"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." - Vincent Van Gogh

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Is God Extravagant?

"When it comes time for us to choose between a cherished dream and a lousy current drudgery, we often choose to ignore the dream, and blame our continued misery on God. We act like it’s God’s fault we didn’t go to Europe, take that painting class, go on that photo shoot. In truth, we, not God, had decided not to go. We have tried to be “sensible” — as though we have any proof at all that God is sensible– rather than see if the Universe might not have supported some healthy extravagance.
I have often said that God himself did not know when to stop– there is not one red flower, or a hundred red flowers, but thousands. Snowflakes, of course, are the ultimate exercise in sheer creative glee– no two alike. This creator looks suspiciously like someone who just might send us support for our creative ventures."   --- Julia Cameron

I grabbed this quote from Julia Cameron's blog last month. I've gone back to read it at least once or twice a week since because there was something in there that I wanted to explore further.

I have always had this notion that because I liked nice things and desired to travel, there was something essentially wrong with my character. I believed that the "wants" needed to be cast aside and filled with contentment in the pain and suffering of life that produced character. I've had a hard time reconciling nice dinners with the starving on the street corners right outside the restaurant. Even though I am by no means "rich", I realize that I've been given so much more than many in the world and have a responsibility toward those who are struggling. This belief is in my very DNA and has been reinforced throughout my life.

It's feelings like this that have kept me from being extravagant and indulging in my own desires. I tend to put everyone ahead of myself. As a parent of course, I sacrifice my own wardrobe, so the my kids can be nicely clothed. I forgo vacations (what's that), so that I can send them to good schools. We live in a modest 1/2 duplex of 1200 square feet and yet often I feel that it is a greater extravagance than we should have, acknowledging that many live in worse conditions than I do. I feel guilty that I wish that I lived in a stand alone house where the neighbors didn't hear all our conflicts and we didn't hear theirs!

I am fortunate to travel on business where my expenses are paid for. I am well taken care of by the company and am able to order nice meals and stay in nice places that I would never be able to stay at on my own. The first time that I went to a restaurant that I was able to order what I felt like eating instead of the cheapest thing on the menu with extreme guilt was a great feeling! How easily I've grown accustomed to it for in a sense it made me feel like  a real human being with choices - like a princess. I realized that I've lived my whole life feeling as if I had to earn the air that I breathed and justify every penny that I've spent.

I turned 51 years old this month and I've never travelled to Europe even though I have wanted to since the age of 7. Much of this has to do with my financial status but I believe another part has to do with the fact that I grew up in the first ward ghetto of Paterson in a family that ministered to the people there. I saw poverty and the effects of it. My parents chose to take a meager salary to devote their lives to helping the poor. I toddled on a fence between living in that environment and attending a private school with people who took wonderful trips and owned nice houses and cars. I wanted their lives and I felt guilty for that every day! 

So when I take my 2003 SUV gas hog and drive 57 miles down the road at night to watch the sunset, I experience a boatload of guilt. I cringe each time I get in the car to go to the store to pick up a new wand of mascara or lipstick, because after all is it REALLY necessary for me to wear makeup? Must I color my hair - it's more godly to go grey. Thank goodness I barter with my hairdresser else I'd really look my age! And I just KNOW I'm going to burn in hell for all the money that I've wasted on my occasional caramel frappuccino lites with SOY (an extra 50 cents a cup)!

So although I WANT pleasure with everything in me, I have a hard time actually seeking it without guilt.

So what about "eat, drink and be merry" or "it is good to enjoy the fruit of your labors"? Aren't these part of our spiritual heritage too? Is our purpose to suffer through this world so that in the next life we will get the goods in proportion to how much we denied ourselves here? These are things to ponder...

Doing extravagant things does one no good if they are done with guilt. Denying yourself is pointless if you resent it. 

Were we put on this earth to toil? That's part of the curse! Why do we carry out the curse like it's our godly duty? It's time to realize that we were called to be free and to laugh and enjoy! Sure, there is a balance and we shouldn't do things at other's expense - but a life lived with pain does not honor anyone. A burned out mom is no good to her children. A stressed out dad because he never takes care of himself becomes a mean man. Training the pleasure right out of our children makes them depressed adults who can offer no hope to the world.

So today, think about your experience and your deeply rooted belief system. Does it serve you? Is it serving your life and those around you? Everything when taken to an extreme can be destructive, both permissiveness and denial. Have a little fun today - guilt free - it's good for the soul!

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