Yesterday I felt a little down. I had been invited to go to a high school reunion and was reluctant to go. I’ve been thinking about it and trying to sort through the underlying issues surrounding why I didn’t want to go. The good news is that I came up with an answer; the bad news is that I didn’t like the answer. Somewhere deep inside, I feel like a failure. As I came to this realisation I wanted to cry – that’s usually a sign that I’m feeling something uncomfortable – and the desire to cry resonated as I thought about the whole concept of being a failure.
I failed at my first marriage. While we lived together for 4 years, my first marriage lasted less than 2 years. I broke what I believe to be a binding covenant with the man I’d made a life commitment to. He was/is a good man, had values and standards that I admired and appreciated but that wasn’t enough.
I failed as a Christian – I was a Christian throughout my childhood and teenage years, and God was such a big part of my life and my world as I knew it. I wasn’t sure that I could live without having Him in my life, so I set off on an adventure to see if I could. I was nineteen. I could and I did. I returned to my faith throughout most of my thirties and early forties, then started to drift away again. When I met my husband, he had no concept or understanding of God in the way I had, but accepted that I had a faith that I pretty much kept to myself. What I have experienced of God in the past I still believe – my faith in essence hasn’t changed – but I no longer call myself a Christian because I don’t know what that means anymore. I see the person I tried so hard to be, and the person I am now. I like the honesty of being who I am now – I swear (which I didn’t before) and it feels more real, like I’m being more authentic now in expressing how I really feel. Rather than holding it in and being seen to be ‘good’.
I’m significantly more selfish now. I put me first – rather than constantly trying to put others first. I don’t know how to blend together who I am now with what I think a Christian is. I dislike going to church and wonder if ‘church’ as I knew it is still relevant. Is going to church one of the mechanisms God wants me to participate in for the sake of ‘fellowship’ – when I’m not sure church equals fellowship. I don’t have a concept of what church should look like – but I know I don’t like the current set up. It’s too easy to go to church and go with the flow without participating on a deeper level; without actually connecting with God in any meaningful way. I don’t like it, don’t want to go, so I don’t. I don’t call myself a Christian – and there are lots of Christians out there that actually I don’t like very much. There are some great people too and I feel lucky and grateful for the authentic Christian friends I have.
I failed at having a ‘sensible’ career. I have done some very cool stuff over the years: I was a cook for a lord and lady in their summer home in the Scottish highlands; I helped set up a medical clinic in a village in rural Uganda, and a year later was part of a team who went into rural villages to educate villagers about AIDS. I’ve made some good decisions in terms of some of the roles I’ve taken on, and I’ve made some poor decisions which turned out to be painful learning opportunities – some of which I am probably still recovering from. At the very least I carry scars from some of the situations that have smacked around my self confidence. And I seem to not have the resilience I once had. It takes me longer to bounce back or maybe I don’t bounce quite as high as I once did. What I take out of this is that I have courage, and I like the courage I see in myself. I have a reserve of courage which has allowed me over the years to change jobs, change cities and towns, change the country and environment I live in, courage to face my own issues, courage to face life on my own, to start all over again, and again.
There are things I dislike about some of my previous choices and behaviours – but I can’t do anything to change the past. It is what it is. Maybe I can reframe my past failures as learning opportunities but I’m not sure how to do that. A few days ago I felt like I was growing up, now I feel very much like a ‘learner’ – similar to being a learner driver but this isn’t about driving, it’s about life. And I’m fifty-one, so I guess I must be a slow learner! Maybe I try to accept that sense of failure and turn it around so that instead of being a ‘failure’ I see myself as a ‘learner’ instead – and accept that I will always be a work in progress. I know I don’t need to hold on to the sense of failure but I’m unsure how to let it go; how to release myself from this psychological banner I’ve created that I see and don’t like.
As a learner, I must resign myself to the fact that I will always be a work in progress. And in accepting that, I feel as if I also need to find a sense of enjoyment in that. A quiet acceptance that this is how life is, continual learning because without learning there is no growth.