right” and rely on the faith he has in his righteous Princess. He knows she is good, he knows she sent him on this quest and there is a plan and a purpose. With his heart set on doing right, his path is always the right one.
But how do we know our heart is right, and not just our “rag of a tongue”? I think in this story Curdie gives us a big clue – he is mocked and harassed by many along his path, yet he remains undaunted. He is thought to be a thief, a devil, a traitor, yet he is not seeking the good opinion of others – he seeks to do what is right. Oftentimes we question our course when we are mocked or judged by others – we start to look to others for affirmation of our “rightness”. We imagine that if we are not valued or praised we must be off-course. But the opinions of “men” are often muddied by envy, resentment, anger, or just ignorance. It is better to keep looking at our “Dear old Grandmother” and her good opinion – to keep attempting to align our steps with the will of God, or goodness, or conscience.
The scripture says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” So when we think we have made a mistake, or question which choice we should make – let’s first make sure our heart is where it should be, and then all else will unfold for good.
*I highly recommend the books The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel The Princess and Curdie. A truly magical and profoundly-deep set of books for adults and children.
But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.
G. K. Chesterton, one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century, said that MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin , which had been read to him in the nursery, was a book that “made a difference to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a certain way from the start.”
“How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure…. You would begin to be interested in them…. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, and in a street full of splendid strangers.” — G.K. Chesterton
As a mother we are given a gift – and one we may fail to appreciate and too often see as a curse – the gift of compulsory self-denial. Our baby must be fed. The diaper must be changed. The toddler has to be potty-trained. These duties are not easily neglected. And so we do it and in the doing, we forget ourselves. We focus entirely on our very own “splendid strangers.” We look on in awe and remembrance as the wonderous world is opened to our marvelous child.
Friends come and go, coworkers leave at 5pm, even the bond between spouses may sadly break, but we will always be our child’s mother. We will always have at least one relationship that has benefited, from the very first moments, from the shrinking of our Self, where we gazed on the other with pleasure and curiosity. We have the chance to start from scratch with our child – to act out our role with selflessness and intention. This is a grand opportunity. And because of this, we have a larger life – we have given much, so we receive much. We will know all the better how to live “under a freer sky in the streets of splendid strangers”, because we are mothers.
All we need is love. I honestly believe this – simple and hippy, as it may sound. But what is love? The word is thrown around a lot without a clear definition. This can lead to societal and personal problems. If we understand “love”, as it has been defined for centuries, we can be attuned to the many false claims about love, and see how a changing definition can confuse our good intentions.
Thomas Aquinas defined love as, “to will the good of the other”, or to make a way for goodness to happen to another. C.S. Lewis said, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”
So love, here defined, is more than just a feeling, but it requires some concern, or care, for the long-term welfare of the beloved.
But this is different from the love we hear shouted from the rooftops today “I love you; I just want you to be happy!” The declaration “I want you to be happy” requires no will – no action or investment. You get to be kind, but aren’t tied to any responsibility or consequences. These two “loves” – the willful love and affirmation love – are in great conflict with each other. One says – “I want you on a good path;” the other says, “Choose whatever path you want.” In the friction between these loves, we see the origin of many of our modern battles.
The war is subjectivism vs objectivism. Modern philosophy tends toward postmodern ideas such as, all truth is relative, virtue is socially-constructed, and logic and reason are suspect. Objective truth says that goodness, truth, and beauty are real and the pursuit of these may lead us down different paths, but they all ascend upwards to ultimate truth. Therefore modern philosophy would lead us towards approval of whatever choices we see – because “good choices” are an illusion and consequences random. Objective truth says that we should desire those we love to walk a path of virtue and towards good ends.
Often those that hold firm to objective truth are accused of being “unloving” – but is it loving to sway from truth?
So when we analyze statements about love, or our own “love” for others, let’s ask:
Is this “love” willful encouragement, or blanket affirmation? This introspection can lead us to the underlying philosophy informing the love.
There is certainly a place for happiness-wishing and affirmation. As well as for willful love. Which sentiment we should enact depends entirely on what we are affirming, and what role we play in the life of the beloved.
Willful Love and Affirmation
For example, I care about my daughter. I care about her health. I want to start her out with healthy eating habits, because these will help her down the road. I try and ensure she has nutritious food and understands proper portion size. I do this because I care about her future; I love her and I know the pitfalls of unhealthy eating.
