When I was 12, my dad caught me re-organizing my shirts in the middle of the night, winding and rolling them to then be arranged in immaculate ROYGBIV order. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?” he said, rubbing his eyes. I mumbled out a “I need to finish this,” hands already reflexively reaching for another shirt. The thought of my clothes bunched up in my drawer, messy and wrinkled had plagued me through the night, and so of course I couldn’t sleep until they were fixed.
Fixed. The state of something improved. Many people have told me that one of my strengths is that when I notice something in myself that I want to change, I set my mind to improving it. I’m committed to the process of growth because I believe I’m on a journey with God in becoming my truest, healthiest self. But… there’s another part of me that balks at the idea of remaining static, that fears feeling like a failure and wasting my life if I’m not living up to my potential (that vague threshold no one can define).
What if growth takes longer than the timelines mapped out in my head? If there is anything I’ve learned from several months married, it is that there are deep things in me still being worked out. Marriage shines a glaring light on my wounds and insecurities, the disappointments and expectations laid bare–whether they are fair or not. And in that light, sometimes I feel so raw and vulnerable. If anything, it’s like all of my areas of dysfunction are brought to the surface. The depth of what I haven’t even uncovered in myself is startling–and scary.
Facing myself in this way-with all my wounds-is difficult, heart-rending work. Facing them with another person is even more so. I find myself wanting to speed through the process of growth–heal quickly, smooth out any childhood hurts and adult longings and tuck them away like shirts rolled up neatly in a drawer. But when I find myself sobbing wretchedly at 1 in the morning, not entirely knowing why the image of my empty middle school hallway is trapped in my waking mind, and my bewildered husband is sleepily reaching out a hand to try to comfort me, I know the work’s not done in me–and neither should it be.
Embracing the Many “Me”s
Growth is not cyclical. Growth is not linear either. We learn in the glimpses God gives us into ourselves as we reflect upon and process what our emotions are pointing us to. They are signposts marking realities of our story we have yet to wrestle with or require further processing.
There’s an elementary school kid in me who still longs for security as she watches 9/11 unfold on a tv screen, the world that was safe and innocent crumbling away. There’s a middle school girl who stills needs comfort from memories of loneliness and the desperate conviction to please the friends I did have out of fear that they would leave me. There’s a college woman in me who still craves assurance that I’m desirable after years when it seemed like no one was pursuing me and I struggled with my racial identity and body image.
I’ve reckoned with these past selves and continue to revisit them, each time with a little more awareness and a lot more grace.
God is still reaching into those deep places and renewing them, and he works through my husband, my friends and family to love me and break down whatever lies I’ve believed. This is slow work. Thankfully, God’s patience is boundless.
As we take a closer look and choose to make peace with the past self we cannot change and the present self still in-limbo of innumerable things, we are granted the opportunity to loosen our hands on what we didn’t realize we clung to for security. We also get to forgive ourselves even when we reflexively reach for things in moments of uncertainty, like a toddler scrambling for a railing to steady themselves.
The Unfinished Work
I like my plans, knowing exactly what’s coming next, and I still get anxious about maintaining control over things little and big (like keeping an apartment clean, feeding an unpredictable toddler, navigating work in the age of COVID), but when I feel needy and like the world is too much, I am learning that I don’t need to apologize for asking for my husband to hold me. I used to be really bad at that, fixated on mitigating how much of a burden I would be to others. I felt like I needed to be strong, hold it together. So for me, simply being able to say “I’m not ok,” is a victory badge in a longer journey.
Having needs, being vulnerable and communicating that opens the door for being seen and cared for in my in-progress state. I think we’re all yearning for that kind of welcome. And when we ARE received, possibilities open up for us. I resonate with the character Isabel from Encanto in her longing for freedom from perfection: “What could I do if I just knew it didn’t need to be perfect? It just needed to be? And they’d let me be?”
What else could I do if no longer bending under the pressure to have it all figured out: marriage, stepmomhood, friendship, calling-none of that? I could accept the unfinished and unresolved and find beauty in my present.
In-Limbo and Loved
This pandemic has dragged out our messiest selves because so much that we relied upon has proved to be unstable. Our job formats and roles keep changing. Our families have suffered losses and distance. Our friendships have endured ebbs and even fracturings while others have strengthened. And our faith in what matters most to us has been tested as we look to a future we cannot predict with any certainty.
We are all wounded–by circumstance, by relationship, by the complexes in our inner being that compete with clamoring voices to tell us if we’re valued, loved, enough. Some of us are unaware certain wounds exist; others of us bandage them out of sight. But we all have deep hurts that can only find reckoning and hope of restoration when encountered by the light of Jesus. That light throws them into relief, but Jesus does not shame us for being in disarray, disordered, un-worked out.
In this limbo between Advent and Easter to come, I commemorate a God who came in human form to a war-torn world desperate for repair. But instead of a quick fix, He journeyed with us on Earth, engaged our pains and pointed to himself as the hope for finding freedom in our woundings–not despite them.
Psalms 139:14 reminds me that I am wonderfully made–and this is not in spite of my imperfections. In every tough conversation, every tear God is remaking me into someone more authentic, more honest, and ultimately more free because there is no one to please but Him. He does not stand in condemnation of me for falling short every day. As Psalm 73:25 declares: “Whom do I have in Heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” Things of Earth are not enough to meet the quaking need in me that craves belonging and comfort. Only God can meet that hunger with his presence.
Only with the transcendent perspective God offers can I move through processing my past and taking small, brave steps into the future. My woundedness informs my reliance on Jesus who was wounded for my sake in order that my wounds would never totally define my identity.
Because of the Cross, we are wounded and wondrous. Our God is captivated by his creations and wants to draw us close, and so HE came to us when we would not. Christmas, baptism even, may be about birth and rebirth, but we also experience little rebirths of our selves everyday as the false and toxic things die in us–all because of how Jesus’ love frees us.
Walk into the wonder of your freedom today and know that you need be nothing but yourself before the God who delights in you.