January brought storms, January brought snow; January brought Winter in full frozen force to some of the world. My world, in a sense, was beginning to thaw.
Maybe that is a bold statement. I think it a fair observation that humankind makes much ado about beginnings. We each experience many in our lifetime from our birth. The beginnings of each chapter in our lives is perhaps something we are more fond of discussing than the endings because they hold so much hope, so much promise. “Once Upon A Time” is a given, “Happily Ever After” is a lot less guaranteed, in this life. My previous (and first) post dwelt on, as F. Scott Fitzgerald describes, being “borne back ceaselessly into the past”. Similar to something Professor Dumbledore once said; neither does it do to dwell on endings, in their uncertain or unknown future form (dreams), and forget to live – in the present, in the meantime. We do know this, as all of us experience endings brought about by disappointment or (perceived) failure, and so, we hedge our bets, lower our expectations, play it safe to some degree. At heart, I am a Dreamer, but with a jaded mind. For once, I will be bold enough to follow Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV) Therefore, I will believe that my beginning of 2016 really has connected me to a new church family (a long-awaited answer to prayer) so that this tentative hope will become reality, God willing.
This connection began with my ministry placement (work experience) in this church’s charity shop and cafe. I was anxious, as always, of my ability to perform the daily domestic duties involved in the job. Indeed, the old inadequacies from my brief experience of employment swiftly returned; I am not time-efficient enough, not skilful enough, not enough of a “people person”. However, – praise God that we belong to such an unorthodox Kingdom – I believe in the silver lining to these negatives, never mind the fact that God neither requires nor expects any perfect performances from us, only our will to wait on His perfect timing in order to use our ineptitude. We know this, but it is worth reiterating as we too often forget. Words and actions I wish I had said and done or planned to say and do sooner and/or more skilfully (with more control) have a way of coming back around at a more opportune time, often providing a chance to benefit someone else (including this post, I trust 😉 ) which is far more fulfilling than filling-but-never-quite-filling-up yourself with some form of addictive, second-hand pick-me-up. If I could only wait in quietness and trust for God-inspired moments, not striving to manufacture them myself by my own meagre abilities. On the other hand, I could focus on the task(s) at hand, performing as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to please my superiors, but I may miss a God-given opportunity (from my Ultimate Superior) to connect with the people around me – which, after all, is part of what makes life worth living. I could stay inside my own whimsical mind until home time, as I quite often do, serving merely on a surface level and avoiding that vital connection with others for another reason; fear of embarrassing myself.
I all too often have found myself frozen; speechless, motionless. I return to my default setting (I like the phrase “default cosmic sadness” coined by one of my inspirations, Andrea Balt), repeating mistakes I thought I’d previously learned from using a narrow-minded attitude or perspective; Simple mistakes such as worrying about the quantity of demands or tasks and the pace I am working, living, breathing at, rather than the quality of my service – and reflecting who I am serving other than and above those around me. I don’t mean to be but, my insecurities make me too closed-off and shy – even cold.
Therefore, in one sense, I do need to let this anxiety, this fear of ridicule and rejection go. However, how do I give up control and let the love and grace of God flow through me? HOW?
Why can’t I just relax, laugh it off, not take life so seriously, wringing my hands (and my brain) over every little issue? Why do matters affect me as intensely as they do, or rather, why do I let them? Is it because of pride?
I think the only way for me to really let it go is, like Elsa (coincidentally, one of the other volunteers is called Elsa – I even watched her de-frost a freezer, irony I was sure to point out), to leave my constraints behind and live as I please, preferably in my own king- (Queen?)dom of isolation. I could belt out this Snow Queen’s anthem on a snowy mountainside to my heart’s content. I could build myself an impenetrable fortress, and inside, surround myself with ice statues, like I used to imaginary friends – and still do, I suppose, with my stories; with characters I can control and manipulate for my entertainment. Brrr. Not the case. I cannot say they respond to manipulation very well, unless to spite me. As the (mostly) good (some evil) residents of Storybrooke repeatedly remind each other, “All magic comes with a price”; my invisible friends’ price is simply attention and so I scribe whichever secrets they reveal to me. The flip-side of this coin I gave to them was that I would come to avoid looking real, tangible emotion in the eye, having been romanced by the lucid imaginary. I would forget what it is to love flesh and bone, and instead love ice and snow, how clean it keeps my hands. But the Intentional Ignorant is as guilty of wrong as the Instigator, and twice as foolish. As much as I cherish these friends, in this case, it is not much better to give than to receive; much better to give to my fellow humankind of the visible world. After all, Elsa has no Queendom without the people she was born to counsel and protect. Furthermore, however well-intended, such a selfish act (the seclusion, not the singing!) will still hurt loved ones in the process. Look at poor little Anna. Still, she never gave up on loving Elsa, and she forgave her, even after her sister hurt her almost irreparably. Perhaps, blood ties are so because there is a perfectly good reason why they should not be broken; blood is the only catalyst for salvation lest we be cast adrift on the ocean of our indifference – and then on the deserted island of delirium we claim and inhabit. In actuality, in solitude I would not be free. I would be even more prone to revert to my “smaller, territorial self” (another Andrea Balt-ism); that has certainly been the case whenever I have attempted to retreat from people before, guarding my boundaries with defensive protection. Acting on behalf of self is not to one’s own benefit. As it is said; “No man is an island”. Haven’t you always wanted to live in the tropical tree-house from Swiss Family Robinson, though?
