Over the past year, I have been trying to believe that my life can grow bigger, more beautiful, more spacious and generous, more joyful, more closely aligned with my values and dreams.
I know. Some of you are saying, “that’s great! you go girl!” Others of you are thinking it sounds kinda narcissistic. Admit it. After all, isn’t that something one does in their 20’s? And here I am 50! You may be saying to yourself, “Get over it, girl. What is … is. Be happy you have a lovely family and faithful friends, a gorgeous home, plenty of food, a meaningful job, creative juices flowing, and an espresso machine, for god’s sake. What more do you need to be happy?”
That’s just it. This isn’t about happy. I am happy. But underneath, unseen to most, is this trembling girl who isn’t convinced she deserves or is capable of a gifted, deep life where she lives into her calling in a significant way. Or if she does deserve it, it will have to be accomplished from a trailer park filled with chain smokers and empty beer cans. Yup. It’s true. The contributing life I want to live can really only happen to someone else.
I remember talking to a friend some time ago whose spouse came from a small town and had what she called that small town underachiever thing. She went on to say that her partner, and others she had met, had an “underachiever attitude” about their influence and role in the world. They have had so few models that they move away from home and then return – or perhaps never leave – because they truly don’t think they can “do it”. Or, perhaps like me, they do migrate somewhere but still believe they will always be a little fish in a big pond.
I think I have that in some ways. It isn’t that living rural is any less meaningful than living anywhere else. Those farmers I grew up with were wonderful, hard working, focused, mostly content people. They were feeding the world – and teaching children – and creating a deep sense of community. They cared for each other in a way that rarely happens anymore. And they watched the seasons change across rolling hills which makes me envious now just to think about.
But here I am. Living in a home like the ones we would visit with my folks once/year during the “home show”; a new community with clean carpets, fancy kitchens, and green grass. We fly to places sometimes for vacations. We eat organic food as much as we can. We have the luxury of exercising at a gym! We have adequate health care. We buy ridiculously priced coffee out when we want to.
Just writing that makes me feel guilty.
I think it’s time to shed that guilt. It isn’t like I’m the only one who survived! Friends back home are doing just dandy! But, I think it has been holding me back in some ways. I think I have believed for many years that I don’t really deserve what I have, so how dare I hope/pray/long for something more – or different. I already have more than enough. It’s sort of greedy to want more for your life when you already live a privileged white girl life, isn’t it? Shouldn’t that be saved for someone who really needs it? Shouldn’t those wishes and prayers and good fortune and mercy be poured out on someone more deserving?
Well, with the clarity of this realization, the answer came, palpitating heart and all … NO! And here are a couple of reasons why.
- Joy, beauty, gratitude, spaciousness are not exhaustible resources. There is no limited supply of them. In fact, these positive, life-affirming energies only whirl up together to create more positive energy, more thriving living. For example: Creating beauty brings appreciation. Appreciation creates gratitude. And gratitude is the heart of a happy life. More beauty in the world only inspires more beauty! The same can be said for so many other things.
- Survivor’s guilt is only helpful if it propels you to act on behalf of and in solidarity with those who need it most. As someone said, and I paraphrase, “playing small does you nor anyone else any good at all.” No one deserves to have enough: everyone does. Playing small has not helped anyone I know. But then there is this nagging guilt that accompanies wanting to help. That, of course, is ridiculous. We can be helpful in ways that honor others and don’t impose some imperial “mama knows right” thing on anyone. On the contrary, we have a responsibility to live our lives well and deeply regardless of where we came from. If one’s vision and sense of call is to a place of comfort and resources, especially without regard to others in society whose needs are much greater, then maybe a little guilt is in order. But, IF what we want is to make a difference to those marginalized in our world and to support those who work with and for this end; IF we long to labor for a world where all are welcomed, fed, housed, educated and enjoyed; IF we want to be instigators of beauty and connection and anti-violence and community, we can trust that we have what we need to make things even better. We can’t let the darkness of guilt hold us back.
- Living your dreams and values opens doors to connecting with like-minded people. And it will cause you to rub up against your detractors. This is really important! We need both of these forces in our lives to make a difference in the world. Our detractors teach us to listen to different voices, push creativity, and to be committed ourselves to self-honesty.
During my 2nd summer of college, I worked with a youth program based in Vancouver, British Columbia. We took kids up through the islands and taught them to sail on 45 foot boats. Periodically, when the conditions were right, the water would fill with tiny bioluminescent microorganisms that, when agitated, spun sparks of light through the water. Sometimes when we took the boat to anchor in some secluded cove, we could see the outline of the boat lit up. And sometimes, if we were lucky, we could go swimming in it.
We are all being called deeper into a uniquely authentic, loving, giving, luminescent life. This is not about happiness. Or about accumulating “stuff”. Or about the dogged human and particularly American search for “more, more more…” This is about creating a way of being and doing in the world that stirs up the light that is already there. It is about creating the conditions where people can live into grace and service and mercy.
I have to believe that as we are open to change, to new ways of living, to pursuing our own well-being and the healing of the world, we will create the conditions for the hope and joy of the world to be channeled through us a little bit.
So … it’s time to bid a gracious good-bye to that underlying assumption. I suppose it had an important function for a number of years, but it’s really got to go.