I am not brave…. or strong.
I am messy.
I don’t always face my battles stoically or serenely walk through the gauntlet with imperturbable dignity. I cry.
I get despondent and become woefully self-piteous at times. I reach the end of my proverbial rope and don’t know how I can hold on any longer. I become, as we say at work, a hot mess.
I long to be one of those unflappable people who, despite life’s cataclysmic bombardments, demonstrates a dignified port and self-composure.
I took a class for work a few months back, the Trauma Nurse Core Course (TNCC), to renew my certification. In the textbook, there was a chapter on the psychological effect that repeated exposure to intense emotional situations has on the human psyche. Mind, body, spirit, the components that make up our humanity, bear the effects of stress and pain, both physical and emotional. No element escapes untouched.
There was a quiz at the end of the chapter to help you to determine whether you are burned-out or have developed “compassion fatigue” (a real thing). Warily, I took the quiz expecting the results to be abysmal. After nearly 20 years, surely I had overdrawn my compassion reservoirs. I often feel that way. (Really… You broke your toe and you call that an emergency, on Christmas Day no less?) As it turns out, the results showed that I am average and not in any imminent danger of becoming Nurse Jackie at this point in my career.
In the quiz, a very interesting question was asked, one that has been the cause of intermittent self-reflection since then.
“Are you the person you have always wanted to be?”
Though that is quite a thought-provoking question, the answer is easy. I should hope not! I hope to grow and mature and gain wisdom as I continue to live my life, however long that may be. While this question has prompted several quick jaunts down the path of self-awareness, I really hope to make it a life-long journey; one that I revisit from time to time in honest self-assessment. Now that takes bravery.
It takes bravery to look at your life and examine it honestly, looking for cracks and flaws. It takes even more bravery to try to fix the things that you find.
How about you? Are you the person you have always wanted to be?
I dare say none of us are.
There is both danger and promise in walking down this path. It is easy to get caught up in what we fail to be. The exemplar that prances through our minds (i.e. The Proverbs 31 woman), that sets our goal for who we desire to be, becoming the unattainable standard that we constantly fail to meet. Demoralized by our failures, we focus on an ideal that we will never seem to reach and despair.
I talked to a friend recently who was fighting depression over some circumstances in his life that he had little to no control over. I had noticed a change in him. He had always been upbeat and smiled and made people laugh, but he had become a different person. After first inquiry, he brushed off my concerns and stated resolutely that he was fine. I expressed my concern for him and didn’t push any further. The next time I saw him he apologized for brushing me off and told me about what it was that had been bothering him. Then he said an interesting thing. “I’m a Christian. I should be facing this with joy and be stronger than this.”
I replied, “You may be a Christian, but you are also human. That means you feel. You feel loss, hurt, betrayal, anger, sadness.” Being a Christian doesn’t mean we have some superhuman ability to be better than everyone else or not suffer like other people. In Christ, we find strength; in our humanness, we hurt. One only needs to read the account of Jesus at Gethsemane to see that our ultimate example, the incarnate Christ, experienced the brokenness of being human.
I feel more and more whole these days, but there are holes too. As I move continually forward I find strength in each new accomplishment, every class passed, every semester completed, each new milestone. Have I excelled in every area of my life? Heavens, no. I have let people down, failed to follow through, and dropped plenty of balls along the way. I have had to apologize and try to make things right. I only hope that I learn something each time and take it forward with me.
Who was I before? Who am I now and who am I becoming?
“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”
It is indeed the rough patches of our lives that sculpt us and shape us into who we become and it is in those times, the war, that we find out who we are.
I am human. A messy, imperfect, mistake-making human.
I hope someday to look back at my life, at this article, and be thankful for where I have been and more importantly look at the ground I have gained and see a life that has counted, mattered, and made a difference in the lives of those I touch even for a moment.
Yes, I want to be brave and strong, but more than that, I want to make a difference.
I hope that in some way in your life, I have, and if I have, I hope to continue.