I tried this experiment way back when, writing advice columns to myself, finding a voice and a space in this blog to record the words that I wish I could hear in my own mind... the words that carry the wisdom of my mentors and my friends and the bits and pieces of Rainer and Mary Oliver and Pablo and others. This week I want to write about a lesson that a very wise person I know and love taught me.
I have to do something I don't want to do. I have to have a conversation I don't want to have, put words in the air that change things, speak honesty where I've been avoiding it. I really don't want to. I keep convincing myself that God couldn't want me to do something I'm afraid of, that God couldn't possibly really be asking me to do that, right? Because well, you know, isn't there a way around it? If I just give it enough time, or space, if I let the words percolate for another few months or so, won't it there be an easier and better time for it? Or maybe I won't have to, at all? Hilary, how do we do this?
Not Wanting To
Dear Not Wanting To,
It was the winter of my freshman year of college. December, I think, just after Christmas in that strange in-between time when all the chaos has mostly subsided and everyone is picking stray ribbons off their sweaters and lugging one more cardboard mountain to the curb. I was sitting on my couch, in my living room, about to go visit one of my favorite high school mentors, and after that, well, I had these plans to "hang out" with a guy I'd had an on-again-off-most-of-the-time-so-really-it-was-never-on... thing with. I knew exactly what "hanging out" with him meant. I wanted to. As I was waiting for my dad to get ready to leave, I whispered this really quick prayer, not even really a prayer. "Jesus, be with me today." That's all. A sentence. And then I trudged through the snow to the car and we drove to my high school.
I'll keep this story short, Not Wanting To, because the point is somewhere about three hundred paragraphs of thoughts down the road, and I want to get there a bit faster. I had this moment as I was meeting with my high school mentor, as I was drinking Earl Grey tea and watching the steady drip of melting ice out the window - when I heard this voice in my head. You can't have both, Hilary. You can't have Me with you and have him. You have to choose. The voice spoke with such clarity that I about jumped out of my chair and spilled scalding tea on my lap. But there it was: the truth, shining like the unrepentant neon signs on the freeway: You have to choose.
I ended the meeting and I called my mentor, this very wise person who defies words, really, for the place she has had in my life. And I told her, "I just made a level 6 decision." We'd been talking about decision making for a while, and about how we do obedient things, how we choose what is difficult but right. Level 6 is when you decide because it's right: you know it is scary beyond belief and maybe hard and almost always against what your heart and mind want in that moment, but searing through it all is that clear voice, that bright beam of neon truth that says, "This is what I have to do."
This mentor taught me to believe in level 6. To believe that despite how hard we think it's going to hurt, or how long we think the road ahead is, or how very much we wish God was telling us to take it easy on this one... we can choose what is right. We begin slowly, Not Wanting To, and by honestly examining that impulse. Ask yourself: why don't I want to do that? Answer honestly: because it sucks, because it's hard, because shouldn't I just get to do what I want anyway like everyone else, because if I want to hang out with a guy that actually doesn't like me and make out with him then shouldn't I just be able to???
But listen to that voice next to the smaller, quieter one. The one that doesn't push its way to the front, but that just says, "You can't have both." That small voice is the bright beam of neon truth. That voice is the level 6 voice. That voice is the way we do this.
We all face the awful obedient things, Not Wanting To, whether we are 21 or 57 or 98. We all face the choices that we would rather not face: have a tough conversation or clean the sink for the 99th time, or revise one more powerpoint, or say no to "hanging out". But on the other side of the awful obedient things lies the wisdom and the joy. On the other side you will find a different kind of fullness. On the other side of that awful obedience is the truth.