Freedom from Conviction
Mr. Grey nervously takes the long dim train that snakes through the underbelly of his great grey city. He is nervous because he might be late for his job. Just in time, he makes it to his floor. Breathless, he finds his cubicle and sits down at his desk, facing the fuzzy grey wall in front of him. He nervously taps his feet, joining the nervous patter that echoes throughout all the cubicles around him. The sweat now beading his forehead comes not from his rush to work, but the costernation at the task ahead. Mr. Grey is a professional, 9-5 worrier. He worries about his life goals. He worries about his children’s behavior at school. He worries about the intrusive thoughts he sometimes gets when he’s taking the train home alone. He worries that he’s not developing enough skills or working hard enough to get ahead in life. But he doesn’t just worry for himself: he worries for the sake of the whole world. He’s worrying about your life goals and your behavior, too. Due to his efforts, and the efforts of those around him, all the worrying of the world is taken care of. Thank you for your contribution, but this is paid for: we don’t need any volunteers.
I used to think that worry was a temptation relegated solely to the province of older women, their sweet foreheads crinkled and wrinkled, their hands wringing, their precious hearts all tangled up by mundane fears. I, on the other hand, was a young man, concerned with the deep matters of reality and being. My worry was dedicated to things of staggering gravity, that I would be a young man who cultivated the right virtues and disciplines, that I would be a noble soul, that I would be in the right place at the right time, that my loves would be perfectly ordered. I was convicted not by anything specific, but rather by the meta-conviction that I ought to have more and stronger convictions. I craved to be compelled, but I felt nothing other than wanting to want.
In order to gain a skill or to grow in an art, you have to have a sort of obsession with it. Affection is not enough; you must be committed to its perfect incarnation in detail. I wanted desperately to be obsessed with something, so that I would never leave it, never forget it, neglect it, squander it, abandon it like I have done day after day for so many other potential realities, ideas, and projects. By doing so, I might create something that pleased myself and God. Likewise, we must be obsessed with God, possessed by the Spirit, so that anything we do, physically or mentally, is done for him, in him. But what is it that we are to do? What was that one specific choice I ought to have made on November 16th of last year, or June 8th of the year before that, or every second of every day as the paths of decision converge and then scatter? What is the specific thing that I ought to be doing right now, to prepare myself for the great and glorious deeds in years to come? What habit must I have?
What am I doing with my life? Should I be doing this for the rest of my life? What am I working towards? Why do I hate this? Shouldn’t I love this?
Somehow, I confused a fixation on God with a fixation on demanding that he give me knowledge; knowledge about who I was, where I was going, what I wanted. Knowledge that he was not interested in giving me, as became clear. I was lost in my conviction, derided by desire: why would God not want me to know what is to come, so that I might know what I ought to be doing? But in truth I knew what I was supposed to be doing: working humbly, worshiping constantly, serving faithfully. Not wanting to do that, I cast myself at mystery hoping that it would save me from my low position of humble responsibility. And I was denied, and therefore I was confused.
Wasn’t I doing the right thing? Why did I feel so awful?
Conviction, purpose, desire, discipline, practice, perfection, and knowledge are all good things, and all things that I lack. In grasping for them I broke my arms, because I wanted to take greedily rather than to receive, grateful.
Do you know your desires?
God gives to us the desires of our heart. I don’t know what I desire, and so my hope is that he will give me desire itself… and targets at which to aim.
Michael Thomas Jones