Self-reflection can be draining. You start thinking of where you need to improve, all the stupid things you've done in your life, all the time wasted, and before you know it, "self-reflection" has devolved into, "self-condemnation" and that is quickly followed by, "self-hatred."
The Bible is arguably enigmatic in some passages, but the command to, "love thy neighbor as thyself" is pretty straightforward. We are not supposed to hate ourselves; we are supposed to be kind to ourselves and practice forgiveness on the person whose faults, flaws, and mistakes we know best: ourself. If we don't know how to love ourself (not in a narcissistic way, mind you, but in a genuine, raw, honest way - "warts and all" - as the saying goes), how are we supposed to love others?
I have wasted so many moments - precious hours; sometimes weeks on end - in the dark spaces of self-loathing. I condemn myself for long-past mistakes. I get impatient with my seemingly never-satisfied hunger for self-improvement. I've lived more decades that I'd like to admit, yet I still cannot completely answer the question, "whaddya wanna be when you grow up?!" It is maddening, this sense of always being on a quest for self-discovery.
I look at those who have had one career their entire adult life. The successful lawyers who didn't spend almost a decade being a musician prior to law school. The successful musicians who stayed the course when finances got frighteningly tight and didn't "sell out" to an entirely different career. The professional horsemen and women who opted to be "poor" but happy, riding almost every day of their life, instead of this equine enthusiast who sometimes goes weeks without doing more than mucking stalls in the wee hours of both morning and night after working incredibly long days trying to pay the mortgage.
What DO I want to be when I grow up? And why has my own life's journey taken so many twists and turns and I still feel like I've yet to arrive at the answer to the question: WHO ARE YOU, ESTHER?!
I want to be a full-time writer. I want to write things that inspire people to be kind and wise. I want to rescue horses and all types of animals. I want to STOP cruelty - to animals and humans. I want to be creative every day. I love to learn new musical instruments. I love to help people solve problems. I love to teach others. I love to learn. I love to explore new places and new cultures and new ideas. I love to be in nature. I also enjoy getting dressed up fancy sometimes and attending elegant concerts. I enjoy interacting with all types of animals. I don't mind manual labor. Who am I? What is my purpose in life? Why can't I seem to settle into a specific field of labor or "lane" of life?
I don't have any quick answers to these questions, but recently I did have a moment of enlightenment that has brought me some measure of peace with respect to my own meandering path through life.
Yes, I was once a professional pianist. For years. And I played various church jobs over the years. In January of this year, after almost fifteen years off the bench, I took a church job at a small United Methodist church in a little town in East Tennessee. It's about forty miles from my farm, but the congregation is so warm and welcoming, and the choir director is so incredibly gifted, and the choir is so sincere and hilarious, and the piano is such a fine instrument, the drive is well worth my time. There's a stunningly beautiful stained glass window in this church's sanctuary; I've attached a photograph of it so you can appreciate its beauty. And every Sunday for six months now, once I've accompanied the choir to sing their weekly anthem, I come off the piano bench and sit in a pew and listen to the preacher preach while studying that lovely work of art behind her.
Every individual piece of colored glass is so strikingly beautiful! The deep hues of indigo and violet; the bright bursts of sunflower gold and rich ruby red! Caribbean green shards and olive green slivers; lavender and coral and so many subtle hues! The artisan - whoever he or she was - that designed and crafted that stained glass window was a Master at his or her craft. The window inspires me with its myriad hues that do not compete with one another but, rather, flow together in such a strikingly beautiful whole that the work would be incomplete if so much as one piece were changed.
As I sat in that lovely little church last Sunday, once again admiring that lovely window, I was struck by the parallels between those hundreds of brightly gleaming shards of glass and my own wandering path through life.
Each and every choice I've made, whether wise or ridiculous, is a spot of color on the window of my own life. Living this life, walking my path, I am too close to my own life to have sufficient perspective to see the overall beauty in the collective whole. If I stood close to that stained glass window, as opposed to sitting in a pew where I can view the entire work of art, I would see only this blue piece or that goldenrod one. So it is with my life.
The musician pieces and the student pieces and the lawyer pieces and the equestrienne pieces and the farmgirl pieces and the elegant pieces and the mistakes and the moments of brilliance and the kind moments and the silly moments and the stupid moments (how I hate those, but they teach lessons one never forgets!) and the painful moments and the blissful moments - they all connect over time to form a collective whole that I hope God finds beautiful. And I hope His (Her?) light shines through me sufficiently to illuminate all the colors for others to see. The mistakes will hopefully give another hope that they, too, will survive years of self-condemnation and eventually come to some modicum of self-forgiveness. The kind moments will hopefully inspire others to be kind. The creative moments will hopefully motivate others to hone their own gifts. Oh! How I hope my life will eventually shine in a bright spectrum of colors that will bring beauty and joy to others!
This thought - that perhaps my wandering journey is actually a beautiful and carefully created work of art, wrought by the Master Creator - not only inspires me to do more, be more, and try harder; it also soothes my angst when the demon of self-condemnation torments me with thoughts of "wasted" years and "lost" opportunities and "stupid" decisions.
I wish I knew the artist who created that stained glass window in the little United Methodist church. I wish I could tell him or her just how grateful I am that they created that beautiful work of art. I wish they could somehow understand just how much that window has uplifted me and inspired me and given me hope that perhaps my own life is not a patchwork of endless and fruitless self-searching, but, rather, a life that is full to overflowing with beauty and opportunities for growth.