On the other hand, if I use the affirming definition of love, “I want her to be happy” – then I would let her eat whatever she wants. She has made it perfectly clear that candy, not vegetables, makes her happy.
Now, most parents would say that, of course, the willful love is the love that drives their parenting. They want to ensure their children are on the road to a stable and fulfilling future. But it isn’t an easy love, as any mother attempting to get her toddler into a car seat knows – it requires discipline and action and is often in opposition to what the child wants. But they are our children, and it is our role to care for them and seek their long term good.
But there is also a place for saying ‘I want you to be happy”. For example, if I had my daughter’s friend over for dinner and she didn’t want to eat her vegetables but did want to eat her candy, I certainly wouldn’t force the issue. Her immediate happiness is more important to me than her long-term happiness and I don’t have to be around for the sugar-crash. I don’t want to “mother” her; it is not my job. I simply want to be kind, and for her to have a fun time. But I shouldn’t deceive myself into thinking that I am “loving” her by allowing her to eat candy.
Stay in our Lane: When Not to Will
Today our culture is free and loose with the “be happy” kind of love and not so much with the “will your good” kind. If we ever stop short of total acceptance of any behavior, no matter how self-defeating it may be in the long-term, then we are seen as lacking love and compassion.
“Societies are far gone in depravity when toleration is seen as a good in itself, without regard to the thing being tolerated.”
We see much concern for the group – less for the individual. The desire to see others live ‘the life they want’ is often made in broad terms -without much concern for the consequences which may descend upon the individual in said group. This apathy towards the one will lead to an unstable and disjointed society.
“The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular.”
While many shout the evils of intolerance, we see a heightened judgmentalness in daily interactions. We share our every action on Social Media, seeking approval or praise. Then when we see others acting “inappropriately” or “unwoke” – we quickly condemn them. I think a lot of this conflict could be alleviated by going back to the good old days of “minding our own business” – and unplugging from the twisted reality online.
It is none of my business if the guy in front of me at the gas station buys cigarettes, but I am not going to encourage my children to. Often it is best to keep our concern geared towards those we have willful love for. I have no right to judge the cigarette smoker ahead of me- I don’t know anything about him. Let’s live and let live. If we find ourselves overly bothered by strangers actions, we are likely ignoring our own. It’s tough enough acting virtuously ourselves; who has the energy to try and get random people to do it.
When dealing with people outside our “charge”, kindness should kick in, through polite thoughtfulness or withholding judgment.
Validating the Wrong: When Not to Affirm
If we do hold responsibility over a person, and we love them, we should not allow affirmation to block them on their path to joy. We should not support that which we feel is wrong or will lead to sorrow. Perhaps it is not our place to say anything – but let’s not lean into the default of “whatever makes you happy”. Kindness does not always equal validation.
“If I am forced into a position where I have to validate your identity… What if your identity is wrong? What if it’s pathological? What if it doesn’t serve you well?…and if I start validating you, do you think I am your friend? I am not your friend at all, I am a mirror for your narcissism.”
I remember in high school my friend “fell in love” with a guy a year older than her. She was obsessed with him. I hate to be blunt, but he was a loser. He did drugs; he was a jerk to her; he was heading down a dark road. Despite these well-known facts, some of my friends decided to just be happy for her. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to ruin my friendship because I could see she adored him but I knew she was being naive. I decided to subtly express my doubts about his character and hope that would be enough for her to start doubting him. After his true colors were shown, it was me she clung to, not her ‘supportive” friends’.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Romans 12:9
There may be times when we may need to let go of our will and lean into “live and let live”, even with members of our family, or close friends. We need to have the humility to realize we may not know the best way to show love, or what the proper path for another may be.
We should accept that people’s choices are their own and we cannot control someone into choosing virtue. Yet, when it becomes apparent that our striving is not helpful or desired, we need not retreat to affirmation of behavior we know to be unwise or unvirtuous. We can disagree with someone’s choices and still love them. We maintain our love and hand the situation over to God. He will never stop striving with His child.
