Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eternity On My Mind

Hey guys! I know it's been forever, but if you read the last post, you probably have an idea why. Things are actually settling down right now. I like to call this "the calm before the storm." The penultimate round of tests and papers are done with, and now all that's left are finals. They're still a few weeks off, though, so people are doing their best to enjoy the Thanksgiving holidays before crunch time hits like whoa.

In spiritual matters, though, I got to thinking today (dangerous, I know). I do not keep eternity in mind enough. When I sin, I sin knowingly. Wouldn't I be more cautious about sin (and sinful situations) if Heaven (or Hell) was on my mind more?

If I really believed that I was preparing myself for God's holy Kingdom, then wouldn't situations in which I was likely to sin be something that I tried to avoid desperately? And yet, that often isn't the case. I run towards stumbling blocks more than away from or around them, and this goes for several situations: from TV shows and websites that don't help in the lust department, to arguments and interactions that don't help in the anger department. If I really had Heaven in mind, and was preparing myself for it, wouldn't these things be easier to turn away from?

And on the other side of things. Even though I believe by grace I am saved through the blood of Christ, my sins are still abominable to Him. They are the very things that would justly damn me were it not for His grace. Knowing this, then, why is it so hard to not do them? I feel I'm doing my best to try, but often it looks like my victories are insignificant next to my stumbles, and it's quite discouraging.

If eternity were on my mind more, I am sure things would be different. But how do I get to that point? I pray about it, but what does it really take to change one's mindset to something that is focused on the "now" to something focused on "the eternal now"? Thoughts?


otrolado said...

I take issue with the whole "storing up treasures in heaven" thing which I know is a bit heterodox, but what can I say?

To quote Karen Armstrong: "I think the old scenarios of heaven and hell can be unreligious. People can perform their good deeds in the spirit of putting their installments in their retirement annuities. And there's nothing religious about that. Religion is supposed to be about the loss of the ego, not about its eternal survival."

I think you should make choices based on their inherent morality, virtue, etc. You must live with the choices you make in the here and now. They may be important in the future as well, depending on your eschatological beliefs, but I think the point is moot. This may sound short-sided or flippant to many Christians, but it's just my take on things.

I find focusing on "eternity" a bit daunting. It's hard enough striving to live fully and obtain holiness (loaded word I know) on a day to day basis instead of wondering what infinite repercussions your actions will have.

Maybe I missed your point or maybe I didn't. However, I hope this comment is worth something regardless. Ciao.

Jay said...

I do think you missed my point. Obviously, I'm not trying to "earn" my way into Heaven by doing good or not doing evil. That's done by grace alone. So I'm not worrying about eternal repercussions.

Heaven, for me, is morality, virtue, etc. in physical form (just as Christ was those things in human form). It's an issue of preparing oneself, I suppose -- making oneself mindful of one's destiny while they're still here.

If you know you're heading to your grandmother's house for a holiday dinner, you're not going to go play in the mud beforehand. It's not that she won't take you in if you're muddy. It's showing her (and yourself), that you had her and her house in mind.

otrolado said...

Hmmm. Nice metaphor.

I had an inkling I had missed your point. Haha.

I suppose all I can say is stop playing in the mud :)

Dan in Michigan said...

I agree with Jay. Thinking about eternity is keeping in mind that we weren't made for this world, but made for the next. We don't really fit here--we're strangers in a strange world, as we're told in Scripture. Lewis called this the Shadowlands, much as Paul talked about us seeing life as in a mirror, dimly. What's important is what's on the other side, and most of us have forgotten who we are, and it is in eternity that we will finally know, unequivocally, who we truly are. We should strive to live as if we're already there.

Thinking about eternity is not about seeking rewards and the like, it's seeking after truth, and who we truly are: sons and daughters of God, made in His image. Just contemplating the truth of who we are will impact the choices we make on this earth.

The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis talks about keeping our lives in the perspective of eternity, and for me, this passage sums up the way I desire to view the world:

"The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal...Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat--the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden."

naturgesetz said...

The thing is, you don't stop playing in the mud unless you have something else to do.

There is certainly an element of self-discipline about it. But I think the self-discipline involves removing the occasion.

For example, I can cheerfully spend several hours following links to pictures of boys in various stages of undress. Maybe I am just enjoying the beauty of some portion of God's creation. But there is enough of a possibility of lust being involved that if I go too long and find something particularly provocative, there is a physical reaction which I was not actually seeking. But on a day when I am too busy to spend that amount of time doing nothing useful, I don't do it.

