Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cumulative Benefits, and Then Some Musings

On pages 282-283 of Stephen King’s Needful Things, Leland Gaunt tells Polly Chalmers the following about an azka on a necklace that he is selling to her in order to treat her arthritis:

“You shouldn’t take it off, not even in the shower…There’s no need to. The ball is real silver, and won’t rust. [T]he beneficial effect of the azka is cumulative. The wearer is a little better today, a little better tomorrow, and so on…If the azka is removed, however, the wearer reverts to his or her former painful state not slowly but at once, and then has to wait for days or perhaps weeks to regain the lost ground once the azka is put back on.”

Leland Gaunt is evil, and his goal is most likely to get Polly addicted to the azka so that she will do whatever he wants in order to keep it. But his presentation of the azka‘s healing effects as cumulative intrigues me because it makes me think about other issues. For example, suppose there is an alcoholic who has been in recovery for years and he relapses. Does that invalidate his learning and his growth prior to the relapse? Many would say that the alcoholic may find himself picking up right where he left off, in terms of the quantity of his drinking. That resembles what Leland Gaunt says happens when the azka comes off: a person goes right back to where he was before. At the same time, many would also say that recovery has become such a part of the alcoholic, that he may not be able to escape its positive effects even when he relapses. The things that he has learned in recovery will ruin his high, many have stated. In this scenario, the alcoholic may not have applied the principles of recovery thoroughly or correctly, but the wisdom and growth that he accumulated in recovery are not lost to him once he resumes drinking: they’re still a part of him. But, in order to continue to learn and to grow on the recovery path, he needs to get back into recovery.

Janet Oberholtzer talks about something similar in her post on Rachel Held Evans’ blog: Janet Oberholtzer: Pushing Through a Bad Run. Janet is comparing running to her spiritual life. Her running when she did not feel like running (because it was painful and tiring, and the weather was bad) prepared her for a later run that was good—-when she felt stronger and the day was beautiful. But what would have happened had she quit when the going got tough? Would she have had that later good run? The benefits of physical exercise are cumulative: you need to keep exercising in order to experience its benefits and to progress, and the benefits do not last if you stop exercising. Then, you have to regain lost ground, as Leland Gaunt said about the azka. And there are other fields in which “Use it or lose it” is a principle.

In terms of Janet’s spiritual life, Janet says that she’s currently in a state in which she does not like to read her Bible, listen to sermons, or go to seminars. She thinks that she’s in a bad spiritual run. She says: “I realize that to give up on faith during this funk would not be wise. Though I still have bad running days, my running has been on a gradual incline over the past few years, which came about through practice and by educating myself through running books, blogs and seminars. Shouldn’t I give my spirit the same treatment? Maybe I need to practice different spiritual techniques to find one that works best for me. Maybe finding new ways to use my slacking spiritual muscles would help me. Is there some type of beep that could signal between times to challenge and times to energize my spirit?”

In my case, I concluded that sticking with certain things was unhealthy for me, and, by “certain things”, I mean listening to abusive sermons and accepting whatever they say as if they’re “Thus saith the Lord”s. I still listen to sermons and read my Bible, but I don’t feel compelled to accept them if I find that they are unhealthy for me—-if they make me feel like garbage about myself, or if they mandate that I do something that I feel unable or ill-equipped to do at this stage of my life. I could have said to myself that I should stick with these things and then I would progress and life would get easier, and those things would come to help me—-as if the years of Bible study and listening to sermons would finally pay off. But, in my opinion, there came a point where I had to ask: Where’s the evidence that these things are even helping me to progress in the first place? Maybe they’re unhealthy, or the way that I’m interpreting or applying them is unhealthy.

But I’m reluctant to give up completely on sermons, Bible reading, etc., for there’s always the possibility that I will hear something that will encourage me and help me to make sense of things. And perhaps God can even use some of the things that I’ve heard in the past, for I do not like to think that my past has been a waste. But I am hopefully pursuing a road that is more healthy, rather than hoping that an unhealthy road will show itself to be healthy.

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