Reflections on Christmas

111225-590x393

Christmas comes by every year, and the familiarity with Jesus’ birth has an inoculating effect on the story’s beauty and mystery. Christmas stories range between inspirational and downright weird. Example: the other day I was at a church service during which angels started to the fly from the wings of the auditorium to the stage (via tight rope, of course). It was quite the shock. I sympathize with Rachel Held Evans on how disappointing it is that Christmas can so easily become about our “rights”—our right, our authority, to sing a song with Jesus’ name, to have a nativity scene in public, to say Merry CHRISTMAS emphatically to everyone.

The arrogance of the Christmas propaganda gets to me, and this Advent reflection by Henri Nouwen helped me articulate why: “God is where we are weak, vulnerable, small and dependent. God is where the poor are, the hungry, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the elderly, the powerless. How can we come to know God when our focus is elsewhere, on success, influence, and power? I increasingly believe that our faithfulness will depend on our willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness, and human need… I realize that the only way for us to stay well in the midst of the many ‘worlds’ is to stay close to the small, vulnerable child that lives in our hearts and in every other human being. Often we do not know that the Christ child is within us. When we discover him we can truly rejoice.”

In my life as a Christian, I have always thought that weakness and vulnerability have been states to conquer. I have faced this pressure, perhaps from myself, from the church, or in our culture, to arrive at some elusive point. To reach this sub-human state in which I can quote any Bible verse on command and be strangely excited at all times. I have been grasping for this supposed point of arrival, and it hasn’t come. I have lived my life waiting and never finding, hoping that after this therapy session, hearing this song, reading this book, saying this prayer… maybe the clouds would fade away and I would be free. I grow frustrated at God and ask, “Why? Why am I still dealing with all of this? Why won’t you answer my prayers?”

Henri Nouwen’s words have helped me refocus on the message of God giving up power and becoming vulnerable in the form of a person. What if there is not this single “point” of solace or arrival in this world? What if the good news of great joy is that God meets us where we are poor and weak? Maybe poverty, weakness, and vulnerability are not states that should be overcome over the course of the Christian life. Maybe these states are to be cultivated and nourished. Maybe powerlessness is the seed of hope that enables God to come and dwell.

It is hard to imagine God loving me and caressing me in my vulnerability and hurting. And yet, that is exactly what God came to do for the world. God heard the groans, the cries, of his hurting people. They must have filled rivers with their tears of oppression over hundreds of years and, at best, were clinging onto a sliver of hope for redemption. Christmas is the birth of hope, that death and suffering are not the final word. Christmas whispers that God is waiting in the darkness.

The anticipation—the agonizing waiting—is excruciating. I wanted to be healed yesterday. The process of hoping and waiting is tedious and long, and I beg for it to end. Similarly, Jesus did not come in the exact time that others wanted. He could have come the day after sin entered into the world. But he didn’t. God is a god of patience and grace. In contrast, I have my manic to-do lists, and if I don’t finish everything on that list in approximately 2 hours, I get stressed out. His timing and perspective on life are so different from mine.

All will be fulfilled in due time, but in the present, God has invited me to walk with him in all the crevices of life. I am thankful that it is in the crevices, rather than in my triumphant victory lap on a unicorn, that God reaches out his hand. Limping, wincing in pain, I take it.

It seems so absurd that God would want to love me in all my weakness, as Brennan Manning articulates in this awesome video. God loves me not as I will be, or as I should be, but as I am. I’m not this manic Proverbs 31-quoting, frenetic cookie-baker, superwoman Christian. Most likely, my old issues will swirl about and leave imprints and scars for the rest of my life. If my journey thus far is any indication of the future, I will be bedraggled and hurting, plagued with questions that need answers. Maybe God is not as set on me conquering my “issues” or “flesh” as I am. Maybe God loves me– even in all my complexity, inability to settle with superficiality, and the deep feelings that must be heard and understood. Could that be okay? Could there be something profoundly beautiful in accepting that?