The Love Dilemma
I am currently reading the Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis and he skillfully unravels this conflict between affirmation and willful love. He uses the analogy of the “progressive” Grandfather-God and a traditional Father-God. His statement is worth pondering:
“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. But by Love, most of us mean kindness (affirmation) – the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’.
“…Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards* who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. (Hebrews 12:8) It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.”
The Father-God does not shrug off wasted potential, for He sees all possibilities.
A society that has adopted a warped love will produce “bastard children*” (children we aren’t too concerned about “turning out”). This form of love is quite dangerous for it encourages behaviors, not based on their virtue or merit, but on the emotions they produce – happiness. But if we know one thing about ourselves, it is that we don’t have any idea what will really make us happy. We just go from pleasure to pleasure – seeking one that will stick.
“Remember our words, then, and whatever is your aim let virtue be the condition of the attainment of your aim, and know that without this all possessions and pursuits are dishonorable and evil.”
We Have No Clue About Happiness
In Leo Tolstoy’s tragic novel, Anna Karenina, Anna left her husband and went after passion – a passion which faded and left her in a state of misery and torment – ending in her suicide. Would Anna Karanina’s friends have been right had they affirmed her desire to “seek happiness” and leave her husband and follow her passion? No, she didn’t know the first thing about her own happiness. But she did know, down to her soul, the difference between deceit and honesty. She knew selfishness was evil and loyalty righteous – and these truths and consequences came back to haunt her long after her “happiness” faded.
“He soon felt that the fulfillment of his desires gave him only one grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. This fulfillment showed him the eternal error men make in imagining that their happiness depends on the realization of their desires.”
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina- speaking of Vronsky, Anna’s lover
The Danger of Loving Without Caring
When we throw around affirmation to any and all we meet, we may be doing a lot more damage than good. We suffer no consequences for such “loving” – but the “loved” one may be validated to continue down paths that lead to misery.
We may honestly desire to ease the burden of the drug-addicted young man, or the unfaithful woman. Yet too often, we go about it in the wrong way. Our modern solution is not changing behavior- but changing society’s perception of that behavior. Affirming their path. If we could only take the shame away from all actions, then all would be free to be happy. But Anna and her lover’s happiness faded when their passion did and society’s endorsement of adultery would not have prevented it. Emotions are fleeting; right and wrong endures. There are bad paths. There are also many good paths. Not everyone’s path must be the same, for we all have unique gifts and purposes. But stepping into unknown lives without understanding and attempting to make their paths easy, can lead to great suffering.
This piece focuses largely on love’s counterfeits, or what love is not. However, there is a whole world of love open to us, and it will change the world. God wants us to love our neighbor, and the methods we may utilize are varied, and often unexpected. I hope to do another piece soon on what great thinkers have said about accessing Agape, or unconquerable benevolence. This love has no limits – it is for the man in front of us in line, our friend, and our enemy.
*I mean no offense by this term – I use it as it was meant in the scriptures where the connotation was different that it is today. In this situation it means: children whose future we don’t fret about.
“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word “love”, and look on things as if man were the centre of them.”
“Perhaps the highest moral height which a man can reach, and at the same time the most difficult of attainment, is the willingness to be nothing relatively. It is nothing to a man to be greater or less than another- to be esteemed or otherwise by the public or private world in which he moves. The truth satisfies him. He lives in absoluteness. God makes the glow-worm as well as the star; the light in both is divine. If mine be an earth-star to gladden the wayside, I must cultivate humbly and rejoicingly its green earth-glow, and not seek to blanch it to the whiteness of the stars and lie in the fields of blue. For to deny God in my own being is to cease to behold Him in any. God and man can meet only by the man’s becoming that which God meant him to be. Then he enters into the house of life, which is greater than the house of fame.”
George MacDonald, Adela Cathcart
Many thinkers, including Dr. Jordan Peterson, speak of the inevitability, and function, of social hierarchies. They point to the benefits of seeking to strive upwards in a hierarchy of competence, so we feel valuable and have purpose. One may strive accomplishment in artistic endeavors, another in plumbing. This progress brings meaning into our lives. In seeking our hierarchies-of-purpose, we should be aware of our strengths and interests, and seek to discover God’s will for our lives.
It is important to contemplate why we seek progression, and from Whom we seek approvable. The relative prestige of the heirarchy should not matter to us: glow-worm or a star. We should not look to the side to see where others are on their hierarchal-ladder, we should look upward for guidance.
