So, I’ve survived Valentine’s Day, and I’ve managed to get some writing in here and there through the last week in spite of some very difficult days with pain and difficulty sleeping. This morning I woke up just after 3:30 with a migraine, took some meds, and felt so restless that by 4:30, following the usual time spent in prayer, I got up, put on my “Dickens” hoodie, and settled into the computer chair with some blankets, since the furnace wouldn’t kick up for hours. Ironically, on the rare day that the morning plays out this way, I can get a lot of writing done. So, I had over 4,000 words written before my daughter got up to get ready for school. The rest of the day will be mostly a wash; it will require my attention to some banking and bill-paying. (Yuck!) And I will definitely need a nap, and I will probably get another headache this afternoon. But at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing I made some progress on my day job—the writing of another novel. With that done, I’m taking a break to pull out something I wrote for the blog a couple of weeks ago during an inspired moment. Hope it sounds as inspiring now as it felt when I wrote it . . .
As a child I sang in church, “I am a child of God.” I’m now in my fifties and still feel like I’m trying to figure out exactly what that means. I’ve always been an instinctively spiritual person, and through the course of my life I have actively strived to grow in that regard. Even now, in the abyss of long-term, overwhelming challenges; even now in the moments when it feels as if depression will swallow me, I know that God is there, and I know I am connected to Him. This knowledge—which began as belief, and faith, and hope—has taken a great deal of effort and nurturing, but the rewards are incomprehensible. In my darkest hours, sometimes it doesn’t FEEL like God is there, but I know that He is. Eventually He always makes Himself known, and I am strengthened and able to press forward.
So, when I ask the question: Who am I?, it’s not about the eternal nature of mankind, or the overall purpose of life on this planet, it’s about the tiny details of incremental growth that is at the core of my own personal journey.
Many years ago during one of the many counseling sessions I’ve endured with many different counselors, I was challenged to do an exercise to help me learn more about myself. It went like this . . .
Step one: Make a list of all the roles in your life. Easier said than done. As the counselor began to expound, I became overwhelmed simply by the prospect of making this list. There were obvious things like wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and of course being a writer was big for me. But the counselor opened my mind to all of the things we don’t commonly think about. He challenged me to put a name to my personal relationship with God, to include details in regard to my church callings, to put sub-categories under the obvious aspects of myself. After days of working on it between other things and pondering it carefully, the list I ended up with included dozens of roles in my life; a daunting description of all the pieces of my mortal and eternal existence that only made me feel more overwhelmed and confused. But this was just the beginning of the exercise.
Step Two: Put a mark next to the five most important roles in your life. The counselor defined this as considering what would really matter if your life was over. It was surprisingly easy to pick out the five most important roles in my life, the things that I would want to have peace with when I met my Maker.
Step Three: Now put a mark next to the five roles in your life that take up the majority of your time. Whoa! This was also easy, but it led to the shocker, and the point of the exercise . . .
Step Four: Why are the marks in steps two and three not next to the same things? Wait! Hold the phone! Regroup and rethink!
One answer is obvious. We live in a world where we have to make a living, keep houses clean, laundry washed, people fed. We have to do certain things to just survive and exist in our society. If you were facing death, those things would no longer be relevant. But most of us are not imminently in that place at this moment. So, if you look past the practicality of what consumes your time because it’s absolutely necessary, what else do you see?
Who are you? What roles in your life really matter? What effort do you put into your daily life that feeds and fills you? What are you doing to live what is often called an authentic life? What are you doing to nurture the relationships that really matter?
One thing this exercise taught me is that the priority of the roles in my life can shift, and I need to be in tune enough to my instincts (or as I believe more accurately, the guidance of the Spirit) to be able to know what’s important, because things can change very quickly. For instance, I may have had a day set aside to just write as much as possible. Kids are taken care of, mandatory chores and responsibilities are under control, and I sit down to get some serious words written. Then . . . wait for it . . . phone rings. Someone I care about has a crisis. My role shifts from writer to friend, with no regret or guilt because I know that being there for other people (in a way that’s not codependent) is far more important to me than getting those words written right now; the words will come back to me later if they’re important. So, you get the gist.
This exercise ended up helping me immensely as one of the stepping stones of my life in the discovery of who I am. It didn’t make life any less complicated or stressful, but it helped me learn how to prioritize appropriately and to know what was most important. I highly recommend it.
HOWEVER, it is now literally decades later, and I’m still struggling with the question: Who am I? All of the roles on that original list (probably stuffed in a box somewhere) are likely still valid. My kids are older and motherhood is different, but I’m still their mother, and needs still come up in different but often more dramatic ways. I was a writer before I was born and I’ll be a writer after I die, so that’s not going to change. But at the core, I am not the same person who did that exercise all those years ago. I’m evolving, growing, becoming stronger in ways that I didn’t know existed in the naivete of my early adult years. My tastes in many things have changed. My shock over how much I’ve allowed people to hurt me and take advantage of me has altered my vision dramatically. It’s more accurate to say that I now know more accurately who I WANT to be, but I am more keenly aware of how difficult it is to overcome false beliefs, distorted perceptions, and dysfunction in order to get there. But while I take this journey, in my tiny baby steps, one fact still remains the same: I am a child of God!