More than that, it is this place of humble waiting, this patient vulnerability, where God wants me to meet others. It is so refreshing thinking that I don’t have to be above, or better than, others in order to meet them where they are. I love how this video shows the difference between empathy and sympathy. The message of Christmas shows that God is an empathetic God. God felt where his people were hurting, and he climbed down the ladder into the cave. Moreover, it is with that same sentiment that we are to descend into the lowly places to meet others. If even God is willing to go to the lowly places, shouldn’t I also go there as well? The process of encountering God in a state of wounded-ness is holy, but there is also something redemptive in doing that for someone else.

I find great hope that God will never tire of me saying, “Daddy, I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do.” I never have to worry that I’m not together enough. God can hold all of me because he is everlasting and powerful, and I am not too much for him. At the same time, he can truly understand what I feel because he has experienced what I have. He is in anguish about the same things that give me anguish. Jesus, too, wept.

Christmas is not a phase to get to the “punch line” (the death and resurrection of Jesus). Christmas is beautiful and holy in and of itself. Its passing every year has lessons to teach the world. It helps me understand and value the vulnerable child in my heart and spread that to others.

May Christ’s deep love and empathy envelope you this Christmas. May you find beauty in the Christmas story. May you rest in that today, tomorrow, and every other day of the year.

Advertisements

Eating Disorders Don’t Take the Holidays Off: Remix

Image

This holiday season, a certain article prototype has been blowing up my newsfeed: tips on how people with eating disorders can stay in recovery during the holidays, articles which are often written by treatment centers and eating disorder non-profits. I will refer to them furthermore as TPEDHR- Tips for Eating Disorder Holiday Recovery, because otherwise I’m going to get tired of writing that mouthful and you’re going to get tired of reading it. These articles have a lot of good insight. In fact, I will link to some of my favorites at the end of this post, so you can peruse those.

Today, I do not want to replicate one of those articles or make broad generalizations about what will help all people because I don’t know all people. What I do want to do is offer my two cents about eating disorders and the holidays with a twist on what I said last year for an article from my school newspaper entitled, “Eating Disorders Don’t Take The Holidays Off.” I am going to primarily speak from my experience but will also reference some of the TPEDHR articles I’ve read this year.

Holidays can be less than merry when you have an eating disorder. A lot of times gatherings focus on food, which can trigger whatever urges you have– whether it is bingeing, purging, or restricting. Then, of course, spending time with family members can bring up triggering relational dynamics. Food or family issues can be stressful on their own when you have an eating disorder, but then when there is a synthesis of the two, that dynamic can culminate into a clusterfuck of craziness. Having experienced a lot of holiday seasons with an eating disorder, I will offer some things that have helped me through this time of year:

1. Knowing that I’m not alone– One of the most validating experiences was being in treatment during the holiday season four years ago.  I felt a sense of camaraderie with the other patients there, and we bonded over the difficulties that we had this time of year. For some people, being jolly and bonding over turkey and cranberry sauce can be life-giving and pleasurable. That was not so for most of us. The fact that we were together in the midst of it was so powerful. We understood and were in solidarity with each other. Now that I am am on my own with my family for the holidays, without people who inherently get it, it can be easy to feel alienated by my struggles. If there is one thread of similarity between all of the TPEDHR articles, it is that they speak to the sense of isolation people with eating disorders can face during this time of year. So many people suffer in silence, but being in treatment during that time was a visual representation that there are more of us suffering during this time than you think. We need help and support, and honestly, a lot of us are not getting it, because otherwise there would be no need to write so many articles on the subject. There is power in knowing others say, “Me too.”

2. Accepting that people make triggering comments– People in your families are not going to be experts on eating disorders. That is just reality. Some people care about what you’re going through, and most are well-intentioned, but there is something about the holidays that stirs up in people the desire to comment on another’s body. In the past, I have been shell-shocked by the number of horrifying comments people have made about me. I like the suggestion that some of these TPEDHR articles have written about talking to family members prior to events to minimize some of these comments, but even if you try to preempt comments, the occasional “I haven’t eaten in 36 hours”/ “I feel fat” might come out. Speaking from the people I know, they try. They don’t understand that “Wow, you’ve really filled out” = I’m going to go cry in a corner and throw egg nog on myself or Aunt Sue talking about her paleo/ weight-watchers/ whatever diet incessantly = me having the desire to suffocate myself with mistletoe. Even when I am open about my struggles and try to minimize harmful comments, I still prepare for 1-2 insensitive comments per Christmas season. It just happens.

