From Easter Sunday
Lent. Day 47.
The Conclusion of the Matter of Lent
Someday I will complete Lent successfully. Perhaps by that I mean someday life will order itself so that I have no external hindrances to performing the disciplines which I aspire to do. Or perhaps I mean I hope someday I will have a resolve strong enough to counter all the external hindrances.
This year I had neither and I feel disappointed in myself. However, I am resisting the shame-ridden despair. I am yet not utterly hopeless.
I was discussing this with a friend at church this morning. The thing I’ve been learning lately, through an assortment of experiences is very simply that I’m not all that.
I’m just not that special.
I’m not superbly strong or capable.
I’m not extraordinarily clever, witty, or artistic.
I’m not brave enough to be an activist, nor resolved and disciplined enough to be a beacon of spirituality.
I ask a good question, and I’m pretty good at being vulnerable.
Beyond that, I’m finding myself to be pretty ordinary, which sometimes translates to frighteningly forgettable.
A few years ago this would have thrown me into a panic. Even now, this view of myself is not comfortable. However, I feel like maybe I’m settling into it, or at least the possibility of it.
This is the continuation of me (still) processing the meaning of being homeschooled in an ultra conservative Christian home. Not only was I taught that the world was bad and dangerous, but I was also taught that it was beneath me, that I was meant for (only/exclusively) extraordinary things. This has felt very exciting a small fraction of the time and soul-crushing all the rest of the time.
The surprise is how yielding my status as special snow flake carries a degree of…relief.
The balance to strike here is fragile. I could easily take this insight and fall into a life-mode of apathy and indifference. I’ll never be tremendous so why try to be anything? Why invest in anything if ultimately nothing matters?
But I can’t quite imagine myself falling to that point.
I do want to work and try to achieve. I want to accomplish things and leave a legacy that is uplifting and empowering. I suppose the difference I’m approaching is being able to hold lofty goals like this sheerly out of delight and excitement, perhaps love for my children and their children, rather than an acute perception of lacking self-worth in the absence of winning a Nobel peace prize.
We talked about something similar in the Gender and Sexuality elective I recently taught. During the weekend, we talked about gender privilege, particularly male privilege, including the distinct advantages afforded to males in a patriarchal society…as well as the dark sides of male privilege. Those dark sides being that because masculinity is typically conceptualized around dominance and power, when a male lacks dominance and power, or the will to exercise them, he is seen as weak and unacceptable. My experience of the dark side of privilege has been typically having health, security, advantages and success – typically. making the “Right” choices – and now being trapped in those choices. If I ever divert from being healthy, secure, successful, smart, wise and making right choices, the consequences of said choices will be highly public and quite expansive. I have all this “Success momentum” and now my burden is to maintain it forever.
A degree of that is from childhood. My parents home-schooled me so I could rise above “all those other kids.” And because I have lived up to many of my parents’ expectations, as well as the expectations of many others, that is now the aura that surrounds me. I’m the good boy. The wise one. The high achiever. The most likely to succeed, destined for greatness, the pride and joy of the family.
I cannot afford to fail.
More than that, I simply cannot afford to be anything less than extraordinary.
So I have believed for the better part of three decades. I am finally realizing in a meaningful way that this is both impossible and unwise. Further, I am becoming incrementally more comfortable with the idea of just blending in. Being ordinary. Finally being one of the guys.
I notice when I allow myself this mentality, I am able to be more present with my family and friends. Also, I tend to be a much more pleasant person.
Perhaps this is the lesson of the Christ Year for me. A year ago, during Lent, I started preparation for the year I turned 33, thinking to aspire after Christ, to intensively reflect, introspect, be disciplined, have visions, make changes and set my life on a whole new course that would lead to a following and a book and big gatherings and a revolution. Thus far, I am learning that striving for things like that do not actually make me a better or happier person.
Better to just be content with who I am, who the Lord has shaped me to be. Not quite to fade into obscurity or to hide in the shadows, but being comfortable somewhere other than the limelight.
This new mode of light is unfamiliar and intriguing. I’m glad to be finding it.