Yesterday I told myself over and over — I have had a miscarriage of a life.
The day before, I spent all day celebrating my older sister as she received a doctorate of ministry in preaching from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Yes, I was happy for her but I could not enjoy the day fully because I was so disappointed with my own life.
After the very long ceremony (those Lutherans know how to “party”) I asked her what was next on her list for world domination? It was a backhanded compliment, which had a risk of offending her, but luckily she was gracious. (I get snarky and sarcastic when I’m feeling bad about myself.)
Harrison’s seem to have the brains and talent, ability to work extremely hard, a yearning for justice to prevail and the certainty that injustice is, in part, our life’s call, challenge and responsibility. We are strong, capable, and powerful women. Some days I actually believe that about myself.
I have come to believe that much of the spiritual journey is one of being stripped of all that we would put our trust in, other than God.
Life is found in losing it for Christ’s sake. The life that God has for each of us, if received–changes us. There is not one sacred path for all.
My journey over the last twenty years has been a stripping, for I never knew Jesus, before.
I never knew I was beloved. I didn’t believe there was a purpose for my life outside of what I could accomplish, a life purpose that is all about Jesus.
Until my father died nine years ago, I was in many ways “asleep.” Because of the severe damage to my psyche from his anger, I did not know myself. I did not know the Trinity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in any real way.
I did not know it, but I was bankrupt in spirit.
But even in that absence of belief, God planted questions, passions and strong desires inside me, a prompting that has never left me to know the Word of God and interpret it. I know that I am to receive that– and submit to the unique journey God has laid out, even when I cannot see clearly the road ahead.
Trusting is painful — the stripping away of sin, of selfishness and in many ways of aspects of my humanity, my character, that I thought were who I was. But there is grace, protection, comfort, provision and shalom in submitting to the Holy One’s purposes.
It is the only safe place. And yet it hurts so much when I feel I do not understand clearly.
In my 20s and 30s I lived for my job, it was my identity and all that I knew. Strangely, I believed it was all I was good at and I thought that I was choosing to walk away from that work, because the environment was unhealthy, but I see now that God led me away, took everything that made me feel good and strong and powerful. I thought I knew.
I could have lost my marriage and family because of my addiction to alcohol. I thought I knew, thought I was strong enough to beat it with will power, but the addiction beat me and I found that I was nothing without the Holy One. Even if I gave up the drink, without the Holy One filling me, healing, and strengthening me I was nothing. I thought I knew.
I sat Sunday scrutinizing people who had given many years of their lives to learning, thinking, writing, believing, enough to sacrifice time with their own children and partners, to achieve this incredible goal of a masters or doctorate. Some were restrained, some were giddy, and many were just slightly stunned to survive it, it seemed to me as a bystander.
I was so incredibly jealous and sad for myself, even mad at myself. Though the day wasn’t about me, inside my head everything was about me and my feelings of not exactly failure, but a strange bedfellow to it, a miscarriage of a life. In that moment, how dearly I regretted leaving my career in my early thirties and staying at home with my kids. Deep down a part of me still believed that I would not have succumbed to alcoholism or depression in the end if I had continue to work fulltime. I’d still have a great career, I’d be able to leverage it toward other work, and I would be respected by others. Pretty much bullshit and lies, but I almost believed it again as I sat there fuming internally.
I said all that and more to my mother as we drove back home. I don’t know if I really believed it. I do know that who I am, the real me, the person I never knew until I had no job, suffered from major depression and became a drunk – that woman needs Jesus! She believes in the Creator in a way that she never did before she lost it all.
I remembered that my boss, while I was trying to decide about leaving InterVarsity told me to go have babies and come back in five years to continue my part of world domination. Only, I never went back I was too busy having a breakdown and drinking myself stupid. That’s what I mean by a miscarriage of a life.
I was debriefing the day with Tom, who is extremely smart and has an almost PhD from the University of Chicago. As his head hit the pillow he exhaled, he said something like:
Higher degrees have their purpose, and there is a sense of personal achievement if it is important to you, but being a parent is three times harder than getting that PhD.
“Yeah,” I said, “but the world doesn’t esteem parents. Parenting won’t get you a job. Parenting won’t bring you any real regard or admiration from others. Parenting is something everyone does. (Not to mention you don’t get paid and the hours are terrible.) It’s not enough.”
My eyes filled with tears so many times on Sunday, I felt like I was choking most of the day. I was happy for my sister, genuinely — for I know only in part the many sacrifices she and her loved ones have made for her to accomplish this incredible goal. I know my father was doing a happy dance, wherever he is. My mother was beaming.
I spent my mother’s day celebrating my sister in part because I believe in doing things even when they are hard. I want my children to grow up knowing that doing the right thing isn’t always what’s easy, nor is it usually about you. That there will be many opportunities in life to choose yourself over others, but when given the chance to celebrate someone you love, you should take it.
All day I had moments of deep self-pity and self-loathing for my choices and beating myself up about the last fifteen years. Hindsight is 20/20 and all, still this is what I have come to know.
I know I would be different and horrible person if I had continued on the path of a workaholic and constant striving for external approval. My character has been changed through these experiences.
Through the mistakes I have made I have found a true understanding of God’s mercy and grace in my life. I know that I am loved by Jesus – I didn’t know or believe it two decades ago.
Through the mistakes I have made I have found a daily dependence on God for my health – my mood, my purpose and meaning.
For even as humbling and hard as each day is and how much it feels like a sacrifice to not have a viable lauded career at this time, I’m on my knees ever more.
Most of what I am learning is yet to be understood or written I suppose. Clearly, I am still broken, still too easily overcome by the wrong motives. I continue to be frustrated and discontented and I am frustrated with myself because of this.
In studying the book of Proverbs (because that is where we are in Eat This Book reading the entire Bible in a year at church) I am being drawn to Proverbs 31. I look forward to learning what a 21st century feminist wife and mother, a homemaker, budding writer has to learn about being a Proverbs 31 woman.
I am open, and fearful. I am angry and aching inside, deep where no one understands me except God.
I know I should be grateful but everything about me is wired to work hard, to please other people, to get the acclaim of others, to be esteemed and admired; it is the entire human condition without God.
I pray for spiritual understanding and an ability to lay all that down — to trust and obey.
Deep down I know that as long as I keep longing for all the wrong things, I can’t grasp what is good, whether that is understanding of what I already have or whether it is receiving what God has for me next. I cannot grasp it because I am still so filled with discontent.
I thought I knew. There is very little that I do know. But my story isn’t fully written.