3. Being flexible– Being a fairly rigid and OCD person in general, I don’t do well with flexibility. Unfortunately, the holidays necessitate flexibility… and so does normal eating. It has taken me years to accept the fact that eating extra Christmas cookies while I’m baking will not kill me. It really, really won’t. I used to “hedge my bets” as far as eating was concerned, and then I woke up one day realizing: drinking egg nog, Peppermint Mochas, and savoring desserts are okay. In fact, they are… enjoyable. For years, even when I was “in recovery,” I didn’t do partake of those things out of fear. I kept to my same routine, and while there is nothing wrong with routine and meal plans (I have both), they are not the most realistic for every situation. I learned that it is okay to change things up sometimes and stop micromanaging. My body can handle it. This would have sounded crazy to me a few years ago. It takes a lot of practice and consistent waking up to realize that after I ate a little more than I normally would, nothing changed. Nothing. I am okay.

4… But not flexible enough to put myself in temptation– A lot of these TPEDHR articles talk about NOT restricting prior to big meals, i.e. preparing for “The Last Supper.” That is so true. Speaking out of personal experience, doing that has never ended well. On a personal level, my body does not like me when I decide to “save up” for a big meal later. I end up feeling like shit all day, and then I’m like, “WHY DID I DO THAT?” It is easy to con yourself (and others) into thinking that you’re being “flexible” when you’re actually engaging in eating disorder behaviors in order to relieve any anxiety you have for being “flexible.” If that makes sense. What I deem to be “flexibility” (which is, in actuality, giving in to my eating disorder in the name of “flexibility”) has led to significant set backs for me in the past. Sometimes I have to accept that maybe I am not able to be flexible for a given meal, snack, or season. Maybe I have to go on autopilot. I have spent many-a-Christmas eating my meal plan and calling it a day, no extra cookies while baking. And you know what? That is okay. You are where you are, and there is nothing wrong with that.

5. Reach out for help– Something always comes up for me during this time of year that serves as a trigger. I am blessed that I have an awesome treatment team and lots of friends and family who care about me and are willing to speak truth into my life. If I’m anxious about something that happened, I am going to reach out to someone. There is no point of suffering in silence. There is also no point in slipping or relapsing because I thought I was “strong enough” to handle whatever went on. Chances are, I’m not, and I need help. There is nothing wrong with admitting that.

So, that has been what some of my experiences have shown me. Now, I’ve talked a lot about these TPEDHR articles, and I will show you some I’ve read and liked below, but not without a caveat:

Beware of ulterior motives: Interestingly, a lot of articles written on the subject are written by people in charge of treatment centers. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with that, but I am cognizant of the fact that many people enter treatment centers around Christmas, and I see a possible marketing ploy going on here. One treatment center recently posted a picture on social media that was, ironically, airbrushed of a girl holding a gift, and it said, “Give the gift of (name of treatment center) this year.” There is nothing wrong with going to treatment around Christmas. In fact, four years ago, I came into treatment right before the holiday season. The articles are benevolent enough, but the fact that they publicize the names of treatment centers raises a flag for me. Maybe I’m just really cynical, but I don’t like the idea of treatment centers preying on a vulnerable population. I don’t like that people are “planting the seed” of treatment and using a difficult time to promote their services.

With that said, here are some of my favorites from this year:

1. http://uncexchanges.org/2013/11/25/tips-for-staying-on-the-eating-disorder-recovery-track-throughout-the-holiday/

2. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/twelve-ideas-help-people-eating-disorders-negotiate-holidays-0#overlay-context=twelve-ideas-help-people-eating-disorders-negotiate-holidays

3. http://www.edcdenver.com/articles/12-essential-eating-disorder-recovery-tips-for-the-holidays

Part 2: Jesus is a Pansy- Masculinity and Homophobia

FightClub6

This post is a follow up about Mark Driscoll and his view of masculinity and homophobia, which are important enough topics that they warrant their own post.

