Tuesday, November 25, 2014
What Our Focus Can Reveal, or Change
On what are you focused?
Last night in Ferguson, Missouri, a number of people were focused on their anger: Anger over what they perceived to be a flawed decision by a grand jury in St. Louis County. They burned down some local businesses and torched two police cars as they focused.
As if inflicting injustice upon local businesses in a predominantly black city helps resolve any perceived or legitimate racial injustice.
Meanwhile, the writers of a new book about marriage appear to be focused on sex. In The New 'I Do,' Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson explore alternatives to what they perceive as the "damaging" effects of conventional monogamy, and advocate for ways polyamory can make couples "brave."
Gadoua and Larson bemoan what they view as our society's provincial view of adultery. "Society still tends to view non-monogamous relationships negatively," according to an excerpt of their book on HuffingtonPost.com. "Just look at the language that's used to talk about it. Those who engage in it are either promiscuous, putting themselves and others at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, or cheaters, with a breakup being the expected outcome once an affair is discovered. It's all about diseases, betrayal, secrecy, and deception."
Um, don't you suspect there are legitimate reasons for that?
Even within marriages that are unabashedly Biblical in their intentions, the focus can be confusing. Sharon Hodde Miller, a young doctoral student who's also a pastor's wife, recently complained in a Christianity Today article that the two days per week she put her young son in daycare didn't provide her enough me-time in her busy life.
"I couldn’t finish my dissertation, write [articles], manage our home, tend to my faith, and make every second of my son’s days 'count,' Miller explains. "I felt trapped, but what were my options?"
Miller goes on to rationalize that her options included more daycare for her son, and that the Bible doesn't directly condemn parents who need outside help in raising their kids. Which, on the one hand, is true. Besides, plenty of young couples today live in parts of the world with atrociously high cost-of-living rates, and those costs dictate that both parents need to work outside the home. That, in and of itself, is not a sin, nor should it be something for which we evangelicals automatically blame parents.
Hey - there's only so much downsizing a family can do in North America. And if all of the people who live in overpriced communities moved to cheaper parts of the country, what might that do to the cost of living in those parts that, currently, are cheaper places to live?
So, if she was so self-conscious of her decision (that raising her young son was easily fixed by outsourcing), on what else could Miller have focused, aside from evaluating motherhood as being almost as important as her doctoral degree or writing articles for a Christian magazine? Can't some things be put on hold? Especially since a child's formative years can't be? I'm also not sure why motherhood meant that she couldn't "tend to her faith" like she thought she should be doing. Is her faith merely another compartment of her life that can be managed, like childcare, writing articles, or writing a postgraduate paper?
Those things on which we focus can usually say something about our preferences and priorities, can't they?
The longer I spend with my parents, helping Mom care for Dad, who suffers from senile dementia, the more I'm learning that the more I focus on myself, and my perceptions of our family's reality, the more miserable, fearful, and depressed I become. We've come to the point on dementia's dreary road that, nearly every day now, there will be an interval during which Dad will forget who Mom and I are. I find these intervals to be extremely distressing - but not just for myself. They prove that Dad is slipping away in real time from the bedrock physical relationships he's had for decades. I see the pain of profound confusion in his face, and I watch as he struggles for comprehension and peace, since he still knows he should recognize his wife and his eldest son.
For years, I've prayed that the Lord would make me less selfish, and He's certainly doing that through this bleak season of my Dad's "golden years." Proof that God doesn't necessarily answer prayers in ways that we like.
Of course, the cynic would say that I react to books like The New 'I Do' and articles like Miller's because I'm single, and I don't know what intra-marriage struggles and stresses are like. Besides that, I'm a male, which makes it easier for me to take the patriarchal side of things.
Ferguson's protesters would add that I'm a white male, which means I'm probably part of America's racial problems, instead of a part of the solution.
We all can devise all sorts of defense mechanisms to deflect those things we perceive to be criticisms of our focus. Most of us have enough stress in our lives already, thank you, without having other people look at our situation with a critical eye.
Yet focus can make all the difference in how we cope with our stress, can't it? When I focus on what Dad can no longer do, or remember, I can literally worry myself into a miniature panic attack. When I focus on what I believe about God, His sovereignty, and His care for His people, however, I find that it's easier to let go of Dad's situation. Psychiatrists might call it "displacement," or "transference," but I believe it's simply the ability of releasing things I can't control and trusting that God does control them, and He will do so for our benefit, and His glory.
Not that it's easy for me to do. It's not easy for any of us to look at certain situations and be angry or anxious about our inability to change them in our favor. However, our focus should be on Christ, and the faith His Spirit can give us that is infused with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Even now, as I type this out, I am struggling to apply the Fruit of the Spirit to my immediate, personal circumstances. I'm told in God's Word that I should find my hope in Him, but I can't work up, or conjure up, that hope. It exists, along with God. Which means I need to rest in Him. Which means that no matter what events fill my day, and no matter what Dad forgets, I need to focus.
I need to focus on Christ.
We all do, in whatever we face, whether we're willing to or not.