"Pain"-ting

Staying true to a literal rendering of Labor Day, I did much laboring. Painting, specifically.
Changing wall color is fresh meat for the interior decorating monster. I’ve encountered the ID monster before. Just took me 18 years to realize he lives at the paint store. He’s the master of suggestion, planting ideas in the minds of gleeful wives fresh from convincing their husband some painting would be in his best interest.
Ideas like, “Hey, those curtains don’t really match the hue of that new wall color.” Or, “that new bedding doesn’t coordinate with the wall decorations.” Such diabolical suggestions can unleash an onslaught of decorating madness (or euphoria, depending on perspective). In the case of this past weekend, the paint brush suddenly found itself lonely as the search for new curtains took priority.
Curtains were purchased. Curtains were returned. Repeat, ad nauseam. Arguments brewed over what colors coordinate. My temper simmered from an overspent “painting” budget. And out of nowhere a tongue-in-cheek disagreement started as to whether one of us is color blind. As Katrina shared our painting fun with some facebook friends, someone commented, “Don’t forget, painting starts with ‘pain’.” Man, do I give an “Amen!” to that.
Despite attacks from the decorating monster, I do find joy in bringing newness through paint and other accessories. There’s a part of me, peeking from behind the dormant engineer, that appreciates colors that compliment. And well-placed accents. And when the dust settles, a room that is warm, peaceful and beckons, “dwell here.”
However, my appreciation for tasteful décor does not preclude times this past weekend when I wanted to drop-kick the paint can. Or scream at the sun as it blazed into the room in which I was cutting-in yellow paint next to white. Or rant about the first mark on my new paint job (I should be entitled to at least 24-hours with walls unmarked by children, right?). There were several moments I was cursing the curse, wanting to have words with Adam. At a minimum, I was certainly having words with myself.
My frustrations sent me tumbling head-long into the swamp of self pity. With each brush stroke I concocted another scenario of being underappreciated. Disrespected. Ignored. Used. My painting looked great, but my heart was ugly.
While waxing eloquent on another stanza of my miserable monologue, my wife jabbed me – verbally. It was a punch out of nowhere. Not a sucker punch, just a surprise. A sweet surprise. As she patiently listened to my grousing, she very simply stated, “But what you’re doing for us makes us happy.”
Happy? Hah! My first response (which I wisely kept to myself) was, “How nice for you. What’s anyone doing to make me happy?” It was then I received another punch. This one less sweet. And very direct. The Holy Spirit leveled a right-cross that rocked me. I put the brush down. Sat on my little painting stool. Breathed deep. And listened.
Moments like that still shock me. Even when I’m fully aware of being in a bad way, there’s times I keeping humming along to my sorry tune. I buy into the pitiful story that I deserve something I’m not getting. On the outside, I’m the helpful and cordial Dr. Jekyll. But inside, Mr. Hyde is raging. With Mr. Hyde around, I risk having my good actions sullied by selfishness. By demandingness. No matter how great the painted room might look, the lies of Mr. Hyde threaten to rob joy from the experience – both in the moment, and for months to come.
In those stool-sitting moments with God, I confronted the pain in my painting. I found that it wasn’t the painting that pained me. It was my desires. The desire for perennially fresh, unmarked walls. The desire for extended down time during a holiday weekend. The desire for more kudos for the way I was bustin’ it early in the morning and late at night. The desire for more money (or less spending). But such wanting reflects misplaced affections.
John Piper said, “Esteeming God less than anything is the essence of evil.” In those moments of self-pitied painting, I loved me most. My wife did not feel my love. Neither did my children. And my esteem for a well painted room pulled rank on my love for God. Sad, I know. Such is the struggle with life’s greatest tension: who, or what do I love – most?
I doubt the “pain” of painting will ever go away this side of heaven. I know my future holds many more run-ins with the ID monster. Knowing this to be true, I must guard against misplaced affections. Loving God is better than perfectly applied paint. Loving my family and enjoying their happiness is to be treasured more than marked-up walls. Still, there are moments when that’s easier said, than done.

Shhh…it’s a Secret

Secrets. Everyone’s got at least one. Some secrets are fun, like a surprise party. Others exciting, like a pregnancy. Secrets can also be heavy as they weigh on our conscience, monopolize our thoughts and blur our focus.

This week one of my children told me a secret. It was a secret held close for quite some time. It wasn’t the fun, surprise party kind of secret. It was big. Burdening. Volatile. It was festering in a cloak of darkness. A secret that had secrets of its own, which it whispered into my child’s self talk. Lies, actually. Words from the pit. Poisonous arguments meant to bind my child in silence – a silence that sustained the secret and kept it safe.

