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Friday, August 23, 2013

Perspectives from a Show Dog

I was reading through some old prayers of mine this Sunday in the back of the Bible I used during my Master's program. I was struck by the differences in my perspective now, 10 years later.  At that time, I felt a lot of guilt over the ease of my life. I had been well protected, nurtured. Bad things only happened to other people, and I felt some survivor's guilt. "Why me?" I wondered. Why did I have so much when others had so little? I questioned what God's purpose was and compared myself to a show dog- all fluff and frills, but very little function. My prayers at the time reflected an urgency to feel used by God to make a difference, and fear that my life might not have any impact at all.

Then I got married, and started my very stressful and confusing job. Suddenly, I didn't have the time or abundance anymore to ask why I was so blessed. I stopped feeling blessed at all, frankly. I was feeling so much inner turmoil that my prayers became a "Why me?" of an entirely different sort. I thought many times about the trite phrase "getting out of your comfort zone" and wondered if someone in this zone could tell me how to find it so I could climb back in!  There were many, many shocks to my system. For a while, everyday was a significant struggle to get through. I discovered that most of the blessings I felt guilty about didn't actually belong to me- they had been on loan through my gracious and generous family. Now that we were on our own, everything came pretty hard. Trying to budget our money, keep our home in order, succeed in a challenging work environment, and live and work in a totally different area of town with a whole set of new disturbing experiences proved to be a lot a lot to handle. Important deadlines and responsible choices started falling through the cracks, and I felt high levels of shame for not having it "together" anymore. I lived in a state of disillusionment of the self for a long while.

Through this time, my relationship with God went in new and strange directions. He stayed faithful, and I found myself confronted with the hard truth that I had a lot of expectations about what He was supposed to do for me. I found out I had unconsciously contracted with Him, believing that if I followed the rules, He would always keep me comfortable and safe. I hadn't realized that I had bought so much into a prosperity gospel message in my heart. Because as soon as things stayed uncomfortable and stressful, I began to push against Him, trying to figure out what buttons to push to get Him to respond the way I wanted Him to respond. Nevermind that there was a recession and jobs were hard to come by but bills were not- I expected Him to keep finding special circumstances for me to thrive while everyone else struggled. And when He didn't, even though He could have, I got angry. The show dog was throwing tantrums because she stopped getting treats. And when I got angry, I got scared, ashamed, and uncertain. Whole areas of my life stopped making any kind of sense! For a while, I even prayed he would take away all my feelings- I was willing to be an obedient robot, as long as I could stop feeling so distressed. I praise Him, of course, for denying these desperate prayers.

At the end of that season, I wish I could say that I learned a lot and became a better person. I did learn a lot, but I don't think I got any better. I got used to some things, and I think I got a lot humbler. I also gained a lot more empathy for people who live on the ugly side of the tracks. Because I'm one of those people now. I acclimated to the shock of the culture that I am now a part of, and the season passed away in its own time. I have learned that a lot my angry feelings are a result of fears of my own inadequacy, that I will mess everything up for myself and it will all be my fault. Knowing what I am afraid of doesn't take the fear away, but it does give me the ability to refute it and the power to make different choices.  

During this season of my life, I found that all the things that just seemed like abundant and lavish blessings were actually vital to our survival. My ability to get through school quickly the first time around and get a well-paying job, for instance, ended up being the cornerstone of our financial solvency.  God answered my prayers and showed me that there was a purpose and a reason in all my blessings, the same way there would be a purpose and a reason in all my struggles.  He has also used me to make a big difference in the lives of my clients, my coworkers, and my church family, so I don't feel so self-serving and useless anymore.

Now, somedays, I feel more like a show dog again. I've begun to finally make sense of my professional environment, and I have days where I really enjoy what I do. I have loved motherhood immensely and my daughter is my joy.  My circumstances haven't changed overly (despite all the countless hours of energy I've put into trying to change them), but I'm learning how to make the circumstances I'm in more comfortable.

Now that we are coming back into a season of change, I have a whole new set of fears to bring before God. They are actually many of the same fears, repackaged. I'm still afraid I'll mess everything up and lead my family into ruin. But I'm no longer afraid of making a difference, or that God is going away when His blessings seem to, or that He has no function for me in His plan. This show dog is a working dog after all.