As a result of my daily internet-ing, I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff lately about “actually living life” and “making a difference in the world” and “having meaning in your life”. I’ve seen those ideas in memes, in Facebook updates, in Tweets scarred with that most hateful of hashtags, #yolo.
Whatever else they said, all of these various messages implied that living, real living, happened out there. Somewhere very distant from the office, desk and computer chair that most of us have to spend our day to day lives. Sometimes it would be stories of missionaries doing this crazy meaningful work, sometimes it was people who dedicated their lives to art and beautification for very little reward beyond leaving the place a little prettier than they found it, sometimes it was people who had felt God’s calling and sold everything to go travel around the world touching people’s lives in any way they could.
All of these different articles and blog posts and calls to action posed the same question: didn’t you want that? Wouldn’t you love to have that life that somehow made a difference in the world? Didn’t you want to leave some impression on this place when you were gone? Wouldn’t you rather feed some hungry people, clothe some poor people, teach some children, volunteer in a clinic, do anything that meant something? And I, as was their intention I’m sure, took a look at my life, and my office and my desk and my slacks and I thought, “Why, yes. Yes I do want that. Whatever it is I’m doing now (which, for the record, is answering phones for a cable company) it sure isn’t living. Not living like the people in these stories are doing. I want to live.”
Now, anyone that truly knows me knows that those are dangerous words for me to say. It’s a dangerous concept for me to have in general. You see, I have this . . . fear, I guess, of being anything I might interpret as “caged”. Freedom is very important to me. The idea of Living – with a capital “L”, and often italicized – is very important to me. These two things flow through the heart of everything I do and pull me, like a river current, from one life decision to another. It’s overall a good thing, I think (though Daniel might stridently disagree), but it has led to such remarkably stupid actions as two failed marriages, both of which I ran as fast as I could from for various reasons that really came down to feeling trapped somewhere I didn’t want to be. It’s led to not one, or two, but several large moves between cities, states and even across the country. I’ll probably do that one again at some point – can’t get too static. It’s driven me to get several tattoos and piercings that I got, not because I was being particularly artistic or expressive, but because I thought, “Fuck it, I wanna be different”.
I’ve been in my current family situation now for 9 years. That’s forever in Brandi years. Daniel helps my natural restlessness by being constantly willing to deal with my crazy new ideas and life directions, and long-suffering enough to be willing to pretty regularly pack up his whole life to follow me on one of my crazy adventures. Seriously, he’s a saint.
In all seriousness though, that concept of wanting to Live is prime breeding ground for completely uprooting my life. Even with all that Daniel does, there are still times I feel this tug to something more. Not more than my family, per so – I don’t want to make it sound like I’m ungrateful for them (though sometimes, admittedly, I’m ready to make all of my kids move out and I don’t care if they’re only 12, 9 and 6. Honestly. My kingdom for some quiet.) In reality it’s just that same pull to freedom and meaning. It makes my feet itch. I know there’s some amazing thing out there for me. It’s waiting for me. I was made to do this thing, and no one else can do it. I feel these things as capital-t Truths. I’ve felt them since I was a little girl.
And that’s great! I love the idea of everyone having their own personal legend, their own adventure, their own story. The fact that I feel I have one waiting for me is awesome! The problem is that while I feel this in me, sometimes so strongly I can hardly think around it, I get impatient for it. That leads me to resent where I presently am. That resentment leads to restlessness, which builds into this need to move, to start over, to find something new and maybe stumble upon my calling. Sometimes I feel like those upheavals to my life were genuinely the prodding of God to get us to a certain place, like my move from Arizona to Duluth, for example. At other times though, it was just my restless impatience, my equivalent of giving my handmaiden to my husband because, “I waited a really long time and nothing happened, and now its getting too late, so this must be what God meant”. (Disclaimer: I do not have a handmaiden to give to my husband. Sorry, Daniel.)
Probably for the last year or so I’ve felt this flaring up. I’ve been getting restless with everything in my life. The mess and chaos of day to day living with three kids, one of whom we’re pretty sure has Asperger’s, another with ADHD, and a third who’s about to be 13, makes me want to run away screaming. The doldrums of working, day to day, in a call center taking calls from people who want me to explain their cable bill when I could be, I don’t know, building a community garden or volunteering in a clinic for the extremely poor, leave me looking out the window and dreaming up ways to give up my life.
The clincher is, I don’t really want to give up my life. I love my husband and my kids, even though they can be real idiots sometimes. I don’t hold that against them any more than they hold it against me when I let them down, which happens more regularly than I’d like to admit. I just feel like I was destined to do something that mattered, and I feel like my current life is the opposite of that.
But I can’t just throw it all away, give up capitalism in favor of more humanitarian work, like I might have once done in my misspent youth. I have a family, I have kids, I have a car payment and a mortgage and the computer I’m typing this on or the smart phone that I access the app I respond to comments with. I have bills. How do I contemplate leaving all of that behind to go run off on some crazy soul-revealing adventure in some derelict country? I can’t take my kids, because I know from experience when you do this sort of thing on the fly there are a lot of times when you’re hungry, exposed to the elements or otherwise not safe or secure. Did I mention one of my kids very likely has Asperger’s? That will never work. I would feel like a shithead for putting them through that. Plus, I’m pretty sure my offspring aren’t ready to experience actual poverty without losing their damn minds.
