Monday, January 20, 2014
All things new.
For the last few years, I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions in the typical sense. I used to do that whole thing of portioning out goals for each aspect of my life, and I’m not against that, it just doesn’t happen organically for me anymore. Rather, the last few years for me have seen one key idea come to light, one concept that I’m able to hold in the forefront of my mind and consider for the length of a year. Usually it’s vague on specifics but generous with an ideal. One year it was “just say yes,” which was an experiment in me saying yes to things I’d normally want to say no to. Another year it was “holy confidence / bold love,” and that one became so important that I recycled it and reused it for the next year. I still catch myself pondering and praying about this idea now.
As the end of 2013 approached, I hadn’t really formulated one idea to keep with me throughout 2014. As I mentioned earlier, 2013 – especially the latter half – was rough for so many around me. In my own life, 2013 felt characterised by weakness and what I saw as a failure to be a thriving, productive adult. I was napping more, reading less, and seemingly getting through very little in a day even though I felt ridiculously busy and pulled in several directions at once.
At the same time, though, I was feeling the need to pull back on the things in my life that were leaving me emotionally, mentally, and physically depleted. But the thought of doing that made me feel ashamed and guilty. As a maturing adult, I should be fitting more into my life, not less. I should be doing more, being more, and achieving more, right? Instead, I was embarrassed about the fact that I actually felt like I needed sleep for the first time in my life, as well as for the tears that started to come a lot more readily to my eyes. “What are you crying about?” “Um, just nothing and everything.”
As so often happens (and this is where I believe God speaks to me, in all these little encouragements and markers, even though the idea is controversial), in the last weeks of 2013 and the first weeks of 2014, I kept stumbling across resources that pushed me towards an unexpected sort of goal for the new year. Via John Green’s tumblr, I stumbled across Woody Guthrie’s ‘New Year’s Rulin’s’ from January 1st, 1943 and was particularly struck by two of his incredible resolutions: ‘Keep Hoping Machine Running’ and ‘Wake Up and Fight.’ On the 7th of January, I re-read the age-old comforting words of Jesus: ‘my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I felt condemned – the good sort of condemned, mind you, the sort that makes you take action – when I read Emily Freeman’s chilling admonition in Grace for the Good Girl: ‘You have trained people to think you have no needs, but you are secretly angry with them for believing you.’
At the movies to see Frozen for my little brother’s birthday, the lyrics of ‘Let It Go’ restated this in a whole new way. While the music soars around her, Elsa sings, ‘The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside / Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I’ve tried. / Don’t let them in, don’t let them see / Be the good girl you always have to be. / Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know./ Well now they know.’ Later, she shouts, ‘Let it go, let it go / And I’ll rise the break of dawn. / Let it go, let it go / That perfect girl is gone.’ I listened to the words, and I thought, yes.
I have always thought of myself as an advocate for authenticity. Growing up slightly in the public eye as early-generation homeschoolers in New South Wales, there was a lot of emphasis placed on appearance. People would frequently seek out my family to see what the fuss was about: can people homeschool their kids and have them turn out okay? Even more importantly: can we please have a blueprint for feminine Christian perfection? My sisters and parents and I recognised back then that this hope of cookie-cutter perfection was really unhealthy, and we strove in our own personal ways to fight against that. If it meant being honest about our flaws and the choices we made that might not align to other peoples’ ideas, then we tried to do that. People were frequently disillusioned when they met us. ‘Oh you’re normal and you don’t look like you came out of the pages of Perfect Holy Family Today? How disappointing.’ It was uncomfortable but important to us to be real. And I guess I thought that this was enough to make me into an honest person who didn’t overtly strive to present a certain image.
What 2013 has shown me is that while I told myself I was an advocate for authenticity, what I was really doing was being authentic about some of my life. Without even knowing I was doing it, I was giving people a sterilised version of my reality. ‘Yes, I went through this tough patch and here’s what I learnt.’ ‘Oh, it was a real struggle when this happened.’ ‘Yeah, I’ve wrestled with this, too.’ All past tense, all ‘my mess was back then; today I am okay.’ I wasn’t consciously holding back information; I just had subsconsciously decided that some of the nitty gritty of my life was too toxic for other people to handle. Also, I didn’t want people to know I was so pathetic. I mean, there’s weakness and then there’s weakness, right? If you break your arm, you deserve sympathy, but if a link in your brain is broken, you just need to grow up – or at least, this is how I saw it when applied to myself.
I made my own personal weakness a bad thing, and I made it shameful. What’s more, by assuming that my weakness was the dumb weakness and all other weaknesses were fine, I downplayed my family and friends’ love. In other words, I wasn’t trusting them to keep loving me even though I was being pathetic. Ouch. Weak and kind of a jerk.
What that all means for my 2014 is this: I aim to find peace with my weakness. To be truly honest, this feels weird, particularly since there are weak areas of my life that I know I need to be stronger in – and that’s okay. But if God’s strength is made perfect in weakness, then weakness begins to look less like ineffectiveness and more like opportunity.
I want to hold this in balance, however. Woody Guthrie’s ‘keep the hoping machine running’ and ‘wake up and fight’ remind me not to make weakness my identity. After all, this is just as deluded as making strength my identity. I won’t run to weakness, embrace it, gather more around me. But I won’t be ashamed of it, either. I won’t believe the lie that no one can love me if they see my flaws. I will try not to freak out about the fact that I have just paraded my frailty on the internet for all to see. And I will do my best not to berate myself when I need to take a step away and say, ‘Sorry; I’m not quite strong enough to do that.’
Being able doesn’t make me a better person and being unable doesn’t make me a worse person. It just makes me human.
(This post was written in response to Truth Thursday's #21 theme, All Things New.)