When do I betray?

5 09 2011

Alternate title: the one where I immediately regret pushing “publish”

**Note to family: this may hurt a bit. You’ve been warned**

My school places an astronomical importance on self-awareness, particularly in the context of the first-years’ core classes (which I am now taking for the second time ’round): Faith, Hope, Love; Interpersonal Foundations; Hermeneutics; and Practicum I–all of them are designed to push us out of our comfortable, habitual, generally unknowing ways of processing self and world and force us to make deliberate choices about how we are to be. It is disruptive, exhausting work. We are all fools to be so blithely walking off this cliff–and our professors double the fools for taking upon their shoulders some measure of responsibility for guiding each of us into the depths of our tumultuous mix of depravity and glory.

If there is one thing I learned through a year of beautiful agony it is this:

The last thing in the world I am prepared to grow in awareness of is my own secret self.

I was raised by a mother who is so afraid of becoming like unto her own parents she second-guesses everything about herself and a father who gleefully encouraged such self-doubt because it served his own hidden agenda. When confronted with the bitter truth that the man she married had been siphoning off funds to support a sexual addiction for nearly two decades, my mom’s most chilling response was “I’ve known something’s been wrong for years, I just always assumed it was my fault.” Not that she was the only one prodded toward the disowning of self; the aforementioned father continues to insist his children are culpable for his decision to hide the core of himself away from their innocent eyes.

I grew up in a church that prides itself on the denial of humanity. Their focus on carving the common-sensical truth of the Bible from the accretions of human history–originally intended as a movement to foster unity within the church–leaves the majority of believing Christians, let alone the willfully unrepentant nonbelievers, weeping in darkness as the gates of heaven are slammed shut.

I probably have the tropism “fake it ’til you make it” engraved upon my very bones. Only…I’ve tried to fake it, and what I’ve found is that the faking only becomes more extravagant and the making so infuriatingly elusive you eventually forget there was ever any greater goal in mind at all. The lies become your new truth. Desire is buried beneath a sludge of apathy and fear. Then one day, if you’re exceedingly lucky, the house of cards is picked up by a gust of wind and scattered across infinity and you are left exposed, naked and shivering. That’s the day you leave Texas (or whatever your barren desert is named) and move to Seattle (the promised land! flowing with…rain and ever more rain), where the most extraordinary people surround you and show you, tear by blessed tear, that there is another way to live: the way of opening yourself up to desire, not cutting it short; a way of vulnerability before others, without the need to constantly pretend to be better than they.

And yet…

The old patterns are proving to be ridiculously tenacious. Particularly now, as I’m in class with 99 fresh faces to whom I introduce myself as Tom “tried this all before and failed” Sheldon. Oh how taxing this honesty is, when my very introduction invites you into my bastion of shame! Is it just my imagination or do your eyes become veiled as I stand before you, tangible evidence that things aren’t guaranteed to work out as smoothly as you had to hope in order to pack everything up and move across the country to this tiny little gem of a school?

And now I’ve finally circled around to the question that compels me to pick at these sores tonight, that just won’t leave well enough alone (because “well enough” just isn’t acceptable any more, dammit!)

When is it that I betray my experience? Is it when you ask “why?” and I sidestep the utter chaos of my life with a vague allusion to some “personal crisis”?  Am I perpetuating self-abuse when I come home from class and watch Netflix until I pass out from pure exhaustion somewhere around 3am? When you ask how my trip home was and I answer “mostly fun,” am I doing justice to my experience?

Or is now the betrayal, when I type out my worry and confusion behind closed doors rather than seek out the presence of someone who will love me well?

No, I’m not ready for self-awareness. I can hardly handle the little I have. What good is the freedom to feel more fully when what crashes upon you are waves of inadequacy and longing?

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4 responses

6 09 2011
Lauree Fletcher Webb

Well said, Tom. May you rest well in the struggle and find the renewing you need – in His Presence alone – everywhere you stumble upon His Presence! While shame is certainly the temptation as you face the work of this year, again, I hope what you find most is wonder and gratitude and the breaking up of pretense and running away and all the hiding we do so well when we are hurting and faced with our own selves. Blessings, my friend!

7 09 2011
megan

Thank you for honesty brother. I genuinely appreciate your presence this year and look forward to knowing more of your story. May God’s peace be with you tonight, Love meg

14 10 2011
Howard W. Sheldon

If only you knew the broken heart of your grandfather.

14 10 2011
TomS

Speak it. I cannot know what I am not told.

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