Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Cracks in My Confidence

All the pressure I'm under is starting to get to me. For a while, my confidence was growing. "I can do this!" I had thought. "I'm rising to the challenge!" I knew I didn't want my life to be like this always -- even observing myself handling things well, I was thinking, "still, this is not me; this is not really what my life is about." But I said that like a tentative hypothesis. I was open to changing my mind. I realized that I needed time and experience before reaching a more definite conclusion.

Now small cracks in my new confidence have appeared. At first they were very fine, but now they are growing and spreading.

Too much pressure, and, after all, I'm not really strong enough to withstand it.

Will I ever be? Do I want to be?

It is so humbling (but not unfamiliar to me) to face one's limits head-on.

Earlier experiences like this threw me into existential crisis. While I do find it as painful as ever, at least this time I'm not getting as existential about it all.

All of this has forced me to revisit how I got here. What are the decisions I have made that have led to this? What were my motivations?

After careful examination, I find that I do feel I've been doing the best I can from moment to moment. These have not been bad decisions. Nor have I made any foolish mistakes in how I've handled things. I've stepped in where either my job demanded that I do, or where no one else would. I stepped in because of well-placed care. I've brought my all to the challenges I've faced. I've held off disaster, even when what that took was personally hard on me. My presence and care have made a real difference.

And yet, giving it my all, it still has not been enough.

And now these cracks begin to form under the strain. I cannot continue on like this. I will have to make some very hard decisions in order to bring my life back to something sustainable, something that will not destroy me. And I can do this, and I will. I do need to hang on as best as I can, though, for a bit longer. And I think I will be able to do that. Those cracks fortunately do not cut very deep (yet). But they are a serious warning.

So, why is life like this? I've done my best: why won't life itself give me a break?

It has something to do with the nature of the systems we've created. Our systems are extremely demanding. They demand of us more than we mere mortals can live up to. No one is capable of fulfilling what the system demands of them. The system is too exacting, and so each person who falls short even a little stresses the system for others. And those with the most overdeveloped sense of responsibility get pressed into the stress-points of the system. It's not just their choice -- it's the way the system works. Its forces maneuver those people into those places. It's physics.

People are not wholly without choices, though.

And it's at least theoretically possible to change the system, since the system is, after all, socially constructed.

Seeing the cracks developing in my confidence has forced me to look at what's going on. What's frightening to me is that it is not obvious to me how to free myself now, without losing too much.

But at least I've found a helpful way of thinking about my predicament. And I know that I'm not alone in having this kind of problem.

And, most importantly of all, to solve this problem in a real way I think would solve all of the most important problems our world faces today, because the soul-crushing nature of these dehumanizing forces is what is behind the frenzy that results in both war and environmental destruction.

We desperately need to create systems that enable the development of healthy, harmonious relationships among people and between people and the natural world. This is the urgent task before all of us.


  1. CS: I pray for strength and spirit for you to face these challenges.

    Yes, the systems. The Principalities and Powers. They have been vanquished, and we keep forgetting that. How can we keep remembering? Sigh, I don't know either.

    I did find Walter Wink's very small book Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way helpful in thinking about engaging the systems in creative and loving ways. Especially if you haven't read his Powers trilogy/tetralogy, this might be worth checking out since it's so short.

    -- Chris M.

  2. The problem is both personal and social in scope. On the social side people who see the need to change the world are going to have to do the gritty job of getting organized at a grassroots level. Thanks to the internet such one-to-one connecting that used to be possible only with people who live nearby is now possible globally. Physical distance is partly overcome but the grassroots organizing is still person-to-person. On the personal level we can 1) use the personal contacts we have for emotional and other kinds of support and 2) be careful not to take on too much business and 3) be willing to suffer the punishments meted out by the "principalities and powers" of this world. Christ let himself be crucified. What are we really afraid of?

    Hang in there. We're on your side.

  3. The previous two commenters helped me see this, whether they intended to or not--these three posts of yours, this one being the last, are all of a piece.

    Once again, your honesty has been a powerful blessing to me. (Whether or not you agree with my suggestion.)

  4. Wow, thanks Chris, Richard, and Johan! And yes, Johan, I totally agree!

    An Update: One of the big projects I have been working on is now behind me, and in fact went very well. The pressure is starting to lift. There is still a lot, but from now on things are going to start easing up, and I am very glad!

    I so appreciate everyone's prayers and support!