Writing is one of the few ways I know how to be “be still.” It’s not that I’m always moving, or always being with people. It’s just that I’m so often doing. But I feel like I have really been challenged of late to learn how to be still, so as I attempt to pick up the pieces of yet another week, I am coming back to this place of vulnerability.
A blog I follow recently had a beautiful post written on loving someone more than their own personal need to be remarkable, and on the terrifying nature of smallness. While I understood and empathized with what she was saying, I also winced with pain as I lay squashed on the other side of the coin.
I just wanted a small life. In my mind, my life would consist of a “low-skills” level job. I would pursue my hobbies and creative interests with curiosity and delight. Eventually (not too eventually), I would meet someone and we’d marry and have children. I would always be busy – but it would be with things like canning pickles, and teaching children, and striving after the elusive recommended amount of daily activity. I would be stressed, but it would be about things like “why is there no clean underwear for anyone in this entire house?” and how the car needed muffler work. I would still sometimes be lonely, because everyone is, but I’d be a good neighbor and a good friend. Sometimes I would fight with my husband, because that is what you do: you unintentionally hurt the people you care about most, probably because you trust them most to love you in spite of your flaws. But we would mostly be happy, and especially happy when we were together, even just sitting on the couch so close you couldn’t lose a piece of popcorn between us.
I thought that was what life was about. I waited for that life, and I certainly didn’t think I was asking for too much, because it was just a normal, small, unremarkable life. But that life didn’t come, and I still spend so much time asking myself what I’m doing getting a doctorate degree. I didn’t want a fancy education, an elitist title, a prosperous career. In fact, it feels very empty, compared to what I wanted. And as I struggle through trying to understand my own life and my own self, I feel myself pulled two directions.
On the one hand, I have yet to stop scheming about how I could get back to that small life. Nothing fancy, but pleasant. Just to be a good neighbor and a good friend, and finally get to the point I was sewing all of my own clothes, because it is fun. But that is twinged with the same pain of giving up your childhood dream of being a superhero. It still sounds nice, but it’s too late now to pretend it’s a possibility.
And on the other hand, I feel the tug and pull of an unseen force causing me to slide relentless toward Being Remarkable. Don’t these thoughts sound terribly melodramatic? Ahhh, I wanted to be the lowly miller’s daughter, and I’m being made into a princess against my will! Save me!
My horoscopes (a.k.a every variant of personality test I’ve ever been made to take or have taken for my own amusement) assures me that I am highly unusual, an advocate for mankind, a firey fighter of pain and injustice. Plus, they add in a more practical tone, you have such annoyingly high standards, you’ll never be happy working for anyone else and you might as well get used to the idea you’re going to be self-employed.
What? Whaaaaaat! I sit here once again in the bitter ashes of prophecy. All my life, people have declared over me what I will do or become. I have fought the back, sometimes bitterly. I’m not that kind of person; that’s not what I want; you don’t understand. Invariably, whatever it was that was said comes to pass and I’m the one who is wrong–about her own self. Do I commit my life into the interpretation of an online personality test? No, of course not. It’s alarming only because it pulls up the echos of every single voice that has ever said that to me over the last decade. Over my protestations that “I’m really not interested in running my own business!”
There is a bit of a sense of resignation I see beginning to creep into my mindset. Fine. No use trying to avoid it any longer. I might as well just get it over with. The plan post graduation may as well turn directly into self-employment. Any thing else is just putting off the inevitable. Whether I want it or not, that will be where I wind up.
The sensible people – the ones not declaring prophecy over me – hear my protestations that I don’t know what I’ll do after graduation, and respond sensibly: well, you’ll get a job, of course. Then I stare at these people as though they’ve sprouted a third ear (poorly placed). They clearly did not even understand the words coming out of my mouth. Upon reflection, though, the problem really is that I don’t understand the words coming out of my mouth.
What I mean to say is: even after all this, I still want that small life. I still want my biggest hurdles to be how to run a homemade ice cream stand with my children, and I still want to figure out how I best fit into the curve of my husband’s arm, and I still want to be relatively Unremarkable. But I don’t seem to have a say in that matter – any of those matters. And I’m scared of the ideas I have inside of my own head. They sound good, when they’re up there in my head, but I’m afraid that when I try to bring them into the real world, they’ll shrivel up like tender greens on a hot pan.
I’m scared that I’ll not get what I think I want, and I’m scared of trying to become the person I think I’m being called to be.
I don’t think, and have never thought, that a person ought to be motivated by fear. But I do think that the Truth invariably invokes a certain amount of Holy Fear. Fear, itself, does not tell me I’m on the wrong track. The pain is that the accepting of one appears to be the mourning of the other.
People say that we tend to make God too small. That we declare things impossible, when He steadfastly maintains that no such thing exist. That we give up hope long before He wants us to stop asking. These are true things, and things that I wrestle with. But I am also wrestling with another truth: Not my will, but Yours. We do okay with “my will and Yours,” but with when it comes to “not my will, but Yours,” things get pretty dicey. I feel like the question being posed to me is, “Will you do My will, even if it means giving up on your own?”
You can’t fake this question out. You can’t say, “Oh, probably. I’m sure if push came to shove I would, but we can find a way to work this out so we’re both happy.” Abraham didn’t get to say, “Oh, probably.” The three men sentenced to deathly furnace didn’t get to say, “oh, probably.” I did pick those examples for a reason – in the end, lives were preserved. But it wasn’t by people holding on. It was by people taking the action and the commitment to say with their very lives, “Not my will, but Yours.” Even if, in the end, God declares that I will have the thing that I dread to be impossible, I still have to bow my knee and be willing to say, “I want to do what you want me to do, more than I want what I want.”
And that’s why her post resonated with me. In some ways, we are saying the same things. We’re saying it’s scary to give up our “rights” to have dreams, in favor of an unknown thing we did not ask for. And on some level, we know we’re fighting it, and on some level, we want to repent. But it calls for great trust, and trust is not even an easy word to write.