The title above is what my CPE supervisor asked us last Monday on the last CPE day of 2015, and I’ve been pondering what to say if she asks us when we are there next week, on the first CPE group day of 2016.
You know, I’ve been here before, but I described it a little differently. Middle age has been a process of recognizing some things about myself–things that may even have kept me alive at one time–but they are now dysfunctional coping mechanisms or behaviors that prevent me from being a transformed person. I’ve described it as “giving it a gold watch and saying, ‘Thank you for your service, enjoy your retirement.'”
What will I put to bed for 2015?
I think the main one for 2016 is to finally put to bed the need to “be somebody” and to create a public persona grounded in expectations rather than reality. The reality is I AM somebody, and the best of that somebody doesn’t trade in privilege–she’s open and relatively transparent, and good enough.
My life has definitely been that of an uncomfortable overachiever. Achievements made me feel smart and worthy. In my younger life, I was too tied to an identity of success to define my self-worth. Now, to its credit, it’s what got me out of my hometown and off to college, and later, medical school, and it is what has provided me the means to make the major changes in my life to pursue a call to ordained ministry. It was what enabled me to stand in front of 150 medical students and act like I knew what I was doing in the times I wasn’t sure. (Most of the time I totally knew what I was doing, but now and then “being right” trumped “being loving.”
Yet at the same time, it came with a rather steep price tag. It made me feel hyper-responsible, obsessed with minutiae, and full of unreasonable expectations in others (but mostly in myself.) I could never live up to who I thought I should be. It carried the two-edged sword of both the benefit of hiding my insecurity while at the same time nurturing deeper and more hidden insecurities. “If they knew what I was really like sometimes, would they like me as much? Would they even respect me?” Worse yet, hyper-perfection could put me in a place where I couldn’t trust myself. I began to second-guess myself more and more.
In short, the need to put that perfect person out there publicly can, at times, prevent me from being the person God called me to be. What my process has taught me in spades is it’s so much less about me and so much more about the community. It’s less about fear of exposure and more about doing the most loving thing, no matter what. It’s time to put the need to have a perfect persona to bed.
That brings me to what is it that I will open the door and say, “Come on in?”
It’s the notion that most forms of uncertainty won’t kill me.
It’s no secret that the #1 lesson I learned in life from a very early age was, “Don’t trust.” Now, a person doesn’t just undo that one overnight, and honestly, at age 55-almost-56 I don’t see myself doing much of a shift there. I’m afraid there’s a part of my brain that is now hard-wired to have a fair amount of distrust as a general rule.
That said, something that was true at times when I was younger and even more so at this point in my life is even with all that distrust, I still manage to put one foot in front of the other and move in the general direction of “the right thing to do.” A few Ember Day letters back, my bishop pointed out to me that moving towards Christ even when I don’t feel particularly trusting is the exact definition of faith. So, it turns out I have very little trust, but manage to have faith all the same. I may not trust much, but I believe I can trust that.
In the past, I compensated for my lack of trust with control (and hyper-control.) I’ve often joked I’m a terrible 4 point pitch player when it comes to bidding, because I practically have to have an ace and a deuce in my hand to have the confidence to bid two! That’s pretty much an analogy for my life. I rarely moved forward unless I was holding an ace and a deuce, so to speak. This process has pushed me many times to move forward when the hand hasn’t even been dealt yet. I can become obsessed with the uncertainty of it all. What I’m learning, though, is that most of the things I obsessed about weren’t worth it–things turn out right enough. I need to remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good, or, to borrow from the economist George Stigler, “If you never miss a plane, you’re spending too much time at the airport.”
What I’ve learned when I embrace uncertainty, is it opens the door to pleasant surprises I did not expect or imagine–the risk, of course, is that it also creates some situations I’d rather not be in–but I am at least starting to believe that when we’re talking about doing things in love, the rewards outweigh the risk. The CPE experience has started to remove a lot of the numbness that was my existence for many years, and actually feel my feelings. Ok, so the difficult ones hurt, but dang, the joyful ones feel awesome!
So, welcome 2016. I have something to put to bed, and a door to open. Let ‘er rip!