In our desire to progress, we should not be overly concerned with the opinion of others. Christianity calls us to a higher sphere for recognition. A Higher Name than Society to measure our value. Rather than depending on the respect and admiration of others, we seek God’s approval. This enables us to be content with, and even see the advantages of, a life of little public influence.
When a society loses its collective belief in a Transcendent Being – that is pleased with our humble efforts – is it any wonder that motherhood and fatherhood are viewed as thankless, and often cast aside?
But we care not. Because we, as mothers and fathers, know that we are fulfilling a great work. We know that even the relative nothingness of parenthood in this world, is of the greatest worth to God.
Please forgive me for dipping into fear again, butlast week’s fear-quoteshave been swirling in my head all week, so perhaps it warrants another post.
At times it feels our entire world is holding its collective breath, bracing for the next disaster, awaiting inevitable misery and unhappiness. We assume the worst intention behind every action and self-interest behind every decision. We feel justified because so often the cynical view is confirmed. But what other view is there?
The Hopeful View
“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst of all are our own fears.”
Fear is a self-fulling prophecy; it is a disease. Once we start seeing the world as a scary and uncertain place – it is difficult to dislodge that belief. The world, and its inhabitants, become hostile and unfamiliar. Fear lies – it only tells us a sliver of what might be, and leaves out all else that could be.
A fearful outlook of the world can be passed down through the generations. Perhaps our own mother saw the world as a dark place – and her mother, and her mother’s mother. Fearful mothers produce fearful children. In order to stop the chain, we need to get a handle on our fear.*
“Through every generation of the human race there has been a constant war, a war with fear. Those who have the courage to conquer it are made free and those who are conquered by it are made to suffer until they have the courage to defeat it, or death takes them.”
Alexander the Great
We would be naïve if we did not see the reality of pain and imperfection – but hope is not naïve, it is courageous. Mothers know well that our love and self-sacrifice are real, so life is more than vying for power or self-interest. We also know that many of our past worries never materialized, so fear and suspicion are often wrong. Considering the truth “We reap what we sow,” surely it is better to face life with hope and love rather than fear and distrust.*
Water and Hope
We were one of the millions of families impacted by the recent severe winter storm in Texas. We recently moved onto some land and into an older home. I confess that I worried our old pipes would freeze and our well pump would go out. Then my mind settled on the “facts” that all the plumbing supplies would surely be bought up…all the plumbers would be booked out for weeks… they might not find all the cracks… Every woman knows the never-ending pit of worry. I was letting these fears take up long-term residence in my head. I was losing sight of all else.
However, the words of G.K. Chesterton kept coming to mind, “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.” (See why I love quotes? Others’ wisdom saves me from my own weakness). So I changed course and I took to calling it an “adventure” instead of a hardship. And so it became one. When the power went out, we read “The Lord of the Rings” in front of the fire. The boys chipped away at our pool to get water for flushing toilets; the little girls searched out the best make-shift sleds; and my oldest daughter helped organize emergency supplies. My son’s birthday came and went without electricity or water. He didn’t mind. He said, “This is a birthday I will never forget.” Worries did pop up now and then, but, I diverted my energy to preventing further hardships and appreciating the advantages of our situation. I didn’t miss the joy of adventure in expectation of the difficulty. Pipes can be repaired, unrealized-joy found in moments will pass and be lost forever.
Hope When Fear Speaks Truth
But my fear was justified, at least in part, because the pipes did burst. To be honest, I had actually underestimated the damage and financial hardship the storm would cause. We still don’t have heat. Our AC system was damaged beyond repair due to the frequent power outages. Our barn flooded, my husband sliced his hand open trying to fix pipes, and our pool now has a serious leak. So perhaps our fears aren’t liars. Perhaps my other fears will come to pass? The country will split apart. The political and economic situation are just going to keep getting worse. So is hope futile after all? Yes. If we place our hope in the wrong things.
