Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An answer offered

I'm in the habit of asking a lot more questions than I try to answer. So today, I need to get back to answer the question I posed to myself in my recent "Skinny or fat" post. I wanted to know, has my heart grown larger, more substantial, able to hold more love, or has it diminished in size since last year?

There's a simple reason I didn't dive into answering that question right away. Point blank: I was afraid of the answer. I knew my MO for answering the question would be from the standpoint of do-ing, and because of that, I could already see a big "F" stamped in red across my report card (still apparently working on the whole pronouncing judgment on myself thing). In other words, what have I done to show that my heart has grown since last year? What activities am I involved in, what ministries at church, what volunteer events, what people have I really helped... it's sad and pathetic, I know, but it's true. My mind is still, unfortunately so hard-wired in this direction of basing my worth on what I do.

I thank God for speaking to me through my counselor, to challenge my rut of thinking once again. Sitting cross-legged on her couch underneath a blanket, I stared out the window as she asked me, "What do you think? Has your heart gotten bigger or smaller since last year?"

The wheels of my brain spun, burning rubber through a mental check list of my year's activities, coming up sadly short in my opinion. "Ummm...."I gave a frustrated sigh. "You know what? I don't know how to answer my question. It's not that I don't want to, I just don't know the best way to measure the growth of my heart."

And then, something truly profound came out of her lips: "Are you able to accept yourself for who you are, warts and all, more than you could last year?"

I thought. And thought. And thought some more. Wasn't I in the counseling office largely because I couldn't accept myself for who I am, because I saw myself as a big fat failure in life? But I sat with it, shifting somewhat uncomfortably in my seat. "My heart feels like such a different heart than it was before." She waited quietly. "But I guess I have to say... yeah... it's grown at least a little easier to accept myself than last year."

She offered her assessment, in short. "I think the person you used to be was easy for you to accept and admire, because you were focusing on who you wanted to be, on who you would be in the future. In your mind, that Amber had no real warts. I think you're much more authentic now, more willing to show your imperfections, and even by asking yourself these questions and struggling with them, you're showing your willingness to accept yourself as a different person than you once saw. Would you agree with that, or does that seem off-base?"

I was nodding slowly, the wheels spinning once again. "I think you're absolutely right."

And she was. I've never really known how to live or accept myself in the present moment. Even when I was a kid, so much of my play revolved around some imaginary world where I lived out the life of someone much more interesting, brave, intelligent, strong, adventurous and beautiful than myself. As I got older, I got more skilled at playing adult roles. In my mind, in my educational and spiritual pursuits, I saw myself as someone who would be great some day, and because of that, it took the emphasis off who I was in that moment. The one who had far from arrived. But the Amber in the future, that was someone I could set my sights on. So I set about for years distracting myself with this future (non-existent) self.

What about now, though? I have no idea who I'll be or what I'll be doing in the future. All I really know is who I am today. While I've struggled greatly with that shift, I realized in the counseling office that I'm finally starting to accept and appreciate this Amber who is such a work in progress. I'm a beautiful mess.

My counselor said that the reason accepting ourselves, warts and all, indicates a larger heart is precisely because this is how we are able to love and accept others who are far from perfect. This is how God loves us all the time, without any conditions placed on us to negotiate His love.

"So you see, it really has nothing to do with do-ing. It's all about be-ing. It's all about what's going on behind-the-scenes."

By this definition, then, my answer to the question is, yes. My heart has grown. And the second part is, it has a lot more room for growth. Doesn't it always? (that's a rhetorical question, by the way. I'm allowed those every once in awhile).

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