If faith is as simple as having confidence in God, then it’s fair to say that my confidence has been shaken. In other words, my faith has been strained. I’d like to change that, but I’m afraid it will require working through numerous issues from the past as well as a few from the present.

For me, it comes down to some of the finer points of faith. Can I really trust God with everything? What about my personal well-being? My financial well-being? Health or money? The answer is no because these things fail. It seems the only expectation a Christian should have is assurance in salvation, which is a painful lesson.

My mistake may have been a belief that the gifts of God would include purpose and, perhaps, meaning. Both of these things may very well be gifts from God, but I’ve found that purpose is often separate and apart from one’s ambition, and the derivation of meaning is usually less than comfortable.

Of course, this is the natural course of the Christian journey. We are to discover that our ways are outside the Way of God and allow our course to be corrected. My problem has been letting go of what I believe to be my real purpose or, more specifically, the idea that it should bear fruit.

The frustration comes along in the fact that I believe I might have been okay with a different purpose as long as it was given meaning and was consequential. Perhaps that’s wrong. It’s altogether possible that I was born to do one thing and that it should produce only suffering. Thus, the breakdown of confidence. I don’t believe our purpose is suffering.

Nor do I believe that a gift from God (or talent, if you will) should inflict pain. It can involve struggle and strain because it will involve work, but it should not result in wholly unfavorable outcomes. If that were the case, then the gift was not a gift but a curse.

God’s gifts are good. Are they not?

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:7-11

I’m not entirely sure that the “good things” Jesus is referring to here isn’t salvation, despite the fact the word “things” is plural. After all, it is the one true hope of the faith. In that case, I might feel better if I could even begin to conceptualize or envision what exactly salvation entails.

photo: Zac Durant

I recently realized that I have a pretty specific set of goals that I’ve frequently verbalized and languished over for some time. (By languishing, I mean that I’ve suffered for not having achieved them.) But one thing I’ve never done is write them down.

First, it’s been my goal on and off for the last twenty years to become a full-time fiction writer. I want to be specific. A full-time freelance writer is not the same thing. I want to be a novelist or someone who makes a significant portion of their income from their creative works.

I’ve not been under any delusion about this. I realize that very few people are successful in this regard. In the past, I’ve compared it to wanting to play in the NBA or Premier League football. It’s a goal that is extremely difficult to achieve.

What has caused me a significant amount of suffering is that subsequent goals seem to hinge, more or less, on my attainment of the first goal. For example, I would like to create a television show that involves interviewing writers and/ or a travel show that promotes the causes of those in need.

With goals this lofty, I’ve had to develop a Plan B, and I’m working toward that goal as well. But when it comes down to it, I’m utterly committed to obtaining my goal of becoming a novelist or some reasonable semblance.

I have endeavored in this journal to write about optimizing my life to help me achieve this goal. But such optimization would be rendered fruitless if I am not allowed to enter my desired arena. It would be similar to an Olympic athlete who is denied participation in the main event to do political objection or injury or pandemic. The training has been completed, and yet they are left wanting. This could certainly happen to me.

So, the question is, is there any satisfaction in only training to an Olympic level without competing. Let’s hope so. Better yet, let’s hope that a dream unfulfilled is replaced by something that delivers and even more unique sense of completeness.

I know that’s what I’m hoping for if I’m denied my goal. It’s something I’ve been hoping for some time already. If my dream was replaced, I might finally be able to find some peace.

photo: Shapelined

Believe it or not, I didn’t always believe in self-improvement. But that may have been because I didn’t realize the concept existed. For a long time, I spent my time in the moment. That may sound Zen, but it isn’t.

Any given moment was chaos–usually brought on by the aftermath of some kind of self-destruction. There was no peace. Instead, there were brief moments of ecstasy, or what some would call delusions of grandeur, followed by a swift downfall. Those times are behind me now, for the most part.

Since chaos was my state, there wasn’t a good deal of planning that went into the future. There were a few exceptions. For example, I had some investments. And I was able to outline and produce an occasional screenplay and make a short film.

Things finally changed when I chose to become serious about my passion. This effort required (and forcefully dragged me into) organization and near compulsive-levels of commitment to the craft of writing.

This commitment, combined with a deep dive into minimalism, may explain why I made my first resolution a few years back. It was pretty simple: Do more with less. In all aspects of living, I hoped to be more efficient and productive. Much more so than I already was. So, like any proper resolution, it was a challenge to myself.

A year or two later, I made another resolution. I wanted to decrease any remaining procrastination or hesitation, so I came up with this: Do it now! It was short and to the point. There was no longer any time to waste, so I wanted to get up and get going.

I’ve combined the two since then, but I fear that year after year of intense productivity is beginning to wear me down. And that pulling back may be a good idea. I don’t want to lose any of my good habits, but I do want to pursue a new path. That’s why this year’s resolution is to do what makes me happy.

It’s not hard to see that there’s a lot of doing in my resolutions. That much is clear. And whereas this year it may seem like I’m doing something different, I’m not sure that’s entirely the case. I’ll need to do more with less and avoid hesitation while pursuing what makes me happy because that will make me happy.

So, I’m trying to slow down by allowing myself to explore more options and find new ways to introduce pleasure, satisfaction, and contentment to my life. I’m sure I can do those things while maintaining my minimalist philosophy. And if that doesn’t make 2020 a good year, then nothing will.

photo: Mark Daynes

It took years, but I’ve finally worked my way out of student debt. The way I went about it was by paying a little more than 200% of what was due each month. I would have paid more if I could’ve afforded it.

