Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mission: Abandoned

I don't think "literally can't even" was a phrase when I was a freshman in college, but that was how I felt about finishing my biology major. Three more years of labs and all-nighters sounded like traipsing through Mordor to me. (I was admittedly a little dramatic.) I unsuccessfully tried to change to sociology against the good will of my family, dropped dreaded organic chemistry (later, fools!) and commenced with my college career. Take that, fun suckers. Incidentally, fungi saved me. Biology lab had little to offer, but looking under the microscope at little slime spores later that spring managed to captivate me into a dramatic sprint down Highland street to reclaim my beloved biology. (Go figure?) And I guess the rest is history.

Half way through my Ph.D now, I laugh a little at that. Because I was so afraid of nothing. My fear of hardship was far more about my own unperceived insecurity than about biology. And I could so even.

Another scene found me at 4am after a sleepless night crouched on the end seat of a 15-passenger-van (never pick that seat), shivering from the cold sweat still clinging to my running clothes, cramped from going directly from a run to a van. I was disgruntled, taunted by the snores of my teammates all around me. Ragnar del Sol was upon us: a 200 mile relay comprised of 12 runners, each of which ran three separate legs. Don't get me wrong, I was really glad to be part of that. But at this particular moment, I was spent. I'd run two legs already. I hadn't slept. Moreover I had injured my foot during my last run. And looming with the dawn was my final and longest leg: eight miles culminating in a final, glorious, four-mile hill. And runners will understand when I say my bowels were not cooperating. Half an hour before starting, I popped some Ibuprofen for my foot. Where on earth was eight miles going to come from?

I will never forget that feeling of utter emptiness immediately before I started. Here goes nothing. Rarely have I had such a physical allegory for throwing fate to the wind. But would you know it? That run was one of the most peaceful, most enjoyable runs of my life. Was it hard? Absolutely. That hill kicked my butt. But I did it. And I hope I never un-learn what it felt like to finish something I didn't think I could start.

Why do I say any of this? I guess because I'm in a season where I'm graciously piecing apart many of the ways my mindset about things has held me back. But what I'm afraid of is not telling myself that I can't do something. What worries me more is when our true thoughts ("I can't do this,") are hidden behind a more socially acceptable excuse ("This is stupid, isn't my thing, etc"). So often, we are opinionated when we really mean to say that we are afraid. 

My most recent post was a thoughtful but decidedly independent take on the forays of dating culture. The overarching message was: I don't need this, and I'll choose into it when and how I want to. And while I do generally agree with all of the things I wrote...I also have to confess that sometimes in my life, independence is a poor sham for fear. Can we just admit to this? Because I'm guessing it's not just me. I'll do what I want, we say. And we really believe it. I really do believe that I'm generally independent, adventurous, and not in a hurry to get hitched. But. But. The last few months have laid bare some of the underlying motivations for that independence. And they are more decorated with "I can't" than "I don't want to."

Ouch. Let's examine our hearts always.

A key phrase that has catalyzed so much of this thought is this:
"I will not run away from you when you fail to meet my expectations." 
Gut punch. Expectations. I have a lot of expectations. And in fact, my expectations keep me safe. When you fail to meet my expectations, I have a justifiable reason to pack up and out. See ya. But it's really your problem not mine. Right? 'Cause you failed my expectations. You. I'm the reasonable one here. So yeah, bye.

How clever we are! And to our own harm. Me? Afraid? Absolutely not. They didn't meet the standard.

But when the standard keeps changing...well that makes one common denominator and it's not everyone else.

The truth is, my expectations are a way to address my fear of imperfection. Both mine and others', but let's be honest it's much easier to be blind to your own imperfection. (Something like math class when they just assume things are equal to zero to get rid of excess variables.) Because scratchy messy people come with scratchy messy problems, and they hurt. Who likes getting hurt? Solution: only perfect people will do. And perfection will be decided by my expectations, like sentries to my heart.

The problem with my strategy - and, I fear a strategy of many millennials - is that seeking perfection is the antithesis of any real intimacy. Our humanity, our scratches, our imperfections are ironically what draw us close to other people. There's actually a psychological concept in which seeing someone we admire do something embarrassing actually makes us like them more, not less. The sense that those things are unacceptable creates a need to be something we're simply not. And cannot be. We feel disillusioned when others fail. We feel ashamed when we blow it. And we shouldn't.

Ah, this is where Jesus just makes so much sense. I see it crisply in relationships. The tenet of my faith is that Jesus chose us in spite of our imperfections. Astoundingly, He makes room for our humanity. He forgives our natures extravagantly. It's His kindness that draws us towards change. God is decidedly not standoffish in his dealings with imperfect people. For me, who's blown it numerous times, to reward and punish another person according to their perfection is not just dumb, it's actually contradicting the very faith I hold so dear. (Which is not the same thing as healthy boundaries, but that's another topic.)

Can I say something? I used to want to find Mr. Perfect. I've run away from a lot of people who didn't fit that description. But in a startling about face, I'd like to say that I don't want to be with a perfect man. (Besides the fact that he doesn't exist), I want to take the imperfect man that God chooses. I want to make room for his humanity. His failures. His shame. I want to see in him the man he is becoming, not just the man he is in this moment. I want to be part of him getting there. (Which can only happen in a healthy way when I'm also dealing with my own failures, by the way.) And sure there's still a whole juju of compatibility and chemistry and whatever the heck else, but perfection is no longer one of my standards, because fear is no longer one of my anthems.

So let this grace bath begin, a mutual and ongoing exchange, for as long as we both shall live.