Thinking about eternity might be useful for some people. For me it would probably not work. I'd jus say to myself, "yeah, but first let's see what's on the next page … okay, one more,… okay, one more …."

I need something else to do. And maybe, tired and busy as you are, you need to find something else to do in your time off — a good TV show, a place for conversation that doesn't provoke anger.

kurt_t said...

What happens when you play in the mud on the way to Grandma's house? You're dirty. You might smell bad. You might harbor all sorts of disease-bearing micro-organisms. You're not allowed to touch any of the food or sit on the furniture. The other guests probably regard you as a child, not an adult. They probably think you can't be trusted with any kind of grown-up responsibilities. How would that make you feel? Ashamed? Unworthy? Unloved? Isolated?

I think your metaphor has many layers of meaning, Jay. I hope that you explore them.

Jay said...

Dan: Well, you're always good for C.S. Lewis quotes, aren't you? Thank you. :)

Naturgesetz: Well, I was talking about sin in general, not just lust. It's kind of impossible to "find something else to do" in order to avoid all potentially sinful situations. I can get arrogant, lustful, greedy, rebellious, and stubborn in any situation, when you think about it. I think trying to discipline one's mind and heart -- keeping Christ at the center of each -- is a more effective strategy than simply finding "something else to do."

Kurt: But you're forgetting that there is a bath and a clean set of clothes available at the house. Plus, there is no such thing as shame or isolation in the house. All tears are wiped away. In the metaphor, the house was Heaven. Obviously it wasn't the best metaphor, since no earthly home could possibly compare to Heaven. So I don't think there could be any more layers to my metaphor. Once you go any deeper (as you did), the metaphor doesn't work anymore.

kurt_t said...

All right then, how do you feel walking to Grandma's house in your muddy clothes? What happens when the other guests or the neighbors or people passing by see you coming down the sidewalk? What kind of judgments are they making about you? What kind of judgments are you making about yourself?

I think there might be a lot of meaning in that metaphor that you're not aware of on a conscious level.

Jay said...

Maybe it's time to stop talking in terms of the metaphor and start speaking plainly. I am concerned with my own sins, not the sins of others. I am concerned with my own discipline; I could care less what others think of it. I am not judging myself when I say I'm a sinner. The Word of God does that on its own, and everyone else is a sinner as well, which is why there is no room to judge.

However, if I see someone struggling, then I will gladly give what advice I have and point them to Scripture that can help. I hope they'd do the same for me.

Right now, that's irrelevant, because I'm talking about myself, not others. I'm simply saying that if I had my eternal nature in mind more often, it would be a deterrent to sin. That doesn't mean I still wouldn't sin, but it's a strategy, a mindset, a discipline, that could still prove beneficial.

And don't you think it's a little presumptuous to tell me what's going on in my unconscious when you don't even know me? I made that metaphor up on the fly in order to illustrate my point. There wasn't any deeper meaning to it.

grace said...

I love to think in metaphor and I think yours is a good one. It's not a bad idea to take it deeper...not in a way that's accusatory or "calling you out" in any way....just as a way of examining an issue more fully.

I personally don't focus on eternity, but stay (do my best) in the NOW and let eternity take care of itself. Because it will. I may, in doing that, end up playing in the mud sometimes on the way to Grandma's house. Lots of times, I try and clean myself up before I get if I ever could....when I know that the bottom line is that I'm going to have to rely on Grandma's grace and the fact that she looks past all that dirt to my heart that is turned toward her. Heck, she even takes the cookies I brought and sets them on the table as IF they aren't crumbled and broken from my rambunctiousness.

I have to be honest and admit that there ARE others on the path with me and some of them think I'm way too dirty to make it while I, in turn, think that maybe they are too busy staying clean and telling me how dirty I am. It's actually good for us all to interact as we make our journey cause Grandma expects us all to get along.

I really don't think Kurt is trying to read your mind...rather...just wanting to hear some more of your mind based on carrying the metaphor a little further. I have found many times....that when I carry my own silly metaphors further, I learn a lot more about myself.

love you dear!! very much!

naturgesetz said...

Sorry I didn't quite understand precisely what you meant.

While I think finding something else to do is good for getting away from whatever avoidable occasions of sin give you problems, when it comes to unavoidable occasions, there are a couple of ideas I'd suggest.

First, there is a book titled "the practice of the presence of God." I don't know if an ordinary bookseller can get it for you. It consists principally of the writings of Brother Lawrence, a monk who served as cook in his monastery. He died in 1691. I have not read the book all the way through, but it was warmly recommended to me and it may give you some ideas about how to realize that you are in God's presence ar=t all times.

