Hi! If you’d like to start and read The Middle in sequential order, start here! This book is written wildly, chapters out of order in the sequence they occurred in my life. They are written wildly for a reason. The middle of our lives is a lot of things, but it is most certainly wild.
On Building Boxes
“If I were strong enough, this wouldn’t be happening.”
“If I were good, I wouldn’t want this.”
“If I were enough, I could fix this.”
These were all mantras for me during the years 2014 /15 and into 2016 . Replaying over and over in my mind, as I stepped into a world I didn’t recognize and walked away from all the familiar places I’d been.
It’s a weird thing to start over at 35. I said a lot back then that I felt like a toddler again, learning and relearning, stumbling around as I went.
The thing is this: I never really thought I had been living a life built around perfection. I truly believed I was celebrating my humanity, and my own inability to be perfect. I named my business around the concept for crying out loud.
But it’s easy to talk about an imperfect life when life still looks pretty damn perfect. When the pieces still fit together seamlessly and to the outside world, you have a lot “together.” That imperfect looks very different from the imperfect I walked into. (chuckling as I type this)
Without realizing it, we are so very often building boxes for ourselves. Building rules. Constructing our own shiny version of imperfect. We carefully build the boxes, painting it our favorite colors and hanging the right drapes, and decorating the outside with sparkles and bells and whistles and our own unmoving positions on what the box should look like. What life is, and what it is not. Who we are, and who we are not. What we are allowed to do, and what we are not.
And in the building of our boxes, and the forming of our unmoving ideals, we acquire emotional bed sores.
The unmoving, unwavering fixed positions we carefully, and almost always, accidentally construct inside our boxes. One of my biggest, most painful bed sores was this: That if my faith was all it was cracked up to be, this surely couldn’t be happening. That if my strength was all it was cracked up to be, it wouldn’t. That without my (emphasis on the perfectly) imperfect life looking just so, that I didn’t get to have that faith anymore. That I must be a fraud.
And then, well, God felt gone. Connection to the world around me felt gone. Entirely gone.
I didn’t want it to feel that way. I never prided myself on some legalistic view of the divine, and never felt I was supposed to be perfect or have it all figured out to have that deep connection with the world around me.
But when life looked as imperfect as it gets, it all felt…hollow. My bed sores were screaming at me that I wasn’t quite as good as I had imagined.
And then, God showed up for me in the most extraordinary of ways. This universe showed up in the simplest, most extraordinary way. Through a small, a very small, handful of humans. All struggling in their own way. All gloriously, ridiculously imperfect.
And I was shown a new way.
A way where imperfect was actually imperfect, and where admitting exhaustion and asking for help was actually strong.
In the beginning there were a few. And then there were 6. And then there were 10. It took time for me to let other people back in and forgive it all, and my unlearning was sticky at best.
Me slowly tending to the bed sores as I moved in a new way and began building a new box.
The difference is this box looks more like a platform. There are no sides holding me, and no unmoving beliefs inside to suffocate me while I hurt. There is no lid, there are no walls.
We should be building ourselves, dear ones, not the rules we so hope to cling to. We should be building resilience to change the box, over and over and over again. And we should remember this truth: no matter how pretty, no matter how beautiful, the box is still only made of cardboard.
What it holds, on the inside, is the real treasure. The real truth. Ever changing, ever learning (and unlearning), always building, never lying in fixed positions. The box doesn’t hold unmoving rules.
What it holds is us.