The Grey Matters – Honesty 2: The Hope
The Grey Matters was the landing spot for the creative and contemplative works that bounce around the confines of my head, as well as the inspirations that put them there. With the re-release of Viva, we decided to merge the blogs. Click here for more behind the meaning behind TGM.
I commute nearly two hours a day – one hour each way. I’ve had quite a few friends ask me how I do it. It must be so boring. On the contrary, I actually quite enjoy it. There’s something soothing about preparing for my day, a sort of gearing up, as I drive to work. At the end of the day, I’m able to decompress, and arrive with my head clear, fully present at home. Something about the music blaring in my car acts as an audible conduit for the release of the stress associated with a high-paced job to leave my head.
I mentioned in my previous post that writing is a cathartic – sometimes even therapeutic – process for me. Just like driving, it allows me to process thoughts in a way that I’m often unable to otherwise. As I began writing my previous post on honesty, and how, despite it’s value and importance to me, it had challenged me in various ways, I was able to work through some difficult emotions and thoughts that I had been harboring for a while.
Being honest about weaknesses and struggles led me into some very difficult and awkward situations. It cost me friends, it made me doubt who I was, damaged my reputation, and put my faith into question. Undoubtedly, the experience was one of the hardest of my life. As I wrote about those experiences, the question of why began to flood me. Why would I open up about those things? Why, when it could cost me so much, would I make myself vulnerable to such pain?
There’s an obvious reason for why I would choose to expose my weakness, and that is, of course, I simply didn’t know. I had no idea how much backlash there would be. I never would have thought that the friends I held so close and the church I depended on would abandon me in my time of need.
Another reason was exasperation. I was simply tired of battling those demons by myself. I was losing ground and struggling and felt I had nothing else to lose. My self-esteem had plummeted to depths previously unexperienced and I was lost. And when your being is lost, all you ascribe yourself is nowhere to be found, you begin to feel like you have nothing else to lose. (I obviously did, but more on that later.)
Yet, the most profound reason for opening up is something I didn’t feel at the time, but over time began to creep into my heart and spread like warmth to the rest of my body.
That reason was hope.
I’m convinced that outside of grace, hope is the number one reason people truly live. At it’s most basic form, we go to school in the hope that we’ll secure a good job, we go to church with the hope of encountering God, we get out of bed with the hope that the day will produce something better than the last. We drink coffee (or tea if you’re me) hoping that it will wake us up enough to be productive and achieve something. Or maybe we hope that our productivity will fatten our bank account so that we can do the things we really want.
Most of that seems pretty trivial. In truth, hope is very trivial outside of faith. (Consequently, faith is very trivial outside of grace – It’s all very connected in that way.) I didn’t know it at the time, but my underlying desires – nay, hope – was that there was deliverance from these demons, and that grace could cover and heal a shallow, hopeless person like me. And it did. But more on that in a minute.
Just as I mentioned in the previous post, there are many often unintended, unfavorable responses to being honest about who you are, weaknesses and all. You may feel hopeless, you have to kill your pride, people may look at you differently and may even leave, and there are some things you can’t take back. That being what it is, not all is lost. You may find yourself in a better place than you expected. It happened to me. There is still quite a bit of hope there, even if you don’t see it at first.
The first part of the hope in honesty – I was never really alone.
No one really knows the demons in my head better than I do. No one can sense their treachery and feel the absorption of self-doubt and apathy they inflict. My shoes bear the affects of my steps in their soles and the footprints are uniquely mine. Despite these truths, the ability to see things from the exact perspective I have actually isn’t a requirement of empathy and support. I don’t have to face heroin to understand deeply what it means and feels to be an addict. In the grand scheme of things, we’re really not that different – we’re all seeking an escape from the reality that life is tough. The drug, the addiction, is not the problem. Reality is the problem. Addictions are just failed solutions. I have plenty of those. We all do.
In the end, I just wanted to be better, and it was becoming obvious that I couldn’t get there on my own. Opening up about my insecurity wasn’t easy, and through it I discovered there were some that struggled mightily to relate to it. Though I took it for granted at the time, there were many who did empathize. They didn’t have to experience it to feel it deeply. There were even some who brushed me back, scolded me, not in anger but in a love that was deeper than I expected. I’ve come to appreciate those people in ways I can’t describe with words or minimize in a blog post. They expected more from me and challenged me to dig deeper and hope stronger.
