(Started on Wednesday, October 15)
I refer you to the following previous posts, for purposes of establishing background for this current one:
This current post details my mule-headed wasting of said future opportunity.
The weeks and then days leading up to my Long Island trip were the proverbial blur. My brain was filled to capacity with details, responsibilities, and concerns. I wasn’t sleeping well, despite the fact that I was deliberately getting to bed at a decent hour each night. The stress took a toll. On Sunday evening before my Friday flight to Long Island, I came down with a fever. I sent a semi-panicked prayer request to some brothers who know the story. The next evening the fever was gone and I was left tired but reasonably capable.
I had started my Long Island trip preps back in mid-August, so I wasn’t behind so much as I was just running out of time. Ha. Getting ready to be out of town, away from work, needing things packed, confirming flight info, printing boarding passes, figuring out the DART schedule to DFW airport. All that. Not an usual state of activity for a busy person made busier by a trip that he wasn’t particularly interested in taking. I distinctly remember yelling at God in my head, “Why are You doing this to me? Sending me on some freaking wild goose chase in Long Island!” I was frustrated beyond words, worn out, and not quite seeing The Big Picture about the Triangle, to the extent that I ever have. All I wanted was for the trip to be done.
My leg started burning again sometime around the first of October. In fact I recall nearly mentioning it as I closed the most recent post. As with the previous manifestations, my awareness of the burn was gradual. Vaguely distracted annoyance became shifting my pant leg around to relieve heat became staring at my leg and knowing that HS was back. I couldn’t remember the last time HS had been around. I searched through old emails and found a reference to my friend who’d had the lower leg problem. November of 2013. Almost a whole year had come and gone since then. What a year. Here was HS again, right before my Long Island trip. HS was just one of about fifteen critical things to keep track of during the final days leading up to my flight out. But HS was more like a constant spot of quiet stillness in the midst of a hurricane. For approximately seven days.
During my illness last week, which coincided with a three-day fast, which coincided with feeling like I was trying to pull a rabbit connected to a freight train out of hat, there was HS. Why then? Why, at all? I will never know, presumably. Because you see, Gentle Reader, on Wednesday night, before my Friday flight, I masturbated.
Five and a half years ago, I heard a voice one morning, as I was waking up: “Do not satisfy yourself.” “I wasn’t going to satisfy myself,” I thought, indignant while a little shocked. “I was just going to adjust things.” I wasn’t sure what to make of the message. I’d never heard a voice like that one before – I didn’t hear it with my ears, but my mind. It was the same voice I’d later come to know from such classic hits as “You – Wichita Falls, Portland, Long Island.”
Do not satisfy yourself.
I spent about four years kicking around potential implications of the message. I ran the gamut of possibilities, from wondering if I had actually imagined it all, to believing I had heard a clear directive from God. I don’t remember ever thinking it was possibly from an evil source. What has Satan to gain by encouraging anyone to not satisfy their selfish inclinations? The consideration that God had spoken to me led to much wonder – I wasn’t surprised that God might direct me away from masturbating; but I also wasn’t prepared to believe He actually would do so. This ambivalence was somewhat deliberate – were I to absolutely decide that it was God talking to me, I’d have to get off my duff and do the hard work of reworking some really old behavior patterns.
Ultimately I decided to embrace the “Did God really say…” routine, which routine was marked with all kinds of questions and rationalization and some sincere effort at following the directive. I did at least two forty-day fasts and some shorter ones. I learned in the process that, even if God didn’t really say, He might as well have. When I abstained, life was just better in general. Try it and see for yourself.
As I decisively concluded back in November of 2013, God really did say. I had no doubt of it then. Reading those two blog posts for the first time since publishing, I remember how crushed I was that I’d missed an opportunity to apparently be part of a huge blessing for someone. I remember being shocked that God was interested in those particular details of my life to the extent that there could be such extreme consequences. Really shocked? Maybe pretend shocked. Christ was, after all, crystal clear in His denunciation of lust. And I have yet to find a way to masturbate that doesn’t come back to lusting after someone.
