This isn’t the post I wanted to write.
We love testimonials of individuals who overcome adversity. But sometimes we don’t overcome. Sometimes we take a leap of faith and we don’t catch the next ledge.
Sometimes we fall.
I spent the last four years after college avoiding the GRE. The exam slowly became something bigger than my hatred of algebra and geometry. It transformed into an obstacle that I suspected I’d never get over. Maybe the challenge would require more than I could give.
It was like time stopped during those four years. Nothing really happened; I slept a lot and worked various jobs. I took random college classes like Shakespeare, Chemistry, and Exercise Physiology trying to find a new career path that didn’t involve LGBTQ issues or anything that might be considered too controversial (English professor, doctor, physical therapist, personal trainer…). I just wanted God to make life clear; to help me find my purpose. At least a purpose that fit snuggly in my comfort zone. But really I was just delaying the tough questions; I avoided conflict; I closed myself off from others, trying to figure out this gay thing alone.
My life shifted after reading an insight from Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain went to law school and began a successful career as a lawyer on Wall Street. And yet she found herself unsatisfied. She discovered her envy indicated the life she actually yearned to live. Cain didn’t crave opportunities to argue cases before the Supreme Court like some of her colleagues. She discovered she envied two groups of friends: those who had become writers and those who had become psychologists.1 Whoa, me too, Susan…
I envied my psychology friends pursuing clinical psychology degrees, becoming instruments of shalom, binding emotional wounds—speaking words of hope and redemption. I envied Gay Christian bloggers ministering to the marginalized through words of vulnerability, building connection and community for the spiritually isolated and outcast. I fell in love with the spiritual memoir genre; I wanted to weave words and universal themes that transcended the topic of sexual orientation—creating words of art from the mundane and ordinary. I envied some of those people too. I wanted to be a combination of all those things.
Nearly every Fall I’d tell people I was going to apply to graduate school. And every Fall the GRE represented what I believed I couldn’t do. I’m not smart enough to make a good score. Even if I made a good score, I’d have to make the difficult transition into adulthood. I’d have to speak up, and one excuse led to another. I’m too awkward. I don’t know what to say. I’m a terrible communicator.
But something changed this year. Time hadn’t stopped during those years of aimlessness. I was ready to commit to something and give it everything I had, risk everything, and participate in God’s redemptive story. So the idea of this blog came to life. The time had come to open up and find opportunities to manifest courage amid my fears.
I’ve learned a lot about failure through that process. This has been a crazy year. I’ve said a lot of stupid things. I’ve struggled too hard for attention. I’ve defined success far too narrowly. I’ve been anxious and depressed. I’ve wanted to give up and never publish another word again.
But what then?
I come alive when I write. I come alive when people tell me their stories. My passions reveal a deeper design crafted by my Heavenly Father. How can I walk away from that?
I’ve spent four years fearing I would fail the GRE. And my fear came true last week. But so what? I’m still alive, still just as beloved by my Savior and Creator. I’m still loved by friends and family.
I can try again.
Through failure I learn. It strengthens my resolve to fight for my life. I’m not going to give up on my passions and my calling. If mathematics is the obstacle standing in my way, then so be it. I’ll work harder this next month. And now that I’ve taken the real thing, it’s not so intimidating. The GRE is nothing more than a test. There’s no wizard behind the curtain, no monster underneath the bed. I’m not afraid.
“Why do we fall?” Thomas Wayne asks a young Bruce. It’s a question that recurs throughout Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Alfred later echoes the question as everything burns around them. The conclusion remains the same.
So we can learn to pick ourselves up.
And with God’s grace, we can.
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Photo courtesy of Doug Shelton at Creationswap
- Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown Publishers, 2012, 218-219.