We take transformations for granted.
We hear the stories of butterflies and addicts recovered and children growing up suddenly, a new tooth here and a new word there.
I wish to point out that men do not transform.
Men are not caterpillars or flowers or birds bursting with a chirp from their shelled confines.
A young man choosing to serve a mission is not a transformation.
A young girl choosing to ignore her impulses and be healthy, instead, is not a shift from bad to good.
People are slow. People are linear. People are defined by paths and by choices, by twists and turns and stories.
People cannot transform, and it’s time we stop expecting them to.
People grow. People progress.
People change extraordinarily slowly.
When you hear a story of magical turnaround, a dramatic shift, a chain reaction both swift and effective in its immediacy, I want you to question it, because you are missing the most important and definitive part of their story: you are missing their choices.
You are forgetting how permanent an identity is.
You are ignoring the tiny things that they do every day that have inched them forward at an infinitesimal speed.
Stop taking transformation stories at face value. Long before people exhibit a change, their insides change. Their minds change, and they go through tiny reevaluations and reconsiderations and reconstruction, partially and slowly and very, very painfully.
Long before the neat, tidy story that you get to hear, there was a messy, long story that you don’t know at all.
Transformation takes time. It is slow.
Stop normalizing the immediate transformation.
In men and women, such a phenomenon does not exist.
Miracles are eternal. Miracles are complex.
Do you know why?
That is the nature of man.
I think we as a society need to spend more time understanding the fact that life is absolutely terrifying.
This week was a week of big changes, but the scariest was the realization that if I would like to get to my dream destination in life, I have to quit what I’m doing now.
And not even metaphorically.
Yes, friends; I quit my job.
Because of a lot of reasons, but mostly because what I wanted finally outweighed wanting to stay where I was.
This would be an excellent triumph if that was the end of my story. Wow, I wanted something, I went and got it. The end.
(That would be lovely. I wish.)
But what I want to focus on is what comes after a leap of faith, that feeling that fills you as you are flying over the chasm you so willfully flung yourself off of in that one moment of insane bravery.
Ah yes. I speak of unadulterated terror. Fear is the much-maligned understudy to faith, who appears when faith is unable to make it to the stage. Where faith expands, inspires, and enlightens, fear contracts, withdraws, and frightens. And fear is the unspoken second act to any great leap of faith. No matter the condition of your decision, no matter how positive you may have been, fear inevitably creeps in right after.
Fear is vital. Fear reminds you of why you decided to act on faith.
For example, in quitting my job, I felt rising within me a strangling anxiety that I would not end up where I am meant to, that my life would be meaningless and devoid of purpose. Now, reflect on my choice to leave: I wanted to go because my work environment did not match with my values. I objected most strongly to the spirit of my workplace environment and the morally bankrupt leadership. I worried it would endanger my options. Fear that I feel now revolves around the same issue of direction and purpose. Fear is instructive if you can calm it enough to listen.
Let me draw another comparison. Being scared, anxious, and afraid is like trying to understand a crying child. You know SOMETHING is wrong, and you want to help, but you have exactly 0 chance of helping until you know what’s going on, so you must soothe and comfort, wait and listen, deduce and discern, until the truth will out.
Faith proves you are willing to leap.
Fear shines a light on your values and goals.
God ensures the leap takes you where you need to go.
And then, faith is needed again. To go where he wants us to go, over and over again, each time we land.
So be afraid. Be very afraid.
Maybe even sad and a little angry or confused or disoriented.
Where you end up isn’t that important.
But congratulations on taking that leap!
There is something important at the corner of struggle and success. It reveals a lot about your purpose.
What has been the hardest for you? What aches in the background of your mind, provides the backdrop for your whole life?
What feels like a companion more familiar to you than anyone or anything else?
That is your wisdom.
That is your trial.
That is your compassion.
And next, where do you succeed?
What is easier for you than breathing out? What comes more naturally to you than sleeping when you are tired?
What about you feels more automatic than blinking or sneezing?
Most vitally of all, where do those two things in you meet?
If you can understand that, you will have glimpsed your raison d’etre.
And you will help a million billion people.
Heal a thousand shattered hearts, and
Hold a hundred messy lives in your careful hands. You will be uniquely equipped to do it.
Treasure your gifts. Appreciate the benefits of your struggle. Marry the wisdom and heartbreak…
Help someone else.
Greek myths. Full of finite wisdom and infinite potential application. One in particular captures my attention at length and for no solid reason. Atlas. Atlas with the world borne up on his shoulders. Atlas, quivering from the core in an intense effort to bear that weight.
Ayn Rand, misanthropist philosopher as she was, handily explained what I feel now in the title of a renowned novel. Quite simply she called it “Atlas Shrugged”.
And so it is with me tonight. Tonight I shrug from under the weight of the burden. Heroes are not implacable. Divinity evades mine eyes and peaceable humility is that which I lack yet. Even Atlas shrugged.
If there is pain in the world, I have felt it.
If agony has clawed my brain and ruined my heart and if I could die a million times over
and subsequently have my voice heard
It would all be worth it.
My anger is suffocating
Crowded out only by my fear and pain
I believe in an all-knowing God
And that fact turns to condemnation as it spills from my lips. I cry brokenly at God “you knew?” Incredulously, indignantly, ignorantly. I am pain. I am pain in a cocoon of pains and when I burst forth it is only as fire. It only grows as I confront it. The very fact of the existence of the feeling of betrayal makes it worse. Wretched wretch that I am. I cannot contain the wailing of this tormented soul, racked and ripped into shreds. I am belligerent wreckage.
Yet the sun shines on hardened ice-covered stalactalite, and the blue coldness of my fear is illuminated and clear. It becomes noble in the light of the sun and my weeping is sorrowful and forgiveness hugs my shoulders and ennobles this struggle. I wish it were not noble. But I have hope in a more sobering pain. A pain that turns wild things into wonders and weak things into scars.
And my screams turn into sighs and my sighs morph into sleep, and from there, rest kindly lays my agonies to bed, and finally the light takes the red and my eyes are not shut and my heart and my head are united, instead.
This is what it means to grow up.
I used to believe that the way we get past bad things is that they went away. After it was gone, you could begin healing.
Now I know differently. Things do not go away, not by magic or by providence or by accident. What actually happens is that you learn to grow in spite of it, maybe because of it. And when the day finally comes that the thing does leave, if that day ever comes, you will hardly notice its going because it has ceased to bother you. This is the strength in growing up, because it is so much more than the passing of time and events. It means something. It means becoming more, different, more thoughtful, careful, wise, kind, better. This is what it means to grow up.