Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Hunger and Vulnerability

We have two new kittens that are still a little skittish about their new home (shared by two older cats). The other day, I had a train of thoughts kicked out onto a track by observing the more skittish of the two new kittens.

Kitty was cautiously approaching the food dish, just about to start munching, when I happened to notice one of my long red hairs draped over its tiny, black, furry body and by instinct (for I am always picking my hair off of things) I bent down to take the hair off the cat. Well, the kitty instantly went as low to the ground as it could go and ran away. It hovered about five feet away, watching the food dish and watching me. Every time I looked towards it, it hunkered down again. Finally I stepped away from the room for a minute, and when I came back it was munching the food.

I'm no animal behavior specialist, but it struck me that hunger and vulnerability go together.

When the animal is feeding its face, it can't bite an attacker, nor will it as easily see an attacker approaching. I imagine even smelling an attacker is affected with one's face that far down into food.

But of course I wasn't primarily thinking about animal behavior; I'm thinking more about human behavior. And while I'm sure there are some observations to be made about human behavior regarding food, I can relate better to more intangible hungers.

When I am "hungry" for something -- when I feel a great, driving need that requires satisfaction for me to be able to function well or concentrate on anything other than it -- I am in a place that makes me vulnerable. Vulnerability is by its nature rather frightening, because it implies that the chances of incurring hurt are somewhat high. There is risk involved. It requires weighing the value of the need versus the value of safety, and the chances of the need being met versus the chances that I will get crushed by the danger involved.

There are basic human needs, but it seems to me that the things that really strike at our vulnerability do so precisely because they are subtly unique to us. It's the way that certain type of question suddenly is addressed, that certain person's certain look or comment pierces us, that particular phobia presents itself. When someone knows us really well, a glance shot in their direction in a certain circumstance will communicate "It's happening. Help me!"

Now couple that unique vulnerability with the driving need that forces one to face that vulnerability and either walk through it, or slink back with a feeling of defeat and a safety that makes one feel like a pathetic coward. When safety and victory never feel like they happen together, life is sad and very unsatisfying. But who feels satisfied when crushed by danger?

It gets confusing, no?

What helps me to sort these feelings out for myself is, well, firstly having felt pathetically vulnerable in most completely average circumstances for years, and secondly, being able to stop and rationally evaluate my feelings.

Yes, it helps somewhat to realize that I've never ever seen the floor open up and swallow anyone as they walk into a room. I've never seen anyone struck by lightening when they asked a question, nor have I seen anyone mercilessly taunt an acquaintance as they approached to make simple conversation. Having repeatedly witnessed safe execution in average circumstances, I have developed trust that I would not die in situations where I felt I might.

(There were many times when I lived in Japan that, by all cultural considerations, I really *should* have died, like the time I preempted the 30 other important people, including the principal of my school, and gave my amazing speech in English to the school assembly and all the parents, all because I thought someone nodded towards me to do so. No one could understand me, everyone --except me-- knew I'd committed a terrible faux pas and was horrendously embarrassed for me. And then there was the time I was trying to speak with the principal at a social gathering and dropped sushi on my shoe. And the time a man thought I was desperately trying to watch him pee. Yeah, ok, so I've had lots of experience with social vulnerability gone seriously bad.)

My tendency to rationally examine my emotions has developed with experience but is helped significantly by my temperament. And it has helped me to learn that God creates human beings needy on purpose. And it isn't to humiliate us. He does not wish us to grovel to anyone, let alone Him. It is simply that the fact of their being a God necessitates that creatures are not God. Creatures are not self-causing nor are we self-sufficient and therefore we need. To be precise, we need Him. Our need is our friend, that's the big take-home point. When we own our need and make friends with our need we realize that God-shaped void, we learn we are made by Him for Him, and we find that finding Him gives us peace. Our need is met in Him. As long as we do not, cannot, recognize our need as our friend and instead we hide and hate our need (and therefore ourselves), we resent the void. We grasp for whatever temporarily makes us feel "safe," which generally means not killed by vulnerability, but with a growing self-loathing for our pathetic cowardliness. (Or our obnoxious pride, which is a cover for the pathetic cowardliness.)

So, what's the way to real victory? It is union with Christ, which means bringing one's need to the cross. By that I don't mean saying some words in prayer, although that's probably a necessary component. I mean, first of all, being stripped-bare-naked-honest about our needs. That can take time, because we are the ones most deceived by our own lies, and most ashamed of our own truth. Then it requires taking that honest need to Jesus, to the cross, in repentance for all the ways we have tried to be our own savior and all the harm we have inflicted on ourselves and on others in the process, as well as our offense against God by rejecting His love. Then it requires a deep bath at Jesus' cross in the fountain of His mercy -- really allowing His love to enter and flow and wash down deep everything that has been so starved and dried without Him. Receiving love requires broken pride. We have to let Him break it all down in us. This is probably going to seriously mess with our relationships with other people in our lives, since pride blocks others out.

These things need to have a decisive beginning at some concrete point in our lives. No one passively floats into this union with Christ. Maybe you've believed in God all your life; this is different. This is as concrete as deciding to move to a new state and then doing it.

And these things will hurt. They will bring you through many moments of vulnerability. But only God, the source of all things, gives peace and safety. It seems a contradiction that the God who endured the cross and calls you to follow Him also is the only source of peace, but it is not. This hurt and suffering are not the final word, but are the release from the uneasy "safety" we know that makes us feel like pathetic cowards. 

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