Tombstone

(see Ugh, …, opening a way through.)

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Ugh, …, opening a way through

In those last two posts I sounded like a whiny spoilt teenager. They are now “private” but I can bring them back if there’s demand.

The “remorse” phase was starting to creep in yesterday even while I was handing over the cash. I worked hard yesterday (as well as “playing” hard) and after a long miserable phone call with my wife W I realised I was utterly exhausted. The phone conversation didn’t cause the exhaustion, though some realisations I made during it hammered the remorse and the exhaustion home. Real exhaustion is a strange full body feeling. I crawled into bed as soon as I put the phone down — I made some decisions first — and let the realisations sink in and work themselves out.

Headlines:

  • W is lonely.
  • I have to throw out all that stuff I bought, all #110-worth — before I get on the train back home.

Also:

  • Self-care is important. Real self-care must (a) be really care for self, not indulgence or “giving in”; (b) include care for the bodies of which I am a part.
  • I have been hiding away some of the parts of me that W likes, that attracted W in the first place (e.g., sensuality, not-being-like-other-men, especially-men-of-her-generation).

I worry about ending like this (like that!) again. I must:

  • Turn the yoga/running/cycling up to 11 — not to tire myself out, but to place my sensuality in the public space (I mean “not secret”) (I would include wine, whisky, and delicious food in the sensuality category but W is less interested in all that nowadays).
  • Encourage a shared sensuality with W. Establish a shared sensuality. This is probably the most important local peak.
  • Nip this weirdness in the bud if/when it arises again. I don’t feel any more it is a special central part of me. It was a very early development in me to be sure, but I feel now it was an infection of the world. I think gender and fetishes are devil work that blind people, or blinker them, box them in, tie them to anti-human structures.
  • I really mean nip it in the bud. I think a blast of strong porn (as a means to an end) would be preferable. I don’t want to lean on porn, but if a foghorn through the system is what it takes so be it.
  • Have a strong, rejoicing sense of myself in Jesus (that is part of my current reading of Ephesians, in Beth’s Worthy Reading Group on FB). I am a genius, I have special insight (so does everyone else) — that sounds proud perhaps but I don’t feel it is. I don’t feel proud. I want to rejoice myself, and feel I can do that and be humble at the same time. Key is (a) rejoicing other people too; (b) rejoicing myself as part of something bigger and more worthy of rejoice — i.e., Jesus. Feeling myself as part of the body of Christ is a wonderful joy.

Mark 1:23-28

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

Recognise What is True

I was expecting this spirit to be a demon in the Greek (“daimon”). Mark does mention demons later, but this is a “pneuma”. That feels much more intimate, much more part of me.

I have had a lot on suddenly (work explosion and family medical red alert — now on yellow) but I think I’ve been avoiding confronting this passage. Partly perhaps as, with all this sudden pressure and excitement, my own unclean spirit has been given free rein (who by?).

The unclean spirit speaks, not the man, and it calls itself “us”. It recognises Jesus — before Jesus has been recognised generally in this Gospel.

Jesus had power over the unclean spirit, forcing it against its will out of the man.

Thought to take

The Gospel doesn’t relate what state the man was in once the unclean spirit had been wrenched out of him. I imagine he was weak and drained, disgusted and ashamed of what he’d been doing, and of his weakness in being taken over by the unclean spirit. He would have wanted nourishment and comfort. I fantasise that Jesus comforts the man and offers forgiveness but I’m struck that the Gospel is silent on that. The man is not important once the unclean spirit has been pulled out of him.

I imagine having the unclean spirit wrenched out was as painful for the man as it seemed for the unclean spirit itself.

However fearful it seems — having that unclean spirit wrenched out of me; wondering what will be left behind — my main two over-riding images from this passage are:

TtT

  • the unclean spirit drowns out my voice, dominates me
  • Jesus’ voice has complete power over the unclean spirit

Help, Yield

#fail. I’ve rather ran away from this passage this past week or so.

Mark 1:21-22

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

(NIV)

Recognise What is True

Did Jesus wait until the Sabbath to go and teach? Was it expected to have teaching on the Sabbath (or the reverse)? I don’t know the significance of that verse.

