Pursuing Holiness in the Minutiae

14 05 2010

Just a few posts ago, I wrote about how the prophets are incredibly sensitive to the presence of evil and a period of time in which I felt the same. I’ve been praying about returning to that intimacy, but today I remember why it’s so hard: It’s the little things.

I’ve been doing a kind of spiritual cleansing – taking a week to pray through and repent of evil / sin in my life. It feels incredibly good – in the evening, after an hour of prayer and making some necessary phone calls or emails, I am surrounded by peace. But at those times, I’m intentional: I sit down, I pray for the right attitude, and I’m ready to face it all.

But it’s the slap in the face that is so hard to deal with. It’s the sudden and unexpected.

Situation: there’s been a person that’s hard to deal with. He has a good heart and means well, but we’ve been working together on something and he doesn’t always “get” what we’re supposed to do. He’s got ideas – often great ones, but often beyond the scope of our project (too time-intensive or unnecessary, for example). So, sometimes he gets shot down (usually by the boss, sometimes I try to warn him that it won’t fly). Anyway, I wanted to work on our relationship, so that the “shooting down of ideas” was in no way a reflection of who he is as a person. In other words, spend some time with him to develop a friendship to make our work relationship better.  I thought it was working.

Until today he sent me an angry email, criticizing me and trying to “push my buttons”. Everything about the email was designed to get a response out of me. Even his word choices were purely accusatory and character-oriented (Any basic communications class / conflict discussion will tell you never to attack someone’s character, but to focus on the actions and how you feel. For example, “I felt disappointed when you forgot to call me.” instead of “You’re so irresponsible!”)

Okay, so here’s the real point: I got angry. The button-pushing worked. I hit “reply” and started to (1) justify myself and (2) return with my own accusations. Well, I quickly knew that I shouldn’t write a response while angry, so I stopped. But then I was just reading and re-reading the email. And getting more angry. The sort of thoughts going through my head:

You have no right to say these things!

And I was trying to be nice to you!

I don’t have to work with you. I can be done with this. That’s it. I’m done! I’m going to email back saying I won’t work with you any more. Then see how you like it – I won’t be your buffer. I don’t have to take this!

Well, you get the point. And I’m sure we’ve all been there. I was really starting to get worked up (this all lasted about 2 minutes…)

Then I heard the smallest prompting from the Spirit. Just last night, I made promises about seeking to be holy, pursuing unity and compassion and grace and forgiveness. The memory of those promises tugged at my soul. The Spirit was telling me to stop. To let go of the anger and pray about how to build up this relationship – even apologize for the things the person criticized if needed.

But I didn’t want to. And here is the crux of all of our choices – in that moment, I knew what God wanted and I knew what I felt. And they didn’t line up. And because I knew that so clearly, I also knew I had a choice to make – the knowledge of the difference between God’s will and mine at that moment made me eminently more responsible than if I’d sent an angry email in the first few moments. Because once you know something, you can’t “un-know” it. At that moment, I knew I was wrong with certainty and clarity. Any action I take after that is nothing but clear, direct rebellion.

Still, even as that all became clear, I hesitated. Then I remembered – I loudly commanded the enemy to be silent, and put myself at the mercy of God. I knew the difference between right and wrong, but had no strength to choose the right in that moment. So I told God that he’d better take over.

He did. And now I’ve written this post. And in a moment, I will pray about how to respond – whether to send out an apology, an explanation, to send nothing, or to make a direct call / arrange a time to get together and talk about it. Ultimately, done with the right spirit, any of these could be the right action. Conversely, with the wrong spirit, any of them could just make it worse. That’s why it comes down to guidance. And in the perspective of the prophets, it’s about “Sensitivity to Evil” and “The Importance of Trivialities”.


