When I was young, I collected dolls and quarters. Both were inspired by my grandma, whom I’ve always deeply desired to reflect. As I grew, the dolls gathered dust and the quarters turned into laundry money and I began a new collection of sorts. As I became more self-aware and fragile (as we do) I began collecting experiences to reinforce a narrative I didn’t know I was writing. We all have them – these narratives that we’ve picked up somewhere along the way and never put down. We go through our lives subconsciously looking for proof of our narratives in every experience, every relationship, every interaction. And then we use them to justify who we are.
Throughout my life, I’ve collected tiny holes in who I am. Every romantic venture soured has poked a pinprick in this holy identity. Every loss I’ve experienced has ripped apart my fabric just a little bit more. And as these holes multiply and grow, the fabric of who I am shrinks just a little bit more. Eventually, if we’re not careful, this negative space starts to take over the parts of us that are left and we start to mistake those holes for who we really are.
We’ve believed the narrative for so long that we can’t separate it from the Truth.
What we believe about ourselves shapes everything. I’m going to say that again: what we believe about ourselves shapes everything. I, for one, believe a lot of things. I believe good coffee needs no frills, Mumford and Sons is the band of the century, Jesus died to give us freedom and life, and that connection is the purpose of human existence. I believe Thai food is objectively the best food, the American educational system is a fraudulent cycle, and I believe that I am the exception. I believe that I’m the exception to the love that’s all around me and bursting out of me and swimming within me. I’ve collected evidence from every boy I’ve ever loved, every date that’s ever gone poorly, every text that’s ever gone unanswered. As this narrative has evolved, I’ve written a chapter about how I’m just too much – that no one will be willing or capable to take me on. I’ve written a chapter about how I mess up every good thing that comes my way – that I’m irreparably broken. I’ve written a chapter about how everything I love will leave – collecting evidence over the last few years of loss and more loss.
Recently I had a string of successful and then unsuccessful dates that left me whirling. Replaying where things went wrong, blaming myself for once again killing a good thing, I felt a twinge that something was wrong with the way I was perceiving things; I felt like maybe this wasn’t my fault. I’ve never been good at objectivity or at separating facts from emotion but lucky for me, I have a good friend who is especially gifted where I am not. With her help, I wrote about what happened. Not how I felt, not how I perceived things, not what might have happened – no. What actually happened. As I wrote, a magical thing happened: I realized that what happened had nothing to do with me. It had nothing to do with me screwing up, nothing to do with me being unlovable or undesirable or broken. I’d gone in expecting rejection, so I found rejection where it was not. It took everything in me to realize – and then admit – that I’d all too quickly thrown in the towel, plucked out the tiny pieces of what happened that might possibly maybe slightly be used to reinforce what I already believed about myself and the world. I’d packed them up, added them to the collection, and continued on my way with another pinprick in my soul.
Even when all evidence points to the contrary, we are so devastatingly comfortable within our narratives that we actively look facts in the face and ignore them in favor of the constructed belief systems we’ve lived inside for so long. Oh, how it hurts to know you are being lied to by the person you should most trust in this world: You. Oh, how it hurts to question every outside interaction – to pour over every mundane conversation and find rejection. Oh, how it hurts.
This narrative that silently rules me is a collection of the many little disappointments I’ve clung to – the minuscule perceived proofs plucked out and isolated from whole experiences. This narrative is the collection of every experience I’ve had, skewed to support the story I’ve chosen to write for myself. This narrative is where I’m comfortable – it’s the justification for believing what I do about myself and about the way of the world. This narrative is a falsity; it’s too heavy and it’s not meant for me.
I saw a quote recently that we have the choice between faith and fear and that each option requires us to believe in the unseen. I want to take that further and ask how much of our lives are constructed and built up around those things unseen? How many cities have we built around these narratives we’ve told ourselves over and over and over again? How many things do we believe because we’ve convinced ourselves there’s no other way? But it doesn’t have to be this way.
So now I’m beginning again. I’m beginning to deconstruct the cities I’ve built, to tear down the walls around my heart, to fill up the holes in my fabric with hope and trust that I’m who God says I am. I’m writing a new narrative starting now and its words will be truth.
And now, with light shining through all my holy experiences, I know that I reflect the sky and her stars.