Driscoll’s view of masculinity is related to and in reaction against the perceived femininization of the church. To Driscoll, the church is filled with “chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists.” He challenges it by creating a “macho ethos” in his church and media following (think: church members prefer movies like The Fight Club).

In addition to projecting his own view of masculinity onto others, Driscoll projects his sense of masculinity onto Jesus. If I heard Driscoll and never read the Bible, I would think that Jesus was a pro-wrestler, which is why one NYT article on Driscoll was apply named, “Who would Jesus smack down?” Driscoll has said, “I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” In a recent sermon on the “Do Not Kill” commandment, Driscoll said, “Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist; he’s patient. He has a long wick, but the anger of his wrath is burning.”

The idea of the feminization of the church is not inherently problematic. Yes, probably men have felt alienated by the church and by portrayals of Jesus, and that is something that needs to be addressed. But just because you sense a perceived need, you cannot just make up a view of Jesus that meets your cultural perceptions of crude masculinity and say it’s in the Bible.

Newsflash to Driscoll: there are Christians who are pacifists. They– we– do not appreciate Jesus being called a “pansy.” Shane Claiborne says that Fight Club makes for bad theology and is in fact “a betrayal of the cross,” as Jesus’ death meant to reconcile all things and ended the shedding of blood. He continues, “Mark may see things like ‘kindness, gentleness, love and peace’ as feminine, dainty things for pansies, but the Bible calls them the ‘fruit of the Spirit.’ These are the things that God is like.”

Driscoll’s words have translated into overt discrimination, homophobia, and public shaming. Mark Driscoll has talked about homosexuality more than any pastor I’ve ever known, and I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts. I don’t have to be Freud to realize that maybe there is something else going on here. He also compares masturbation to homosexuality because you’re playing with your own parts and you’re the same sex as… you. Like, why are you even thinking about that? Who thinks about that when they masturbate?

A more disturbing display of his homophobia is on a recent Twitter post, in which Driscoll asked his followers to tell stories about “the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader.” One heartbreaking blog by Tyler Clark says, “When you put out a call on Facebook for people verbally attack ‘effeminate anatomically male’ men, I find myself back in high school—shoved against a locker, with the bullies calling me a faggot.” Rachel Held Evans entreats other Christians to call out what Driscoll is doing: bullying.

I am disgusted by how Driscoll is perpetuating discrimination, shaming, and oppression of other men who are not 100% “macho.” It is so cruel to mock men who are effeminate and say “gay” and “faggot” in discriminatory ways… and worse yet, to do it in the name of Jesus. MD: Think of the men who you are alienating. Think of the men who don’t feel welcome at your church, who think that there is something wrong with them for not being like you. Think of how much homosexual people are already hurting, at the direct hand of the church, and how you are just perpetuating that.

I was able to hear Bishop Gene Robinson, the first ordained Episcopal bishop who is gay, speak last year, and he was talking about how he and his church went to a gay pride parade just to hand out water to thirsty people. No judgment, no mocking. That is a beautiful display of how we should treat the other. There is no room for high school bullying. Mark Driscoll, if you are a man, you need to stop mocking other men. Stop mocking people who aren’t you. Get on your knees and start handing out water to people you’ve hurt. Aren’t these people also your brothers and sisters in Christ?

Gender is not a static construct, unlike some evangelical culture might lead us to believe. It’s not as simple as: if you have a penis, you’re going to like violence and meat, and if you’re a woman, you’re going to giggle on the phone with boys and twirl your hair. There are no people who are “purely” masculine or “purely” feminine. That is very simplistic thinking.

My heart breaks for the people who Driscoll has hurt, the people, like Tyler Clark, who flashback to high school being taunted for being a “faggot” when hearing Driscoll speak, the men who have publicly shamed others after receiving “permission” from Driscoll to do so.

Mocking others and being insensitive are so not the markers of what Jesus is in the Gospels. Jesus said controversial things like, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5). Jesus’ followers wanted to haul ass on his enemies at times, and others wanted him to be a Zealot and overthrow Rome. Jesus chose not to do that. He could have. Heck, if he wanted to time warp and watch the Backstreet Boys in concert 2000 years later, he could have. Jesus could have done anything. Instead of promoting power, he gave up his power (Philippians 2). He came to serve, to wash feet, and to die on the cross.

