Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What is Love?

Along with learning to live well, learning to love is one of my primary goals.

But what is love? I've been asking this question for a few months since the dissolution of my last relationship. What is it that I really want?

Everyone is searching for love, yet we seem to know instinctively that it's really inside us. Still we seek for it everywhere. Will I know it when I find it? We wonder. Have I known true love in my life or is what I'm seeking even out there?

I've known my share of infatuations. I've felt in love. But I wonder if I've ever truly loved.

All of these uncertainties and questions cloud my view of what is or is not reality. Yet I know that for me, the major objective of my life is to love. And the more I tune in to what I instinctively know about love, the more I fight off the wolves of my own fear regarding this unknown wilderness.

It's the "...but what if...?" questions that get me.

True love is ever-expanding and unlimited. But what if no one returns my love?

Love is not a feeling or emotion it is a way of being. But what if I never feel loved?

Love is complete surrender. But what if someone takes advantage?

Love is absolute trust. But what if someone betrays that trust?

Love is defenseless and unconditional. But what if it is never returned?

Love is knowing all the questions and choosign to love anyway.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Living Well

One of my primary goals is to learn to live well.

Learning to live is a process. The only way to learn to live is to go through it. But to expand beyond existence to living--and living well--is a true challenge that requires focus and discipline.

My hope is that soon, the focus and discipline will create habits of what, at this point, seems unnatural and soon I will find myself living well, naturally.

At first, it seems like all work, but then there are small victories where I realize that I'm fulfilling my objective--through the process--and that I am living a well life.

It's then that I realize that I'm also experiencing happiness, joy and peace...and they all seem to be the byproducts of the effort I have exerted to learn how to live a well-lived life.

I find that living well is a daily--even momentary--choice. But it is worth the effort and the rewards are eternal.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Control vs. Direction

I started this set of posts on the mind and thoughts talking about how to control our thoughts;

I close it by dashing all hope. The mind is uncontrollable.

The more you try to control the mind, the more you focus your energy and time in the direction that your thoughts are focused.

If you are trying not to think about a certain subject, the effort of struggling against those thoughts ensures that you will focus exactly where you do not want to. This often leads us to feel despondent and depressed.

At the beginning, I said that there is no hope of controlling your mind or thoughts and this is true. There is hope however of directing your thoughts.

You are like the air controller holding the flashlights before the nose a giant 747. There is nothing in your power you can do to stop the advancement of the plane. If you struggle against it, you will be run over and crushed.

You can direct it, however. You have the power to use your emotions like signals and focus your thoughts to direct the power of your mind in the direction in which you would like to go.

So I have found that my thoughts have great power. They create or destroy but they are not me. And your thoughts are not you. They are just patterns and habits that can be changed and refocused.
And this is encouraging. It is true power--if we have the discipline and energy to use it. The key is focus, focus, focus.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Focused Thought Drives Emotion

Why is it that we seek distraction from our emotions? We easily dole out advice such as "just don't think about it." When someone's down, we try to "get them out of the house." Instinct tells us that what we think about makes us feel a certain way.

Emotions are our greatest assistants, though, when it comes to the affairs of the mind. Our emotions are red flags that signal us when things are out of balance. Our emotions help us to become aware of where our mind is focused.
Why is awareness of our mind so important? The mind wanders. It is nearly impossible to hedge in the wanderings of the mind. It moves too quickly and in too many directions.

It is important to be aware of where our mind is focused though, because our focus determines the direction of our life. When our mind is unfocused, we are drifting and disorganized. This lack of focus leads to feelings of stress, frustration and helplessness (which are all red flags to let us know that we need to focus).

The key is this: you have the choice. Pay attention to your emotions, and be willing to feel them. Don't become frustrated with them. Instead, ask the question: what am I thinking and where is my focus?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Great Prayer

Keep us, O God, from pettiness; let us be large in thought, in word, in deed.

Let us be done with faultfinding and leave off self-seeking.

May we put away all pretenses and meet each other, face to face, without self-pity and without prejudice.

May we never be hasty in judgment and always generous.

Let us take time for all things; make us to grow calm, serene, gentle.

Teach us to put in action our better impulses-straightforward and unafraid.

Grant that we may realize it is the little things of life that create difficulties; that in the big things of life we are as one.

Oh, Lord, let us not forget to be kind.Amen. - Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots

Friday, June 13, 2008

"Think on These Things"

Yeah, right!
I know what you're thinking. Easier said than done. Right?

So many of us "struggle" with our thoughts (or at least we talk about struggling with them). And St. Paul gives us very clear instructions in the Scriptures: Whatever things are true, honest, just, pure and lovely...think on these things.

The truth is, most of us don't and that's just how it is.

We tend to focus on the subject of the mind/thought struggle in the area of sex and sexuality. We talk about things like fantasizing.

So how do we control this "monster" of the mind?

There are some simple principles that will help you control your thought patterns if you understand some basic principles about how your mind works. I use these tools all the time and hope they'll be a help.

I'm going to use the next few posts to discuss some of these principles.

Don't Struggle!
You're probably thinking, what are you talking about--don't struggle?

The truth is you will never win when you are fighting your mind. It is a wonderful creation and the Scripture tells us that even we cannot know our own minds (heart).

If you struggle against whatever you're currently focused on, it will only magnify that thought in the reality of your own mind.