Some teachers teach following a textbook, some are teaching just to pay the rent, some want the status or are preserving a status hierarchy. Some teachers have an intimate relationship with their subject, care about their subject, and take care when sharing this subject with new people. I think of Jesus as this kind of teacher. The people listening to Jesus in verse 22 were used to and expecting the former kind of teacher.

Though to take

I want to be the Jesus kind of teacher. That means (a) being an example of what I’m trying to teach, and (b) caring about the student and how they are moving towards the real example (Christ). I think this approach can apply beyond ethical teaching to teaching work skills (I am supposed to be “senior”). All the time in fact, … which is hard.

TtT

  • Recognise Jesus’ authority
  • Teach Christ’s teachings, and be what I teach

Help; Yield

With this verse 22 I have been thinking of myself as a student and as a teacher. That has guided my responses to others and it is starting to guide my behaviour — the way I carry myself normally.

Mark 1:16-20

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Recognise What is True

Jesus has proclaimed his arrival and the beginning of the new age, now he gathers his disciples. Immediately he called to them, they followed him.

In my imagination Jesus does not enchant or hypnotise these men, or put a spell on them. They see clearly who Jesus is (though they might not realise it themselves — I don’t know if I’m getting ahead of myself), and they understand rationally that following the call of Jesus is their best choice. The best life that they can lead is to follow Jesus.

With the line in verse 17 — “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” — Jesus is saying two things to Simon and Andrew.

First he is saying, if we follow Jesus, we will in turn lead other people to follow Jesus (I don’t necessarily mean as an explicit activity, perhaps by example).

I think he is also saying, the skills we already have are heightened and transformed, and we use those skills in our new life. I think. I don’t quite know how I can serve Jesus with statistics.

Though to take

  • Following Jesus is the best life, the rational choice.
  • Following Jesus does not mean turning my back on my former life; it means heightening, purifying, and transforming my former life.

Help; Yield

I am beginning to feel this new life grow on me, to feel stronger. I am beginning to notice my positive side and my stregnths, and to see them as part of the part of me that is with Jesus.

Scheduling sin

This post is about my bad habits of masturbating and watching pornography. I could have translated everything into smoking or eating cake but (a) that would have taken even longer to write (b) I might have missed some details. I think most of the gruesome details are confined to the section “My sticky demons”.

From Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before”

Scheduling can also be used to /restrict/ the time spent on an activity. (p. 85)

I can think of three reasons to schedule something you want to do less of, or stop altogether (the first is given in Rubin):

  1. restriction/rationing (e.g., junk food twice a week instead of every night; 3 coffees a day instead of 6).
  2. avoiding untimely cravings, and consequently reducing chances of bingeing (e.g., always eating at mealtimes to avoid hunger — always eat at the allotted time, do not skip meals).
  3. breaking an association: if a bad habit is a response to anxiety, then scheduling the habit for some fixed time might weaken the association between anxiety & habit, and weaken the expectation that anxiety will lead to indulgence. This could then allow some other more healthy response to be associated with the anxiety stimulus. (I think Rubin gives an example of Grandma’s treacle pudding recipe — after Grandma died, eating treacle pudding brought sad memories, so the pudding was scheduled and given new associations.)

My sticky demons

Two of my four bad habits are especially hard to throw off: #1 (I use pornography) and #4 (I masturbate).

Since September 2016, after I threw out all my things, I’ve kept a log of when I masturbate and when I use pornography. I had a good stretch without porn from September 2016 to the end of December that year, and I’ve had one or two good months without masturbation or pornography, but these successes are exceptional.

The general pattern is that I can abstain happily for 3 or 4 days. After this my mentally idle moments start drifting towards erotic and sexual fantasies. These fantasies become increasingly insistent and febrile and after another couple of days almost every waking moment — certainly idle time, housework time, and most of all lying in bed waiting for sleep time — my mind is full of pornographic narration and images.

During this time I am resisting the desire to masturbate, but this resistence seems increasingly pointless as my mind has already been taken over. I will start playing with myself and edging. Eventually I will have to choose a moment and masturbate to orgasm just to clear my head. Depending on how long this mentally feverish state lasts, it might take two or three orgasms during the day to calm down.

The period from the beginning of the insistent fantasies to the final orgasm is a kind of episode.

