My Year of Anonymity

After several years of Christian ministry, I’d slowly and unintentionally gotten myself wrapped up in a giant Christian bubble. I didn’t like it—I missed refreshingly-secular conversations with people who didn’t think like me, and I wasn’t making room for that when my calendar was booked with church services, small groups, outreach trainings, and prayer meetings. I didn’t want to wipe away all Christian influences—I think that being connected to fellow believers helps ground you in your faith—I just wanted to leave behind the bubble that isolated me from people who didn’t share my faith.

And like some other changes I’ve needed in my life, I decided to go drastic for a short period of time. Swing to the other side of the pendulum, so to speak. And later, after I’d experienced both extremes, find the appropriate middle ground for me.

So I took a year to be anonymous. That meant I was no longer networking with as many Christians as I could at as many Christian activities as I could. Instead of being at a Christian activity 6-7 times a week, I now chose to do so only once a week. Each weekend I slipped into a pew at the beginning of the service, interacted with the people around me only when instructed to greet them, enjoyed the rest of the service, and then slipped out of the pew to go home. No small group Bible studies, no fellowship hour, no prayer meetings, no ministry staff meetings. No intentional spiritual discussions with other parishioners. I didn’t even introduce myself to a pastor. Just church, just once a week, with the occasional casual conversation with my husband about what we’d heard there.

The point of this was to get out of the rut of Christian over-commitment, as well as to get out from under the burden of expectations of how involved a devoted Christian “should” be. I knew that if I limited my involvement for a period of time, I could discover which Christian activities were actually important to me because I would start to miss having them in my life, not because I was being told I needed to do them. Then I’d slowly add in the activities that would not only feed my soul and provide friends but also give me a chance to give back to my community.

I’ve heard that every “Yes” you give to the things that matter most to other people is another “No” you’re giving to something that matters most to you. For years I’d been unwittingly defaulting to “No’s”: No to forming friendships with people with different faith perspectives, no to giving my time to the other causes that were important to me, no to investing deeply in authentic real-life Christian community with just a few people. When I finally started saying “no” to a lot more (but not all) Christian activities, I was more free to say whole-hearted “yes’s” to the ones that were right for me.

When my year of anonymity came to a close, I ventured into a church Bible study because I missed learning about God through conversations with other Christians. That led to saying yes to a volunteer day to help my community, as well as setting up a meeting to discuss my faith journey with my pastor. Each step brought me closer to the balance I was seeking—to be present and invested in the faith community and outside of it.

If you’re “out of balance” in your involvement inside and outside your church commitments, consider making a change. If you’re moving away it will be easy to start in your new church community with no commitments. If you’re not moving away, out of respect for your community and your leaders, let go of involvements gradually and communicate your intent with those leaders so they 1) don’t wonder whatever happened to you, and 2) keep bugging you to come back. And if you are the leader, give enough advance warning of your end date (commensurate with the level of responsibility of the role) so there is enough time for a replacement leader to fill your position.

I’m still finding the appropriate middle ground for my church involvement, step by step. May you and I each discover the life and joy that our church commitments bring, the grace to realize our “yes’s” and “no thank you’s” and the courage to live them out.

My Joy List

Cultivating Joy

I’m not a naturally joy-filled person. I brood, and I ruminate, and I often see the glass as half-empty. I don’t necessarily consider this a defect (the world benefits from its pessimists and critics), but I do suspect that I might miss out on some really beautiful moments if I don’t make an effort to cultivate more joy in my life.

So, what does “cultivating joy” look like for me? Part of it is naming the things that I’m grateful for. Part of it is allowing the rare things that cause me to break out into spontaneous joy to happen more frequently. My husband discovered at random that I can’t help belting out the lyrics of Rockin’ Robin when I hear the tune, so sometimes when he knows I need cheering up he’ll hum it. It doesn’t take long til I’m giddily “hoppin’ and boppin’ and singing” along.

I cannot be dependent on Rockin’ Robin to bring me joy every day—it would probably lose its charm after a while. Maybe a regular infusion of various things that cause me great happiness would contribute to additional joy. My joy board seems to be dominated by cute little animals, my favorite little kids, and upbeat music. So perhaps I can get myself a pet, or find a way to spend time with the long-distance kiddos who call me Auntie, or listen to more major chord music than the same old contemporary singer-songwriter music with minor chords that I usually listen to on Pandora. I’m not getting rid of it altogether; just mixing it up a little.

While I do believe that true joy cannot be manufactured and that it rather comes from deep within, I also believe that outer behaviors can influence our thoughts and feelings, and in turn our deeper beliefs and states of mind.

Small changes have the potential to cultivate great joy.

May you and I find the joy that comes from without and from within, both on the holy days set aside for such joy, and all the ordinary days in between.

Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson

My favorite childhood book of all time was Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. First published in 1955, it’s an imaginative story about a little boy who draws the story that is happening to him with a giant purple crayon.

Harold goes on a great adventure with his crayon: he runs into a dragon, sails on the ocean, rides in a hot-air balloon, and eats pie for dinner. He travels until he is weary and finally finds his way back home to his cozy bed and falls asleep.

