Good, but tough. That’s how I would call 2014.
To be sure, it had lots of good: family visits, a trip to Israel, a week backpacking in the wilds of Alaska, and plenty of time with friends to balance out the mix. I made progress on a thesis and graduation. Marathons in Vancouver and Minneapolis, a conference in San Diego.
But there were setbacks, too. Some were small, but some were very big.
Now, after having had time to reflect on the year gone by, I hope you’ll indulge me as I share some lessons learned from the trials, failures, and successes of 2014. I do this hoping that it’s not oversharing or too self-serving, but rather as an encouragement to you if you happen to resonate with some of these experiences and lessons as well.
#1 – I had kind of become narcissistic! (in a Steve sort of way)
This is coming from someone that does not go around calling himself a narcissist. And as far as I am aware, only a select few have ever labeled me as such. Maybe they just knew me best…? Nah.
But my focus had become too inward. Yes. I went to work, socialized appropriately, but then returned home and largely worked on my own projects. I became very content working and living in my own little bubble, and rarely initiated socially outside well-established relationships.
More troubling, I came to see that my attitude towards the “strangers” in my life had become isolationist, at times even cold and unfriendly. I would notice this on the sidewalk as I almost never initiated a friendly smile. I kept my inquiries and small talk under tight wraps in mixed company, when what I should have been doing is investing in the lives of those around me, even if our time together was brief. This is a cornerstone of the Christian tradition: concern for the well-being of those outside our immediate world, and I had lost sight of that.
So I begin 2015 having a brief, but growing, track record of initiating friendliness. More smiles, and more interest.
#2 – I lost a relationship. (Not a lesson as much as something that happened that led to lessons…..)
We both ended up making a choice not to make major life changes to keep this relationship, and I double-think that choice a lot. It wasn’t right or wrong, and you’d better believe I poured prayer and reflection into this choice. I listened to my more pragmatic, rational self, and made the choice I did only after lots of consternation. This was hard. Really hard.
So what’s the lesson here? Mainly, that she will probably move on, and that the way to love her from afar is to affirm what is best in her. People move on. I’ve done it, we all do it. Life is fluid. Explanations don’t do any good at a certain point. Negotiation certainly doesn’t. I gave up my dependence on a specific outcome, and instead simply expressed thankfulness and gratitude. I gave her the freedom to stay or leave, or to change her life to fit better with mine…and she left.
I hope that this is the kind of freedom that you give someone when you honour the best in them.
What’s the second (better) lesson here? Mainly, that the story doesn’t end there. God’s redemptive purposes in suffering are real. Reflecting on this led me down a road of questioning the nature of eternity (I spy a future blog post…or a dissertation topic…) – do we get to sort out all our interpersonal “gunk” when we are finally reunited after this mortal life in the presence of an infinite and loving God? Do we get to track down one another and order coffees (it’s heaven…there of course is infinite coffee) and just hash things out until it’s all good? Not sure, but the thought makes me smile broadly. I’d rather have that conversation in this life, but I love contemplating that God’s redemptive work doesn’t just stop the moment we physically expire. Maybe you and I, esteemed reader, will have the chance to share some coffee in eternity and sort through some things, too.
So, in 2015, I am going to find it easier to look past my own fears of rejection and my own insecurities, now that I have seen through the mirror of a relationship what those are, and how they manifest themselves. I will not attach so much value on how the story “ends,” and instead bathe in the value of the journey and enjoy every moment. The end might well be an illusion, and not really the end after all.
#3 – My unique creative energy wants to be unleashed through healthy grieving.
I find synapses firing in ways they never have before, and a strange energy resulting from the other side of the choppy emotional waters of 2014. Many great ideas and inventions have come about as a result of personal pain. It is invigorating for me to think that the low points of this past year might enable something great to be birthed in 2015. I find myself longing to create, and to bestow whatever humble gifts I might be able to onto the world in 2015. This unfolding of perspective away from myself, and towards others, feels good.
#4 – I learned in a more profound way that my life’s energies are limited.
I found myself increasingly conscious in 2014 of a need to define my greater purpose in this life. The Scriptures are quite clear that every day is important and valuable, and that we are not guaranteed tomorrow (James 4:14; Ps 103: 15-16). This goes back a bit to the narcissism, as I realized I had ceased leaving as much relevant and meaningful content or teaching for the benefit of others.
I had not been as strategic as I could on how to best communicate God’s word. Nor had I been as consciously thinking on how to make those crucial interpersonal times of conversation, laughter, and healing happen.
So, 2015 is starting with a more deliberate effort on my part to share my passion: interpretation of God’s word and delivering words of comfort and challenge based in the unique perspective of the Biblical scholar of faith.
Thank you for allowing me to process this all on the page. May your 2015 be blessed, surrounded by God’s grace and the love of friends. I pray our paths cross soon…