Do you ever feel that daily actions are symptoms of things that lie close to your heart? For example, maybe at the heart of incessant performance lies a fear of not being good enough at x, y, or z. Or maybe your inability to stay home on a work night is the outworking of self-obligation to see those people you promised to hang out with, but actually don’t want to.
I think most of my actions (at least historically) are the symptoms of fear or the attempt to cover that fear up. I’m good at tucking things far away into the recesses of my heart, so when I try to answer simple questions or sort through thoughts, my mind becomes like the image above — blurry and out of focus.
Tonight I sat down with my boss to talk about something I’ve been ignoring for a while: my apartment. Although my home is beautiful and I love it, I’m paying more than an arm and a leg for it – so much that it’s actually not sustainable. I’ve been here for nine months by myself and still can’t wrap my mind around what I should do with it. I grabbed a blue dry erase marker, walked over to the whiteboard, and started putting together a pro’s and cons’ list to explicate the mess I am in. We bantered back and forth about options, ideas, and solutions. Moments later, he astutely looked at the list then looked me in the eyes and said, “Sarah Ruth, these lists look similar. Do you know what you need to ask yourself? ‘What do you want?’ “
My eyes filled with tears.
Face flushed red, I tried to hold back the rising swell. Aggh. I hate crying anytime, but especially at work!
What did I want? Those four words terrified me to the core.
Six months ago, the most helpful thing a person could ask me was “what do you need?” Now that those needs have begun to be met, the most challenging and helpful thing someone can ask today in all its many contexts and glory is “What do you want?”
I always conflated doing what I wanted to do with being selfish or irresponsible. As a grown up, doing what I want to do still terrifies me, but now in two ways. First, because it still feels selfish and irresponsible, and second, because I have the potential to be disappointed.
In the third chapter of Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes about the Suicide of Thought. He says that one huge problem in the modern world is not the lack of virtue, it is that the virtues still exist but without their proper proportion and restriction. Virtues take concrete shape in our lives. In the olden days, humility meant that a man doubted himself but revered the truth. In our modern world, Chesterton says that man has unlimited confidence in himself and doubts whether there really is any truth.
I am guilty of living without confidence in the Truth. And in this, humility has transformed into its inversion: pride.
It’s not my ambition that needs to be humbled, it’s my reason. I reason my way out of doing and dreaming anything. “The old humility” says Chesterton, “was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”
My reason has given ample opportunity to fear, so much that for the most part I’ve stopped working towards ambition all together. I’ve almost been too afraid of striking out to walk out to home plate in the first place. I’ve let my fear and pride guide me into a safe, predictable life that I can control without the fear of disappointment.
What do I want?
If I’m honest, my requests are simple but several:
- I want to live in a place I can afford, where I won’t have to move for a while.
- I also want a home that is peaceful, allows for mental space, cooking, and hospitality.
- I want to sell the furniture and things I’ve been given that I do not want but feel obligated to keep.
- I want to feel the freedom to move without the overwhelming anxiety that I have “too much stuff” to actually move.
- I want to save money and not be on a bootstraps budget that keeps me from a semi-normal life in the city.
- etc, etc, etc.
I’m convicted that I need to open the door of my heart and mind to truth and ambition; and let its small crack of light bring color and shape to my desires and bring my dreams back into focus.
Take the very hardest thing in your life, the place of difficulty – outward or inward – and expect God to triumph glorious in that very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom. – Lilias Trotter