Surfiet

There is this pervading thought that we don’t have enough. Not enough time to attend to everything, for one thing. But the more I think about it, the more it begins to seem that it is really about having too much; or, perhaps more accurately, about trying to have too much.

I am often frustrated that I don’t have enough time to learn all the things I want to learn; but really it is that I have more opportunities to learn than I can truly take advantage of. I feel like I can’t do all the things, but the problem really is that I am trying to do too many things. What we really need is not more, but rather an acceptance of less.

I think about this particularly now as I think about Christ came into and lived on this world. We say we want to do All Of The Things. He was a carpenter. I don’t think that being a carpenter is somehow more holy than, say, being a farmer, or a metal smith, or a potter, or a weaver, or any other number of things. But, while Christ was here on earth, He made no attempt to do All Of The Things. He was a carpenter, amen. He willingly accepted that limitation of His existence, even though He was and is the One through whom all things are made and have their being. He, of all, had the right to do All Of The Things, and yet accepted the limitation of doing just one thing.

I want to know All Of The Things. I hate not knowing. I hate being in the dark. I hate not understanding. He, of all, had the right to know All Of The Things. And He gave it up. He accepted the limitation of not knowing–even to the point of being a baby, without knowledge. I hate being powerless; we in this world strive for power–even if it is only control over our own situations. He gave up His power to accept the limitation of, yes, being a baby. Dependent on others for food and warmth and comfort.

He knows, more than any of us, what All Of The Things really means. And yet He, more than any of us, worked out willing acceptance of limitations given to Him..

We look around us and see so many good things (although Christ has seen many more good things), and yet we were not called to all of the good things. Christ was called to be a carpenter, not to embody every single good skill that ever was. That we see good things does not mean we were called to them all. There is only a specific role to which we are each called. Even Christ, when here on earth, said that He would not do All Of The Things, in His bodily presence, but that “even greater things” would be seen and done in the lives of His disciples.

It is humbling and sobering to me to realize that many of the things I have been struggling with–in some ways, boiling down to trying to do it all–is actually reflective of the fact that, unlike Christ, I am grasping to be in very nature like God. I am not willing to accept being sent for a very limited role; I am trying to figure out how I can discipline myself and pull myself up by my own bootstraps until I can grasp all the things I want to grasp.

Overcoming obstacles, subjecting yourself to hardship until you achieve success, diligence and discipline. . sometimes we think of all of these things as very good things. Maybe even “godly” or “morally good” things. It’s hard to accept, for me anyway, the standing of it all on its head: It pleased God to severely limit His son, and to call Him to a very specific and narrow life on earth. He was not called to the study of every language known to man, and was not called to play every musical instrument ever created, and He was not called to set up a university, hospital and manufacturing plant. Not that any of those things are wrong. It’s just that God was pleased to have Him learn, only, the trade of carpentry.

And maybe not even a good carpenter. No offense. But I’m pretty sure He was called to devote a lot of His time and effort and seeking to things other than being a carpenter, and you’d think that if He was setting the mold of what a “good” human being was like, He’d be darn good at His chosen profession and career. I’ll have to go back and re-read the gospels, but the feeling I get is more that He got good enough at it to pay the bills, mostly, usually. And not only was that “good enough” it was also precisely what God wanted. Because apparently, the epitome of human existence is not about success or skills or a life that makes sense or being un-boundaried or clever or making something of yourself or retiring well off. We glibly say that God has not chosen the wise things of the world, and then promptly spend a lot of time wishing and desiring and trying to figure out how to be wise.

I am not really sure that I have gotten much of anywhere. I guess I am mostly contemplating, again, what it means to follow after Jesus. I guess that is a topic that one can never be finished with contemplating.

Work hard, that ye may not work. . .

I read someone the other day saying that she was at a better place than these other people, because she had done the hard work of recovery. It made me mad. Now I need to figure out why.

I guess partly it just feels like she’s making it anyone’s fault if they’re hurt or scarred. Maybe she didn’t mean it that way; maybe she just meant the slope into the pit is slippery, and it’s a constant battle to keep heading toward the light. Maybe. But what I heard was that anyone who was hurting, broken and not “recovered” was like that because it was their own fault.

But even in my anger that she would say such a thing, there is also that voice that says, “yeah, healing is hard.” I don’t even like the word recovery, as though you were all right before and you’ve achieved those same heights. Life is to complicated for words like that to apply to people. But I do know – even from my chosen profession – is that healing is hard. It does take work, and it does take energy, and it does take the courage and bravery to face up to all of the ways that you are still broken. It means looking unflinchingly in the mirror–or maybe, looking in the mirror and flinching, but looking anyway. It takes patience, and time, and deliberation.