Aside from my fear that this story will inspire my future children to draw on the walls, I’m really looking forward to the day I can read it to them. It reminds me of the innocence of childhood, and it brings to life the dream of a home to which I can always return because it’s where I belong. And I hope that I can pass that dream on to the little ones I will have the responsibility and joy to nurture and guide some day.

For your convenience, you can purchase your own copy of Harold and the Purple Crayon here.

Broken Heart Made Whole

The Danger of Guarding your Heart

As an emerging adult, I was taught that one of the most faithful things I could do as a young Christian woman was to guard my heart. That meant preventing myself from falling in love, especially with anyone who could lead me astray, and it basically resulted in me not dating because no one sinless came along. And I was relatively fine with that—I had a lot of other things on my metaphorical plate, so this freed up my time. But mostly I wanted to follow the Bible’s wisdom of not giving away my heart too easily because I loved God, I wanted to obey God, and I trusted that God’s advice would protect me from getting hurt. And I definitely didn’t want to get hurt.

Many years later, I was resisting falling in love with someone, and a Christian colleague of mine asked me why. I had many answers, all of which my colleague shot down, and the most eye-opening and memorable was his response about me guarding my heart out of faithfulness to God and fear of getting hurt.

He said that despite quoting a biblical verse, what I was describing was not actually biblical, not actually something God asked of his people. Out of the entirety of the Bible, “guarding one’s heart” comes up only once, and it is about keeping oneself from leaving the God who created and loves you for something less worthy. I was not leaving my loving relationship with God for a romantic relationship with a human person—in fact, the man I was interested in also loved God. I was simply trying to figure out whether to bring the three of us together.

Furthermore, my colleague said, the overall message of the Bible is not one of self-preservation but one of overwhelming, sacrificial love, exemplified in the life and death of Jesus who took the greatest risk possible by loving all of us. As God’s people our primary concern is not reducing our risk of getting hurt, but loving like Jesus did, accepting the possibility of getting hurt in the process.

Of course, we don’t throw all caution to the wind and risk everything important to us without weighing the costs. We try to choose romantic partners who

  • treat us and others kindly, and
  • share our deepest values and purposes (like our faith if we have one)

And in that process we recognize that we still might get hurt (Jesus certainly did), and that that might not only be ok but perhaps part of a bigger story of redemption and healing.

The danger of guarding your heart is potentially missing out on the tenderness, intimacy, and sacrifice of God’s story written into your’s. It’s potentially missing out on God’s healing of your past relational wounds. It’s potentially missing out on all the other invitations God has for you to love others radically like God does. But remember—just because you stop “guarding your heart” doesn’t mean you stop stop guarding your mind—continue to heed warning signs, wisdom from trusted community members, and the guidance of your Creator every step of the way.

If you have been preventing yourself from falling in love solely out of some misrepresented understanding of “guarding your heart” like I was, I pray you will find some courage and give your heart a little bit of freedom. May you find yourself on your own healing journey within the grand story of redemptive love.

Enduring a Job You Cannot Stand

I was once recruited to a job that wasn’t what it claimed to be. I never would have said yes to it if I’d realized exactly what I’d be getting myself into. After about a month I’d had enough, but my financial situation was such that I couldn’t quit without having something to replace it. So, I found ways to endure the horrible job while actively seeking out employment elsewhere. Here are some of the tips and tricks I developed during that season of captivity:

Formulate mantras

Mantras can give you courage and strength. I put mine on pop-up reminders on my phone that interrupted my distress throughout the day. Some of them were:

  • “You can only do what you can do. Everything else must wait til tomorrow.”
  • “It’s not your fault, don’t let it ruin your day.”
  • “You are not Super Woman, you cannot save the day.”
  • “The worst thing that will happen is they fire you, and you can overcome that, too.”
  • “Honey badger don’t care, honey badger don’t give a f***.”

Pretend every day is your first day

This helped me lower my too-high expectations I had for myself that I should be more capable than they trained me to be, it removed baggage from previous bad days (what bad days? Today is my first day!), and it gave me freedom to reinvent myself every day into a more mellow and emotionally-detached person rather than feel the pressure to remain the same chipper and fake-friendly person I pretended to be on the first day (#socialintrovertproblems).

Shut off your work brain at home

I.e. “think happy thoughts.” After venting or crying to my husband for an appropriate amount of time when I got home, I needed to get my mind off of work. I didn’t want that place to own me at home, too. We planned activities or had conversations that made us happy, which gave me something to look forward to as I trudged through the workday, and it let me leave work at work while I was distracted by more worthy thoughts and activities at home.

Form an alliance / friendship at work

It may be difficult to find out who hates working there as much as you do, especially if they are afraid of being fired. But if you do know someone who wants out as much as you do, consider them your ally, the person who “gets it” and makes it more bearable to be there. Vent to each other, encourage each other, and console one another when necessary. I’d advise if you’re married, that you limit the venting / consoling to coworkers of a gender you are not (or would not in the future become) attracted to. Just don’t risk it.