Whatever emotions are created from the thoughts you are thinking will only intensify. If you're experiencing frustration, your frustration will increase. If you're experiencing anger, stress or uncertainty, then they will only increase as you focus on them. (The same works for positive emotions, if you're saavy enough to notice and make use of the amazing mind you possess).

And this leads us right to the second principle: focused thought drives your emotions.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Fear of Questioning Everything

The path to holiness lies through questioning everything.

I didn't really struggle much with my sexuality prior to coming out to myself. I was so far in the back of the closet, I think I remember visiting one afternoon with a faun named Tumnus. Basically, I was in another world, psychologically, and that probably preserved my sanity growing up.

I never allowed myself to much consider the feelings and thoughts of my own heart and what it really meant to who I was as a person.

After coming out to myself, I reconciled my faith and sexuality fairly seamlessly in a matter of two or three months. There was about a 20-something year prep period for that sudden realization, however.

One of the things I have struggled a bit with is challenging and questioning everything I believe.

Over the last weeks, I have been reading M. Scott Peck's classic, The Road Less Traveled. Toward the end of the book, the author makes this insightful observation.

The road to spiritual growth, however, lies in...distrusting what we already
believe, by actively seeking the threatening and unfamiliar, by deliberately
challenging the validity of what we have previously been taught and hold dear.

As I mentioned in the previous post, many of us struggle with this process because in normal religious training, we're often discouraged from questioning authority.

Think about this, though. God does not need you to protect Him from your own questioning. Truth is never threatened. Men and the power with which they influence others is threatened.

In fact, God seems welcoming of our questions and uncertainties. Try me. Test me. Prove me. This is His plea--over and over again. Why?

God yearns for you and you alone. He does not need to manipulate you. He loves you.

Free will. The sincerest test of true love, and the most benificent gift of grace.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Only Believe

When I first realized that I had been dangerously hood-winked by my society, church, family and spiritual leaders regarding my own sexuality, I determined to really consider closely some beliefs and behaviors that I'd easily taken for granted before. As I began to question my beliefs and all I'd been taught, fear started to seep in.

What if I'm wrong?

Are they really right, and I've missed the boat?

Had God given up on me and turned me over to the dreaded "reprobate mind"?

Am I purposely deceiving myself so I can do whatever I want? (I don't think I am...I mean, I really don't want to fool myself. I really want to know the truth.)

Over and over again, those fears and second-guessings sat themselves down on my shoulders and whispered fear in my ears. Again and again, they brought to mind scriptures that I knew well --and that had at one time been a comfort and stability to me--and castigated me with them.

I was going crazy. I had to know the truth. My restoration began in the form of a simple, four-word prayer: Lord, show me truth.

And He did. As I prayed this prayer over and over, with a pure heart, He opened my understanding and spoke peace to my heart. The enemy still challenged me, questioning every sweet assurance that my Father whispered to me.

But I chose to believe. I was practicing a biblical principle at the time, I just didn't realize it. Ask with faith...and do not waver (that's my paraphrase).

What's my point? God can show us truth. His Holy Spirit can confirm it to our hearts, but we are responsible to believe.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

"And You Invited Me In"

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me
a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into
your home. Matthew25:35

I recently finished reading And You Invited Me In by Cheryl Moss Tyler. This is Ms. Tyler's first novel and it tells the story of Annie and her family as they are faced with imminent death of her brother Alex, who has contracted the AIDS virus.

There is a struggle between Annie's desire to follow the leading of God's Holy Spirit to show mercy and kindness to Alex and his partner, Scott during the last few months of Alex's life, and the social pressure and ostracism from friends in their small town and at church.

As I first started this book, I found myself looking for something that would really connect me to the main characters of the story. There are a lot of sub-plots and often abrupt and seemingly disconnected revelations. I didn't connect to the central plot.

But as the story came to an end, I found myself much more invested than I realized at first. It was as if these characters and their struggle sneaked into my heart and I was there in the room with them.

It is a timely story, and one that anyone with an evangelical or conservative Christian background will no doubt relate to.

Friday, June 06, 2008

What is Love?

What is love? How do I know it?

I know in my own life, what I have experienced as love in a myriad of relationships has been almost universally mis-identified and misunderstood.

In the section on Love in his book The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck defines love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth."

Later he contends that "true love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed."

(Love) is a committed, thoughtful decision.

He continues: "The common tendency to confuse love with the feeling of love allows people all manner of self-deception."

This truth hit me like a sledge hammer. Nearly all the drama in my relationships has been caused by my confusion of "the feeling of love" with love itself. I still am not sure of all the implications of this new understanding, but I am spending some time really thinking about this.

All kinds of questions pop up about the importance of "chemistry" and the "feelings" and "emotions" that make up our modern concept of love. I am growing as I develop my own understanding of love and from that understanding, choose what experience I want for my life.

What is love? Perhaps the poet says it best. Love is a many-splendored thing.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


I have been reading a psychology classic, The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. There is a lot to absorb, but I came across a powerful concept the other day in the section of the book on discipline.

The author discusses decision making and the challenge of making effective decisions.

Decisions affecting the lives of others must always be made. The best decision-makers are those who are willing to suffer the most over their decisions but still retain their ability to be decisive.

The toughest decisions are made when you can clearly see and understand the impact of the decision on your own life and the lives of others.

This is a skill that, admittedly, I have not developed as I should have. But it is a skill that I am learning and refining. I am learning to exercise the courage to make the decisions I know to be right in light of the personal suffering that may follow.