The second part of the hope in honesty – I was stronger than I realized.
In the previous post, I mentioned that one of the things I feared about being honest about my weaknesses was that I would allow people to see that I was much weaker than I wanted to let on. I was afraid that people would see the flawed human being that I was and that I would be branded as incapable of strength.
I suppose I looked at myself that way. What I didn’t expect was to find the will, turning stubbornness on its head, to rise above that weakness and use it as the very fabric of my renaissance.
There is construction along my commute. I’ve dealt with major construction my entire driving life, from my home town where I received my license and drove that beat up old truck, to college where they turned the town upside down to build a major highway through it, all the way to my current city, where they’re doing the exact same thing. The construction is constantly creating lane closures and new on-ramps and off-ramps, with confounded drivers doing their best (ha!) to make sense of it and get where they’re going as safe as possible. Ultimately, it requires an attentiveness that is above the average drive. I can’t tell you how many times people have nearly run me off the road because they take their blindspots for granted. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also guilty here.
Many people live life just like they drive. They look only ahead of them, zoned into the lane they’re in, absolutely focused. It’s incredible the resolve and committedness they possess. This is even considered an admirable trait. In some regards it is, with the exception of one major issue – the landscape changes the farther you go. And when you react to the changing landscape, those blindspots that you never considered many times contain obstacles that you were never particularly prepared for. Without intending it, you’ve made the world a bit less secure for yourself and for those around you. In my life, ignoring my weaknesses with the pipe dream that I’d just roll on past them created a incredible blindspot that proved disastrous.
The other type of driver does everything but look in front of them. They’re spending too much time looking in the mirrors, at their cellphones, thinking about where they came from and how their backseat is a mess and if they forget their jacket. The connection to my metaphor is hopefully obvious here. Those that spend too much time looking back or at things that don’t matter (past mistakes maybe?) end up making the world a lot less secure for themselves and for those around them. It’s hard to see what’s in front of you if you spend all your time looking back.
The point is this…balance is the key to finding strength. My weaknesses are tangible to me. I see them and I interact with them. I work on resisting temptation and I’m learning to forgive myself for when I’ve failed. I also woke up this morning. I got out of bed and faced another day. That requires more strength than you realize. (I don’t mean for just me. The courage to walk out and face the world is a trait we all share.) I’m learning to be aware of my blindspots, find wisdom in my past, and still look forward. It wasn’t just weakness I revealed in my honesty, there was strength in there too.
The third part of the hope in honesty – the demons I faced suddenly seem a lot less powerful.
To that point, not only did I begin to recognize strength inside myself, I also have begun to see those pressures and temptations – those demons – as much less powerful than they seemed previously. This is not to say that temptations don’t exist, nor do I live a life free of backslides or mistakes. But when I recognize the strength inside myself, I also recognize the inability for those forces to control and hinder me. The temptation becomes less attractive, and the pressure less burdening.
This may sound like a rehash of my previous point, but I separate it out for a reason. Yes, your strength is an extremely powerful piece of the puzzle. But when you feel weak, when you struggle to remind yourself of the power within yourself to break free, it helps to be reminded that your demons aren’t really that strong either. They only use the power you give them. Take it back.
The fourth part of the hope in honesty – it gets better.
Someday the construction along my commute will be completed. Along the way, I’ll get new lanes and hopefully a more efficient way to work. For all of the annoyances now, I know it’s leading toward a better path. And not just for me, for everyone that shares the road with me. I’ll get where I’m going quicker, and we’ll all feel a bit more safe. The months/years that I woke up and was encumbered by the constant mess of it all will fade to a distant memory. On that day, I’ll wonder why I ever got so worked up about it at all.
I remember vividly the day I woke up and just felt better. Suddenly I didn’t particularly care what those people thought of me, outside of the fact that I had given them every opportunity to be a part of my journey. It no longer mattered the mistakes that I’d made, and my wife was visibly stronger as well. Circumstances hadn’t particularly changed, so much as time had worked as the ultimate dulling agent of the sharpness of pain.
It gets better. Time heals. You learn from your mistakes and try not to make them again. You become aware of snares and traps to your progress. Life becomes simpler. Life becomes more valuable when you recognize the people who make you better and the grace that can be afforded to even the most reckless of sinners.
And now that I’ve experienced it, I have hope that I can survive anything.
You can too.