My desire to watch pornography builds more slowly. A short episode might not take me to porn. Things that might nudge me into reaching for porn are if I get cross (usually at my wife) or if I am inordinately bored or tired (like the “HALT” — Hungry, Angry/Anxious, Lonely, Tired — acronym in Lisa‘s video here). Another trigger is hearing or seeing the woman who works in the office next door: if I am in a “vulnerable state” (early episode) and I see her or hear her voice or footsteps I will feel a strong urge to go directly to the porn.

Once I have flipped into porn I can be looking at porn practically the whole time. I have a special twitter account. The iPhone means pictures and videos can be with me wherever I go — at the office, in a cafe, at home, in bed.

Visiting actual porn sites is the next level up — again it mainly depends on how long the episode lasts. If I have been triggered by the woman next door I will go straight to porn sites (with particular search terms in mind).

Writing this all up now, it seems odd that I resist masturbating longer than I resist watching pornography. That might just be that pornography is always within reach and easy to watch secretly (even with my wife in the room or next to me in bed).

Might it not be better to cave in to the desire to masturbate and give myself an orgasm, in order to pre-empt the desire to watch porn?

Why do I get like that?

It can’t be just hormones — sometimes (rarely) I can last for over a month with little apparent effort. No doubt HALT-style factors play a role as well. I need to find better ways to respond to HALT stimuli.

Sex with my wife is not going to start again any time soon. I need to find ways to move towards that goal.

In the meantime I want to:

  1. just cut down how much I do it
  2. pre-empt or reduce this porn & masturbation craving that comes over me
  3. break associations between this craving and HALT or other factors

So it seems a good fit for scheduling.

Scheduling masturbation

I think if I schedule masturbation successfully I can cut out the desire to watch porn altogether.

General principles:

  • make sure I never go too long without: avoid cravings
  • how long is “too long” can change (hopefully, gradually get longer)
  • not allowed to skip a scheduled session: again avoid cravings, also establish a new stronger association between masturbation and the schedule

I want to avoid making new associations (e.g., with being home alone or arriving at work).

When the scheduled time comes I should:

  1. park what I’m doing and go to the appointed safe place
  2. don’t use porn, try not to have sexual fantasies
    • perhaps fantasise about my wife, if that feels emotionally safe
    • think just about my body and its feelings
  3. afterwards: enjoy the feeling, read something calming, do not feel bad or guilty

So, when?

  • not at home with wife/son around
  • must be known in advance
  • try to avoid unnecessary associations

The only time/place I can think of is first or last thing at work. That gives ten slots a week.

At the start of each week (starting this weekend) I’ll randomly assign two or three of these slots to be M20 (masturbate to orgasm) slots.

Mark 1:14-15

Welcome the Lord, Observe the Scripture

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Recognise What is True

In verse 14, Jesus waits until John has been arrested before coming into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God. Jesus is not rushing, he is waiting for the right time. Jesus doesn’t want to overshadow the good work John is doing.

In verse 15, Jesus says: the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. Jesus is proclaiming the new age to the Jews of Galilee. This simple statement told the Jews that they were freed from the burden of the dead Law.

But, …

Though to take

… that was 2000 years ago. How is this verse relevant to me? How can I use this verse to help me today?

  • the time (to act) is now. I can make a change now — to the world, to myself — that can make a difference.
  • Where is the kingdom of God? I am in the wilderness, but the kingdom is within reach. I don’t think of life after death, but I do think of the angels helping me, and I do think of the state of well-being that comes with living and acting in harmony with the Lord.
  • “repent and believe in the gospel”. These two go together: believing the gospel gives me a motivation to repent, gives me a positive replacement for sin, and gives me the strength to see repentance through to redemption (I hope!).

TtT

  • Act now.
  • Believe in the gospel and repent.

Help, Yield

I read this passage last Friday, when I was feeling angry and anxious (for separate reasons). Although I didn’t think so explicitly at the time — at the time I thought, “let’s see what next week’s reading should be” — I /turned to scripture/ in reponse to these feelings of anger and anxiety.

I have had verse 15 in my head all week, pondering on what it means, and it has helped me train my attention and lift my mood.

