During my weekly, though more often monthly, dates with myself I have been reading A Circle of Quiet. I didn’t really discover Madeleine L’Engle until I was in college, I have enjoyed the Time Quintet. I have also tinkered with Walking on Water, skimming through it, but never finishing it. Then one of my favorite bloggers, Modern Mrs. Darcy, recommended A Circle of Quiet. She called it one of those books that helps her know she isn’t crazy. So I added it to my paperback swap list. My wish was granted three of four times and each time I deferred. I just wasn’t ready to read it. Then finally I accepted the book and it arrived on my door step, but I still didn’t read it. It sat on the floor next to my bed under extension cords, my contact lens kit and other random books.
I needed something to read during my writing nights, my night’s off, my dates with myself. I needed a way to engage my brain before I picked up my work, but not an assignment.
Last week as I sat down I opened to my bookmark, and the first sentence jumped off the page at me.
But what about the self-image?
It couldn’t have been a more perfect topic for my mindset lately. Yet, L’Engle’s take was one I hadn’t expected. She theorizes that my more we focus on finding who we really are, the faker we become. She also warns us to be careful of our mirrors.
“I made the mistake of thinking that I ‘ought’ not to write because I wasn’t making money, therefore in the eyes of many people around me, I had no business to spend hours every day at the typewriter. I felt a failure not only because my book weren’t being published but because I couldn’t emulate neighboring New England housewives. I was looking in the wrong mirrors.”
This rings true in my soul. The more time I spend trying to figure out who I am, the less certain I seem to be. The more I try to do to become the person I think I should be, the less success I feel at everything I touch. Not to say that there is no benefit in self-improvement, but the question must be asked, why am I trying to change myself, is it really an improvement and for whom am I am making the change?
As I remake my wardrobe in the impossible quest to feel more stylish (which I’ve discovered is pretty much impossible since styles seem to change so quickly and my clothing budget is not unlimited) is it for me or to prove something to others? As I try to teach my daughter rather than letting her play, is it because she really needs to learn or that I need to instruct or is it because I feel like I have to prove that we’re “doing school?” The bottom line, in so many areas of my life is, who am I trying to justify myself to? It isn’t really about me. The more I focus on me, the more consistent I become, the more I clean up my personality and person, the less real I become.
Toward the end of the chapter, L’Engle tells the story of taking on a country church choir while still battling failure on the writing front. She sat one night listening to the rehearsal and lamenting her recent rejection slip and thought.
“Is this all I’m good for? To direct a second-rate choir in a village church?”
She refers to this level of despair as being one of her definitions of sin.
Yikes! How often have I said those same kind of things to myself?
“Is this all I’m good for? To wipe snotty noses and dirty bottoms, do battle with filthy kitchen floor, to constantly grapple with the flood of laundry, to read Go, Dog, Go again and again until I want to scream?”
The question I must ask, is this sin? To degrade my daily activities and my current life pursuit, discouraging as it may be. To define my success based on the mirrors of my culture that tell me I must be issued a paycheck to be significant, that I must either be ignorant or wasting my education to spend my day with these creatures who don’t care about or appreciate my talents and abilities. I’m not sure. But I know it isn’t good. It doesn’t affirm my sense of self.
I may not be sure of who I am, but I know who I do not want to be. I don’t want to be bitter, complaining, cynical or ungrateful. But I don’t know how to stop. This would be a great place to talk about my grand goal of being a better mother and how I’m going to do that. But, sorry, no. I don’t have those kind of answers.
Here is what I do know. I want to learn more about why I, and all of humanity, mattered enough that a supreme being sent his only son to die? What does that mean for me, my value, my desires and dreams? I want to look at my children not as ungrateful yuppie larva (our secret pet name for them in the late night depths of frustration) but as beings desperately in need of love, and care. I wish I had a filter for the whines, the screams, the toddler tantrums and preschool meltdowns. I can’t say that I will treasure each moment. That kind of platitude does no one any good. But I will try to see them differently. To see myself differently or perhaps, just less. He must increase and I must decrease.