But here’s a truth about secrets: a secret revealed has no power. That’s great encouragement, especially for those secrets we want hidden forever. Secrets that we fear, once known, will make us unlovable. I saw that fear in my child as they voiced their secret with a nervous courage. As the secret found expression, wonderful moments of victory erupted. A tightly closed door opened and light raced in to chase away darkness, deception and guilt. In the telling of what was hidden, my child was freed from a silent prison. Physical and emotional expressions of relief ensued. A celebration started as the power drained from a secret held painfully tight for too long.

And then we received an unexpected gift of grace. A gift born out of our interaction. My child expected me to respond to their revelation with some level of disappointment, anger, or even a lecture. That’s Ok. I’ve earned that presupposition. But by His grace, God blessed me with a calm spirit to receive the secret the way I would want my secrets received – carefully, gently, lovingly, gracefully.

How I listened and interacted with my child in a moment of intense vulnerability resulted in a memorable moment in our relationship. A small, but wonderful victory. The type of victory I yearn for. John Piper said, “God often disapproves of his children’s behavior. But he never treats us with contempt. Imitate him in your disapproving.” Too often my disapproval has tilted toward contempt – sometimes subtle, other times overt and judgmental. When really upset, I’ve been known to launch into a rehash of a tired 3-point sermon. Those are not my best moments. And that’s not how I would want to be treated. Nor it is how God treats me.

Jesus gives me blood-washed, bottomless grace for all my nastiness. He picks me up after all my stumbles. He knows about the secrets I’ve shared, and those I still keep. He receives me, not because of what I do, but because of who He is (Titus 3:5). That kind of treatment makes me want to do the hard work of growing a greater affection for Him and His kingdom. To be a better husband, father and friend. To be a better listener to my children’s joys, hurts, questions…and secrets.

Affection Revolution

I’m a recovering perfectionist. My recovery began several years ago with a “slap.” A slap of truth that woke me from dreams of a perfectly controlled life. A slap that caused me, for the first time, to ponder my affections.

I have affection for many things. Among them my wife, kids, old books, strong coffee, quiet mornings and bacon. My affections govern my thoughts, words and actions. My love for strong coffee results in frequent visits to Starbucks. I can’t resist a used bookstore. I hug and kiss Katrina and the kids. I like my bacon a bit soft. Affections are the energy – the voltage – that pushes us along the path of life (I’m also a recovering electrical engineer).

The transition to a new year offers a distinct opportunity for starts, stops and changes. This year I’m pondering, again, what I love. To who or what do I give my affection? My review is upwelling more regret than celebration. I’m finding that I still love things I shouldn’t, don’t love what I should, and am making my story the only story. I’ve found hints of perfectionism I thought were dead. Such discoveries bring disappointment, frustration and flashes of anger.

But amidst my unwelcomed discoveries glows a warm and steady hope. Hope fueled by the Great Affection. An affection for me that offers a chance to start, stop and change – not just at the transition to a new year, but every day. “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV) What great truth that is for this recovering perfectionist! Despite my failings, God’s compassions – His affections – never fail. Oh God, why do you extend to me your patient love? Why are you faithful when I prostitute my heart? When I love me more than You? When I give you leftovers instead of the first and best? When I refuse to be quiet, rest, listen and submit? Father, I don’t understand your Great Affection for me, but thank you.

In response to God’s love, I’m declaring 2011 a year of revolution: an “Affection Revolution.” This revolt is against my misplaced affections. Affections that want to love Chris more than Christ. Affections for the temporal with hope of gaining significance and security. I want to live more fully the greatest commands: to love God and love people. I want to grow in grateful giving. Jesus said we give our heart to what we love (Matthew 6:21). In perfectionism, I love myself – first. Such misplaced affection brings a lonely self-worship. I’m revolting against such selfishness. I pray that 2011 brings a more intimate walk with God that starves my affections for lesser things while fostering a greater affection – a first-place affection for Jesus Christ and His Church.

In addition to the verse from Lamentations above, the following quote from J.C. Ryle turns-up the voltage on my Affection Revolution. Perhaps you’d like to join my revolution and grow our love for Jesus Christ in 2011 – together?
 
“The man whose soul is “growing” takes more interest in spiritual things every year. He does not neglect his duty in the world. He discharges faithfully, diligently, and conscientiously every relation of life, whether at home or abroad. But the things he loves best are spiritual things. The ways, and fashions, and amusements, and recreations of the world have a continually decreasing place in his heart. He does not condemn them as downright sinful, nor say that those who have anything to do with them are going to hell. He only feels that they have a constantly diminishing hold on his own affections, and gradually seem smaller and more trifling in his eyes. Spiritual companions, spiritual occupations, spiritual conversation, appear of ever-increasing value to him. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increasing spirituality of taste.” (J.C. Ryle – Holiness, p. 107)