Think of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings- when he sets off to destroy the ring, he has no clue how scared he should be. He can’t imagine just how bad things will get. If he did know, he would likely stay in his cozy hobbit hole. As he experiences the pain and suffering which accompanies any great quest, he fears what other evils may lie before him – but in stillness there is also something else that propels him forward. Love – for his homeland, for Samwise, for goodness. Faith that there is a plan. And Hope. So he pushes on in hope. Not hope that the Orcs will see the error of their ways, or that some treaty between Mordor and Gondor can be struck. He hopes that good will triumph, and that he can be used toward that end.
In the Bible we hear a description of the “last days” and the fear that enters men’s hearts when they place hope on the things of the world.
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity...Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken….And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. Luke 21
Hope should not be placed in pipes, not in government, not in an easy life. Hope will triumph if we place it in that which doesn’t fail. Hope in truth, hope in life, and the life to come. Hope that goodness comes to the good, if not now – then eventually – that as Cicero said, virtue is its own reward. Hope cannot be that things will turn out well, but that we can turn out well. Ultimately, our hope is in God.
“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Over 2000 years ago there was a woman, like me, who thought of water. She walked to a well to gather her water, like millions of women around the world still must do. She was confident in her well for it had been a reliable source of water since the time of Jacob. But she met a man there who didn’t strengthen her confidence in the water she drew, in fact he made her doubt it.
John 4: Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Physical needs and distresses are real, like thirst, and often we do not have the power to satisfy them. While these needs are important, there is a thirst that transcends physical thirst. A thirst, which if satisfied, can aid us in putting all other thirsts in proper perspective.
I always want to write for a general audience, atheist and theist alike. However, I find (I believe Plato had this same problem) often when I try to “wrap-up” my arguments, they don’t really make sense if you don’t believe in immortality. In Plato’s Phaedo and Apology, the only good reason Socrates could give for feeling hopeful when facing certain death was his belief in immortality. The only way we can face irreconcilable evil, or the unfairness of life, or the fact that much worse than broken pipes is sure to come – is to have faith that we have a soul and that our soul will continue to a place where wrongs will be made right and our goodness will be rewarded with goodness.
“Those who practice philosophy in the right way are in training for dying, and they fear death least of all men.”
Socrates (Plato’s Phaedo)
The world is a dark and ugly place without this belief. I believe we have been given ample evidence of God, of immorality, of beauty, of goodness – but we will always need faith and hope to fill in the gaps. The only hope outside of Hope in God is Hope in The World – and hope in the world will only lead to disappointment.**
“If you were to destroy the belief in immortality in mankind, not only love but every living force on which the continuation of all life in the world depended, would dry up at once.”
A woman who is seeking living water is not easily confounded by a dry well, or a broken pipe. I am grateful for those little drops of living water that sustained me through our adventure: the memory of a phrase by Chesterton, my daughter discovering the perfect sled in our large metal bowl, the screams of happiness every time the lights suddenly turned on, the love of my family and my God. So yes, a lot of things haven’t gone “well” for me the last few weeks, since the cold descended on Southern Texas. Inconveniences, financial stresses, discomfort, and even stitches – but I retain a greater hope, because my hope was rewarded.
**Let me be clear, I absolutely believe that Atheists can be, and many are, good and moral – and may be more so than some theists. However, the philosophy, or non-philosophy, of Atheism gives us little reason for a hope such as the one Christ describes- a Living hope – one that transcends the disappointments of our immediate physical surroundings.
Note from Author
I am going to step back from sharing my work on various social media groups/sites and focus on study, research, and writing. I am finding it increasingly difficult to focus on producing worthy content and taking the time to market/gain more readers. I feel fortunate that the website has grown in readership and enthusiastic followers. I hope I can depend on those readers to help share with Facebook groups, friends, Twitter, or any other avenues that you feel would benefit. I will continue to post on this website so please subscribe if you have not (lower right corner), and also on the Philosophy of Motherhood Facebook site, as well as our Instagram account. Thanks for your support.
I found these two videos insightful – their contrast of the limitations of the Adversary with the Abundance of God.
Great song, Fear is A Liar by Zach Williams.
Jordan Peterson on Trust and walking forward in courage
As mothers, arriving with our first child, come new and troubling fears. With great love comes great fear. Fear that what we have been given, we may lose. Fear that who we love, may suffer. Fear that we are not worthy of this freely-given love. Yet, we must be aware of these new fears, and the dark roads they may take us – and the worthy roads they may keep us from traveling.
