Friday, March 7, 2014

When finding God means finding Self

Midway through her memoir The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd makes this subtle but profound statement:
"In some ways, spiritual development for women, perhaps unlike that for men, is not about surrendering self so much as coming to self. "
Her words knock me off my feet with a quiet truth, with the sudden realization that this journey I am on has always been twofold: finding God and finding Me. I am diving through the wreckage of a religious upbringing, deciding what to keep and what to toss, what assists and what distracts, in my search to know God. And in doing so, I am learning to listen to my own voice.

No part of this journey is easy for me to talk about, but speaking of "finding myself" is especially difficult. For one, I have been taught that Self = selfish. I have been taught to put others first, which means putting Self last, which means putting Self never. I have not always been good at this, but all my life I have tried, mostly because I believed self-sacrifice was necessary to please God and others. And for as long as I can remember, I have desperately wanted to please.

The fact of the matter is that, as women, (especially, especially in the strange subculture of evangelical Christianity) we are trained for this. We are trained to submit, to blend, to serve. We are implored to shower love on anyone and everyone but ourselves. We are taught to see our bodies and lives and words as tools for caring for others. To have a relationship with Self for its own sake has been unthinkable. I have had no intimate example of this, of a woman who loves and cares for and prioritizes herself in a free and healthy and joyful way, for the entirety of my 26 years. But, not coincidentally, my life is nearly swimming with women who have spent decades suppressing their own dreams and opinions and intuitions.

And if you suppress your own voice for long enough, if you refuse to speak your truth, you can't help but also suppress God's voice within you, you can't help but suppress the Spirit that whispers in your heart where to go and how to love and who to be. Realizing all this now, I am slightly confused about how I was supposed to be hearing God's voice for all these years, without ever listening to my own.

So it's true, I am finding God and myself. And I will no longer be apologizing for either venture.

***
My lovely writing community is hosting this blogging event, in which women are invited to write about the "girls we once were." I have been thinking of her a lot lately, that little girl. She's not so different from me today, really. She lived in her head and shied away from attention. She cherished quiet time for imagination and exploration, she lost herself in books and dreams and the stories in her head. She looked wide-eyed at the world around her, holding her thoughts close and ever-searching for all the ways to be good and right.

Serious-faced tow head, front and center
In one sense, on this journey to find myself, I am going back to her, to the girl I once was, to find who I am at my core. But in another sense, I am moving onward, upward, outward, growing into the woman I never allowed myself to be. 

This new woman, she is an artist. She creates well-structured prose with a poet's heart. She believes the things she believes no matter how someone may try to shame them out of her. She showers her uninhibited affection on son and husband and dear friends. She takes time for herself. She feels her emotions and trusts her intuitions, giving others permission to do the same. In all of this, she is learning to be less pleasing and more true


So you see, the little girl is not complete without the grown woman. I need the little girl I was, of course, to tell me what has been true about me from the start. But I also need the grown woman, who has the benefit of 26 and a half years of life behind her. This woman has learned things about herself, through trial and adventure and love, that the little girl never dreamed of.

***

I stopped by church last week, for the first time in months, to pick up some food my husband had ordered for a fundraiser. The after-school program, where I had once volunteered, was in full swing, and familiar faces, ones I love dearly, were gathered in the basement kitchen. Life was going on there as it always has, but words like, "I miss you" were whispered in my ears and it all felt so familiar, yet strange, so right, yet terribly sad. 

That night at home, I asked my husband if I was doing the right thing. I asked him, not to hear his answer, but because for the first time on this journey I felt lonely and selfish and ashamed. But despite my insecurities, despite my doubt and fear and shame, this is where I landed: 

I have to keep moving forward, keep meeting myself, keep searching for God in the dark. I don't know what my life will bring, but I know I've got to live it as me. As lonely as loss of community can be, loss of Self is even lonelier. I have to know her, the girl I was, the person I am, the woman I will be. I have to know her if I want to hear God speak to her. No one else can do this work for me, no one else is going to prioritize my ability to know myself or God. I have to do it. I have to make it a priority. So I am, unapologetically.

*We're celebrating Women's Day by writing about the girls we were/are/will be. Join us?*

19 comments :

  1. Ahhh...thank goodness. I needed to read this tonight. I have been anxious and worried I'm doing the wrong thing...letting myself go on this journey away from the familiar. Its good to have company.
    ~Emily

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    1. O lovely Emily. I'm so thankful for you.

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  2. I resonate with all of your words, Alissa. The wilderness is alive with people walking on this lonely path, but yet finding fellowship in the company of other pilgrims on this journey deep inside the heart of God... learning who He really is and who we really are, at the same time. It's hard and lonely, at times, and I've had my times of second-guessing myself, but it's the best thing I've ever done. I'm glad to meet you, Alissa... you are living a most beautiful life - and you are beautiful!

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    1. Thank you so much, Susan. I'm so glad to have some company. It's so encouraging to hear it's been good for you.

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  3. Yes to the insecurity of am I doing the right thing, and trusting my voice.

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  4. more true.

    oh do I resonate with that. it's like you opened up a portal to my own little girl, like we're sharing a park bench.

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    1. I'd share a bench with you any day. :)

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  5. This made me cry. Tears of "me too". So much of our story is similar. And Sue Monk Kidd -- the only religious writer I can stomach right now. I'm a mess. My spirituality is broken and messy. Thank you for sharing your story. It has truly warmed my heart today. XOXO

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  6. Oh. My. ALL THE YES. This is lovely and inspiring, Alissa.

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  7. "finding God and finding Me" -- yes and yes and yes!!!! me, too. Richard Rohr writes in Immortal Diamond that these two searches are on in the same. I love Kidd, too.

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  8. This is so good. I really needed to hear these words today. It's so hard for me to get out of people pleasing mode and choose to invest in my own soul. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you Jamie. That means so much to me.

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  9. Alissa, this is beautiful - raw, inspiring, nurturing, hopeful. Why we search of black and white when the grey of God and ourselves is so much more layered is something i too struggle with. thankyou. Thankyou. thankyou.

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  10. This is such interesting perspective. Your words will linger with me a long time. I had never considered that I what I really need in my spiritual journey is not more surrender, but more discovery of self. I needed this.

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    1. Thank you, Adela. I'm so glad it was good for you.

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  11. I'm on a similar journey, of casting off conventional chains, and pursuing (sometimes that means digging deep), the path that is mine. So, take heart and continue on! You are where you need to be.

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    1. Thanks for the reminder Grace! Always good to hear I'm not alone. Love to you on your journey!

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