Lent 2021

We're a couple of weeks into Lent, and personally it's probably the best Lent I've yet had. I set myself some strict personal challenges with the goal of defeating a particular vice that got its hooks into me many years ago. I'm not free of it yet, but I've gone 2 weeks so far without falling back into the vice, despite many urges. (Pray for me that I endure until the vice is rooted out of my heart.)

I had an important realization this week while grappling with this sin: our urges, desires, fantasies, and wants are often illusory, or at least imbued with some degree of self-delusion, and illusions don't have power of us: we have power over our illusions. More money would be nice, but it won't make you happy. That top-of-the-line Tesla? It's probably a blast to drive, but it won't make you happy. The sex won't make you happy, nor will the fame, nor will the impulse purchase (or the studied one). None of it will make you happy. (Ask me how I know.) The realization, though, wasn't the idea, but the fact: my desires are often illusory. In the moment I want it, but that want is hollow, driven by neurosis or habit or lack of discipline, and all I have to do is ... ignore it. It's that simple. (Many of you are probably rolling your eyes at this, as obvious as it is, but really, I'd never felt this in my bones before. I never really got it. And yes, I'm lazy, undisciplined, and endlessly pleasure-seeking. How did you know?)

I'm not a Buddhist, though: I don't think most of reality is an illusion, rather, our thinking about that objective reality is warped and delusional on account of sin. Furthermore, I reject that all of our desires are sinful; many of our desires are quite good: a parent wanting to take care of their children, or an employee wanting to do their best work are full of justifiable and good desire. So I reject that all desire is illusory, rather, those things we desire that are out of conformity with God's will are illusory, because they're predicated on our tiny, irrelevant, and subjective selves rather than the architecture of the cosmos, both inner and outer, or on God Himself.

The challenge, then, is to discern what God wills for us. This is what I'm trying to figure out this Lent. I'm working through a wonderful book by the artist David Clayton, whom I know from his writing at New Liturgical Movement, called The Vision for You. It's a program for discernment of one's life calling in the context of Roman Catholicism, which the author was given in-person in his 20s and which he is now passing along to others. (I'm avoiding the word 'vocation' here because of its more specific meaning in Catholicism: this is a book about life callings, which may include a vocation, but isn't a book explicitly about discerning a vocation. If none of that made sense, you're probably not a Catholic and you can ignore it.) This program led to his conversion from vague, bitter atheism to Catholicism; freed him from alcoholism; and turned him into an artist. It's a little bit like an orthodox version of The Secret and other Law of Attraction books, but that's underselling it. (For one, this book is about growing closer to God and asking Him to help you discover what you should do with your life, rather than wishing really hard about whatever it is you selfishly want and then expecting it to happen.) The first part is the author's conversion story along with his thoughts about the program at each step. Afterwards follows the program itself. The book is well-written, and targeted at a broad audience. You don't need to be Christian to follow the program (he wasn't) but it's an explicitly Christian system and I can't imagine any non-believers I know doing it (though I'm going to try and convince one of mine to do it as an experiment).

I'm not unhappy with my day job and normal life, but it feels off: it's a good life but it's not quite mine; it's someone else's dream life. If I never changed a thing I could die satisfied, but while I'm still young I want to figure out what my true calling is, and then go after it with the blessing of God. He wants us to be happy, and I want to make Him happy. I know that, whatever happens, it will work out in the end.