We need not be ashamed of our fear, much of it is beyond our control – but also not allow it to rule our better nature. We must recognize it for what it is, when it inevitably descends on us. Our natural maternal instincts drives us to protect and encourage our precious children. We should. Our feminine spiritual nature desires unity and comfort, building a home of love and sacrifice. A most worthy endeavor. Fear can keep us from reaching these feminine potentials. Rather than encouraging our children to face an often disappointing world, we may let our fear of suffering stifle us – making our children “safe” rather than capable. Fear can twist our desire for comfort into a controlling quest for perfection. Fear, unchecked, infects our beautiful nature and distorts it. The quotes below can help us look at our fear and help us refuse Fear as our Master.
“There is no harm in being afraid. The only harm is in doing what Fear tells you. Fear is not your master! Laugh in his face and he will run away.”
George MacDonald, Lilith
“Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
“Don’t be overwise; fling yourself straight into life, without deliberation; don’t be afraid – the flood will bear you to the bank and set you safe on your feet again.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.”
“To fear death is nothing other than to think oneself wise when one is not; for it is to think one knows what one does not know. No man knows whether death may not even turn out to be the greatest blessing for a human being; and yet people fear it as if they knew for certain that is is the greatest of evil.”
Socrates, Plato’s The Apology
“Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil.”
“Let fear once get possession of the soul, and it does not readily yield its place to another sentiment.”
Leo Tolstoy, Sebastopol Sketches
“Fear is Faithlessness.”
“The unhappy person is never present to themselves because they always live in the past or the future.”
Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
“I fear you will never arrive at an understanding of God so long as you cannot bring yourself to see the good that often comes as a result of pain.”
“Don’t be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin!”
Henry David Thoreau
“Face the demands of life voluntarily. Respond to a challenge, instead of bracing for catastrophe.”
“I do so dearly believe that no half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn us aside from following the light unflinchingly.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Edith
“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”
Losing the world’s illusion of self-worth and security caused me to uncover the eternal fountains contained within. I remember sitting in shock asking myself “how is it that I can look my worst yet feel this beautiful?” I knew this would perplex me for quite some time.
I was heavily into strengthening my muscles. I had been teaching fitness boot camps for five years. I could do 12 pull ups, heavy tire pulls and much more. Looking back, they were forms of self torture. In the moment, they were my sense of self worth and identity. I could perform feats that turned heads and proved to me, in a twisted way, that I was valuable. You can only live carrying beliefs like this for so long before something breaks.
In my case, it was an explosion. My body gave up. I developed the most severe case of guttate psoriasis (an autoimmune disease) my doctors had ever seen. I thought I had leprosy for a time; it took a month before I was diagnosed with anything. Every morning I hoped for a sign of healing but I’d wake up to find it worse. The itching mixed with burning felt like I was on fire. I couldn’t be touched. The medicines given to me only angered my skin and made the burning more severe. The spots turned redder and seemed angry at me as I applied the steroid creams that were supposed to calm it. It was an indescribable experience where my body seemed to be screaming out at me to stop hating it. It wasn’t until I gave up all my expectations and genuinely apologized to it that I was able to turn a corner. That took place two months in. And yes, I literally apologized to my body and wept for it. My body and I were in an abusive relationship and now it was healing.
You see, I thought of my body as a frustrating thing to deal with; something to be tamed into submission. I was always attempting to discipline it and make it perform almost like a circus animal. Never did I see it as something to be loved, like a plant or a puppy. I finally saw it as a living organism intertwined with my soul. It reminds me of how we can wrongly see our children as a reflection of ourselves and wrongfully force our ideas onto them so they’ll portray us how we need the world to interpret us. We can sometimes put this same pressure on our bodies when we need them to look and perform a certain way so others will think certain things about us. Our bodies need to be respected, listened to, considered and loved just like our individual children do. I learned it in such a hard way. But I wouldn’t change anything about it because the lesson reached such a deep level of my being. The hardest part of writing about this is keeping it short and straightforward when in my mind, volumes could be written on what I learned from this. It was such a life-altering experience.
