We Good? Reflections from an Anxious Person on Lent

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Nate Pyle

Having anxiety can make participating in Lent difficult.

My character perfection tendencies go into hyper-drive, and I am in a constant state of wondering just how well I’m doing with this whole “faith” thing.

Have I repented? If I have, how will I know?

Is giving up Netflix to read books from a few #BlackLivesMatter movement guides going to wake me up for real?

Am I good? Am I forgiven? Am I made new?

Will Easter be enough for me, my sins, and I?

Will this journey be enough for me?

I met with my spiritual director Linda this last week. She asked me how my “faith life” is going, which is such a difficult question for me. I’m never quite sure how to answer it, because I’m so anxious and such a perfectionist, I always think it’s not going as well as it could be.

So I told her I started meditating in the mornings. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, so it’s not really a Lenten practice, but I’ll go out on a limb and assume it’s a part of my “faith life” as much as giving up Netflix and reading books by black writers.

But meditation is so hard for me, because my mind is so busy, and honestly, going deeper into myself, the sacred spaces God calls me to examine and dwell in, scares me.

What will I find within me?

Will there be love and acceptance? Anger and hatred? Firm kindness, or judgment?

After I shared these concerns, Linda talked to me about the concepts of “original sin” versus “original blessing.”

Original sin begins with the assumption that all humans are made sinful (which is confusing because if God is good and we are made in God’s image, so what does being inherently sinful say about God’s nature?). According to this doctrine, we tell ourselves over and over “I’m not good. I cannot to be who I am. I must strive every day to reach an unattainable perfection that is unlike me.”

I was not made in blessing. There is nothing good to which I can return. There is nothing towards which I can keep striving, because I will always have that sinful nature in me, even as I aspire to be holy. The journey becomes tedious, exhausting, and even pointless.

If we messed up in Eden, how could we possibly make anything better outside of it?

This theology asks: What good are we? What good is God if God made us this way?

When we remember we are made in God’s image, when we remind ourselves our original creation was one of blessing and joy, when we remember the unbound, unconditional love God has for us, we remember who we are meant to be.

We remember we are made to love God and our brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings. We are made for more than our worst sins, our cruelest words and deeds, and our most embarrassing moments. We are made in a holy image, and even when this image is smudged, attacked, or hidden beneath our deepest wounds, it remains within us.

This original blessing, this uttermost essence of ours, is who we are, and we live life and seek God’s help to not only remember this, but to be this holy image in a painful, beautiful world.

This theology asks: How can we return to the good God made inherent in us? How do we continue to live out the Love within us with God’s help?

I took this theology to my meditation time the day after our meeting.

I sat on a yoga mat in the basement, facing my fiance’s guitars. His area is the tidier spot in the basement.

I breathed in and thought of my congressional representative, over whose comments about issues I became so furious. I breathed out and honored the blessing of his creation and the image of God inherent in him.

I repeated this process for the President, his cabinet members, and people who drive me crazy on a regular basis.

I repeated this process for my fiance, my parents, and my youth group.

For good measure, I repeated this process for myself.

Meditating on our God-given image changed the way I look at and even engage with people. It also reminds me while I am called to show the perfect love which casts out fear to the people who deny justice and mercy, this same, perfect love doesn’t cast out frustration, sadness, and the need for accountability.

Because I honor the image of God in myself, I honor it in others.

And because I honor this image of beauty, love, and holiness, which is inherent to every single one of us, I will continue to keep calling out the times I and others act in ways contrary to our holy nature.

So I keep praying. I keep remembering the image of God, first in myself, and in others, the ones I adore and the ones I abhor.

And my prayer for myself and for us is this:

You are made to love. How are you showing it?

Reception Venues and Representatives

My to-do lists as of late are intense.

They include wedding planning, job hunting, and representative calls, and they all take up big chunks of my day.

My weeks include calls to reception venues, my representative and senators, and at one point even the Department of Homeland Security.

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Called a representative for this house (possible reception venue) and my representative in The House on the same day. Guess which one was less stressful?

I send messages to my parents, future-in-laws, maid of honor, and bridesmaids about dresses and decorations, and I share regular political happenings with my online community, encouraging them to stay up to date and accurate concerning their media intake and output.

I had no idea my life would turn out this way.

And here I am, writing, posting, calling, and planning, looking for reception venues, dresses, rings, petitions, and protests, living life in a way I never thought possible.

As I approached graduation, I expected to work with a church or faith community in a prominent role, maybe with youth or young adults, or even the whole congregation. I figured the political climate would stabilize within the year, and I wouldn’t be checking my news feed everyday to find some mind-numbingly awful sound clip from a politician. I knew Bryce and I would be getting engaged and planning a wedding, and I wanted work which would allow said planning to move forward.

