2015 was not the easiest year of my life. I had to make the hardest decisions and ask the hardest questions in my journey thus far. Questions like, “Who am I? What are my values? Who do I want to become? Where am I heading? How will my decisions impact those around me now and those who will come after me?”
This year brought the greatest depths of pain that I have ever experienced. There were moments of seismic sorrow and deathly darkness. I can remember the days when I would wake up and think to myself, “All you have to do is get through today, Lance.” I would stand in front of the mirror, dressed and prepared to experience a world that I was afraid of and smile at myself and say out loud, “Today is going to be a good day, Lance. You can do this.”
Fortunately, though, 2015 did not remain in the depths. 2015 brought some of the greatest moments of life and hope that I have ever experienced. Sitting at a table with a friend eating the unhealthiest plethora of appetizers at 1:30 in the morning about a week ago, I began crying as I realized how far I have come on this journey. And in that moment, I realized that I was happy…so so happy. For the first time in my life, I have embraced myself in a way that I had never previously done. This resevoir of self-love has created some of the most beautiful connections in my life and launched me on a journey of love that I could never have anticipated.
While there are so many things that I have learned about the world around me, myself, and my faith, here are some of the most important:
- Being the “good guy” was killing me. All of my life had been about being “good”. What I did not realize, though, was that this meant sacrificing myself on the altar of good. I lost touch with basic desires and needs that I had. It was difficult for me to acknowledge that I needed things from other people. The only way that I thought that I could get what I needed was to be good enough for others. Perhaps then, I reasoned, they will like me and give me the love that I need. I realized that my definition of good was skewed and rooted in seeking the approval of others. In 2015, I stopped trying to be the “good guy” that everyone else liked and started trying to be the authentic me whom I liked.
- I am strong. If someone were to tell me everything that I was going to live through in 2015, I would have run the other way. Yet, by living day by day, sometimes hour by hour, moment by moment even, I learned that my capacity to endure and overcome was much greater than I thought. Most of my life has been a struggle with anxiety. I constantly think through scenarios that I see in movies or hear in others’ stories and think, “How would I handle that?” In 2015, I found a new answer to this question: “I have no idea. But I would handle it.”
- I don’t have to be afraid of myself. I spent years not dealing with who I was. I was afraid that what others perceived about me might be true. To cope with myself, I used my faith as a mask to cover up. But it wasn’t just others that I was hiding from—it was myself. I was so afraid of what I would find when I looked inside. Would I even like what I saw? The lie that I believed was that if I saw my true self I would not be found worthy of love. The love of others who saw deeper than I was willing to see taught me that I was worthy of love. It was then that I realized I could begin to look at myself—without a mask. And when I looked at myself, I realized that there is beauty among the shards and brokenness—that there is a mosaic of desires, needs, wishes, dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Some of them I am uncomfortable with, some of them are not noble, and others are quite admirable. And somehow, all of these things are what make…well, me. In 2015, I understood that being courageous meant looking at who I really am and loving myself through all of it.
- The way that I think about myself is reflected in the way that I think about others. I soon realized once I began to reflect more about who I was, the way that I thought about others changed. It had once been so flat. I always wanted to love people, but I could never quite figure out how to process their flaws. I always loved the first stages of meeting people. It was wonderful! But I did not appreciate when people’s beauty seemed to be overshadowed by their flaws. I either ignored their flaws altogether or allowed their flaws to redefine them. But, when I realized that I was much more complex than I had made myself out to be, it allowed others to be much more complex. And just as I understood my need for love in my own complexity, so in 2015, I was able to recognize that others are just as complex and need love through their goodness and their blemishes.
- Faith should make room for questions. This was a tough one for a long time for me. Growing up with a conservative, Evangelical, Pentecostal/Charismatic worldview, I felt deeply that my faith was like a system that everything had to fit into. There were boxes that were given to me and all that I experienced in life had to fit into these boxes. The sad reality of such thinking meant that I rarely explored life much deeper than the boxes that I had. I didn’t need to listen to others or ask questions because I believed that I had the essentials all figured out. Why would I need anything more? Life’s complexities mixed with higher education slowly began to crumple these boxes, though. Eventually, I realized that I had more questions than I did answers. My blind arrogance was suddenly so apparent as the scales fell off of my eyes and in 2015, I began to grasp that faith was not meant to save me from uncertainty but give me courage and strength to face life’s ambiguity.
Friends, life is more often than not vague and uncertain. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. But I pray that we could enter 2016 with a vigor for life, with a light in our eyes, with a hope that no matter how much pain or uncertainty we encounter, we will know that it is not the end. I pray that in 2016, we would be surrounded by communities who will lift us up, challenge us, and encourage us to be more fully human and embrace us in all of our mess.
I promise you this: you are worth it, my friend.
Happy New Year!