In the months between getting laid off from my job and moving to Alabama in August (I did apply for the fellowship and was accepted), I did a lot of journal writing.
I filled four notebooks (averaging 70 pages each) in a matter of six months. Yes, I lived with pen and paper. So while I’m grateful to have some documentation of what I was going through at the time — what I felt, my worries and fears — what isn’t addressed is also quite telling.
I lived in my head.
There were plenty of conversation starters and thoughts to share with those around me. But I didn’t do that very much. I continued to struggle with the idea that others wouldn’t care about what I experienced. I felt very much isolated with these emotions, failing to realize that they were far from unique. Despite the activity in my life — participating in church events, being active with the youth group, attending a newly established book club at my church — it continued to be a very lonely period. I certainly wasn’t heeding the advice and call to change that I received in that special encounter of prayer.
One of the more telling illustrations of being in my head is that, while I was attending and participating as an adult leader for a weekend youth conference, I filled nearly 14 (front and back) pages in one of my journals. A lot of it were notes from different talks and workshops. But then plenty were full on conversations I had in my head that I decided to write down. The internal debates and wondering about my behavior, my interests, how I could change, if change was really possible, the fear of going from one extreme to another.
(From my journal, March 2008) You can’t be afraid of what others will say. You have to jump out there and try. Speak out what things aggravate me. Don’t bottle up my feelings.
How do you transition from bottling up the things that bother you to speaking up about them? And not being obnoxious. I don’t want to go from one extreme to the next. How do I strike a healthy balance? Isn’t that the goal in all things — finding balance for the things I want to accomplish and get involved with.
There are moments when I’m comfortable with not saying much. I’m happy. Then there are those times — like the car trip — where it’s awkward. I feel out of place. Where I feel like I should mention something, say something, but I’m at a loss of words. I guess I shouldn’t worry about it, but I also think maybe there’s something I should try to do that I would be able to practice.
I was absolutely terrified of jumping from the extreme position of sharing hardly anything to becoming the incessant chatterbox that I found annoying. It seemed like I had to be one way or the other, without any sense of the varying degrees of difference within this spectrum. My life was one of extremes, either xx or yy.
Had I shared these concerns with others, I’m sure I would have been told not to worry so much. Not to be concerned with whether others always relate and understand, but that the important thing is in the sharing. That is, after all, how friendships and relationships deepen and develop.
Taking a look at perfection
Later in the day during the youth conference, I guess there was some down time in between activities, so I took a moment back in my room. I came across some materials in my bag. I had been attending meetings with a secular Franciscan group to start up a subgroup aimed at college-aged students and recent graduates. I looked at one of the pamphlets. A few sentences caught my attention, so I wrote those out.
“The dignity or stature of who we are comes from following one who knew that glory cannot be found in self but only in God.” (Following St. Francis is one way) “Franciscan Christianity seeks to extract the simplicity and purity of Jesus’ life and teachings and pour them into our daily lives.”
My reflections after reading and writing that out:
I’ve been battling depression since middle school. Never been that comfortable with who I am. There are moments when I’m happy with myself and when I feel like I’ve finally accepted a flaw. Just when I think I’ve finally accepted it, something happens that shakes me up and places that doubt and confusion back in my mind.
I think how can I ever be happy with myself. What is it going to take to truly be happy? What do I have to do? I’ve got to give up the worrying. Relinquish the anxiety and tension, need for perfection. Let go.
This weekend is helping me realize that I don’t need to be in a 100% holy place in life to serve because then I’d never step outside myself for others. I can’t let my imperfections or my idea of my imperfections hinder me from reaching out to those in need. I can’t let it stop me. If I do, then what’s the point? Because God will use those moments to touch someone’s heart. I have to trust that He will somehow use that situation and opportunity.
I can’t let my imperfections or my idea of my imperfections hinder me … now that’s very profound. On some level I must have realized that my insecurities and worries weren’t fully grounded in reality but extorted and exaggerated.
And yet this is also part of the reason why I didn’t think I could fully commit to joining this Franciscan group. I mainly went to meetings to learn more and test the waters, but I was afraid of committing because I felt like I needed to be super holy or something. I wasn’t perfect yet, so I couldn’t be of any use.
Part of a journal entry that was also written in August but it fits well here.
We draw near God as we are and He perfects us. Not that we have to perfect ourselves to be ready to be in a relationship with God. It’s about God wanting to work in us. … We are called to allow God to dwell in us so we can serve others.
You know, had I been able to talk to someone about these concerns, to get them out in the open, maybe the other person could have offered some advice. Helped me choose something to focus on rather than obsessing over everything. Maybe that person could have come back with reasons (like I’m discovering now) for why I shouldn’t have such a negative perspective of myself. And that being so critical isn’t a good thing. I just assumed it was part of who I am.
Haven’t I already shared this?
Another journal entry from August 2008 that I feel helps explain why I had trouble with the verbal side of things:
There’s a mental vocalizing of the words as I write them down. Sometimes I vocalize them out loud — audible. So, these words have been murmured several times, that I feel like I’ve already vocalized them to someone else. (I feel like) I’ve already spoken and shared this with others. The challenge comes with determining of the things written, what should I share with other people? What is worthwhile?
It’s eye-opening to see clearly now how my usual excuse of “I don’t know what to say” is only partially true. A lot had to do with lacking confidence in what I knew. Needing reassurance that what I wanted to share was considered important. But in a very real way it’s this concept of feeling like I’ve already shared with someone simply because it made it into a journal. It’s important, though, to share with others about various things to gain new insight, a new perspective, and for help in understanding current struggles.
When I talked to my brother, especially around this time, I remember marveling that it always resulted in a shift of perspective or that he managed to help me put things in proper order. That’s the benefit of sharing with others and living in community. You get out of your head and begin to have a more balanced view of reality.