“Any control I thought I had just slips right through my hands while my ever-present conscience shakes its head and reprimands me. Then and there I confess- I’ll blame all this on my selfishness.” -Relient K, When I Go Down
It’s one of those days- I can’t find words for the feeling that’s snuck up on me.
There are so many things that I could be doing, that I should be doing right now. If I dwell on what I wish my life looked like, I will feel like an utter failure. Sometimes when I reflect on my ideals, I am absolutely revolted by the stark difference between who I want to be and who I really am.
What difference am I making in the world? What is my purpose for being here? If you judge by the way I behave, you would certainly find that I’m living for myself. My purpose is self-gratification. I’m too caught up in the moment-to-moment of my own existence to dedicate myself to other people. The desire is still in my heart, but it’s buried so deep. I can hardly recall what it’s like to not be intrinsically focused. Disgusting.
Even my love is selfish. The people I love most are the people who love me the most. How gratifying…how effortless. It’s not enough. I want to love the people who could care less what happens to me. I want to love in ways that might not have any kickback benefits for myself. I want my life to be defined by my love for other people, and I want it to be genuine.
Lately I’ve been working on changing my life by focusing on my attitude rather than my actions. Actions are deeply important, but they are only the tangible proof of the underlying character. Trying to better myself by changing the way I act is a vicious cycle of frustration and failure. I convince myself that I want it, I try hard, I struggle, I try harder, I get tired, I mess up, I get frustrated and eventually I stop caring.
When I focus solely on changing my actions, I get ridiculously wrapped up in works-righteousness. I must be better. I must make myself better. All I have to do is try harder, try harder. I know God loves me no matter what, but my relationship with him will be better if I just focus my life on living the way he wants me to. If I just get rid of all the crap that’s getting in the way of holy living. If I can just make myself a usable vessel. But I can’t. All my works are like filthy rags. Why can’t I? The sneering voice in my head says I must be a despicable person.
It’s like I’m standing in the middle of a river, the water raging all around me, swirling between my knees and threatening to knock me over. And I’m splashing handfuls of water up onto shore. I’ll never stop a river that way, or even slow it down. But working towards change by focusing on my attitude is a much different approach. Character is the root of actions. Actions will never successfully/permanently change without genuine attitude backing it up. If I can change my attitude- really get at the root of my character- I’m building a dam to stop the river. It’s not all my strength. It’s not something I can just bully through. And I can get help. Instead of a futile struggle, I’m looking at a feasible plan.
Building a dam is frustrating. It’s slow going, and a lot of water gets past while I’m working on it. It’s so tempting to stop what I’m doing and splash desperately at the water. It’s easy to panic and think I’m running out of time. It’s my nature to want to finish it all by myself. I’ll tell people about the water I’ve held back once I have some progress to show off. But that’s not the most efficient way to get things done. I need to tell the people I trust about the water that’s rushing past me, and how much I want to stop it. I know they’ll help me. Then I’ll have an arm to grab if I start to get swept away, and I’ll have people stacking up rocks next to me. The dam won’t ever be perfectly waterproof, but there’s no reason to get upset about the leaks. When I notice one, I can work on patching it up.
I know this, but still there are setbacks. I constantly slide back into my old way of thinking. I see each mistake as a sign that I’m wasting my time. I’m tempted to start loathing myself. But then I remember that I am a beautiful work in progress. The Creator loves his creation, despite all its weaknesses and flaws. My worth is not based on my actions- it is intrinsic and unshakeable.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and let mercy and love flow over me.
“Yet you love me, and that consumes me. And I’ll stand up again, and do so willingly. You give me hope, and hope it gives me life. You touch my heavy heart, and when you do you make it light. As I exhale I hear your voice, and I answer you, though I hardly make a noise. And from my lips the words I choose to say seem pathetic, but it’s fallen man’s praise, because I love you. Oh God, I love you. And life is now worth living, if only because of you.” -Relient K, When I Go Down