I didn’t stay pretend shocked, is the problem. I totally (lazily) lost site of The Bigger Picture and started up the “Did God really say” thing again. I can say without hesitation that abstinence has been more a way life than not this year. But the abstinence hasn’t been complete. And on Wednesday, October 8, I crashed my will straight through all the warnings and barriers that a loving and patient God can offer someone. Even with that burning sensation in my leg. LALALALAAAA I’M NOT LISTENING. I even remember afterwards ashamedly thanking Him for the small pay increase I’d gotten at work that day. THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR BLESSINGS. DON’T MIND ME REBELLIOUSLY LUSTING AND MASTURBATING OVER HERE, IN GRATITUDE FOR ALL YOUR GENEROSITY.
My boss had come in to my office on Wednesday and told me that I’d been given a raise. He told me there would be some back pay on the next paycheck, because the raise was retroactive to June. “How cool,” I thought. “Just in time for this trip that is costing me a small fortune.” I have a job at all, and I still get raises at my job – which means I’m a very blessed American. I know it, and I don’t take it for granted. I figured that the retroactive pay would cover my Long Island Railroad weekly pass, maybe my budgeted cash for the trip.
Then Wednesday night happened. Thursday arrived with (naturally) no warm sensation in my leg. With my first waking thought, I was ashamed. With my second waking thought, I was thrust back into the chaos of trip preparations while doing one more full day at the office. I first participated in a weekly early-morning prayer service at church, where I’m a regular musician. Few people in the crew knew the story of the Triangle; my friend who suggested I start this blog and also had his spinal discs healed is the worship leader. He brought my trip to everyone’s attention, and they graciously prayed for me and blessed my trip. All I could think of was how quiet my leg was and why. I wept in shame and frustration.
Back at the office, my supervisor brought me my paycheck. The pay for the two week period was huge, even taking into consideration some back pay since June of this year. I called HR to confirm. I didn’t want to fall in love with the money if they had made a mistake in their calculations.
HR: No, it’s the right amount. Your raise was effective June 2013, not 2014.
The administrative wheels can grind slowly at my company. (I have since learned that there was some personnel changes in my department that triggered the back pay. It was office drama that I didn’t know of until months later. Whatever the case, the money showed up in my life right before the trip – rgVI.) I stared at the check. I opened up my monthly budget spreadsheet. For months, most of my budget categories have been in the red. I used to save and tithe from each paycheck. I don’t save any more. My tithes have been going to towards my Triangle trips. Economic realities being what they are these days, I routinely spend more than I make. I’ve been eating through my savings, learning to trust that God will provide.
God provided. I allotted money from that paycheck across my budget categories. When I was finished, my budget was basically balanced, for the first time in at least a year. For grins I added up all my expenses for the Long Island trip. The paycheck amount, over and above what I expected to get from a pre-raise pay period, was the same money I’d spent on airfare, hotel, rail pass, and budgeted cash.
Funny thing is, I had been wishing I could have one of those episodes where God mysteriously and miraculously provides exactly the amount of money someone needs. I hadn’t been complaining, but I had suggested to Him that it would be pretty cool. I know several people that it’s happened to. Then He did it for me, right before my final Triangle trip. If the pay raise had gone through as intended, sixteen months ago, I wouldn’t have even remembered that blessing in October 2014. Instead, He had arranged for me to get this massive comforting surprise the day before I was to leave town. “Relax. It’s paid for. I love you.”
I was numb with gratitude, fatigue, and grief. There was enough to do still that I couldn’t think much about my leg, other than to feel like I was being swept along in an irresistible flood, aware that I’d left something irreplaceable back behind.
I left for Long Island the next morning. During the entire trip, I saw everything through a perspective of “what if/if only.” As profoundly as the Lord blessed me and (hopefully) others in Long Island, I believe there was much that didn’t happen as originally planned, due to my rebelliousness. I will try to publish a blog post about Long Island by the first week in November.
Do not satisfy yourself.