In his life, Jesus really did the reverse of what people thought he would do. Jesus hung out around the prostitutes, the unclean people, the sick, the dying– the oppressed. Rather than aligning himself with the Pharisees, who imposed rules onto others, Jesus had the harshest things of all to say to them, including: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs,which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27). He did not say that to the downtrodden or downcast. He said that to the religious people in charge.

As Rachel Held Evans wrote:

“The bad news for Mark is that we *do* worship a guy who got beat up. We *do* worship a guy who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We *do* worship a guy who spoke honorable about women and treated them as equals. We *do* worship a guy who surrounded himself with just the sort of people Driscoll likes to publicly mock. We worship a guy who inaugurated his kingdom, not by “making somebody bleed” but by bleeding! Pastors should certainly strive to reach and serve men. But we can’t do this by twisting Jesus to fit into our culture’s skewed views of masculinity. Getting men to go to church is not the same as making disciples of Jesus.”

I am proud that I worship a God who has been sent to heal the brokenhearted, who is counter-cultural and embodies Love, as well as the fruits of the Spirit. I am thankful that God would not stand in a high school hallway calling a person derogatory names regarding his/ her sexuality. I am thankful that Jesus could have killed, but he chose to be killed. I am thankful for the redemptive love of God, and I am thankful that Jesus was not a sexist, homophobic, heterosexist wrestler.

Jesus’ Stepford Wives: When God Ordains Sexism (… or people think he does…)

sexism-ad50sBW-1024x682

I am mostly writing in response to this article put out by Jezebel which alleges that Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church is the “worst person ever.” I have a long and complicated relationship with Driscoll. I started listening to Mark Driscoll* in 2006 during my freshman-year-in-college church podcast binge. He always fascinated me. He is such an engaging speaker. I loved watching his Q+A videos, and he was formative in my theological development. What I’m trying to say is: I’m not trying to be a hater.

Most of my issues with Driscoll have been in relation to gender and sexuality. In Driscoll’s own words, I saw those differences to be open handed, issues that can be debated among the church, that aren’t prerequisites for salvation. Our issues were not close handed issues, like I am accusing him of heresy. We both affirmed the basic tenants of Christianity. I am knocking the fact that he is reaching people for God. That he is furthering the Body of Christ. That he is preaching the Bible. That he has good things to say. Even though I am not on board with the whole traditional gender roles, male headship, Biblical Manhood and Womanhood thing, I never saw a problem listening to the occasional Driscoll podcast…

…until after I took a leadership position at my seminary in 2011. I was walking around my apartment cleaning one day, listening to a Mark Driscoll sermon. My roommate, a fellow seminarian, was horrified and asked, “Are you listening to Mark Driscoll? Don’t you think that’s kind of hypocritical since you’re on student government working to fight gender issues?”

I had never thought about it like that. Prior to this time, I listened to Driscoll because I liked his theological sermons and in depth Bible study. As I was reflecting, though, I wondered: By listening to this person, how am I inadvertently supporting the kind of discrimination I am trying to eliminate? Am I being socialized to other aspects of his “culture” along with listening to his teachings?

Around that time, I visited Mars Hill for myself, and I noticed the strangest thing. In contrast to the pot and hippie-ish coffee drinkers I had seen in Seattle all weekend, at this church there were qualitative demographic differences. All the women at Mars Hill looked really similar. Many were blonde. And it felt like 60% of the women there were pregnant! I was like, What strange kind of land have I stepped into? I felt like I had been time-warped into the Stepford Wives with a Jesus twist.

I started noticing Driscoll’s objectification of women. One quote from his Song of Solomon series: “Ladies, your husbands appreciate oral sex. They do. So, serve them, love them well. It’s biblical. Right here. We have a verse.” Interesting exegesis…. He also made clear that women should be in the home, and men who were stay-at-home dads were subject to church discipline at Mars Hill.