Milk it for every resume-building skill you can

Learn as much as you can, volunteer for the projects that will be great to brag about on your resume, and write down any accomplishments you make along the way (also to add to your resume).

Apply your way out (or up)

Don’t feel guilty about looking for something that works better for you. Keep in mind, however, that future employers may question your reliability if you hop around too frequently. So weigh your pros and cons, determine if there’s a minimum number of months you will stay for your resume’s sake, and look around. It doesn’t really hurt to look. And if you find a possible dream job, it doesn’t really hurt to apply (as long as you check the box that says you want the potential employer to NOT contact your current employer—definitely don’t want them to catch wind that you are hoping to quit before you’re ready to).


May you find your own ways to endure your horrible job for the time being, and may you hold on to hope for something better.

Gratitude

During a month-long experiment to try to become a more positive person a few years ago, I identified lots of things worth being grateful for. I know that when I focus on the good things in my life I tend to have a better attitude, complain less, and be more generous with others.

This is not to say that giving attention to negative circumstances is wrong. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary so that wrong things can be made right again. Like complaining about a pain can cause a loved one to drag you to Urgent Care to address the problem. Or talking to your roommate or spouse about something you want to be different in your home or in your relationship brings up a desire you otherwise would have internalized and grown bitter about if you’d said nothing. Or writing to your senator about an important issue you feel isn’t getting enough attention (if enough constituents agree with you and do the same), may encourage the senator to prioritize it more. Sometimes giving attention to the negative things is just what is needed to make positive change.

But if we get so caught up in the wrong, the irritating, and the painful, we may miss out on some fantastic opportunities: things to celebrate and admire and draw energy from.

Continue reading “Gratitude”

Transitioning out of 2017

I’m not a big New Year’s Resolution enthusiast, but I love the coming of a new year with all its symbolism of rebirth and starting fresh. It’s a significant milestone or checkpoint—to look back on a whole year and reflect on what was good, what was hard, and what has changed since the beginning of it. It’s also a useful tool for evaluating what to carry over into a new year, what to discard, and what new themes to incorporate. This is much gentler and more flexible than a rigid “resolution” and therefore less likely to fail you in the long run.

A friend of mine asks God for a word for the coming year—to guide her spiritual journey and give her a focal point throughout the year to help her attend to her soul. My tradition is similar—asking God to help me categorize my year in a theme or two (for instance, 2016 was the year of waiting and of the unknown), then asking what God foresees the theme of my upcoming year to be. It gives me a good idea of what to look for and how to interpret events and my reactions to them.

Continue reading “Transitioning out of 2017”

The Hierarchy of Want

Advent always gets me thinking about longing, including the many layers of desire inside me. I want a lot of stuff—some material and some immaterial:

  • a new jacket
  • a new computer
  • tickets to Disneyland
  • a graduate degree
  • getting out of credit card debt*
  • uncluttered counters
  • my neighbors to be more considerate in the laundry room
  • my fellow humans to be treated with dignity
  • introvert time
  • to feel loved
  • to actually be loved
  • for my loved ones to feel and be loved

There are so many layers to desire.

I spent most of my life suppressing desire because I had inadvertently learned that it was selfish and ungrateful to want. But over the past 5-6 years, with the help of many therapists (mostly friends, but also one I’ve seen professionally), I’ve been on a mission to discover who I really am, including all the layers of unspoken desire locked inside.

Continue reading “The Hierarchy of Want”

Married to a Non-Introvert

I am a super-introvert, and my husband definitely is not. Not that he’s an extrovert—that actually might have been easier to adapt to since he would have had a broader social circle to run around with and would have depended on me less for social stimulation. But he’s sorta in the middle of introversion and extroversion which means that he prefers to spend most of his time with one or two of his favorite people. And that almost always includes me.

So, spending time together gives him social energy, while mine becomes depleted (as is the case with all of my social interactions).

Continue reading “Married to a Non-Introvert”

Talk Therapy

I think that we all could benefit from a little professional “talk therapy” in our lives. Some of us could benefit from more than a little. Here’s why:

We are more capable of loving ourselves and our loved ones when we at least know why we sometimes behave insecurely, erratically, defensively, or arrogantly. It’s even more effective when we take that knowledge and do the hard task of working through our shit.

We love our people. And we hurt them because of hang-ups in our distant and not-too-distant past. It’s usually not irreparable damage—the people we love tend to forgive if asked, sometimes even when they aren’t asked. But I’d rather be the kind of person who engages with my loved ones in healthy, helpful ways. If I can help it.

And sometimes our people are the ones who hurt us. Therapy teaches us how to handle the pain they cause us and how to form healthy boundaries so we stop enabling them to hurt us and others.

I don’t want to settle for the unhealthy patterns in my life. If you don’t either, I urge you to give therapy a try. Find someone you feel comfortable with, who accepts your worldview even if they don’t believe it themselves, and whose priority in your conversations is to help you find the ability to thrive in all areas of your life, including your relationships.

May you love well and be loved well.