We All Want to be Known

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Falling in love can be terrifying.

When Nick and I were dating and our relationship was becoming more serious, my doubts battled my love for him in a serious way. We were talking about marriage only a few months into our relationship, because we had been friends for over two years and had already dated once before.

As I thought about the future, of committing the rest of my life to one person, it almost made me want to hyperventilating. Almost every long-term relationship I had been in before had crashed and burned badly. After years of investment, they ended with glaringly obvious lists of each other’s flaws and all the ways we would never work. Those break ups made me wonder if I would ever find someone who loved me for who actually I was instead of some other version they had fabricated in their minds. I did not want to repeat that process ever again, and the thought of it exhausted me.

These doubts would creep out from my soul in the midst of conversations with Nick as each month passed. I would slowly begin to panic and tell him, “You don’t really know me.”

He would reply, “I know everything I need to know.”

But I knew there were deeper layers we had yet to uncover.

I wanted Nick to know my past and present and be able to understand the lens through which I saw the future. I wanted him to hear my favorite childhood stories of mischief and the harder ones of teenage heartbreak. When he had seen my wounds and my triumphs, all my strengths and weaknesses, then I would feel known.

I wanted a guarantee. I wanted to be fully known and loved to my very core and never, ever left.

I’m slowly realizing now, four years in to marriage, what a large demand that was to put on a dating relationship. Sure, had we extended our dating relationship more than six months and actually lived in the same city before getting engaged, I might have felt less precarious. But I know myself, and I am positive that I would have had to battle the demons of my former heart breaks regardless.

Whether intentional or not, my expectations for my marriage are still getting in the way. I used to think marriage would be my golden ticket to happily ever after. I thought once I got married, I would gain a best friend, experience no more “ungodly” physical temptation ever again, and I would be set! But thankfully, God’s intervention and the wisdom of those who have gone before (Thanks Sacred Marriage!) shook up my unrealistic ideas and began to open my eyes to the reality of the commitment of marriage beyond the cultural pictures of storybook romance.

Through the invaluable assistance of counseling, I am finding beliefs and patterns and ways of being that even I, self-aware Erika, did not quite realize I was living out of. There are fears I thought I had left in the past, habits I am living out of unconsciously.

I am starting to realize that I may have been selling our relationship short.

So I do not believe that marriage is constant wedded bliss to your perfect soul mate. But is it merely a partnership where we live parallel lives, experiencing joys and challenges together, or is it meant to be more?

A healthy marriage relationship, for me, means identifying the fears that threaten to claw their way out from the recesses of my soul and suffocate my ability to tell the truth. It means I can speak openly, and honestly, even boldly, expressing what I need. Our marriage needs to be my safest place to lay my heart bare and honestly express my greatest hopes and fears.

To my surprise, I have found that there are still some defense barriers put up around my heart. I have been unconsciously trying to protect myself. Too often that kind of vulnerability feels too risky, so I go to what I know: I journal those things, I talk about them with trusted girl friends, but I do not always bring them to my husband. My tender heart still fears the pain of rejection, of being shut down or dismissed. The only healthy way to grow as a couple is to lay all that stuff out, and take a good look at it together. Fear thrives in darkness, it cannot survive the light. This is the only way to be known.

Five years ago on a supremely windy, sunny spring day in New York, Nick asked me to marry him. And despite any lingering fears, instead I chose hope and said yes. In that moment, I said yes not only to what I knew, but to all of the unknowns – to moving to a brand new city, diving into a new faith community, to job changes and struggles, and the family we would one day fight to build. But here’s the incredible thing. We are only seven years (give or take!) into writing our love story. We have only just begun and have so much to look forward to.

It is in the security of a healthy marriage that we are free to be who we really are. Because this is what marriage is – it is for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in joy and sorrow. There are no guarantees, but there is deep love, fierce commitment, and dedicated efforts to grow together into the kind of couple you have always dreamed you might become.

What does it mean to be known? How do you deal with fear in relationships?

img src: Amanky, Creative Commons

The Rhythms of Holy Week

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img src: Creative Commons, cindeesniderre

This time of year, I always feel slightly homesick.

Not necessarily for a particular place, but a particular season in my life and way of worshipping. I spent seventeen months (only slightly over one rotation of the church calendar) with a community of believers who observed their faith in this way, but it remains one of my richest church experiences.

Lent is a somber season, marked by sacrifice in order to identify with Jesus. Perhaps this year more than ever, I am attempting to admit, make room for, and even embrace suffering in my life. It is counter-intuitive, but it seems that moving through the pain is the only way to learn what lies on the other side. As I have done some Lenten reading, this is the theme that is leaping off the page for me.