I’ve been home about 5 days now, and for the first time since I was home, I have finally, finally felt like I’m able to do “nothing” without guilt, to really rest. We like to think that “recovery” is something we can make into a project, too–how many times have I heard in my head over the last 5 days, echos of the thought of “checking myself into rehab”? I’ll exercise and eat right, and go outside every day. . .catch up on all of my correspondences, finish the projects that need finishing, visit all the friends. . . I will read spiritual books, and write all the things I’ve been meaning to write, and I’ll wean myself from screen addiction. . .I will cross all of my t’s and dot all of my i’s and I will set my house in order and I will fix myself.

But a disciplined regimen you hold yourself to by the force of your own will is hardly a way to rest, hardly a way to heal. You don’t release your mind by shoving it in rigid boxes. You don’t let go of things by holding on tighter.  And being angry at yourself for not being better doesn’t bring around any peace. You can’t be forced into healing.

This is exactly why healing is hard. You can’t put it on your to-do list and check it off. You can’t rush it. And, you’re also never really done. This is all so annoying at so many different levels, that for those of us or are goal-oriented, the temptation to just cram away everything that can’t be dealt with is immense. Sitting here and doing nothing when there’s so much to be done? Sitting here and doing nothing, with time so rapidly slipping through my fingers? Sitting here, when there’s so much to fix and change and define and explain and make better?

The hardness, the work, is in admitting you are broken, admitting you need to attend to that, and coming to terms with the fact that nothing is more important right now than sitting and doing nothing. The hard work is giving up on doing All Of The Things, giving up on being right, and giving up on being Just So. Not for the sake of giving up, but for the sake of accepting: rest. Peace in chaos. Joy, even within troubles. Hope for what is, and for what comes next.

It’s hard to give yourself space to rest, when your body is still full of adrenaline, when your mind is too fitful to allow you to sleep, and when you find yourself restless and impatient and unable to sit in stillness. It’s hard to let go of the fears that you aren’t working fast enough, aren’t accomplishing enough, and are not sufficient for the day. It’s hard to admit that you are less than you would like to be.

Saying that you have done the hard work of recovery, then, is a misnomer. Or at least, I believe it is. Healing is a kind of surrender, a kind of gentleness, that we short ourselves from in our desire to fix ourselves. We need less effort, and more stillness, but that’s advice no one every really takes. . .

oh, oh, oh.

Yes, there is that stab of jealousy. I don’t know what my GPA is, yet, but I’m pretty positive it’s not 4.0. Her’s is.

Why the anger, the jealousy, the disappointment? Because that used to be my claim to fame. It isn’t now. I deliberately gave it up, though–I fought to give it up. I said it wasn’t worth the stress and the obsession, and it’s not. She has her pretty little 4.0, but she followed it up with “worth it” and I can’t say that any more.

But what do I have instead? Letting go of something to seize a hold of something else seems to make sense, but why let go for the sake of letting go–for nothing?

What did I get out of that semester? I was still stressed. And I feel like I have nothing to show for it. When you’re stressed, but nail that 4.0, you feel like that was the point of it all, even if it wasn’t worth it.

Here and now, I try to remind myself that there were other things making me stressed. Not having friends. Not having a safe place to be myself. Missing my family. Being in a new and strange environment, always. Not being able to live the way I used to live. A family friend dying. Issues with teachers. Taking on debt. Going through major life transitions, and not really having anyone to walk along side me through it.

I want to put a value on what I did do. I want to credit. I want proof. Crickets, I want to know what was accomplished. Anything?

It feels like nothing.

It feels like all I have done is gotten one step closer to “making it through” – and that thought terrifies me, because I have no idea what I’m going through to. I don’t know what’s on the other side, so it’s really hard to want to press on to get through it. One more semester, my first clinical rotation, another whole year, another summer, a whole year of rotations–and even getting through my boards–and then what?

Probably about a quarter a million in debt, and no place to live, no job I know I want, no place I feel like is home.

This is the truth of how I feel, but even as I write this, I hear a quiet voice trying to remind me that at least two people I care about told me they thought I helped them pass the semester. They are no where near the 4.0. Did I “stoop” to lift them? I’m not sure. I don’t have a report card to tell me so. I only have a deep seated ache, and a fear of what comes next.

On Becoming Ordinary

One of my goals for going to graduate school was actually to become ordinary.

In my mind, it went like this: I am always a superfluous student. I do more than I need to, know more than I need to, and am the source of answers to so many people who are stuck. I stress myself unnecessarily because I’m trying to be perfect. So when I go to school this time, I will be a “B” student. I will relax. I will do fun things. I will not study–cough, hardly at all, anyway. I will learn to try to be ordinary, because being extraordinary at school is not worth it: it comes at too high of a cost, and its rewards are not great enough, and there are too many other things to attend to.