The Jezebel article presented other eye-opening things that Driscoll has said about women. For example, saying that Ted Haggard’s wife “let herself go” and holds responsibility for not getting him out of his sexual predicament? Calling pastors’ wives who let themselves go “lazy”? That is classic blaming and abuse. Then there is the whole thing about women being the weaker vessel. It’s funny, because I just wrote a paper about why people wanted to deny women the right to vote in 1900, and Driscoll bears uncanny similarities to the arguments people who opposed the Suffrage Movement used. They said that women were too easily swayed and “hysterical.” Therefore, deny them privileges.

Driscoll would counter that argument with the fact that he cares about women, loves women, etc. … but they just have different roles, that they must be treated differently, more delicately. To which I would respond: That is still sexism. It’s more covert sexism, that has a benevolent tinge to it, but still sexism.

Mark Driscoll, I do not want to knock you down as a person. I have respect for you as a brother in Christ. However, there are some things I want to say about some of this teaching that do not sit well with me. Ultimately, my allegiance is to God, and I believe God has called us to the reconciliation of all things, shalom, and redemption. I think your opinions about women– yes, they are opinions– are wrong, destructive, and perpetuate oppression.

Please do not treat me as a weaker vessel because the internalized feeling of being a weaker vessel is what I have been facing my entire life. I have grown up learning that I shouldn’t “let myself go,” that I should please others and not myself. I have lived it, and it is killing me.

Now you are sitting here as a pastor saying “there’s a verse” for why I should oral sex to my (nonexistent) husband? That I shouldn’t let myself go? That I should wear my hair and dress the way you want it? That my husband is my gardener, and he should be pruning me? How dare you!

I am starving, floundering, to break free of exactly what you’re promoting femininity to be. I am fighting for my life to be free, to let Jesus into my life, to let these unrealistic, archaic expectations of femininity go. It is my personal struggle, but I believe that God is with me, his grace there at every step. And yet you are saying that God wants history to regress a century and we should just live in the Victorian times? No, I will not accept misogyny that is being marketed as “conservative evangelicalism.” I renounce that in the name of Jesus.

These repressive factions of evangelical culture sicken me. It sickens me that people are taking the bait. It sickens me that last year, my then-church chose to do a sermon series on Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage. And do you know what sickens me the most? That Driscoll articulates his opinions about gender roles in the name of God. The idea that, “It’s in the Bible… There’s a verse for that.”

I resent that. The last time I checked, Jesus did not command women to blow their husbands. He also didn’t say that women should stay at home in most or every situation. That is bad theology, it’s offensive, and it’s misogyny.

When I think of Driscoll’s growing church in Seattle, it makes me sad. I know that it is reaching people, and I should be happy about that, but I keep getting this haunting image of a female in Seattle who was educated, ambitious, and opinionated, only to start attending Mars Hill and change completely. I imagine her getting married and popping out babies immediately and quitting her job. I imagine her becoming indoctrinated to her “role” as a woman and losing her identity in the process. That grieves me. Yes, she is “saved.” Yes, she is in Christ. That is good. But… I don’t think it’s good enough for the church. I think that you should sell your soul to Jesus rather than Jesus-and-outdated-versions-of-femininity. Being abused and enslaved by restrictions and regulations… that is not redemption. That is tragedy.

Driscoll’s popularity saddens and illuminates me to the fact that we, as evangelicals, are so socially backwards. We have such a long ways to go in reconciling all things to God. It saddens me that his disgusting, vile comments about women are accepted as streamline. They are not challenged, and dissent is silenced. Mark Driscoll isn’t the worst person ever, as Jezebel ascertains, but his sexism should also not go unchecked. His view points necessitate us to discern and critically think about the role women have in evangelicalism and where we can go from here.

*Mark Driscoll is an interesting character, to those who don’t know him. He is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and he has written a lot of books. I don’t even want to count how many sermons he’s given. He’s got to be reaching John Piper status soon. He is also definitively reformed and complementarian. Google him.

7 Ways to Improve Your Life

Did I get your attention?

To be transparent with you, this post is not going to outline 7 ways by which you can improve your life. However, it will be related to the sentiment behind the idea, specifically the prevalence of keys/ steps in the world of self-help.