Having a Book on Hand

11 05 2010

Living in Korea means that English books are hard to come by. I mean, not impossible, but you really have to make the effort. So when I get the chance, I check out or buy books. Of course, I’m often far too ambitious and check out a dozen books… and proceed to read a chapter of each. But I’ve discovered something more valuable – the random used books. Whenever possible, I pick up a few used books with no intention of reading them. They’re something that catches my eye, that I might browse for a bit in a book store. There’s no particular category for these – some fiction is great, but even theology or history books will do. I take them home and forget about them. They don’t call to me, I don’t feel guilty for not getting around to them. They just sit on my shelf, hidden and forgotten.

Until the restless evening when I find myself staring at the shelf. I’m usually surprised at what I find there. I pick something up, flip through it, and then proceed to read about half of it. I usually manage to finish it in a few days. I’m discovering that this is a highly effective way to read in Korea. Strangely, I’m sure this wouldn’t work for me in the US – I think I’d buy too many books, or feel “obligated” to read them because I bought them.

Of course, having access to a university library means I can usually find the books I really want as well. So, although I’m intentionally restraining my reading (I get lost in ideas easily & anti-social), it seeps into my life wherever I go. Books I’m currently reading:

All in all, my reading is pretty slow at the moment, thoroughly eccentric, and pleasurably entertaining.

Suspending the Critic

6 05 2010

I fired my critic a few weeks ago. She was driving me crazy! Everything I did, or everything I heard, she was picking out the faults. Of course, she was generally right. And I have to give her credit – she didn’t nitpick. She usually reserved her critiques for the important things, and only pointed out one or two major flaws. She especially liked finding the flaws with logic or theology.

But a few weeks ago, she was hovering over one book I was trying to read. She wasn’t saying anything, just hovering with that watchful eye in a fairly restrained manner. But still, hovering. I could sense her breathing down my neck, waiting to find a major flaw in the writing, the ideas presented, or the author’s perspective.

So I fired her. I told her to get lost and never find her way back. I told her that I appreciate her caution, and that she is well-trained with a good eye and discipline. But I also told her I won’t be needing her services at the moment.

The amazing thing? She left. Instantly. Didn’t return stealthily or whisper negative thoughts in my ear. I haven’t heard a word from her. I know that if I ever need her, she’ll return at a moment’s notice. And she may even creep back when I’m tired or otherwise irritable. But for now…

The spirit of criticism left.

Deviations in the Schedule

2 05 2010

I’m the kind of person that freaks out when the schedule gets interrupted. People not arriving on time? What do we do?!!! We can’t WAIT, because we’ve only got limited time as it is! Pressure. Stress. Call them all and see where they are and why they’re not here and when they’ll be here and how we can possibly manage to get anything done!

But I’m also spontaneous. I’ll get in the car and take a random weekend trip with only an hour’s notice. Or I’ll call someone up for dinner at 6 pm. I’ll take that schedule that rules my life and rip it up and do what I want. Unless, of course, I’m freaking out about it.

A few days ago, I disturbed the schedule. Actually, I blew it up with a stick of dynamite. I went hiking after work, barely made it to the top in time to see the sunset, then rushed down before darkness set it.

Nothing got done for the evening. I skipped my class. I didn’t clean or cook dinner. I seriously messed up the routine.

It was good for my soul.

We all need more spontaneity.

A Cultural Frustration

27 04 2010

I’ve debated whether I’m better off writing a post every day, even if it’s hard, or waiting until I have something to say and the time to write it well. Considering my track record on this blog, I’d say that latter isn’t working too well. So, a random reflection for the day.

Cultural frustration moment: I have a vet I go to regularly. He’s a nice guy. Both him and his assistant speak English pretty well and seem to know what they’re doing. The other day, I even tried an experiment – I called for an appointment! He must have saved my number, because he answered with “Hello!” It was quite cheery. I happily made a grooming appointment.

So, later I stopped by with some friends to drop off Selah. I’ve taken her in before and they do a god job. So it should be simple. I told him I wanted her shaved everywhere, leaving about 1 cm of hair. He was clear on it. The assistant showed me another dog as a sample, and I joked, “No, I don’t want a naked dog. Just 1 cm.” He clearly got it also.

