Monday, June 20, 2011

Post-Grad School Angst

I feel let down. It seems I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. After investing three years of my life (and finances) into grad school, I’m now wondering if it all wasn’t just some siren song calling to me to greener grass just to dash me on the rocks. I guess this is what they call the divine discontent. Holy frustration that leads me to the truth that my hope has been misplaced. Again.

I don’t regret going to grad school (of course I haven’t started paying back my loans yet either). I guess I just thought it would be different on the other side—that I would be someone else maybe. And I am, in some ways. But life is still hard and confusing, and I’m still not who I want to be. I thought I’d be perfect by now. How disappointing.

I hear this is a common feeling for post-graduates. Maybe it’s common for anyone who has worked hard to get something or get somewhere only to realize it’s still not enough. It reminds me of what my professor said, that frustration is built into our lives on purpose by God to lead us to him—our Source. It’s part of the curse. To lead us to freedom and rest and true hope (Romans 8:20-21). We won’t find what we’re looking for until we look to God.

And yet before I get there I always seem to have to spend myself trying to avoid the curse, mad at God for not giving me what I want and irritated that he’s more concerned with what I need. Until I’m exhausted enough to let him work.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”  St. Augustine

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Until Then

Death loss
is not what I thought, not what they taught. Yes, it’s grief
and tragedy. It’s sadness and sympathy.
But not so much over
your death
as over

your life

that I didn’t know,

that you never showed,

that maybe no one knew,

not even you.

All your greatness, hidden by shame.
All your heartbreak, hidden with blame.
All in ashes. Only worn out jokes and guitars remain.
Nothing risked, but all is stained.

I wonder if now you see clearly, and what you would say
now that you see, and who you would be
now that you’re free, and how things would be different
back then if you had not been


But I’ll see you again.
Until then
I miss you, Dad. I always have.

Deep Calls to Deep

I prefer to write about innocuous truth. You know, then I don’t have to get naked.

But perhaps the truest thing about us is the most personal, the most vulnerable—our desire to connect and be known. I tend to be pretty ambivalent about it, really. But then at times, I am ambushed by that desire so powerfully that I have to confront it. Last night was such a time.

Often for me, like last night, it comes after spending time in community when no true knowing has taken place. Conversations about food, the economy, and the weather are paramount. And we all remain unknown. And safe. And then boom. Suddenly I want to do something self-destructive and reckless, like an angsty teenager. I feel unsatisfied and restless.

I wonder, if we could all just learn to recognize and name that longing, a longing for intimacy, how much senseless tragedy would be reduced. Would there be less drunk driving, less affairs, less eating-disorders, less suicide? Probably not. Because awareness doesn’t fix the problem. We’d still be unsatisfied—we’d just know why—we’re not getting our deepest need met. So, what do we do with the problem of deep desire?

There’s the obvious choice: repression. Don’t feel, don’t desire. Keep busy. Self-preservation. Seems to be the thing in our culture. I even feel weird writing this because I’d rather play it cool or make a joke—that’s how my family has dealt with it. Laugh it off. But then, the truest thing about you dies.

Then there’s the option of trying to get that need met in counterfeit and harmful ways, or trying to force others to meet that need for you. Addiction. Manipulation. Come to think of it, that’s my family too. And this is what I have seen most often in the therapy office. The aftermath of it, that is.

To be honest, I don’t even think most of us know how to connect or be known. It’s freaking scary—to be known. Most of us opt out. We push people away or hold them off in so many ways, but mostly we just don’t know how. What if we all confessed that we have this deep desire that’s not being met? Would it be okay to talk about? Because if we start talking about our deepest desire, there’s a chance we might begin to feel known.

But it seems to me that this desire can be so deep that I could eat and eat and drink and drink and never get enough. I think we have to learn to live with this desire—to let it be the symptom that tells us we are alive and part of the struggling human race, and let it lead us to the recognition that we are far from home. It is a homesickness that touches us when things are not as they should be, or when it feels like home here. In pains and pleasures, the deep calls, reminding us of the truest thing about us. And really, the call is to risk being known now, as we are, naked.

"Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me." from Psalm 42

Saturday, January 29, 2011

How to Look Good Naked

While many self-loathing people might sign up for a reality show that promises makeover, I would be surprised to find people lined up for a self-acceptance experience that involves exposing your flaws and vulnerabilities to the world with no promise of ridding you of them. I wouldn’t do it. So I was pretty shocked by the audacity of this show “How to Look Good Naked” hosted by Carson Kressley. He basically takes women who hate their body and tries to convince them they’re beautiful—by having them get naked and unashamed.

I don’t like to be naked in public.

I guess that’s normal. I have a recurring dream about being naked on an elevated toilet in the middle of the mall food court. And there’s the one where I realize I’m naked in the middle of teaching a class. Vulnerability scares me. Even more than being physically exposed, I think I fear others seeing inside. I can turn deep shades of red just thinking about things I’ve said that may have exposed parts I try to keep hidden. I even go through and delete blog posts periodically when I’m feeling especially vulnerable and fear I may have taken too many layers off in something I’ve written. I’m very careful about what I let you see.

My friend recently said to me, “Let people feel the full weight of who you are,” and I can’t get over it. When I think about it, I’m filled with a million reasons why I should cover up instead—a million reasons why I shouldn’t let you see me naked. It makes me think about our fall and restoration. If, in the garden they were naked and unashamed, then does redemption involve ridding us of this shame that tells us to cover up the full weight of who we are? To stand naked and unashamed, I would have to have full confidence that what was exposed was acceptable—that I’m loved in spite of my damage from the fall. Is that the makeover God has in mind? Is that redemption?

As I was watching Carson gently convince women to take their clothes off, look in the mirror, and be photographed naked, my discomfort was growing. He told them they were beautiful and brought evidence to persuade them they were acceptable, until finally they seemed to trust him enough to take a risk and expose themselves. It reminded me of how I need to hear from God over and over that I am beautiful and acceptable—until finally I’ll risk exposure to let others experience the full weight of who I am. It seems to me that unconditional acceptance is the only thing that can convince us to take off the layers of striving and careful covering—it is the only thing that heals the wounds of shame.

Of course, I’m not suggesting we all become nudist—literally or figuratively. In fact, if the host were a straight man, I don’t think he could pull it off. I, for one, would assume ulterior motives. And the truth is, it’s not always safe to walk around naked in our fallen state. But if we never stand bare before God or others, we can never be fully known, and can never experience the balm of acceptance—we can never look good naked. We have to get naked to look good naked. And that is where redemption takes place.
“Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.” Soren Kierkegaard