So what are my options? Stay in this meaningless rut, answering call after call and listening to people whine about their first world problems so that I can earn a paycheck to provide a safe and structured (if not exactly stable) environment for my family? Well, I could do that. It’s the easiest option, actually, since all my stuff is already in my house, and I kinda like my family. But that could seriously mean I’ll live the rest of my life in this rut, with no hope of resolution to this feeling I’m meant to do something that has an impact on the world. Ok, then – while we’re taking an honest look at the options, I could alternately just go. Leave it all behind, leave the kids with Daniel and my parents where they’ll adjust, eventually, to my absence. Go live a life that has some purpose behind it. Sure, that would let me feel like I had some forward momentum toward making a difference, but at what cost? Could I ever enjoy living, even Living, if I had to hurt and betray and lose all of the people I love? Clearly, that’s not an option. I couldn’t go anywhere without Daniel, life would be way too boring without him. So what’s left? Can I have more than a sense of longing and unfulfilled purpose?
I’ve been tossing around some big questions onto this blog lately, and a lot of those questions, and a lot of your comments, have caused me to stop and take a hard look at myself. The reflection I’ve seen has, at times, been a little unflattering. Maybe a lot of the people I’ve been criticizing were getting it wrong, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t, too. And maybe there are a lot of opportunities to get out there and really make a difference in this world, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities closer to home. I began to see the problem wasn’t the hypocrites I was mad at, or the office I was forced to work in for the sake of my family. The problem wasn’t even that I had this unfulfilled destiny. The problem was my selfish worldview – my problem was that I was putting myself before everything.
Through your comments, and the prodding of the Holy Spirit to look closely at who I am and what kind of person I’m exemplifying, I began to see that the problem was me. Not only was I being selfish, but I was letting that selfishness, that longing for greater purpose, blind me to opportunities I had to impact people every day.
Aren’t we all part of the same world? If I make a difference in the lives of my friends, my family, my co-workers, isn’t that still impacting the world? If I could serve here, wasn’t I serving everywhere? It’s so easy to forget that, while there are huge problems in some third world countries out there, the world where we live every day is still broken.
We touch the lives of people every day. For good or ill we make differences in the lives of the people around us. Maybe they don’t live in a dump on the Thai border. Maybe they’re not living off of three dollars a day with penicillin a distant dream. Maybe, though, they’re a single mother who got walked out on by their man and now has to struggle, even turn to desperate options, to feed their baby. Maybe it’s someone who has suffered the sting of verbal, physical, or mental abuse, and now honestly believes that they’re worthless. Maybe it’s someone who has been sexually assaulted and feels unworthy of real love. These are examples of the broken lives that people live around us every day. Are their lives less important, less in need of healing from the brokenness of the world, than the people who are drinking sewage water in some remote, extremely poor corner of the third world? Does God mourn more for the poor in Mali, or Haiti, or Thailand than he mourns for the broken and discarded of America?
The answer is, of course, no. The problem wasn’t that I hadn’t found my calling and that I needed to keep moving and running hoping to stumble over it. My calling has been all around me from the start. The problem was my selfishness and my greed created a pretty lie that the hurts and worries and fears of the people I see every day were somehow less important, less noble, because they were first world. “How bad can they have it?” I thought, when I thought of it at all. “They have full time jobs, cars and regular meals.” Obviously, I was wrong. My whole attitude was wrong. Maybe that stirring in me, that longing to serve and leave the world somehow better than it was when I got here wasn’t put there to prod me to change my scenery or location, but to change myself so that my life could have impact and meaning even if the only people I ever spoke to were in line at Cub, or in the pod next to me at work. I could start to change the world, to affect the future right where I was standing.
In chapter 25 of Luke, a crafty man famously asks Jesus to define who God considers a neighbor. The implication in the scripture is that the man wanted to limit his sphere of influence to the people he already interacted with on regular basis, and Jesus defied his expectations by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. Your neighbor, he seemed to say, is whoever you run into, anywhere, anytime. In my ignorance, I was asking God the same question but from a different perspective – I assumed that my “neighbor” could not literally be my neighbor. Now that my perspective has been straightened out – now that I have re-oriented myself, or, so to say, repented – the world seems pregnant with the potential to act as the saints act. And if that isn’t purpose, then I literally do not know what the fuck “purpose” means.
I often end these articles with a question, but this time, I’d like to end it with words of thanks. The What the Faith readers have become an invaluable resource to me as I try to figure out what a more Christ-like Brandi looks like, and I would be a dick if I didn’t give credit to all of you for helping me through the rough spots on my spiritual journey. I owe each and every one of you, individually and collectively, a Pepsi. Hugs!