What shifted everything for me was when my husband said a heartfelt prayer for me and my situation. He prayed that I would have Jesus Christ walk beside me through this trial. I didn’t know such a thing was possible. I can attest that something as abstract as this sounds, is a literal possibility in this world. There were a few times where I could not bear another second of the burning. I averaged an hour of broken up sleep a night because it hurt so bad to lay on the sores. It was during those sleepless nights that I called out to God in agony for relief. I experienced the indescribable presence of Christ and His healing power in those moments.
Whether it was the feeling of numbness coming over me so I could doze off or an extreme presence of pure love turned tangible to all five of my senses, He showed up when I could not take another minute of suffering. I remember thinking “Christ is pure, tangible, healing love.” I came to know Him in such a deep, indescribable way that forever changed how I see Him and myself. I felt His love strongest when I felt that I deserved it the least. When my faith in Him was the weakest, His presence became stronger to where I couldn’t deny it. I remember telling God that if this is what it took for me to be this close to Christ, I wanted this ailment to stay. The following scripture became very real to me through my circumstances:
Romans 8 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Lord was proving The Father’s unwavering love for me. It was so loud and all encompassing, I could not misinterpret it. I felt better than I ever had in my whole life, yet I looked like death was about to overcome me. The power of God’s love is unyielding, even stubborn. I tested it in childish ways where I’d do something or think something selfish and I would feel His love ever stronger. He won me over. I wanted to be good because I knew He would love me even if I was bad. This made me like Him. Because God, my sweet Father, proved His stubborn love for me, I gave up earning my worth through the world’s eyes. I already had this worth inside me that wasn’t going anywhere. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t change. This brought extreme peace and rest to my soul. I could finally relax for the first time in my life. All the while I had a friend who lived down the street who checked in with me daily and helped me process all this as it happened. She was truly sent by our Father to physically walk me through this transformational healing. It was too much for my mind to comprehend. She could put the pieces together with me that I couldn’t on my own. While my body looked awful, my soul was healing at a rapid pace.
Here are the messages I have for others learned through my discovery of self worth:
1. Your worth is inherent. You’re born with it. Nothing you do or don’t do can touch it. So relax and be at peace. It’s untouchable by you and by anything or anyone in this world.
2. God’s love for you is real and stubborn. Real stubborn. Nothing you can do will alter it so you might as well learn to like Him and accept that He will always be there for you, especially when you deserve it the least.
3. We can’t feel secure within ourselves alone. We feel secure to the degree that we trust He whose hands we’re in. Develop trust in God and security will come as a byproduct.
4. Be nice to your body. A plant doesn’t grow well if we ignore it, yell at it or only feed it Diet Coke. This is obvious. Yet often we treat plants better than the living organism that is our body. See it with loving eyes and watch how it responds.
5. Ask God, your loving Father, to show you that He loves you in ways you can grasp. Ask to be able to feel it deeper than ever before. Watch and see how experiencing His love heals you in ways you never thought possible.
Immediately after healing from the disease, I felt like I had a second chance at life. A quote by Bernard Malamud from the movie The Natural reminds me of what I experienced coming out of this experience: “We have two lives… the life we learn with and the life we live after that. Suffering is what brings us towards happiness.” My suffering did just that. I relearned how to exercise my body in love rather than fear. I dropped the exercise boot camps and began learning how to do aerial silk. It was a beautiful thing to do with my body. I remembered how much I loved riding dirt bikes growing up. I got my motorcycle license and returned to that love again. My husband and I wanted to find a slower pace of life. We moved out to the country with our three children and then added two more. Pregnancy was a whole different experience when I loved my body through it. Mothering has become much more of a joy to me. There’s less pressure and more peace. I’ve also become open to deeper friendships. I’m not as afraid to be seen or rejected because I know God will love me through any relational pain I might experience.
So many things have changed and continue to change as these truths reach deeper and deeper levels in me. I know from experience that as we set ourselves on the path to real self worth, profound inner peace evades our being. We shed layer after layer of needing to please outward sources and let go of our futile attempts at earning self worth and earning our right to be here. The struggle disappears in ways we never thought possible simply because we realize we already have what we were aiming to attain. The endless struggle was endless because we were striving for the wrong thing. Our aim was completely off. Inner peace is what the soul longs for and can be had any moment of any day when we allow the truth to set in. We are already fully loved and fully accepted by the eternal being that created us. No mortal being can take that away, not even ourselves. So be at peace and know, you already have the worth you seek.