I was a “gifted” little kid. The kind who got to get out of class to sit in a room with other gifted kids and do special gifted things. I was a little snob.
I was a people pleasing little kid. The kind who never got corrected by a teacher and rarely by a parent. I was held up as an ideal for other young people to follow. Lest you think this a ridiculous amount of hyperbole, when I was in third grade a child in class who seemed always in trouble for one thing or another was having a moment outside the class with the teacher. He was crying, “You always get after me for everything! Daja never even gets corrected about anything! She’s your favorite.”
The teacher replied, “Daja does get in trouble sometimes. Everyone does.” I was called into the conversation and the teacher said, “Daja, please tell John that you have gotten in trouble at school in the past.”
I just stared at her with my incredulous 3rd grade gifted face. “No, I haven’t.”
She replied, ”OK, maybe not this year yet. But you have gotten corrected or in trouble sometime while you were in school.”
“No, never.” I said.
The boy cried even more and the teacher dismissed my unhelpful little self to go back to my desk. I wish I could go back to that moment and show even an ounce of empathy instead of the smug superiority I felt in that moment. If he became a villain, no doubt this was part of his origin story.
I was a perfect teenager, the kind that wouldn’t dream of rocking the boat or rebelling in any form. And yes, lest you think that a ridiculous amount of hyperbole again, a man at church with four teenagers told them he was going to make a bracelet that said WWDD—substituting Daja for Jesus, because he wanted his girls to be like me. I laughed of course—inwardly feeling rather proud that I could be held up as such a standard.
Following this trend, I was an ideal wife. Reading my older blog posts make me cringe so hard. I had all the answers to what you were doing wrong and how you could do it as well as I was. Nevermind that authentically telling the truth, not looking at things through rose-colored glasses and practicing good boundaries were not things I understood nor practiced. Walking on egg shells, people pleasing, and ignoring my intuition: those were the things at which I was really excelling.
Me keeping up appearances and perfection has died hard in my adult years. But, I hope and pray I am actually a better person—or at the very least on my way to being a better person. Mind you this may not look like being a better person, because now I am far more likely to let you down or do something you don’t like without apology. But it is actually me being a better person without the pretense. You can trust the person I am now far more than you could 20 years ago.
Being a Beginner
I have had to make peace with not being very gifted and to embrace being a beginner. Rilke tells the Young Poet, “If the Angel deigns to come, it will be because you have convinced her, not by your tears, but by your humble resolve to be always beginning: to be a beginner.”
When I started this new job and felt a little wary wondering what it would entail and if I could hack it, my wise oldest daughter said, “You know you will make mistakes, right? You might as well be at peace with the fact that there will be failures. I mean, you’ve never done this. So that’s natural.”
Wish I had that perspective when I was 20 instead of learning it in my 40s.
I was talking to a friend recently about how someone didn’t like me—even before they met me. In truth, it kind of hurt my ego a little, because I consider myself pretty likable. He said, “Well, I guess we all have to make peace with being misunderstood.”
Yes, not everyone is going to understand me. Not everyone wants to understand me. Some people are going to have one idea of who I am and what I am about and it may be completely off-base. Is it my job to fix it? Is God calling me to defend my reputation? Or is it my job to consistently live the truth of my life and faith and let that truth be its own defense?
For me, letting go of defensiveness is the biggest shift in perspective and practice, that has had an domino effect of freedom over time. It has also been one of the most difficult things I have ever done.
Being the Villain
Being that now I have done some really unlikable things—particularly to those who have known me since I was a kid—I will not be held up as a standard for others to follow. However, I no longer desire that role—not in the least. I don’t necessarily love being the bad guy though. Going through a divorce and no longer living my life in a way to project outward perfection, I have had to make peace with the fact that I will be the villain in someone’s else story. Someone—family, former friends, or my exhusband—is talking to their therapist and friends about how I am the the bad guy. I cannot change that, fix that, or get out of it.
Every hero needs the villain to bring out their heroism. Even though I don’t want to be the bad guy, maybe if I am the other person can become who they need to be too. Maybe it is for both our sanctification for us to fulfill those roles in the greater narrative of us all getting to heaven. We will never know, because like the Lion says in CS Lewis’ (under-appreciated in my opinion) book The Horse and His Boy, “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”
My life is full of uncertainty. Perhaps not more so than anyone else you may meet on the street. The difference may be that I am at a place where I fully acknowledge the uncertainty. I have made peace with it, at least to some extent. I have no hubris. I can say what I want to do next or what my dreams may be. But, I no longer say with certainty what I will do at all—let alone when or how.
To return yet again to one of my favorite bits of Rilke, “I want to beg you, as much as I can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves—like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. The point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Did you ever wonder why the Bible says ”blessed are the peacemakers” and not “blessed are the peacekeepers”? There is something profoundly both human and divine about going into the midst of chaos and bringing out peace and to reach into something ugly and retrieve what is beautiful. And there is something rather grotesque about the insistence to keep peace at all cost. Often that cost is just too damn high.
The process of making peace is more often than not a messy one—whether it be peace in relationships or within one’s own heart. It takes more courage that I ever knew I had.
To make peace right in the middle of chaos is like people who manage to make beauty in the middle of the horrors of life. Like Viktor Frankl surviving the Holocaust and giving the world “Man’s Search For Meaning.” This is that hard-fought for peace. Probably this is the only real peace that matters. Peacekeeping (and all the avoidance and/or aggression that that takes) is only an illusion of peace. It is not a deeply abiding shalom.
Making peace takes so much surrender. So much letting go. So much reminding myself, “God is in control.” So much fiat.
So much “Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…”