Friday, March 17, 2017

When Life is Less-Than: the Perfect, the Ideal, or the Desired

Journeys can be hard to talk about when they're non-conclusive, and challenging, and less than perfect. 

No one wants to talk about life when it's vulnerable, or imperfect, or things aren't going 'right' or 'as planned' or as 'expected.'

We don't mind revisiting those states after the fact, once the loose ends are all tied up and we can present our story, neatly, tidily, and linearly. When we can see how it all worked together for good. How 'in hindsight,' as the saying goes, it all makes sense now.

When we're in the thick of uncertainty or change or the unexpected, why admit to anyone (other than our anxious, under-confident, over-thinking selves) the messiness of life?

Well, here goes nothing.

It's really easy (on social media particularly) to present a very specifically curated life. To share only good and glamorous things. Not that that's bad. Not that focusing on the good is bad, of course. But here's something I'm often thinking about: authenticity. 

Social media, relationships, art... anything I put into the world... being honest. Each and every method of expression or presentation in life being an avenue to express not what I want life to look like, but who I actually am. It is a matter of integrity: literally, an integrated self. To live an honest life, we all get to be just one person. As I get older, and closer to the Lord, I am learning to be ever-more responsible that reality.

Consistently, on every road, high and low, being exactly what and who I am, going through whatever I am actually and really going though, with transparency. Which does not always look like being a walking success story.
Maybe it's age, maybe it's faith; maybe this stage of my life, maybe self-acceptance, maybe (a hesitant but ultimately accepting) okay-ness with things being imperfect, but I'm very beyond the responses 'everything's fine,' or 'great!' or 'good, how are you?' in response to 'how's it going?' when those answers aren't really the truth.

Sometimes those responses work, in brief. The show of life must go on after all, no matter what the circumstances, disappointment, or hurt. But we do it all too often. And it's all too easy to hide: texting back a generic 'it's going good,' in response to 'how's it going?' You can leave it at that, if you want. You don't have to step up and deepen your relationships, or learn yourself how to have the selfless ability to listen to other peoples' commiserations in life.

But is that real? In seasons where things are not ideal, generating generic responses that hide what's really going on in our inner lives don't help in the long run. Doing that deprives of us actual authenticity, and intimacy. And growth. Doing that moves us in circles, but not forward.

It's important to find, and be, a genuine, real, authentic, deep, listening ear- and open mouth. The best relationships in life are few and far between, but I've found that they're the ones between people who actually want to listen to, pray for, reach out, support, go deep, and be honest with each other. My best relationship with myself is the same way. 

It's harder- but better- if it's okay that things are not okay all the time, and I'm real and honest about that, and I walk through those feelings in trust, faithfulness, and prayer- versus anxiety and feelings of fatalism or failure.

I've found this well-practiced secret that genuine authenticity goes hand-in-hand with admitting struggle, and owning life's less-than-perfect seasons with honesty. 

Otherwise we talk ourselves into certain falsehoods that can actually disintegrate our identity when things start to feel like they're going well again. I'm not sure we're really designed to sidestep anything on the spectrum of discomfort, from seasons of minor inconveniences to those of deep, painful suffering. It's easy to say that 'the only way out is through,' but it takes a lot of courage to be open in saying, 'things are not that great right now.'
Which is why I'm writing this. Because why not? Sometimes life feels like it's going, overall, well. And sometimes life feels like it' going, overall, just okay. Sometimes thrilling, sometimes great; sometimes very sad, sometimes stagnant, sometimes disappointing. It's always going somewhere and it's always taking us with. 

And- though I actually cannot see how admitting the uncertainty without there being any resolution yet- will be helpful, I know it will be. It's very, very counter-intuitive, to the point of, literally, not making any sense at all. 

That's what faith is: the truest truth that's way beyond what we see right now.

So, there's the concept for this post. The thoughts behind. And if you follow this blog with any regularity, you've probably noticed that I haven't really written much in the past month. That's because I'm navigating all of the above- plus, a new space, new relationships, new inner desires (that's a big one); I'm becoming something else in a new place, in new ways, with a new job, and new fears; I'm learning where and how (and... the scariest... if) my work, art, and life fit in this new groove of life. 

I'm a lot better at seeing how God is using my life than figuring out what I personally am doing with it. There hasn't been much certainty to write about at all. 

I take a lot of journeys in life, as an artist and as a person. It would definitely have been easier to stay where I'm from, in Illinois, close to family and familiarity. But I want my craft to grow, as well as my character. Right now, I can't exactly see how that's going to happen, to be honest. I mean, I never really can: no one knows the future. But it's a different kind of free-fall when you're following a dream, or a calling, or a purpose.
There's been a lot of instability here regarding work (other than art, into which I have been, maybe obviously, pouring much of my time and all of my heart and soul), and it's never just easy to move to a new place where it takes time to develop or find a true community. I know it will happen and I know I will stay, get settled; in time have a totally different story to report. I don't know when, or how, obviously, but it will. I know it will. Things always change. And I'll always give my all to what I set out to do. Even if it takes a long time to do it. 

But sometimes that looks more like planting seeds than harvesting fruit. The former of which is equally (more, really) important. A lot of work for a little yield- right now. That happens sometimes; I have a feeling as I get older and pursue more, new, different goals, it will happen a lot. 

To feel like you're constantly, constantly working toward somethings you haven't reached yet- or are trying to extend further... maybe that's just the way growth and development go. Be it something as tangible as finding a satisfying job, or college major, or a place to live- life gives us both seasons of searching and trying, trying, trying; and then also seasons of settledness and peace. 

To someone in their twenties, which I am, five years seems like a long time to have a business and craft it takes so much singular personal effort to see grow. I might look back on life when I'm fifty and laugh: 'remember when I thought five years was a long time to see something bloom?' Who knows. Not me right now, I'll be honest. 

But I've seen it before: faithfulness will be met with positive results. Eventually. But that's the thing about faithfulness: it isn't really about results; it's not for itself, for it's own yield. I understand literal, practical concerns- and I have them. But being faithful- to God of course, and to a calling, to my life, to doing the things necessary for the shaping of my character and personhood- there's no guarantee that life will be easy or comfortable with those criteria as primary desires. 
I know the cause is worthy, that the things I'm literally spending my life on are worthy. Knowing the overall goal of life- the purpose- that does alleviate any deep sense of panic over physical, worldly, literal things that are unknown. That does alleviate a sense of ultimate turmoil over things like a job, money, or stability being in question. Anxiety creeps in (I'm human, after all), but it doesn't stay very long. In those moments when it does, well, I write it out. Paint. Pray. Make some attempt at honesty about it- on here, with friends, in talking about it, in being transparent somehow.

Journeys can be hard to talk about when they're non-conclusive, and challenging, and less than perfect. Hard- and somehow, eventually, in time; maybe when we least expect- beautiful too. 

I don't know when, but I'll keep you posted.


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