Back off! It’s mine. (See, territorial – by the time this reaches you, I’ll be an unshaven cannibal roaming darkest Peru… or, at least, unshaven ) (Hey, we are talking liberation, folks – Don’t judge, it’s Winter.)
Similarly, one can relish the prospect of the gypsy lifestyle, never settling or putting down roots in one place, but of course other people would be needed to aid these travels in some capacity. When left to my own devices – to quote the band Bastille – many days fall away with nothing to show, and I too often become despondent and direction-less; lethargic; apathetic. Some discipline, some control is absolutely necessary. If I were to pander to my every whim, my interests would surely eventually neglect or even be to the detriment of someone else’s and upset the balance of mutual respect. It is of mutual benefit when we consider others before ourselves. When my personal struggles become my sole concern, detached from the greater struggle of humanity, that is when my shrunken microscopic view of the world becomes distorted, folding in on itself. We are a needy people, never satisfied when serving ourselves, never getting enough of anything to sate our indulgent desires; they are a bottomless pit. How true that it is much better to give than to receive. What a tragedy it would be to reach my final earthly ending having contributed little to the wider world community of which I too am a member, having wasted much of my good health, time, talents; having ROBBED the hungry, homeless, and deprived I could have helped. How often we need others – and others need us – to sharpen our senses, our awareness of whether what we are focusing on is a worthy receiver of our time and attention or if our energy would be better spent elsewhere, perhaps somewhere we were not aware or would not have considered previously. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)
If only navigating the minefield of communication did not also involve so many obstacles. Perhaps, I simply need to trust that others extend more grace than they may appear to. I wish people would mean what they say and say what they mean; I cannot keep up with this incessant sarcasm and how-close-is-too-close criticism disguised as “banter”, unless I have gotten that wrong too; sometimes I really cannot tell when people are joking and when they are serious. Even if it is “just a joke”, that should not always excuse it. Jokes made it permissible, even acceptable for me to criticise myself into a perpetual paranoid state of abashed self-judgement. I don’t know if I will ever recover from that, quite truthfully. It’s hard-wired in me – around me – now, like so many of us. I must remember that God can and does change lives, and that He does work with and through our flaws. He does not seek to eradicate each and every one of them, and much less expects us to. If I were not as reserved as I am in reality, perhaps I would not feel the need to be open in this way and therefore, potentially, relate to as many people as the World Wide Web offers.
I am reminded of Once Upon A Time’s Emma Swan (google it) who becomes unrecognisable to her loved ones after becoming The Dark One. (She does this sacrificially, almost like Anna does for Elsa. How this works out for Emma I have yet to discover with the remainder of the fifth season.) This sounds like a curse but, in a way, it is liberating for her because she finds she has gained the confidence she has always lacked and lost her fear. However, those who love her can no longer provide her with the same love they used to and vice versa because her needs have lessened along with her character and theirs have not. She no longer (thinks she) has much need of nor use for faith, or hope. She holds the power, but has not love. She may have lost her fear but her family now fear her, and with good reason.
Therefore, besides some control, a little (natural, not man-made) fear is also necessary to everyone’s experience. It provides an opening for others to be helped through helping you and vice versa. It all joins together in The Weaver’s great tapestry.
Therefore, this popular “Let It Go” adage – my favourite variation being “let go and let God” – does apply to carrying negative emotions and thought-patterns. However, how we implement letting it go should not solely free ourselves, but also empower others at the same time, in turn liberating us all the more. I suppose that is what a Church is, and does, because of Jesus’ loving sacrifice – and will hopefully do with/through me. How we fulfil our own needs seems to be the most ambivalent practice of all, and impossible to achieve, because only Jesus can satisfy our souls. The act of receiving His salvation is not enough, either; we require continual spiritual renewal. I think the most fulfilled are those whose motivation (though not once, but daily) is this sacrifice of self for another’s/others’ well-being (though not usually through physical death!); a concept people are obviously still influenced by to this day, even in the secular world. I think this is part of what Jesus meant when He said, “Whoever finds” (NLT uses the word ‘cling’ – accurate indeed) “their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39 (NIV) For “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40 (NIV)
I don’t think we can help it (or ourselves); it is how we are designed.