Stories from a life in progress.

The thing under the thing

I'm greatly indebted to the teaching of Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church for helping me understand what the Gospel really is and how to take hold of it.  One thread that runs through Keller's teaching is that sin is not all about the actions that happen on the surface.  Sometimes we need to dig under our surface actions and find what's hiding underneath in order to really get to grips with what we're doing wrong.  This is true especially for constant sins, besetting issues which return and return in our lives and keep tripping us up, especially when it seems we should "know better by now."

A related thread of Keller's teaching is the idea of "over-desires," from the Greek word epithumia.  Sometimes it is translated "lusts," sometimes "sinful desires."  The word "lust" implies to modern people that this concept is only talking about sex, while "sinful desires" doesn't quite carry the force or specificity needed.

As I understand it, epithumia refers to inordinate desires, controlling desires of all kinds -- not just for things which are clearly evil, but for ANYTHING.  A passionate, hatred-ridden compulsion to murder someone is clearly a "sinful desire."  But compulsively staying at the office too late, hovering over your kids too much, or clinging to a relationship which is no longer healthy are also examples of inordinate desires -- even though work, family, and all kinds of relationships are good things and gifts from God.

In the latter cases, it's not the THINGS that are wrong, and it's not wrong to desire them.  It's the fact of desiring them TOO MUCH which is a problem.  It's not being able to let go of something, or to keep it in the right perspective.  This kind of desire bends your whole life around your epithumia object, just like an addicted person's life becomes bent around their addiction.

One of the ways to identify an epithumia-level desire is to watch your reactions to things.  Really extreme emotional reactions to pretty ordinary, common, or no-big-deal events are a clue that you might have an over-desire at work.  

I think this is what I've got going on.  Because with some rest, time, and perspective, the kind of reactions I felt yesterday don't make a ton of sense.

I mean, how many people overdraw bank accounts occasionally?  It's not awesome to do, but it happens.  I know I'm not the only one, so why all the gut-tearing shame over it?

Also, guys?  The number isn't even that big.  I realized yesterday that the number wasn't really the problem, it was the negative sign, and not because it is a mathematical indicator on the wrong side of zero but because it felt like a sentence handed down from the bench.

This is not right.  This is so not even about the money.  This is some epithumia, some over-desire getting stepped on and howling about it.

If I think about this over-desire rationally, it's hard to see it.  I can't sit here at my keyboard, calm and composed, and put words around it for you.

But I know what I said yesterday, when I was not calm and had no words but desperately honest ones.  I said a negative sign felt like negation.  It felt like a personal judgment.  Confirmation that this world is one of scarcity and hardship.  Confirmation that I'M NOT WANTED and I DON'T DESERVE GOODNESS.

What's that all about?  What does money have to do with being wanted?  I know for darn certain that my family and friends don't love me for my money, so ... what?

(Why does reviewing these ideas make my eyes well up again?  There's something malignant buried here, all right.)

Somehow, money has gotten tied to my sense of worth.  Either it's how I feel worthy, or it's how I cover up a sense of feeling unworthy.  Either way, when you remove money, you remove my emotional security.  You remove my ability to deal with life, to talk to people sanely about problems, or to ask for help.  This is what just happened here.

I'm not done, now that I've seen a peek of this.  I've got to dig up the thing under the thing -- this controlling desire that is bending me in half.  It has to go.