I have some insights in October 2014 that I didn’t have a year ago. Most notably, there’s this: as any one of us is stressed, we will reach for that which is our most habitual comforter. God wants to be our comfort and satisfaction. If we are in the habit of seeking comfort anywhere but in the Lord, we’re likely to turn to that dead end, instead of Him, in times of relative chaos. “Do not satisfy yourself” was about me turning to some source other than God to get relief from whatever might be weighing on me. Combine that dynamic with the essentially unavoidable element of lust that is part of masturbation, and it’s a perfect setup for driving away blessings that are evidently (for me) on some sort of hair-trigger availability.
(written Monday, October 20)
Why did I do the one thing I could be relatively certain would short-circuit the HS in my leg? It was a combination of multiple variables:
– I was stressed to the point of practically having out-of-body experiences, watching myself go through the avalanche of late-stage trip preparations, hilariously unprecedented work-related problems on that Wednesday before the trip, and standard life responsibilities that do not take a break just because any one of us is busy doing non-standard things.
– During the eleven months since the HS had last made an appearance, I lost a sense of urgency about the presence. I could have described for you in great detail Wednesday afternoon all about the interesting and mobile warm sensation; how it seemed to point towards divine healing potential; and how I lost the burn due to my ‘lusting’, as I euphemistically danced around the issue in the previous posts. But I had no lingering burden of remorse in believing I’d cheated my friend, almost a year ago, out of a healed leg or the stark awareness that I’d apparently offended an entity much greater than myself.
– The apparently solitary nature that defines much of my faith walk for some years makes it all seem unreal and easy to discount, if I’m so inclined. I don’t know anyone else that has experienced the warm curiosity known as HS; “Do not satisfy yourself”; “You – Wichita Falls, Portland, Long Island”; and any other of a number of variables about which I have no one with whom to compare notes. There might be people all over the place experiencing this kind of thing; but I don’t know them personally. (I know a lot of people who are walking with the Lord in ways that I am not, and I can’t necessarily relate to their experiences. He really does appear to relate to us individually. Just as a good dad should.) It is (was) already against my base inclinations to believe such experience are legitimate and of God, much less common. Combine that predisposition with the apparent isolation in which God is dealing with me, and the end result is I can too easily look the other way when I need to focus on unseen realities that might require more of me than I want to give.
– I’m lazy about it all and not just a little entitled. I haven’t so much as smelled a woman in five and a half years; so I can quickly decide I deserve a break today. “DID GOD REALLY SAY LALALA NOT LISTENING AT LEAST I’M NOT FORNICATING OR LOOKING AT PORN BLAH BLAH” and all that. It’s garden variety rebelliousness. Without the HS around for so long, I’d fallen into complacent, self-justifying behavior enough of the time to sustain bad habits. Toss in a world class stress load, and I consciously decided to thumb my nose at HS and let the chips fall where they may.
The chips fell thusly: during my Long Island trip, I was actively concerned that God would show me a situation that proved I had definitely wasted another chance to be a part of blessing someone. Then, in the midst of a church service on Sunday morning, people prayed fervently that a man in the congregation would stand up and walk away from his wheelchair. He did not, could not. I believe as surely as I’m typing this right now that I was supposed be a vector for miraculous healing in him. I couldn’t be that vector, however, because I chose to beat off four days earlier. I sat helplessly and watched the man also remain seated.
(Tuesday, October 21)
A fundamental dynamic in all of this anticipation and wondering is that I am many years into a lifestyle of longing for an exclamation mark from God, to prove unequivocally that the Creator of the Universe is in my corner. There have been many independent prophecies and dreams that support the notion that He is going to bless me with that emphatic smile. But I have grown frustrated with waiting, always waiting for relief, for some public justification. A bona fide miracle would, in my simple mind, provide the long awaited exclamation mark, to punctuate the End of Waiting.
The overall impression I got from the Long Island trip was that God had prepared a surprise party for me and some good folks there. (This claim might make more sense to the reader after my Long Island post is up.) Maybe to celebrate the completion of the Triangle visits. Whatever the cause for celebration, I wandered through the party with a heavy heart. As the blessings piled up over the weekend, and especially after watching the man in the wheelchair, I became progressively more convinced that I had, in unintentional and preemptive ignorance, thrown out an opportunity to see an end to the waiting. That morose conviction remains and is amplified in my belief that I alone am the reason that the waiting goes on.
