I would love to do good things, make a meaningful contribution and have a fruitful life. At this point, though, I’m not much more than a seminary drop out – it became painfully obvious very quickly that I did not really belong there but it’s just as unclear where I would belong. I would love to do things I’m good at but that doesn’t seem like anything. I was never good enough, early enough, at anything to “specialize” in a sport or activity and you basically, as Lorie Koffman-Rees explains in her sermon at the Columbus Vineyard, have to be a professional at anything these days just to participate anymore.
Those of you who know me in real life might bring up my writing gift. I know that every writer suffers myriad rejections – I have heard the Harry Potter story (that it took Rowling 12 submissions to find a publisher) more than enough – but there are times when rejection, as Mike Rowe says, means you’re not good enough. Passion (if that’s even what I have) is not enough to make you good at something and I still have yet to figure out where the line between adversity and just plain lack of talent is. People tell me how talented and smart and funny I am, but I feel like if I was really any of those things, I would be doing way more with my life than….well, nothing that seems to me at this point to have no end. Even more frustratingly, some of these people who tell me how intelligent and humorous I am simultaneously won’t do anything about it (like, for example, write rec letters for me).
It’s compounded by my general experience of being consistently alienated and unable to connect with people. I feel like I have tried reaching out and asking for help and, as I’ve said, followed all the traditional advice; it’s hard to keep going when nothing seems to be working, when I have to contort myself everywhere I go, modify my story for the comfort of others, edit/explain/justify everything I say and always be the one apologizing for my existence. I’m told how everyone needs community, how bad loneliness is for you; then, when I can’t find community, I’m told to “be my own happiness.” The first prophetic word I ever received said, “it’s an expectation you have that people will misunderstand you.” Part of it is me, I know: I have a hard time accepting acceptance when it does happen, and it’s hard for me to trust good things when they do come my way. This makes it challenging to relate to me.
So I expect to be misunderstood, I expect that most will find the work it takes to be in relationship with me too difficult, but I have not accepted that I will be on the outside, that I am getting further and further behind my age cohort in terms of career, that it’s just a matter of time before I’m left alone (again), especially if I’m honest without detailed clarification or disclaimer or defense. My masks and veneers are more true about me than any “true” me I might have been created to be, if that person wasn’t simply a mistake or an oversight in the first place (yet another thing I’ve heard over and over again about how God doesn’t make mistakes). Pathetic, I know. And that’s sort of how I feel – like the loser in my family and among my friends without a mission or goal or purpose or “field” or “career focus” in life beyond better relationships and to just be accepted.
With so many people around me doing great things and accomplishing a lot, how can I, who has accomplished so little and so little of any value to anyone in a world of people who only hire “experts,” “gurus” and “superheroes” possibly feel like I’m ever enough? I don’t seem to care about what the majority of the world cares about. I don’t have the same goals, priorities or even understanding of the world that I consistently encounter. Me “following my heart,” as the tired adage goes, looks precisely like not doing hardly any of the things deemed “good advice” in this culture. But that leaves me isolated, stuck and without meaningful or engaging work and unable to figure out how to be fruitful with whatever gifts I’ve been given because it’s this world I have to navigate. I’ve been told that it’s not “aptitude” that’s my problem, it’s “attitude,” which is exactly like telling a depressed person to just “get over it” and “try harder.”
I can repeat this idea that God has a purpose for everyone. But I don’t really know that, especially given my experience, which for most of my life has largely been exclusion from deep relationship unless I contort myself to what the external world wants and accepts, banishment from the meaningful-work labor force unless I create some mask that looks good outside (which I haven’t been able to manage to do) but suffocate me. Somewhere, I got the message that the true me is not good enough so now everything I do, everywhere I go, I must be a different, fake version of me. So if I’m not enough, do I matter? Does me being who I actually am matter? Am I worth saving? And how, O Lord, how will I ever believe it and live it if the answer is yes?