Monthly Archives: September 2010
Sometimes I think that, as an American, I have an unfortunate life. I have much and those around me do, too. Most of us have roofs over our heads — nice roofs, and walls, and furnishings. And, most have food on the table. Ample food, although, not always healthy food. I live in a country where most people follow the rule of law — we have a government and laws in place. And, I live in a country that hasn’t seen combat on its soil for decades. I feel safe leaving my home and carrying out the business of my days. I have civil rights, freedom of religion, and the right to speak and write freely.
So with all those blessings, how could I believe I live an unfortunate life? While I have all the good — a home and food, a government, a country in which I have rights and privileges–I also have so much isolation. I–we, as Americans–might live in busy cities and share our homes with our families. But we tend to live in isolation from others because we fear authenticity–we fear being open and candid and vulnerable with others. And, we often don’t make the time to share in the lives of others in a meaningful way.
I become acutely aware of this every fall–when school starts. I teach in a demanding graduate program. I’ve sat where my students now sit. I stand now on the other side of the podium–in the front of the class. And, every year, I see the same thing: students, sitting upright in their seats. Game faces on. Trying to show, on the outside, that they are smart, intelligent, articulate, and successful. That they understand every word, concept, doctrine, and theory they are learning. That they are confident they will find success in school and beyond. That life is a bowl of cherries.
But I know better. They show the game faces–the faces we show the world, even when our lives are in crisis. I know this because I sat where they sat, game face on while I juggled family, marriage, and my mother’s terminal cancer. I sat there with my game face on while my teachers and classmates were oblivious to how close I sat to having everything fall down around me. I know this also because every year for the past eight years a few students come into my office, close the door and tell me. The stress of school, the pressure to do well, the events of life ongoing while they are trying desperately to stay on top of their studies seems too much to bear. The game faces come off and I see the individual’s heart — their true self. I see authenticity.
The rows of students sitting upright in class–and for that matter, the rows of people sitting upright around me in pews on Sunday–remind me that we are a broken people. But, because our worlds don’t look broken, we feel isolated. We see a world and reflect a world that looks great on the surface. But, when we look beyond the surface, we have broken relationships–shallow, meaningless or hurtful relationships–pain, crisis, loss, fears. True suffering. And we feel absolutely alone at times.
That is why I believe I live an unfortunate life, and that many Americans live unfortunate lives. The facade that life is good, the privilege of living in a country filled with affluence and rights and privileges and opportunities push us toward isolation–encourage us to put on our game faces.
I need authenticity. We, as people in community, desperately need it. We need to take off the game faces — the masks–and make life about building relationships, not about building lives that look good on the surface. We need to engage each other. Embrace each other. And throw off the things in this world that prevent us from doing that.
We might fear rejection or humiliation if we take off our game face. That is a risk. But, when the isolation becomes overwhelming, or when the task of making things look okay on the surface becomes too much, maybe then the risk will be worth it. And. maybe then we’ll find the lives that Christ wants for us. Lives that allow His light to shine, even in the darkness. Lives filled with hope and joy and love and grace.
A friend recently asked the question, “What is my driving force?” She struggled with the question when she asked herself; so, she turned to family and friends for an answer. Her question, sent via email, caught me by surprise. I wrote her back saying I had no idea and that I had no idea what mine was either.
My friend responded to my email, which provided even more food for thought. A friend of hers, years ago, told her that her driving force was fear. I could so relate. How often I have responded with fear to events in my life– Why do I ever fear? My friend’s email suggested that my driving force was thoughtfulness. Wow. I liked that. I liked that she thought that.
But, my heart knew otherwise. Yes, I’m thoughtful of others. As a mom and wife, I know I have sacrificed much and placed my kid’s and my husband’s needs and desires first. I work hard as a teacher because I think of my students and how important their education is to me–that they really learn, not just listen to some pompous professor spout about an irrelevant topic.
Her response kept me thinking, however. I hadn’t ever considered that I might have a single driving force–something that provides the foundation for everything I do. Every response I give. Every action I take. All that I am.
I wanted to think that God is the driving force in my life. But honestly, I knew better. So often I haven’t turned to Him. So often I haven’t wanted anyone to know that I profess to be a follower of Christ–because my response or actions fell so short of the message of Christ. So often I’ve let money, praise, fear, or selfish motives drive me.
The question continued to plague me. Then, last night when I sat down to read from a book on forgiveness–a book I had read before–a sentence on the page jumped out at me. It was as if it were the only thing written on the page or at least the only thing highlighted on the page. It said:
God is the basis, the cause, and the source of all that I am, of my whole being and all my acts.
— Free of Charge, Miroslav Volk
The message sang out: even when I fall short, God is the basis of all. His grace, forgiveness, mercy, love. They cover me, and I give thanks. I am blessed.
What is your driving force in the midst of the messiness we call life?