Do not satisfy yourself.
The voice didn’t say, “Don’t masturbate,” or,”Don’t lust.” Lust is already highlighted explicitly in the Bible as a distinct sin. Masturbation is not, though there is much to be made of Onan’s situation. Depending on who one reads, Catholic doctrine teaches that any sex act that isn’t open to the creation of life is sinful. I’ve been listening to EWTN radio a lot in the past year, and there’s a decent chance I’ll be Catholic one day. In the meantime I place masturbation in a grey area where it’s not necessarily and absolutely sinful; but it’s not a life-enhancing (much less life-creating) activity, other than to provide some immediate stress relief, sleep aid, etc. To the extent that I’ve talked to anyone about masturbation in such terms, there’s almost universal self-loathing associated with the act; that speaks more to me than a possible transgression Onan committed in minimizing the chance he’d impregnate his dead brother’s wife. If it’s something that makes so many people feel disgusted with themselves, isn’t it reasonable to think there’s some spiritual basis for that disgust?
(Check out this thread at the Catholic Answers forums for one interesting discussion among many about the subject.)
Do not satisfy yourself.
It was the wording of the message that really caught and held my reluctant attention over the years. In my sleepy haze that first morning, I was jolted by a turn of phrase that wasn’t anything I’d come up with on my own. If the voice had said, “Do not masturbate,” or “Do not lust,” I’d have been attentive, but less so. Rather than hammer on the peripherals of lust and masturbation, the voice zeroed in on the fundamental issue, which was me trying to satisfy myself. Which prompts the obvious follow-up response of “OK, what should I do instead?” To which the presumed response is, “Trust Me for your satisfaction.” To which I might respond, “What’s so great about You that I should trust You more than the this old stand-by that has more or less gotten me through the past thirty years? With dubious results and distinct propensity for encouraging bad habits? And is a total dead end that makes me feel miserable…nevermind…”
Do not satisfy yourself.
This is another way of saying, “Surrender.” If God wants us to surrender totally to His will, then it follows that we need to surrender our propensity to find satisfaction in things that do not last and do not draw us closer to Him. I have been through periods of both deliberate and incidental abstinence over the years, during which terms I had no conscious intent to maintain that abstinence in perpetuity. That was not a state of living in surrender so much as it was, at worst, hanging on until the next opportunity to do what I really wanted to do. As of October 8, 2014, I have a more crystallized intent, born of no small sense of loss; and there’s an excellent chance I’ll not masturbate again.
God would presumably prefer that we learn to accept His instruction as blessing, rather than dragging ourselves through the wasteland of ‘learning experiences’. I am putting one foot out of that wasteland now, testing the higher ground. This is a time to demonstrate unprecedented discipline in pursuit of unprecedented Kingdom utility, versus living as a lukewarm Kingdom mediocrity. For the last few days at least, when there has been much temptation, I have made an effort to remember those people in my life for whom I’d gladly swap a lifetime of obedience in exchange for a chance to facilitate heavenly restoration moving into their bodies – RM…AR…JR…BM…SB…TS…LC…MM…BW – etc. This list has grown to include several dozen people over the past two years in which I’ve been counting them.
In the past year I have been asking God, specifically with regard to sexuality, to show me what He celebrates and what He abhors. Sometimes I have to ask Him to help me want to ask for that perspective. Perhaps the giving and taking of the HS in my leg is a graphic way by which He is answering that very request.
I’m not excited to be writing this particular post. I don’t like publicly (though somewhat anonymously) describing these particular intimate details of my life and faith journey. This whole post feels like one navel-gazing outburst of ‘TMI’. But if a purpose of this blog is to provide with integrity some date-stamped documentation of one person’s walk with the Lord, then I need to include the awkward material. Also, this information might be useful to someone else in their own journey.
As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. – Proverbs 26:10