MMXIV, c’est fini!
Truthfully I’ve never been one for the end-of-year apotheoses that Bloggers Aplenty are feverishly typing in order to post before the earth turns ever so slightly into the future. This is even moreso the case now that I’m done with a year that has been a melange of hope and despair (as every year is, if we’re honest). Is it honestly helpful for me to recount publicly the things that have happened that I like and that which I dislike? Probably not–most of that information is useless, anyway.
But here’s something perhaps a bit more useful: what I’ve learned.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. The best $2000 I spent this year was on my therapist, who led me through a confusing and life-changing time of emotional integration and self-compassion that’s enabled me to name and understand the people and processes that have been shaping me in good ways and in not-so-good ways. I called an abusive relationship what it was. I learned to listen to my heart. I stopped letting people and events from my past live in my head rent-free. And I think I learned a little bit more about discernment–do we ever figure that out, though? Mostly I just learned to be kind to myself.
Don’t be afraid to establish boundaries. After the blowouts in Ferguson and New York I got an unwelcome crash course on the ugliness that can come out of others when we refuse to take the earplugs of privilege out of our ears and attempt to square what is happening in the world with what we believe about humanity. Between the worship of the American Imperial Cult of Violentia, the devaluing of people’s lives because of their skin color, and the refusal to acknowledge that the System Is Fucked Up, my block button got some much-needed exercise. And that was okay. If one is bringing bigotry, hatred, racism, violence-worship–violations of the baptismal covenant, all of them–into my personal space, one is violating a boundary and I reserve the right to refuse to consent to that noise.
Don’t be afraid to shut up and listen. In fact, this is crucial, and pertains to the last item. I learned that sometimes it is Not My Job to speak about everything, because God raises new voices from unexpected places to be prophets, people whose experience allows them to speak to, well, that experience. I can speak all day about LGB issues. Not as much about T issues, and certainly not at all about the black experience in America. That’s why I yielded the floor to my friend Broderick to let him preach powerfully and prophetically about Ferguson and New York. That’s why I’ve done my best to signal boost, listen, and learn about the realities of white supremacy in America. And I have needed to be silent and listen because I have a role in the aforementioned Fucked Up System about which I need friends like Broderick to teach me so that the Good News I allegedly proclaim can really be Good News for everyone.
Don’t be afraid to own your mistakes. I’m in a new field this year, social work, which is admittedly one I don’t know a lot about. I’m learning how dependent I am on the ministry and accountability of others. I’m learning that, in some ways, I’ve still got a lot of ego sewn into my work clothes and I’m trying to slowly pull that out one thread at a time. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. But how can I improve in living out my calling without admitting I’ve failed and relying on the God who used a bunch of hard-core failures to turn the world upside down? It seems failure is exactly what God requires–not failure for its own sake, but failure unto learning.
Don’t be afraid to lack answers. It’s cute that it took me five years of seminary and a year in the trenches to figure this out, and I am still becoming more comfortable with that. “I have no idea where I’m going,” prayed Thomas Merton, and I find myself coming to that prayer over and over again in recent days. Because I don’t. I have my own well-crafted plans, ones which I am fairly sure are so perfect that they can’t help but have God’s stamp of approval. Of course, God is at least so kind to refer to them as “adorable” before she brushes them off the desk and gives me something else entirely. And the plans which God actually gives me are the ones that require the difficult but life-creating work of owning mistakes, shutting up to listen, honoring boundaries, and asking for help.
Because none of us are in this alone, and only together can we get anywhere, wherever that may be.