Not a challenge but a gift

Out of the blue a potential client has appeared, and all of a sudden it looks like I might win an important, big (for me) contract. The work is technically interesting, and very well-paid, and the company is nice.

Hard on the heels of elation comes anxiety and insecurity — the work will be difficult and there’ll be a lot of it: will I measure up? There’ll be younger zippier people on the team (without families to look after! Better looking!). Piles of unironed clothes and unwasked dishes surround me — and it’s my turn to cook the dinner.

Now I’m in the mood for shelter, it occurs to me that the work will involve semi-regular short periods away — long dormant demons begin to stir.

I need a way to snap myself out of this downward spiral.

What is certain? God has made this happen to me.

The thought of this client as a challenge from God gave me a bit of a boost, but ramped up the anxiety too: could I measure up to a challenge from God? Better, I thought of it as a gift.

  1. How can I think of this as a gift from God?
  2. How can I respond appropriately to this gift?

1. It will be a financial blessing certainly, and we are struggling financially at the moment. I could even say this is an answer to my prayers over money worries. The work will be interesting, in a new area I need to get to know better; it will tone up skills that have been lying fallow for a while. It will enable me to simplify my work life: I’ll be able to jettison a time-wasting client, and be more assertive with another; I shan’t have to scrabble around after contracts.

2. Say thank you: pray thank you to my Lord for this gift. Look forward to enjoying the work. Think back to similar challenges in the past that turned out to be gifts. Enjoy and give thanks during the work too.

Do you know relevant Scripture or other reading that can help with work anxiety and insecurity?

What are your favourite Thank You psalms or prayers from the Bible?

Mark 1:9-13

Welcome the Lord; Observe the Scripture

[No pic this week :(]

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Recognise What is true

Verse 9: Jesus comes out to John to be baptised. Baptism is about repentance and forgiveness. If Jesus is without sin, why does he seek baptism? Is baptism important even without sin? Perhaps, although Jesus is without sin, he doesn’t “assume” he is without sin, or claim entitlements on that basis.

Verse 11: I enjoy saying this phrase about my son, only half in jest because it is true. I also wonder about God saying it to me (& by extension to everyone, or at least to those who have sought and received baptism). A confirmation of my intimate relationship with God, and of his continuing love and support.

Verses 10 & 12: The Spirit acts immediately on baptism. In verse 10 it descends on the baptisee (?), then in verse 12 it drives the baptisee out into the wilderness. Seeking and receiving baptism is an invitation to the Spirit. More mundanely and practically, I could see myself being filled with enthusiasm after such a landmark event.

Verses 12 & 13: Why does the Spirit drag me off into the wilderness to face trials? What does that mean? (In this passage I am seeing Christ as a kind of everyman, and this episode as a description of baptism.) The Holy Spirit objectively knows the best path from where I am now to salvation, and will pull me along that path. Being pulled along that path will force me to face certain obstacles and confront certain weaknesses. Thse confrontations will be the ones that are necessary, whether I like it or not — not the ones I would chose. The Spirit confronts Jesus with the Devil himself.

From a more psychological perpective: when I am enthused and inspired by baptism and the Holy Spirit, my internal battle becomes stronger — not just to forego indulgence today, but to become a new kind of person. As well as my desire to be good and to follow Jesus, I have these other desires and weaknesses — lust, anxiety, sarcasm, … I have to own up and admit I enjoy these things. These demons (which are part of me) will put up more of a fight when they know I am trying to give them up for good.

Though to take

I am very struck that even Jesus seeks out and receives baptism, even when surely he needs no forgiveness. That speaks of a profound humility, which I love.

I haven’t taken baptism but I do feel that my struggles have heightened since I’ve been thinking of myself as Christian. I had been experiencing those struggles as personal failures. Verse 13 tells me (I think) that the Spirit is dragging me to face these challenges. These are the things I must overcome and leave behind. I must make that decision now rather than later.

TtT

  • Seek and receive baptism
  • The Holy Spirit brings challenges as well as guidance

Help, Yield

Over the past few weeks, remembering that the Holy Spirit brings challenges has helped me push myself through difficulty, resist indulgence, and give attention and affection to others (even when I am struck down by Man Flu!).

AFK

Back next week.

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