It’s been a minute. 11 months to be exact, but the truth is that I haven’t been writing as much here at all lately. Over the last few years, time that I might have spent writing was instead handed over to the “realities” of daily life (translation: responsibilities to other people in my life). Rarely, if ever, have I been able (read: willing) to stop, take a breath, and to reflect on the simplest question: Am I happy? Is this the life I want for myself? If I could do it over again, would I make the same choices?
Would you? The most honest answer, for me at least, is no. One messy and inconvenient human truth is that most (ALL) of us are living a compromise. We have made choices, and those choices have set us walking a path before us, as well as carried us farther from other possibilities that could otherwise have delighted or sorrowed our souls.
Now, throw in a few companions on the journey, and, well, it becomes harder to change direction, doesn’t it? As someone who lives to please the people around me, I would be lying to myself if I didn’t acknowledge that often I will keep on going on a particular path because I don’t want to disappoint the people who have expectations of me (hi mom and dad!). And while some of my choices were worth every hardship, others are far more complicated, and the answers vary from day to day.
But what about disappointing myself? I don’t often ask that question. Do you? And how is that not just as important, perhaps even more important, than what others think of me?
It sounds so simple, and yet there is a whole cultural infrastructure built around keeping up our appearances. Our churches, our communities, our families would almost certainly prefer that we just “go along and get along.” They would prefer that we wear nice clothes, and say nice words, and tell pretty stories. Stay neat and pick up your trash. Carry on and whatever you do, pick up your mess before anyone sees it. Messy people rarely get to stay at the center of anything “important”–they end out on the edges quicker than toupee in a hurricane. (wouldn’t it be easy if we could just tell ourselves that we don’t care what other people think? But we belong to these communities because they are full of people we love. We want them to accept us. And so we convince ourselves that this is the price of admission.)
It’s particularly fascinating to me that my faith tradition of Christianity is so fixated on this notion that we need to have our shit together. That in order for the world to respect us, we have to be….respectable. We make up our vision boards and imagine a solid foundation, and while we use lovely words and invent clever turns of phrase, invariably it looks like some variation of: money, resources, power. We tell ourselves that we want to pursue the mission of Christ, forgetting that his mission would ask us to forsake everything, perhaps even our own lives, for the sake of a world in which there are no edges, where valleys are flat and mountains are brought low, and not a single little one is lost.
But damn if can’t let go of our need for influence and power. Damn if we haven’t silenced ourselves because it might make us unpopular, or put us at odds with the people whose money we crave. We wear our need to be accepted and acceptable like a millstone around our necks, dragging it along like the filthy bag of trash that it is because “it’s the way we have always been.” We have been carrying that baggage around for a long time, heaving it from generation to generation and don’t even think to question it (because if you do,… well, that would be messy). It’s been there so long that we started to believe that the grooves that formed in our shoulders were a part of God’s plan, rather than deformation.
We’ve carried it, and in the process, we forgot that the Word of God is a story for misfits and fucked up outsiders. We forgot that the ancestors of our faith were a hot mess. That they made SERIOUS errors in judgement on the regular, and those mistakes (only sometimes) made them better people. And that God loved them in that messiness. Even more: God found a way through that messiness to sometimes help us do some really amazing things. Because all God wanted for us was for creation to thrive. For ‘adamah to embrace the truth of imago dei within it, recognize God’s image in their neighbor, and maybe be a little less trash in the process.
So why am I wasting so much energy worrying about what will happen if I am a mess? If I am broken? If I am “too much” or “not the right sort of Christian?” If I am embracing God’s love for me, and seeking to live as one who is prepared to die (thanks, Ecclesiastes!), then isn’t that enough? How can that not move mountains?
Just so we are clear: my people-pleasing-desperate-to-fit-in-and-be-loved self is screaming at me as I write this. She’s definitely not a fan. She’s convinced that I’m going to blow up everything, and that I will regret every mistake I make. She’s worked hard to make me who I am, and it is pissing.her.off that I want to blow it all up. She wants me to believe that it’s safer to avoid every risk. To push my ragged edges out of sight because what if people see them? What the hell would they think of that? I suspect she won’t shut up any time soon, either. But I’m trying to convince her that the person she should care about the most is the person I see when I look in the mirror. The person who desperately needs to feel alive, not just to others but to herself.