twelve for a tuesday | April
My time at UCLA is coming to an end — I’m graduating in December, and it’s felt uncomfortably real this month. Friends are starting cool internships that will likely lead to prestigious careers, others are getting married, some are traveling the world. This month, it seems like the next stage of life is hurling toward me like a wild pitch in Spring Training. The question is impossible not to ask: what am I doing? And is it enough?
So here I am, racking my brain, making a list of marketable skills I have that starts with “pickle making” and ends with “flaring my nostrils.” And then I say to myself, “Hey, self: writing, that’s a skill.”
But then there’s this.
Sometimes, I sit down to write, and my mind is an empty room with elastic walls. Thoughts emerge from nowhere and collide with one another in brilliant chaos until the chamber is in complete disarray, there are pieces of broken mindfulness everywhere, suspiciously stale feelings have stained the floor, and there’s silence. The deafening kind of silence. The kind of silence that sounds like static in the ears of a sidetracked scholar, desperately seeking clarity, but obstructed by nonsense.
Now, I’m not some kind of tortured artist. But this is more than writer’s block. I can put words on a page — it isn’t that hard. And it will probably be decently acceptable work by the time I’m finished. The problem is that often, the words don’t seem like the right words. They don’t seem like the truest ones, or even the most beautiful ones. They’re often not the most novel ones, either. Because I write so frequently and spill it all — my deepest desires and my most monotonous musings — I sometimes don’t know what to say to real people. When our faces are 18 inches apart, pupils wide with unbreakable interest, on the edges of our conversational seats, what if I tell the same story they’ve already heard? What if I’m boring? Unimpressive? Maybe I should embellish a bit (note that in writing, that’s called “creativity;” in real life, it’s called lying). So then I talk a lot, and often say nothing.
But where I land, ultimately, is that I’m a good writer. I guess. If you must ask. But not as good as other people. Not as good as Kerouac or Rowling or Lewis…it could always be better.
It’s the same as, you know, when you’re pretty, but then you look at any screen for more than 25 seconds and change your mind? Or when you’re funny, but they laugh a little bit harder at someone else’s joke? When you’re excited about your summer plans…but compared to everyone else’s, it seems like you aren’t doing enough.
Compared to everyone else.
Now, we’ve arrived at the problem at hand: why, pray tell, do we evaluate ourselves relative to everyone else? Why am I only [blank] as long as someone else is more or less [blank] than I am? Too frequently, I decide whether I am adequate based on who is standing next to me.
[WARNING: This is very long. And it’s gonna get heavy. Heavy like the tension I’m releasing from my shoulders. Heavy like the way I overanalyze everything. Heavy like the April sky.]
Now before you think this is going to be about being satisfied with what you have because you still have more skill or more beauty or more resources than most people, think again. This is probably true — but it is not helpful. “I might not be a genius, but I’m smarter than most people” will destroy us just as surely as claiming we are the worst of the bunch. When everyone else is a better or worse version of you, you’ll either be devastated by disappointment or calloused by pride. Your ego will become your idol.
Comparison is not a method of consolation or a mode of confidence.
It is a wicked tactic that robs us of the chance to share joy with others and see our blessings for what they are: blessings. Not rights. They are privileges, given to us because God abounds in goodness, not because I have earned it or somehow deserve it.
An identity founded on comparison — a relative identity — rests on a rickety foundation. Because I’ll never be “good enough,” at least not for long: there will always be someone better. And even if there isn’t, even if I am the best of the best — if I’m the brightest in my field or Miss Universe or I’m a spiritual sage or the Mark Twain of my generation — won’t there always be someone else who has something I don’t have?
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both.”
Alas, my friends, we can’t have it all.
So what am I striving after? What is this idea of goodness or enoughness that I’m pursuing?
Could it be that “adequacy” is fully relative to a standard of mistaken normalcy that I’ve invented, deep in the confines of my perfectionist brain?
I am not going to leave you here with a nice mantra about how you should just try your best, and that’s okay if you don’t succeed. Because this is not about what you do — it’s about who you are.
How do you feel when you don’t succeed? I’m not talking failed tests or awkward conversations or embarrassing moments, I’m talking about the deepest desires of your heart. I’m talking about unrequited love. I’m talking about rejection from your dream job. I’m talking about burned bridges that you are trying to cross, but in vain. Let’s all really meditate on this for a while.
It feels e m p t y, doesn’t it? To not be good enough.
To be almost there, but inexplicably come up short.
To not know where you went wrong.
The “try, try again philosophy” doesn’t work so well here, does it? “You have so many other skills and talents, someone will notice you someday.” “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps, kid! You’ll get ’em next time.”
Maybe. But that’s no promise: I wasn’t born into the world with a seal of guaranteed success and importance stuck to my forehead. But if not — I am not doomed to a life of dissatisfaction or futile perfectionism.
The sacrifice of Christ fills in all of the gaps and cracks and His blood has made me new.
When I fail, when I’m not as great as I want to be, when I mistakenly think I’m better than others and hurt them because of it, God’s grace covers me. When He looks at me, He doesn’t see my sin: He seems me as his precious daughter, who He pursues relentlessly and for whom He gave all.
He sees the woman He made me to be — and that’s it. He doesn’t tell me I wasn’t as outgoing as that guy or as clever as that girl. He doesn’t say, “Whoops! My bad, I should’ve made you differently.” He knows me and sees me as I am — he sees my mistakes and failures and the ugliness of my heart and He still loves me, uniquely. On purpose.
CS Lewis put it best in The Problem of Pain when he says:
“I am considering not how, but why, God makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you…Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you, the individual reader…Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it — made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand…But it is also said ‘to him that overcometh I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.’ What can be more a man’s own than this new name, which even in eternity remains a secret between God and him? And what shall we take this secrecy to mean? Surely, that each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the Divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently?”
Do not believe the lies that you’re only good enough if someone else is worse or you’re inadequate if someone else is better. By the power of the cross, the narrative that governs my life is steadfast and unchanging.
The sacrifice of Jesus puts an end to relative identity — in Christ, who I am is absolute: fully known and fully loved. Not “better” and not “worse.” When my words are not right or not new or not beautiful, I am still purposefully made, intentionally refined, and affectionately guided by the King of the Universe.
And April’s got nothing on Him.
So now, if I managed to keep your attention long enough, here’s twelve completely unrelated songs for a Tuesday in April. Each song represents an hour and a half:
8:00 AM Sunshine | Matt Costa
9:30 AM King of Spain | The Tallest Man On Earth
11:00 AM Thunder Clatter | Wild Cub
12:30 PM Boardwalks | Little May
2:00 PM The John Wayne | Little Green Cars
3:30 PM Love Don’t Go | The Family Crest
5:00 PM Problems Problems | FRANKIE
6:30 PM Need Your Love | The Temper Trap
8:00 PM Closed Hand, Full of Friends | Foy Vance
9:30 PM Put On, Cologne | Donovan Woods
11:00 PM Above the Clouds of Pompeii | Bear’s Den
12:30 AM No Lion (feat. Phox) | Boom Forest