While I was doing this, I was working on saving for a home. The student debt was impeding my progress, but that seems to be unavoidable without a socialist in the White House. (And if we do get a socialist in the White House, I’m banking on tax breaks for paying my loans off early.)

Either way, it appears that I’ll be going from one debt to another, which makes me feel a lot more like a debtor than an owner. Speaking of ownership, I’m the proud owner of a Toyota Corolla named Dorian Gray (because it’s Slate Gray.) But we’re saving for the family’s next car, and we won’t be able to afford to buy it outright. And we’ll most likely also have a mortgage by then.

The problem with debt may be a problem of employment. Most people can be assured that they’ll have a job for the majority of their working life. Some will be unlucky. Others will be underpaid. Perhaps they’re also just down on their luck.

When someone loses their job, debts become an unbearable burden. So, when it comes to debt, I’ll allow myself to take out loans. But I will soften the blow by saving as much as possible for down payments (e.g., at least 20% for a home so I can avoid mortgage insurance), and I will pay off these debts as quickly as possible.

I don’t believe I’ll be out of work for an extended amount of time in the next thirty years, but I could take a cut in salary, which could be potentially damaging. So, I’ll also avoid adding to my burden by purchasing what I can’t afford or by spending recklessly. This will also help me pay down the debts I amass faster.

photo: Alice Pasqual

Not everything in my life is the way I want it to be. In a few cases, my patience has been worn thin, and I’m justifiably frustrated. But, in other areas, I could use a little more tolerance for discomfort.

Ideally, I would approach scenarios that test my patience with a cool head. This might require a certain level of detachment, and while that could be healthy, I sometimes fear it can be taken too far. I want to feel free to express emotion–when necessary. And I would prefer to avoid self-imposed despondency for the sake of equilibrium.

To further complicate the matter, becoming unfeeling or unmoved by the things that make me suffer seems like an unobtainable goal. Life has brought me (like everyone) obstacles, and I have been able to achieve a level head regarding my plight, for the most part. The problem is that there is one major area of my life that brings me persistent and severe agitation. In this matter, I have no patience for my predicament and very little hope for the future.

The way to overcome my frustration may be to realize I’m no a soothsayer. I can’t tell the future, so I don’t know how my path will ultimately unfold. In other words, I may get what I’m after–just on a different timeline than I was expecting, which makes complaining seem a bit uncomely.

A choice I can make is to find reasons to be grateful regarding the present. And that’s why I try to keep a gratitude journal. But, honestly, it’s only been moderately effective in showing me how lucky I already am.

I spend too much time dwelling on my adversity. I’m particularly attuned to injustice and rubbed raw by it too easily. And it’s possible that if I spent less time licking my wounds, they would heal. In the end, I should work on being more patient, especially when I don’t really want to.

photo: Jeremy Thomas

I’d like to complain less. Well, it might not be that I want to complain less so much as I want to have less to complain about… But, seriously, I think there are two kinds of complaining. One is completely pointless–just a way for the complainer to vent.

But there is another way to look at complaining. Especially when it might lead to positive change. Think about Henry Ford’s first car. If no one had said, “This thing’s kinda slow, Hank,” then he may not have pushed to give the Model T a little more giddy-up.

So, if I do choose to complain, I want to complain effectively. For example, I was recently griping to a supervisor about an inefficiency in our system. After the meeting, I went and fixed it. I could’ve just fixed it quietly, but sometimes stating the problem helps me see the solution.

It’s good to have a team that allows this kind of exploration, but I would prefer to think through the issues that arise and find the solutions quietly whenever possible.

If there were an equation, it might look like this:

Discomfort + Griping = Problem

vs.

Discomfort + Thought = Solution

So, to improve, I will challenge myself to say less and think more in order to increase productivity. I will further strive to eliminate venting–a practice that often occurs in the presence of a person who isn’t listening in the first place. When it comes down to it, who really wants to blather on and on to someone who couldn’t care less?

photo: Kevin Butz

In the past week, I’ve been caught in a traffic jam, cut off, and made to wait behind someone just a little too long after the light turned green.

In all likelihood, the traffic jam caused my blood pressure to go up the most. I honked at the stoplight because I figured the driver was texting. I didn’t lay on the horn or anything. I just tried to get the traffic flow moving again. I shook my head when I was cut off, but none of these things alleviated my aggravation.

Therefore, it might be better if I learned to accept the travails of the road with a little more grace–if that’s possible. But, seriously, I’d like to reach a point when these minor inconveniences don’t agitate me so quickly.

The best way to do this, I think, is first to recognize when I’m becoming aggravated. Then, redirect my behavior and turn my attention to something else. Finally, I want to recover by obtaining balance in my overall emotional state.

If this were an actual system, it would be known as the Three Rs:

  1. Recognize
  2. Redirect
  3. Recover

It may seem like I’m turning this into a bit of a joke, but so far, it’s been pretty useful. I recently recognized the potential for road rage after honking at a driver ahead of me. Redirecting came fairly naturally after this. And I was able to reach balance quickly because I hadn’t let myself become enraged.

It’s possible that the three Rs, which I’m now treating very seriously, could be turned into the one R (except for the fact that it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). If we can recognize our road rage and then recognize that we want to change it, then we can help ourselves and our fellow commuters.

On the other hand, we could just wait until there are self-driving cars. Then, we’ll be too preoccupied with our screens to care what’s happening outside the vehicle… or drone taxi.

photo: Jason Blackeye