Then the vet saw that one of my friends was Korean. And, while her English is good, it’s no better than the vet’s. But suddenly, he wouldn’t speak to me. He asked her what I wanted. And she proceeded to answer! They spoke about line cuts and all sorts of other things in Korean for at least 10 minutes. My friend has never had a dog (and presumably doesn’t know anything about grooming) and she never asked me what I wanted. I even walked out of the room to see my other friend. Honestly, I was very upset.

Finally, after they agreed on something that did NOT involve shaving, I said, “No, just shave her to 1 cm.” As I said that, the assistant joked, “No naked dog, right?” He got it and I appreciated his easing the situation.

So, what happened here?

First, as far as the vet’s concerned, he probably assumed a friend of mine spoke better English than he did. I get that, although that’s just a sign of how much he under-estimates himself. Also, I get that he probably wanted her to play the role of translator, not realizing she would just answer him herself.

Second, I don’t really know this friend very well, so I can’t guess at what she was thinking. She seems to have mis-understood my directions about “1 cm”, because I think she was convincing him I didn’t want Selah shaved. Perhaps she thought “no naked dog” meant no shaving, just a trim.

Most important: Why was I so angry?

A lot of it is perspective. Now I have it; then, I didn’t. That’s a big part of living in another culture – recognizing that your perspectives are different. And honestly, they will always be different. So even if you don’t “get” what others are thinking, the key is to understand what they think, learn to predict how they’ll react, and be patient with it. After all, you’re the foreigner with crazy ideas / strange reactions.

But for myself – How was I feeling that made me angry? I think it was mostly feeling de-valued / de-humanized. They spoke as if I wasn’t in the room, or as if my opinion didn’t matter. It was like I vanished. It was terribly rude.

But finally, a lot of it is about control. It’s my dog, my appointment, and my money is paying for the haircut. So I want my say in it. I was mostly upset with the vet for asking my friend instead of me; it takes away my authority as the client in the situation.

However, I recognized my anger and tried to hold my tongue. I know the feelings still seeped through – I don’t hide them that well. But, I also made an effort and let go of the anger within 20 minutes. As Ephesians says, “Be angry, but do not sin. And do not let the anger stay for long.” It’s nice to know that God understands our emotions welling up. We’re allowed to feel angry.

Anyway, the cut turned out perfect. And Selah act light and free!

No matter how old I get . . .

1 04 2010

There are still days where I feel and act like a child. Days where simple things leave me frustrated and in tears, where the world seems too harsh a place. Days where I run to my Father and just cry into his arms, often over spilled milk.

I’m thankful for these days. They put me in my place and remind me how great a Father I have.

Father, thank you for always being there. For holding me tight and letting me be angry. And thank you for not leaving me in that place.

Restless and content

15 03 2010

A friend IM’ed to say she’d gotten into Harvard’s MA program. An old student got into Harvard for u-grad. A seminary classmate was accepted for PhD studies in my field. All in all, it’s the season for those acceptance letters to arrive.

And I miss it. There’s some part of me that feels I’m missing out. But strangely, I’ve never felt that way before. I never really noticed the “acceptance letter” season before. I never felt left out.

This season is hitting right when I’ve been feeling the need to learn again. In particular, the need to be an expert in something. It sounds pretentious, perhaps. But so often, I feel out of my element even when discussing things I know. I want to delve into a subject, read the experts, know enough to have something worth saying on it.

I’m restless. I’m excited about the possibilities, I’m longing for the day when I can go on with my studies.

But I’m not anxious for it. This is a blessed time of peace and tranquility, and I’m grateful for it. My time in Korea is just that, a rest. It’ll help me be prepared for whatever comes next. So, yeah, I look forward to something, but I’m content to let it come in its time, in God’s time. When it does come, I’ll be more than ready for it. And I think that’s exactly how waiting ought to be: there are moments of yearning for what comes next, but mostly joy in the present.