Two modes

A decade ago or so, I was praying about the disorder in my life and realized that what made things difficult was that I had two very different needs. On the one hand, there were projects I was involved in – like raising a family – which required me to be patient and persistent and quietly constructive. On the other, there were battles I was fighting – against various temptations, or against obsessive fears – that required me to be bold and intense. I found that it was hard to be in the right mode at the right time. If I focused on fighting the battles, I would lose my patience with my family; if I settled into raising my family, I would lose my intensity for the battle.

At the time I thought of the story of Nehemiah. As the people of Israel built the wall, they also had to defend themselves against enemies. They worked in teams. One person would build the wall as another stood guard nearby to defend him. Some people carried things with one hand while holding a weapon with the other (Nehemiah 4:15-23). I loved the image of someone with a brick in one hand and a sword in the other. Somehow just having that picture helped me make sense of my life at the time, and keep everything in its place.

At a very different time in my life, the same theme recurred. I wrote about it here.

This semester, I’ve been thinking about having a brick in on hand and a paintbrush in the other. One thing that takes up most of my time right now is my heavy class load. Teaching and administering all my classes requires my building-the-wall mode. The rest of the time, I’ve been working on creative things, things that require me to be in an artistic mode, in which I open myself up emotionally and spiritually. I find that it is hard for me to switch from one mode to the other. When I start getting creative ideas for my side projects, I lose the discipline to stay caught up with grading. When I grind through my daily work, I shut down aesthetically.

A friend of mine pointed out that most artists aren’t well-known for their will-power, and observed that for many artists, will-power gets in the way of creativity. In other words, it’s the same story over again: we can function in one mode, or the other, but it’s hard to switch between modes.

I was reading Psalm 96 last week, and noticed this description of God:

The Lord made the heavens;

Splendor and majesty are before him

Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. (Psalm 96:5-6)

I was struck by the last line: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Strength corresponds to the builder mode. Beauty corresponds to the artist mode. God exemplifies both. I like the fact that when I come into the presence of God, I find One who understands and embodies both my artistic ideals and my constructive impulse. I can draw from him whatever I need, whether it be dogged determination or a sensitivity to beauty.

This week, I ended up in a long argument with several people on Facebook. It was a good argument – everyone spoke civilly, I got the chance to try out some ideas I’d been wanting to explore, and I think everyone learned a lot. Yet, I found it really draining. I ended up feeling angry and guilty most of the day. I felt inwardly hardened.

When I had my quiet time (reluctantly, since I was still feeling a little fierce) I read these verses:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: … ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. ’ (Revelation 2:1-6)

Jesus starts by praising the church for being vigilant warriors for the truth. Then he warns them that they have lost their first love. That could mean either their love for Jesus, or their love for one another. At the moment, I’m inclined to see it as referring to the second. Their love for Jesus was plain to see, expressed in their vehement struggle against false doctrine. It was their love for one another that had been drowned out by the battle.

Again, we have two modes. In warrior mode, everyone looks like a potential enemy. It’s hard to move from warrior to mode to nurturing mode. It’s probably equally hard to move in the other direction.

It’s interesting how well David in the Old Testament managed to be both warrior and shepherd/psalmist.

In any case, once again the question before me is how to move back and forth from one mode to another, as the situation requires. It’s hard to be that emotionally nimble.

How about you? What modes do you find you have to switch back and forth between? What helps you to do so?

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