All of my life, I have wanted to find simple solutions to complex problems in my life. I was that teenager who read “7 Habits of Highly Successful Teens” in her spare time. I have gravitated toward things like cognitive-behavioral therapy because CBT is neat, clean, and organized. I want to believe that if I make this chart or do this exercise or read this book, I will feel better. That if I follow all of the steps, I will be fixed. Yet, I found myself doing all of these things and still having this angst inside of me, this abyss so deep that the pain has seemed to penetrate every part of me. Formulas couldn’t explain that.

While self-help books, simple steps, and formulated approaches to wellness help a lot of people, and they have helped me to an extent, in the end, I have found them simplistic. They do not tell the full story. My life has not gone A + B + C. It has been like an avalanche, with zombies and monsters and surprises, and “how-to’s” or “steps” do not do it justice. Moreover, when I would read these books or would practice DBT skills on Saturdays, I would feel a sense of frustration and hopelessness. If these empirically supported, or award-winning, strategies don’t provide lasting change in my life, is there something wrong with me? Is there any hope for me in life? (Caveat: I think that steps, keys, CBT, DBT, etc. have their place, and if that works for someone, great. I don’t mean to knock these approaches to wellness. They can help reduce distress when people are hurting. That is great. What I want to suggest is that these approaches they are not in-and-of themselves sufficient for complete healing, at least they haven’t been for me).

I have been reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection (a fabulous book, if I may give a shameless plug), and I was struck by this passage (context: she is talking about our culture): “We don’t want to be uncomfortable. We want a quick and dirty ‘how-to’ list for happiness. I don’t fit that bill. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to skip over the hard stuff, but it just doesn’t work. We don’t change, we don’t grow, and we don’t move forward without the work” (p. 35).

In my life, I have found her words to be true. I haven’t wanted to be uncomfortable in my path to healing. In fact, I have taken extreme measures to ensure temporary comfort, and most of them– okay, pretty much all of them– okay, all of them– have gone up in flames. However, I have found that discomfort, albeit painful, is necessary, for change.

Simple answers assume that with education, with this chart, with this book, with a tap of our red slippers, we can bypass the work, and who wouldn’t want that? Brene Brown continues that we face such struggles in our culture, and yet, we are so “educated.” We live in a word of Google, twitter, CNN breaking news, and Wikipedia. For any given problem, there is probably an app for that. I know that my caffeine intake is probably unhealthy, and I could read all the articles in the world on how and why to change my caffeine consumption, but I don’t. For the most part, people know what is healthy and advantageous, and yet they don’t do it. Why?

Perhaps because life, growth, change, and self-improvement cannot be boiled down to a simple blueprint. There is a lifetime of letting in, letting go, feeling, and doing. Once I think I have figured something out in my life, a new variable enters the mix. It is complicated and messy, so messy. Being vulnerable with others is messy.

At seminary, I learned to “live with the tension,” in the discrepancy between the present reality and the shalom of God. It is hard to sit with that, to live in the questions, not to offer pat solutions, but to be present in the messiness. I believe that there is hope, and there is healing, but I also don’t think it can be reduced in a formulaic fashion.

As Marya Hornbacher wrote in the book, Wasted:

“There is never a sudden revelation, a complete and tidy explanation for why it happened, or why it ends, or why or who you are. You want one and I want one, but there isn’t one. It comes in bits and pieces, and you stitch them together wherever they fit, and when you are done you hold yourself up, and still there are holes and you are a rag doll, invented, imperfect… There is no other way.”

Much of my life I feel like I’m wading through a mud pit to find this elusive sense of wholeness. That is the reality. Therapists have often told me, “Sit with your feelings.” I hate sitting with my damn feelings. I have spent most of my life trying to avoid doing just that. Sometimes recovery feels like I am on a roller coaster, dropping, dropping, and I can barely catch my breath. I hate it. Although I hate it, I am still doing the work.

There is no game plan that tells me how my life, and recovery, should go, nor do I want one. I don’t want a cheerleader or a fortune teller. What I need are grace and love. I want people to be there with me, who sit with me, who hold my hand, as I trek through the mud. I won’t promise that doing the work won’t be messy, but I think– I hope– it will be worth it.