“Sin, sorrow, and suffering, and death itself, were indeed taken away at the Cross, but we mortals must enter into the depths of this mystery in actual experience. The fact that the Savior bore all this for us does not mean that we bear nothing of it; rather, it means that we are invited in to that place (the Cross) where suffering is transfigured. We (the Church) are his Body, says St. Paul. As such, we share in his suffering for the life of the world.”

-Thomas Howard, “The Crucifix,” Bread and Wine

In the midst of all of this, I long for the rhythms of the church calendar: Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and “Ordinary Time.” I miss walking through each season intentionally with others and the way it ensures that whatever joys or trials may come each year, we practice certain constants among our life together. For everything, there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3).

During Lent, I have held onto my little rhythms, the remnants of liturgy I carry with me in this busy city life.

I attend an Ash Wednesday service at a church in the city, and pray, Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

I make Lenten sacrifices, both eliminating and adding to my life in new ways to make more room for experiencing the presence and grace of God.

I read Bread & Wine and consider the faith of those who have gone before me.

I read and pray The Daily Office or Examen or Lectio Divina when I can make time for it.

I recite to myself the final words of the eucharist liturgy when I take communion: And so we proclaim the mystery of our faith: Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

These things seem small, but they connect me to the greater, universal church and years of tradition that have come before.

During Holy Week as we look towards Easter, I miss the liturgical traditions.

The Maundy Thursday potluck meal recalling The Last Supper.

The soberness of Good Friday, both entering and exiting in silence.

Easter Sunday evening service and family dinner afterwards.

I have different and familiar ways of commemorating this time now in my current church community. I carry with me the breadth of traditions from the places I have lived and people with whom I’ve worshipped, and I am grateful for them all. It is a heavy week, but Easter is coming soon, and new life with it. There is much to celebrate.

If you practice it, how are you observing during Holy Week? What have you learned during Lent?

Shifting Seasons and Giving Myself Permission

photo by Kelly Dean Photography
photo by Kelly Dean Photography

I have felt my heart shifting for a while now.

As a single person and for most of my married life, I have stacked fun experiences and friendships and travel on top of each other so tightly that I left little to no room to rest. After graduating from college having studied the craft I loved and holding a degree in Journalism, I rarely wrote for myself, using up all my words in verbal processing with others and leaving no space for quiet contemplation. In my most recent years, I lived at the break-neck pace of New York City, simultaneously loving and hating the incessant rush and excitement of this urban life. There is always something new to experience and someone new to meet. There are a million ways to fill my time.

Last spring I made a major shift towards living a different kind of life, and I can hardly believe a year has passed. More strongly than ever, I find myself wanting more time alone with my thoughts, pushing through the uncomfortable silence to find what was buried underneath the busyness of my life. I want more weeknights at home for the simple things like tidying up the apartment or reading a novel and even indulging in watching “my” TV shows. I can not tell if I am getting more in touch with my introverted side as I have allowed myself to write more often, or if I am just being more realistic about my energy reserves as an adult approaching thirty.

I am practicing saying “no” more often.

But it does not necessarily seem to be getting any easier. I am still an extrovert fueled by stimulating conversation and activity. I still have the fear of disappointing people I respect or love by making more room in my life to choose myself first. There is an identity box I have constructed for myself that says, “You have always been this way, so don’t bother trying to live another way. It will only make you uncomfortable.”

Even as I breathe more freely, living my days with more emotional and creative space, I catch that sneaky inner voice telling me that I am cheating. The voice tells me I am not supposed to be living this life yet, that I need to also be a mother in order justify pursuing my dreams as a writer. The voice says I need to make more money and I must trudge off to a 9 to 5 in order to truly value my time and talent during this waiting period of my life.

Sometimes I think “What am I really doing?” I feel like a weird artistic outsider in a town of high-earning young urban professionals. On the days when those negative internal voices are shouting at me, I can find myself dreading happy hours where I might meet someone new and have to explain how I spend my days. It does not sound impressive or intriguing when I hear myself explain it. It sounds small and simple, but living my life this way brings me so much joy.

When I think about the way I have lived the last year (and particularly the last few months working part-time) there is no doubt that my soul has been able to breathe more freely. I have been more present and connected in my relationship with God, in my marriage, and in my conversations with friends. I feel more awake, more alive, and more in tune.

I feel like me.

As I consider what lies ahead and what I will do this summer as my current contract job comes to a close, I am afraid to lose that. I am asking myself what kind of work I want to do and weighing all the pros and cons. I know at my core that I do not want to sacrifice living a life that aligns with my values on the altar of more more more. I do not want the driving force behind my decisions to be out of fear and scarcity. Because the truth is, I have enough.

And I am enough.

What keeps you living your life the way you do? Is it because you love it or because you are living to please and meet expectations of others? What helps you live in line with your values?