"The Kingdom of God is within you."

Prayer at various times through the day can bolster your presence to God in response to his presence to you. Over the years, I have formulated this prayer which rises to my consciousness from time to time when I am between chores. "O Lord, Thou art good and Thy Name is good. Help Thou Thy servant, O lord, nor let me ever in any wise offend Thee, who art mine only good." (As you can see, :like archaic language.) Maybe you could come up with something that you can remember to say and let it be something that you say when you think of it.

The book is published by Whitaker House on New Kensington, PA. Their website is www.whitakerhouse. com.

Dave said...

i'm a former student in NC also

which school do you attend?

Dan in Michigan said...

The Practice of the Presence of God is a great book, so I wholeheartedly second that recommendation...

The Vegas Art Guy said...

A: I'm glad I'm not alone.
B: I hope this is a dumb question, but... Do you belong to a small group were you can let down your guard and have them be there for you when you need them?

Jay said...

Pam: Well, if I carried that metaphor further, I would have found that it was a bad metaphor and just trashed it and spent time trying to come up with a new one, because that, my dear, is how I roll. :)

Thank you for your words of wisdom and grace. Take care!

Naturgesetz & Dan: Thanks for the advice. I'll try to find that book. Whenever I have time to read, that is!

Dave: UNC-W. Go Seahawks!

Vegas Art Guy: I do have a small group, but letting down my guard is very, very hard for me. I'm not a very good person in vulnerable situations. That's why my ex-boyfriend meant so much to me. He was one of the few people that I could be vulnerable with. I'm trying to find people to let my guard down around, but usually the only way I'm able to do that is through an anonymous blog like this one. It's nice not to feel alone, though. :)

donsands said...

"Knowing this, then, why is it so hard to not do them?"

Sometimes conquering these things takes a while, and the struggle can be intense for a season or two. But for some of us the struggle may be with us till we die.

But it will be well worth it when you see Christ our Savior, Lord, and Friend, and He says, "Well done my faithful servant".

"Now to you I say, many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come." Rev. 2:24-25

The Vegas Art Guy said...

If you have a trust issue, then pick a smaller battle and start with that, but this is a fight you can't do yourself and win.

kurt_t said...

Before I forget, I meant to say (following up on otrolado's comment) I read Karen Armstrong's book The Battle for God just recently. I highly recommend it. It's about the history of Fundamentalism in Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It's a little bit of a tough slog what with all the names and movements to remember, but there's a handy glossary in the back.

Her main thesis is that we moderns have lost our understanding of what she calls mythos, and that's how we end up misreading and abusing all sorts of ancient texts. We read them as if they were the newspaper or the assembly instructions for a bird house because those are the kinds of texts our culture understands.

Brandon said...

"If you know you're heading to your grandmother's house for a holiday dinner, you're not going to go play in the mud beforehand. It's not that she won't take you in if you're muddy. It's showing her (and yourself), that you had her and her house in mind."

I actually like this, Jay. There may be better metaphors out there, but I think this one got your point across perfectly. We should always do our best to stay out of the mud. Right? Doesn't mean we'll lose God's grace if we do (even willingly) go trolloping through the mud. But it's just that if we kept our eyes on the ball a bit more of the time we'd perhaps do a much better job resisting our temptations.

I liked this post, Jay. Keep 'em coming. :)

devlin said...

I think it is important to distinguish between a healthy sex drive and over the top lust. Your heart rate bumping up over a hot guy is normal, unless it happens 24/7 with that being the only faux joy you think you have. I believe lust belongs in the sex addict department, uncontrollable urges used to anesthetize, i.e. drugs alchohol etc. 3x a week with or without porn seems pretty reasonable, but can very due to how ones body is wired.
Anger is a healthy tool if you know how to use it wisely. Gays can be really touchy with anger from being misunderstood since birth. So it is a fine line to decide when you need to work on anger that overwhelms and anger that is used to embelish or to necessarily cut a boundary.
I had to work my ass off to collapse my paranoid anger reactions to certain stimuli, in order to feel great about myself and not feel ruled by it. Not an easy task but well worth it.
I think you are a lot more normal and Ok than you give yourself credit for.
As far as the "now", the easiest way to get there is to learn not to judge any part of yourself. That is a difficult, very difficult teaching, but worth the rewards.
Have yourself a good holiday.

TRiG said...

Ah, so what you're saying is that you don't really believe in God, eh?

Let's just imagine an evil grin at this point, okay?