We filled a shopping cart with groceries from the local scratch and dent store this week. If you don’t have these where you live, let me just tell you that you are missing out. We didn’t have them where we lived in Illinois, not that I knew of anyway, but in Pennsylvania, there is at least one in every county, if not more.
Inside these groceries you will find shelves full of outdated, beat-up, dented and sometimes damaged goods. Our cart full of groceries cost us less than $70 and re-stocked some of our basic pantry needs, not to mention filled our shelves with snacks for summer.
While I am generally wary of food with expiration dates from a month or more ago, sometimes the food is just fine. Sometimes there are pallets of Cheez-its with March Madness marketing, no longer relevant on the shelves of the chain grocery stores, but the crackers are still edible. I notice this a lot more these days, that when the special marketing period ends, the value of the product decreases. I bought back-to-school name-brand tissues for half-price once because school had been in session for months.
It seems to me a waste to spend so much effort on marketing products like tissues for a season when they don’t actually “expire.” I think this is why I prefer Aldi so much these days, although even there, I am not free from the special deals and the target marketing.
Still I wonder: Why must the value of the product decrease because the external packaging is seen as outdated? Why is the quality in question because the container shows slight damage?
I didn’t really come here to talk about groceries. I’m not really sure what I’m doing here right now. Blogging these last few weeks has been a struggle to say the least. If you’re a regular reader, maybe you noticed the silence save for a book review or two. Maybe you didn’t notice at all.
I’ve noticed, but I’ve been trying to ignore what’s been slowly happening. I’ve been withdrawing from things. Retreating like a turtle into its protective shell, snapping at those who dare get close. (This, at least, is what happens in my mind. I’m not sure I’ve literally snapped at anyone.)
This year, I’m supposed to be cultivating tenderness in my life, and in a way, I have. But I misjudged the amount of hurt that can come with a tender heart, how easily one’s soul can bruise when it softens. Somewhere on the journey, I started building a shell around the tender heart. And with each new hurt, new perceived insult, I drew back a little more and a little more until I didn’t even realize I had retreated into a dark hole with no light, just me and my tender heart protected from a big, bad world.
I thought it would be safe in there. In a way it is. But the farther I retreated into the darkness, the scarier the world out there became and the only people I could call “friend” were the ones I knew could understand the darkness, whose hearts were as tender as my own. Everyone else, they were dangerous. Enemies.
I might have stayed there in my dark shell. I wanted to. I still sort of want to.
But the light is drawing me out.
I spend the majority of the time in my therapist’s office crying. Mostly, it’s my clue that whatever we’re talking about needs to be talked about. If it brings on tears, then I’m not okay with it. Sometimes, it’s entirely surprising.
During a recent appointment, we were cruising along talking about life and all of a sudden I’m bawling because I don’t want to go to church anymore. It’s not as simple as that, and I don’t want to drag it all out here, but my therapist started pulling on the loose threads of my arguments and before I knew it, I was a bare-naked soul with no solid answers for why I was feeling this way.
I left her office with raw emotions and a tear-stained face, thankful for a 25-minute drive and a couple of necessary errands before rejoining my family back at the house. She had reached into the shell and urged me to come out. And not only to emerge but to chip away at the shell encasing my heart. Where do these feelings come from? What birthed them? And what made them grow?
It would be easy to blame the election and politics and maybe there is some truth there. I have never before felt so much sadness and anger on a daily basis as I read articles, scroll social media and watch the news. I want someone to blame and “evangelicals” have been an easy target. I am angry that people who claim to love Jesus act in ways counter to the love of Jesus.
But if I am angry at them, I have to be angry at myself, too. Because me hating a group of people who don’t have faces or names because they hate people who don’t have faces or names is the definition of irony, I think. I have spent a lot of energy on anger in recent days. And that wouldn’t be a problem if I had let it fuel my actions. Instead, it has drained me, and I have lost a sense of purpose and passion. (My therapist used the D word–depression–and I’m not ready to go there again.)
I will spare you the specific laments I’ve been singing about my writing. Disappointment and discouragement have been unwelcome companions, and once again, I’ve wondered if I should just give it all up, the writing. (I won’t. I’m not.) In another session, my therapist provoked a question I hadn’t considered: What would it look like for me to write simply for the joy of writing? For the pleasure of the One who made me a writer? Not because I want more people to read my writing (even though I do). Not because I want to be published. (Also, yes.) Or because I’m being paid. (Just a little?)
But just because it is what I am meant to do.
I have not arrived at that place easily. Actually, I’m not there at all yet. Just on the way.
These feelings I have about church and evangelicals, they are tied to my desire to live in the city. In my mind, I am already there, but every day, I return to a house in the suburbs where I feel like I’m suffocating. Better to cut ties with the people in my “neighborhood” now before we move downtown, I think. If I’m honest, I am pushing people away, even if they don’t realize that’s what I’m doing, because I don’t think I belong and maybe I don’t want to belong and maybe they’ll reject me anyway so I’ll just go ahead and pre-reject myself.
Except I also had this realization: I tell people all the time that I don’t want to move to the city to save the city. That’s not what this desire is about. But I’m seeing that it’s possible I’m counting on the city to save me.
And it simply can’t.
Just like a person, if I expect the city to fix what’s wrong inside of me, if I move there thinking it will be what saves my soul and sanity, then I will find myself in a deeper state of disappointment.
The city can’t save me. It can’t heal me. It can’t fulfill my deepest longings.
For years, I’ve been told that only Jesus can do those things, and I do believe that He can. But it’s not as simple as it sounds.
It takes works. And I’m certain that He and I together can get to the source of these feelings.
I can’t promise I won’t snap or retreat to the darkness. But I tried something new at church on Sunday. I opened my hands to receive instead of balling them into fists preparing for a fight. It’s not easy to admit that my internal posture has been one of defense in the past months. Before I even set foot in the building, I was looking for a fight.
My words, my opinions, my voice–they still matter. What’s inside is still valuable, still useful, even if the outside is a little rough around the edges.