I like to control my money. Well, what I mean is, I can be controlling with money. Hmm, I guess what I’m saying is when it comes to money, I have control issues – just ask my wife. I want to be present at every shopping trip and to oversee the selection of every item to ensure we purchase nothing that I deem superfluous or wasteful. I don’t believe in “treats.” I like the bare minimum, and I want her to like it, too. I generally don’t give in to these invasive inclinations, because I also want my wife to be happy – especially with me. But I do instigate conflicts over spending on small things that, to me, represent a bigger problem. Through all of it I drive my (very gracious) wife crazy, as I try not to suffocate her with my spending idiosyncrasies. I have a control problem. Why?
Imagine someone who so feels they have failed at life that they escape the shame of the real world by immersing themselves in a virtual one (where there is some measure of success, relational pleasure, community, and so on). Imagine how this person’s consciousness of this ongoing neglect of responsibility only compounds the shame and guilt. And then imagine the impact of using insult to try to get him to stop playing his “stupid, childish” games (not an uncommon approach). This is not helpful. This is not the gospel way of applying grace and truth through kindness (Rom. 2:4), and it ignores the need to get to know people well if you are to be helpful to them.
In my last article, I presented a paradigm for understanding fantasy-addiction: the impulse towards pleasure over displeasure is the unifying theme between addicts and non-addicts. The difference is a matter of degree. There is no temptation that is not common to man (1 Cor. 10:13).
In spite of the recent proliferation of publications on the epidemic of fantasy-addiction in our generation, many of us are still scratching our heads. Perhaps we understand that it’s an issue, but we don’t understand why or how it becomes an issue. If you’ve never seen the appeal of video games, or if you stopped playing them as soon as you were old enough to feel ashamed of being “less mature” than your peers, then you might balk at the notion of spending hours a day glued to a screen.
Sure, you might admit to enjoying the occasional throw-back game of Tetris® here and there, but you could never imagine being so absorbed in a game that you neglect work and family (and even hygiene in some cases!) in order to complete missions, raid dungeons, storm castles, and level up on an endless path to virtual victory. But a large section of our global society not only can imagine it – they do it. My contention is that the key to understanding this growing subculture is found in recognizing they are not as different from the rest of us as we think, and I want to offer a paradigm that might facilitate a deeper understanding of what can be, for many of us, a mysterious issue.
Shortly after I started dating the girl who is now my wife, I had my first ever panic attack. I had a dream that I lost my affections for her, broke up with her, ruined her life, and the entire church at which I met her hated me. I awoke covered in sweat, gasping for breath, and nearly blacked out. It was horrible. If you have, or have ever had, panic attacks, you have my sympathy. This was the first of two such panic attacks, both stimulated by nightmares, and they were high-frequency points in a season of my life stricken with fear. As anyone struggling with fear would do, I began a search for answers and solutions – why am I so afraid, and how do I deal with it?
If you’re like me, you hate being busy, which means you hate events (I know I’m a minority here). You hate hosting events; you hate preparing events; you hate attending events. I am an introvert, which means I derive energy from being by myself or being in small groups of deeply trusted friends. Events are for extroverts.
The sad result of this is that truly important events, like Easter, lose their value to people like me. The rush and bustle of event-prep eclipses the theological and existential import of an event like Easter. It’s hard for me to use Easter the way I’m supposed to. What do I mean by this? Well, the reason one holds an event like Easter is the same reason the Jews held feasts and fasts in the Old Testament. Festivals for Israel were reminders. They were opportunities for God’s people to break away from normal life for the purpose of remembering what God had done and considering the implications for their future.
One of my burdens for this blog is to provide resources for believers to stir up their affections for God. I want to help us want God more. Consequently, I intend to publish more devotional material alongside the kind of problem-analysis-solution styled posts you see elsewhere on the site. This is my first of such posts. In this case, I am sharing a meditation on Communion. I occasionally have the privilege of facilitating Communion at my church. When I do, I prepare some thoughts on the sacrament to help the congregation (myself included) dwell on the significance of the redeeming work of Christ for our life now in order to, as stated above, help folks want God more, to see Him as desirable and so to desire Him. This is the first in a series of such meditations that I’ll post on this blog. I hope they bless you.
Luke 22:14-20 HCSB
When the hour came, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you.”
As I mentioned last week, knowing that I can glorify God both ethically (my motives and the capacity of my work to serve good purposes in the world) and skillfully (the quality of my work) is the only part of working that brings me lasting, consistent happiness in my job. It fortifies me for the drudgery my job often affords me – work, at present, is more of a drain than a delight, and finding the pleasure of God in the midst of an unpleasant position is the only hope that keeps me going.
What I want to get at this week is an area of particular burden for me. You see, I am concerned that the church has a bad habit of forgetting that the God who is holy is also the God who is able, is competent, is skillful. Therefore, we who bear His image must also demonstrate ability, competency, and skill in our labor, and the more we excel in a given trade, art, or craft, the more of the excellency of God we have the potential to display. I’m sure this will sound controversial, “You mean to tell me that some people, by virtue of their competency, are more able to glorify God than others?” In a sense, yes. But this should be no surprise. We believe this to be the case with ethics; why not with talent and skill? But maybe I should illustrate.
A different version of this article originally appeared on my church’s blog. Due to a friend’s recent critique, I’ve made a significant enough update to warrant reposting here. You can view part 2 here.
“Work-life balance” is a business-world buzzword that has seen its fair share of attention in the blogosphere. In basic terms, it’s the idea that a person needs to be careful not to spend so much time at work that he has no life. It’s received so much attention due to significant efforts to explain and remedy something of an epidemic of burnout among people in high-level, high-pressure positions throughout the country. Of course, even those of us at the bottom of the totem pole know what burnout feels like, and we know these people are on to something. If you have no life outside of work, then you never refresh, recharge, recoup, and something is going to give.
Are you nearsighted or farsighted? Yes, that is a metaphorical question. But we as humans tend to have regular experiences of perspective loss. We do this in moments of anger, of anxiety, of stress. We do this when we suffer, when we’re tired, when we’re overwhelmed. And sometimes we do this when we assess our sin. Some of us tend to be nearsighted and see our sin only in light of its immediate consequences. Others of us look at our sin and immediately see how seven years down the road it will lead to an affair or an abusive household or an ice-cold relationship or financial ruin or…fill in the blank.
Alexander C Thermenos earned his degree in Practical Theology from Southeastern University, is earning his Master of Arts in Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary, works as a Process Analyst by day, and blogs here by night (er…when he has the chance). He’s married to a beautiful Cuban-American girl (Ariel), and they are head-over-heals in love with their beautiful baby girl, Adelaide. Together with their two dogs and Ariel’s youngest sister, they are a full house in Orlando, FL, where they attend Christ United Fellowship Church.