“I’ve been a Christian for 23 years. I’m just not getting anywhere. I’m as weak as when I first accepted Christ my savior. I still fail. I just don’t know if it’s worth it.”
– Cheryl (From Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield of the Mind)
Yesterday was my birthday. 25th January. I’m ageing. Yes, you’re ageing too but it’s my turn to think I’m the only ageing person on the planet. Allow me be.
My birthday is usually ushered in or ended by a short melancholic episode where I doubt everything I am, everything I know and everything I want. In those episodes, I brutally dissect, with no mercy, my personhood. I call my writing shitty. I compare it to my peers’ and all the great writers I know. I tabulate my failures and I find excuses for every single success I’ve had. I recall all the bad things I’ve ever done, the cruel words I’ve ever said with the intention to hurt, the times I’ve manipulated people to get my own way. I then decide that I’m up to no good. I tell myself to get comfortable with the possibility of a life full of mediocrity because at the end of the day, there’s nothing special about me. I mean, I’m not even obsessed with anything. I’m not deeply passionate about anything. Not God. Not my writing. Not my engineering degree. Nothing. I just seem to be freestyling and when people talk about how crazy they are about God or their art or business idea, I sit and listen and tell myself it’s something I’ll never know.
Last year, a woman I greatly admire surprised me with a cake. I sat with that cake for several minutes, just looking at it and imagining all the possible things she could have done with the money. That same day, the calls and texts got so much that I locked myself in a room and cried like a baby. My friend kept knocking on the door and I just ignored her and continued crying instead. Eventually, I opened the door and allowed her spend the next thirty minutes assuring me that I wasn’t a fraud. I was Queen. Queen Mother. Queen of the Most High. Queen of hearts.
While most of the agony I feel is about my person, my work and the quality of my human relationships, I spend many hours crying about my relationship with God. Every birthday is a reminder that I have failed to do any better. I am still on the fence, still armed with questions and doubts and sin. Every birthday is a reminder that because I do not wholly belong to one side, I am missing out on the benefits of either side.
I’ve been a Christian for five years now. Like Cheryl, nothing has changed. I am still as weak, still as volatile, still as confused. I still struggle like it is the first day and I just said the sinner’s prayer. Like Cheryl, I am officially tired. Tired of people looking at me with pity. Tired of people giving me advice and offering to pray for me. Tired of people saying, “well, God is faultless and so, the fault is from you.”
If you read The Story of the Beginning, you’ll know that there are many theories for my failures and that many people are quick to give me advice.
Friend A thinks it’s because I want to eat of both sides. She thinks it’s because I am unwilling to make sacrifices, unwilling to “carry my cross”. She is probably right cos I talk about the faith with words like “weight” and “burden”.
Friend B believes I don’t understand the concept of grace. Maybe, but in the Bible, I still see words like “resist”, “abstain”, “flee”, “present” etc. Words of struggle and war. Words that make me feel helpless.
Friend C believes I am suffering because I have, vehemently, refused to yield and submit and allow Jesus “take the wheel.”
In all these scenarios, I am the problem. I am the one who isn’t just getting it right. I am the one that has refused to learn. And knowing I am the problem made it even worse. I couldn’t blame someone else.
Because I couldn’t blame someone else, I became frustrated with myself. I started to self-sabotage. Self-hate. Self-criticize. I told myself I was insufferable, too this and too that and if not, why was I getting everything wrong? My writing is stuck. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I don’t know what I’m doing with my relationships. Very few things are working and every time I open my mouth to talk about my problems, the words come out a little foolish, a little careless. Like some writer said, words don’t express thoughts/feelings very well. And so, I quit talking about it cos communicating became a chore and even after such labour, very few persons understood.
Another year and I’m still trying.
Like I said in The Story of the Beginning, my story is about trying. I am willing to try. But what I did not say is why I am trying.
I am trying because I don’t know how to be content.
At several stages in my life, I have considered myself many things. Some, I turned out to be and many, I turned out not to be. But one thing I have never called myself is “content”. I am not a content person. I don’t know how to be content. I want more, I want everything and so, at every point, I tell myself that this cannot be it. This means that maybe the reason I am on the fence is because I want the best of both worlds.
I have seen people lived unhinged and I have seen people live rooted. I have seen people wait for God to do the choosing and I have seen people call their own shots. I have seen people pick their pen and write whatever the hell they want to write and I have seen people wait to ask, “God, what would you have me write?”
There is something about indulgence and abstinence that appeals to me. There is something about living like the wind and living by the book that appeals to me. There is something about waiting for God to come and alternatively, being your own god that appeals to me. I’ve seen what faith has done to people, good and bad. I’ve seen what the lack of faith has done to people, good and bad.
Friend D wants me to go to the other side and see if I like it there and then make my own choice.
Friend E wants me to do what I can and leave the rest for God.
Friend F wants to know why I’m still here.
I’m still here because somehow, I don’t fit in anywhere. Over there and over here. I’ve tried. It seems like I’m being pulled from either sides and that both sides still don’t want me. The fence, so far, has been the most accepting place. Here, I can think about what I believe and what I don’t. If I want to support a movement or not. If I’m for abortion or not. If I want God or if I want to be my own god. If I want heaven or hell, or the possibility of none.
Yesterday, many people told me happy birthday with kind, affirming words and overwhelmingly sweet actions. Many people prayed for me. Many people asked what’s next.
Well, so far, this is what it is:
I’ve decided to focus on just breathing. Breathing in and breathing out. Sleeping and waking up. Eating and drinking. Living in the moment.
I’ve decided to cultivate contentment. To accept this person that I am and the ordinariness that I come from, the ordinariness that surrounds me, the ordinariness I’ve been trying to escape from. This is not me aspiring to mediocrity, this is me trying to enjoy what I am and what I have. This is me trying to learn that I don’t need more or everything to lead the kind of life I want to lead.
I’ve decided to keep trying because I do not know how to not try. I’ll keep writing and keep sending out my work. I’ll keep learning and reading and unlearning. I’ll work on my relationships and my big mouth and my recurring acne.
I’ve decided to open myself to all the many possibilities, and to pray Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:19. “I pray that you “may have strength…to know the love of Christ.”” Isn’t it weird that we need strength to know love? Maybe we’ll talk of this another day.
Thanks for reading and Happy Birthday to me!