The chilly quiet of another winter solstice. New Year’s Eve looms. ‘Tis the season for contemplation and self-examination. The self-examination might yield one or more New Year’s resolutions, promises to oneself at once fierce and frail. Which is to say most of the promises will wilt like wysteria before Valentine’s Day.
Existentially speaking, the entire exercise is amusingly arbitrary. That is, you are also free to examine your life and resolve to do better on August 2nd. But, still, when in Rome …
This year I observe the landscape of my life and notice there are new truths sitting on the shelf of my cupboard where I keep “Evidence That I Might Finally Be Growing Up.”
I have about the same combination of good and bad in me regardless whether I make strenuous, conscious efforts to be good or to not be bad. This sets me free. There’s something of a dog chasing its tail in the admonitions “be good” or “don’t be bad.” These days I prefer “be human … be thyself … be authentic.”
This is not an argument for moral license. Rather, it is the freedom to begin from a place of mercy and acceptance rather than judgment. It is a commitment to self-regard. I am finally willing to offer myself the regard that, in the past, I have so reflexively offered to others while withholding from myself.
Nor am I saying there is no place for moral effort. Indeed, some days you just have to decide to do the right thing, and hope that character and motives will catch up along the way. What I have abandoned, however, is the relentless, self-conscious monitoring of piety. I’m as good as I am. And as not-good. I welcome growth of my character, but I no long fret about it. I have a good-enough goodness.
I have stopped being surprised that some people will never like me. Oh boy – this one represents an embarrassingly long journey. It pains me to think about the countless hours and days I have wasted gaping in paralyzed incredulity in response to inexplicable antipathy. My cathedral-sized ego would get a bulldog grip and never let go of the idea that, any minute now, this person was going to see he/she had made a terrible mistake and that Steven is a Really Nice Guy.
Today I can be more objective about both criticism and praise. I trust myself to know the difference between celebration of me and wide-eyed groupie gah-gah, between valuable feedback and hostile projections. I have a thriving inner circle of people who can, will, and do tell me unlovely truths about me when necessary.
And some people really don’t like me. And never will. Alrighty then.
Virtually nothing worth having requires hurrying up; yet, there isn’t a moment to waste. I think this paradox is simply delicious. It demands a fine line balance between serenity and urgency, between a ‘hands off’ approach to the universe coupled with a willingness to throw myself headlong into the here and now.
I love roses. But only a fool would get so excited about a rose bud that he would tear it open as a strategy for enjoying the bloom. A wise man waits … and waits. Then, when the rose blooms, he is radically present to the wonder and the beauty.
Relationships are like this. There is, in the end, no such thing as instant intimacy. Love, trust, respect – these things take time. Yet, also, only here and now can we truly love. It’s not true that there will always be time to say “I love you … I choose you.” Some choices only present themselves once.
The more practiced you become at living authentically, the more often you’ll have to make friends with Alone. For me, there’s hardly a gnat’s whisker of difference between the psychological idea of healthy individuation and the Christian idea of salvation. Both include the lifetime journey of authentic living.
“Foxes have dens, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” warns Jesus. Meaning, if you take seriously a commitment to authentic selfhood, you find that you must regularly sacrifice belonging. Living authentically means re-negotiating how we belong to family. In some extreme cases, whether we will belong to family at all. Likewise we make adjustments in friendships, sometimes distancing and even discarding friendships.
There are journeys of selfhood and wholeness that must be walked alone.
I have an “open cupboard” policy. Feel free to drop by anytime and borrow what you like from my cupboard.
What’s in your cupboard?
(Steven Kalas a Nevada therapist, an author and an Episcopal priest. He writes a weekly column for the Sparks Tribune. You may write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)