Some, this has happened. Some, I have let go. Some, it is okay(ish) now if I don’t get 103 on the exam. The weird thing that I didn’t expect, though, was rising up of others. That the “normal” would come up. Really up.

I don’t mean I thought I was the smartest person in the world. I didn’t. I don’t. I don’t mean that that I’m floundering, unable to comprehend, either. Or that I’m out of my league. Actually, what I really mean is that I’m in my league, possibly for the first time ever. And it feels really, really weird.

At first I was going to use the word “humbling” and I guess there is some of that. I mean, I think I noticed myself thinking the other day that I wasn’t special any more (yes, I laughed at myself when I noticed what I was thinking). But partly, it’s also weird. I realize I am using that word a lot without really explaining it, but that’s where I’m at–I don’t really know what to make of it.

I studied for this last exam harder and longer than I’ve ever studied for anything before, ever. Again, I have to point out that it wasn’t hard to understand. I’ve seen too many of my relatives go to engineering school to be silly enough to pretend that this is “hard to comprehend.” But the shear volume was staggering–and it wasn’t just concepts; it was concepts and skills and facts and numbers–hands on and under pressure and performing and no forgetting and time limits. And again, I must point out that my typically studying for most exams this semester amounts to reviewing my notes the night before, which I think still makes some of my classmates want to stone me–and now, in graduate school, I think many other classmates are doing something similar and scoring similarly. I felt a little guilty, realizing it was the hardest I’d ever studied–knowing how so many other people have had to study that hard so often.

But there is also this odd feeling I’m not used to of “running in the pack.” Not leading the pack, and not deigning to retire from leading, and leisurely taking a break in the middle of the pack. And not falling to the back of the pack. Just hurtling along with everyone else, just like everyone else. . .

And this is not who I am. I am not anything like anyone else. My life doesn’t look like anyone else’s and I don’t fit anyone else’s molds, and no one understands me. . .and yet I’m running in the pack.

Kind of.

If I were really one of the pack, I’d go out drinking with them and skiing with them. I’d make crass jokes with them, and I would study with the them while painting my nails and/or drinking. I don’t drink, ski, make crass jokes or paint my nails, so I can’t very well do it with them. But I used to feel like my studiousness was part of my otherness. I just took things that seriously; no one else would really get it. Now, no matter how studious I am, there is someone just as studious or more studious.

Do I want to go back to being “special”? Not really. It is more stressful. People think you have all the answers. Your best never quite seems good enough, because even when it is good enough, it seems unsatisfying, unresolved, what you had to do. But in all honesty, I’m still not sure what to do with “ordinary”. How do you do “ordinary” well? If I am ordinary now, what to ordinary people do? I feel very tentative, peering from behind bushes, wondering if I can really join the others–if they would let me join.

I suppose this sounds like a trite “it’s lonely at the top” kind of post, but it’s not. I mean, it is lonely at the top. And the middle, and the bottom, and everywhere. That’s not the point. The point is that shifting cultures, shifting castes, joining a different tribe–it’s not as simple as maybe it first sounds. It doesn’t matter if it’s up, down, sideways, or all in your head–there’s still so much to learn and think about. And it still always involves a loss of some piece of self-identity, or perhaps a better way of saying it is that it involves a smelting of part of your self-identity. What is must be heated, deformed, made liquid; what is not true must be burnt away as false. And as you cool, you do so in a new shape or form–but even this is not the end, as life continually refines you, ever distilling.

And I think part of the odd feeling is being in that liquid state. It’s hard to not want to grab on to something to define yourself. Conform to others; adopt a chip on your shoulder; joint a movement; withdraw into whatever you do know as true about yourself. There are a lot of options, and I think which we chose is most often just taking the path of water–which ever is easiest for us. I’ve felt out almost all of those options this semester. I think I most often withdrew into whatever I knew was true about myself, but mostly because anything else took energy, and I was emotionally exhausted.

I don’t know what will happen next semester. I don’t think I will really become ordinary, in part because I don’t really believe that ordinary exists. I guess mostly I’m finding myself in that odd spot of finding out that I was right: so much of my challenges and learning while in graduate school has nothing to do with the curriculum. But I hope that it does make me a better person. And it’s tempting to get caught up in words like accomplished, socializing skills, more definition, more carefree. . .but I would hope it would create in other things. More patience. More gentleness. More wisdom, discernment. More bravery and courage. More hope. More joy. More love.

Change is always hard, but it can be good.