For me, this summer has been filled with celebration of growth and anticipation of where that growth is leading, as it likely has been for many other high school graduates. Despite my many anxieties about adulthood, I’m excited to take that next step towards responsibility and self-sufficiency. As I looked forward to taking that step, however, I realized that I needed to make a conscious effort to move on from some defining characteristics of recent years (hence the whole “growth” thing). Apart from this personal goal, my mom had one last imperative for me. “Before you turn 18 and move out, you have to read the book An Arrow Pointing To Heaven,” she said. Never one to shy away from a reading assignment, I ordered a copy of this “devotional biography” about Rich Mullins, written by James Bryan Smith.
Rich Mullins was a Christian artist and performer in the 80’s and 90’s until he tragically passed away in a car accident. I remember hearing his music as a young boy in the car on the way to church. Some of his most well-known songs include “Awesome God” and “Step By Step”. As I read through this book about his life and legacy, I find myself wishing that I could have been his friend, if only for the possibility that some of his seemingly-innate wisdom and understanding of who God is might rub off on me. I also understand why my mom would want me to read this before I move out (even if “moving out” from our dorm apartment just means moving downstairs). I could write pages of notes from each chapter (and have done so, but I won’t post them all here). One quote from Rich really stuck out to me in relation to my own growth and search for self-sufficiency:
“I think everyone thinks if you have struggles in your life it’s because you’re not really filled with the Holy Spirit, or you’re not really reading your Bible daily, or you’re doing something wrong. I think life, by nature, is a struggle.”
It’s the kind of thought that I skim through at first, thinking “Well, duh.” But fifteen seconds later, I had to reread the whole paragraph, after the truth in the words finally hit its mark. He goes on to discuss 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul’s explanation of the “thorn” in his flesh and his three pleas to God to relieve him of it. If Paul of all people, Rich asks, experienced struggles throughout his life, why are we under the misconception that life should be a breeze?
At first glance, it seems the obvious conclusion that life is hard. Bad stuff happens, and we all just have to deal with it. Looking a little deeper reveals that life is indeed a struggle – one that can only be won through Christ. I’ve always been curious about what Paul’s “thorn” is, and I’m not smart enough to theorize about the metaphor’s meaning. His analogy is fitting, though. A few years ago, I was playing with some neighborhood kids, battling with makeshift swords, when somehow part of the stick I was holding ended up lodged under my right thumb’s nail. In that moment, I understood why jamming bamboo splinters under fingernails was used as a form of torture. We ended up going to the hospital to have a professional tweeze out the splinters, but even then, one small piece didn’t come out until the nail had grown and forced it out.
Looking back at my defining characteristics now, examining life as Paul or Rich might, I wonder what thorns I might attempt to tweeze out. As an introvert, and a particularly anxious one at that, I often find myself caught in a vicious spiral of loneliness that typically leads to more confusion. (My parents tell me I have too much T and not enough F in my Myers-Briggs personality type. My fellow INTJ’s, can I get an amen?) This struggle is hardly specific to me, but I suppose that’s the irony of it: everyone thinks they’re alone in their loneliness. I suspect mine in particular stemmed from an inability to deal with emotions well without generally making them worse, but I’ve tried many times to resolve the confusion. “Maybe I can just deny it.” I tried that junior year, writing a too-long argumentative essay on the perils of close adolescent relationships. Now that I’ve graduated, I’ve found myself simply searching for other excuses for hiding. “Maybe if I force myself into this social situation, I’ll be cured.” And when that (unsurprisingly) failed: “Maybe I’ll just avoid everyone and everything and commit to my life as a hermit.” While I stand by my belief that a hermit life in the mountains would be fun (as long as I still have wifi and Chick-Fil-A nearby), it is not the answer to my problems. Apparently running away from life’s problems is “unhealthy”, and hyper-attaching is called “codependency”, and both are generally frowned upon. Thankfully and amazingly, God has been patient with me long enough for me to hear him say, as he said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Or, from Rich Mullins’ song “My One Thing”: “Who have I in Heaven but You, Jesus?/And what better could I hope to find down here on earth?” Maybe I can’t be self-sufficient as I’d hoped, but I’m learning (slowly) that it’s ok not to be.
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10