So when I asked a professor for some help and advice in choosing a post-graduate career, and he asked if I had considered being an activist, I barely stifled a laugh (although I’m unsure as to whether I completely suppressed my look of fear). I thought to myself “Are you kidding? I’m too much of a nervous wreck as it is. I couldn’t be that involved without having several breakdowns.”

Less than a year later, 45 is in office, most of our representatives are throwing out everything instead of actually making anything new, and people (myself included) are taking to the streets and the phone lines to voice their discontent.

And in the midst of it all, I am planning a wedding.

I am planning for one golden day of love, hope, and peace in the midst of division, anger, and fear, a day for me, my husband-to-be, our families and friends to celebrate and remember.

This isn’t the climate in which I expected to plan such an event, but maybe it’s necessary. I hope it reminds me and those helping me that love, not frilly and sugar-sweet but tough and enduring, has the final say in who we are and what we will be.

I hope everyone has something, a wedding or otherwise, to remind them of this important lesson in these trying times.

Unexpected Lessons: My Journey with Sister2Sister Mentoring

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Tonight at Sister2Sister, we will continue diving into our  theme “You Are Made in the Image of God.” Tonight, the middle and high school girls will make collages of the “perfect woman,” and together, we will take those perceptions of beauty apart and see the differences between what our culture and the God who created us and called us “good” say about being human.

This couldn’t be better timing. Because on Tuesday night, during a routine chat with Bryce over Facetime, I realized that maybe I need to learn this lesson more than they do.

Because as we chatted through our iPhone and iPad cameras, I noticed my face. Specifically, I noticed my nose. The nose I never really liked because of its largeness and how it hooks like a beak at the end. The nose that is so different from the ones of my classmates and friends and family. The nose I apparently still don’t like. And I noticed how uncomfortable I still feel in my own body. And I felt ashamed and incompetent.

Because until then, I had been operating under the illusion that I had this all together. I thought I was confident and comfortable enough to lead this lesson. I thought I could lead these girls without having to work on my own stuff. Once again, I was proven wrong.

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When I first started my work with Sister2Sister, I expected to grow in my ability to discipline, maintain control and order, and teach life lessons. But I never expected to become more humble, more comfortable in chaos, and learn more than I taught. I expected to hear the girls open up about their struggles. But I never expected those stories to challenge me to confront my own life of pain and privilege.

You see, I expected to change lives when I became a mentor. But I never expected my life to change in the process..

But that is exactly what has happened. Because these girls have taught me that I can’t expect people to open up without opening up myself. I can’t expect people to grow without growing. And I can’t expect to lead and teach without others leading and teaching me. I can’t live in relationship with others if I’m simply seeking them out to make myself look and feel better.

If this experience has taught me anything, it’s that some of my greatest teachers have been the “high-risk” kids, the kids from the areas in town you’re “not supposed to go to,” the ones we’re supposed to “fix” and “save.”

When am I, and when are we, going to realize that maybe we all need saved from our own Savior complexes?

Because these girls continue to teach me, time and again, that I am not here to fix or save them, or to have it all together, or to be their best friends, or to have all the answers.

No. These girls have taught me that I am here to journey with them, to be with them as I am, to be their leader and companion, and sometimes to even say “I don’t know.”

And these girls have taught me that in so many ways, they are wiser than me, and they have so much to teach me, about love, community, and being a Christian who acts out of love, not out of a shallow need to validate myself in the eyes of God.

So yesterday, as I finally took time to work on my prayer life, I thought about my girls and all they have taught me and all the things they have challenged me to confront. I thought about this project we will be undertaking together, and I hoped and prayed that it would be every bit as transforming for me and my mentors as I hoped it would be for my girls.

And this is the prayer I prayed for them:

Thank you for my girls, for the ones that love me and challenge me, the ones that trust me and are uncertain of me. Thank you for teaching me through them, about grace, love, mercy, my own prejudices, my own ignorance, my own pain, my own weakness, and also my own gifts, my own strengths, my own leadership.

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Help me grow in community with them. Help me be quick to listen and hear. Help me be quick to embrace and be patient. Help me to open my arms wider. Help my heart to break more and be healed. Help me to keep my mind, heart, eyes, and ears open, and make my feet swift in action and my hands open, calming, and healing.

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You have given me a great gift in this community. Forgive me for taking it for granted, for seeking validation from my own Savior complex instead of through your Love. Thank you for your grace and love, patience and rebuke, strength and humility.

Thank you for reminding me that I learn and love through what I have and what I’m willing to let go. Thank you for showing me that leading is as much about humility as it is about being firm. And continue to fill me with love so that instead of seeking validation through them, I may instead seek to love them all the more, as they are and where they are. Help me to keep seeing and finding you.

Thank you for healing my blindness, making beauty from the ashes of the pain of my soul. Help me to heal from the inside out.

Help. Thanks. Wow. Amen.