If you are just joining this conversation, you are reading my series on rediscovering the power and life-changing nature of hope. I realized that I was missing something very important in about 2015, when my depression, anxiety, sense of isolation and low self-worth finally became too much to bear. That’s how my journey began! If you want to read about what led me to what I’ll share below, I recommend checking out the Intro, Part 1 and Part 2. They’re quick reads!
Once I saw what I had missed out on in my life, began to learn to walk away and started feeling my core being shift, e v e r s o s l i g h t l y, I started thinking in terms of, “Maybe there’s a way to replace what I missed out on.” But we can’t go back in time and I had already grieved the past, so what could I do? Where can a 27 year old suburban gal find herself a father figure, without marrying a significantly older guy, or freaking out all the wives in her immediate social circle by pursuing their husbands for advice and hugs?
Because that sounds like a nightmare. And like no-female-mentors-ville.
And there, quite suddenly, I realized I had a wealth of older men in my life whose off-handed kind words I could sew together and create not a father, but an overarching fatherly presence! They are the men at my church, at my work, in my choir, in my family, and even my counselor. No one can be everything to one person, and they are not my father(s), so it would be insane for me to lean on one of them for all of it! But I can glue their encouraging words, their jokes, their kind questions and their hugs together—whatever they’re able to give—and make it something that gives me the fatherly foundation everyone needs. I tell you, this has completely changed my understanding of faith community and has huge implications for everyone in the church. No one parent can be everything their child needs, yet we act like that’s possible! I’m beginning to think that this is what God meant by community–putting each other back together, to the best of our ability. I need to think about this more.
Anyways! I essentially, intentionally, thoughtfully and committedly accepted and took in those positive interactions I was blessed with by kind male figures in my life. To maintain appropriate boundaries, I don’t pursue these conversations, but whenever they have a kind word, I store it away. Just picture a squirrel, storing away nuts for a hard time. No doubt without them being aware, I often reach into this file when I am not sure about myself and will repeat something one of them said to me (names changed to my favorite authors…because):
John says that I am poised and mature. Therefore, I can handle this.
Aleksandr says that I brighten his day. Therefore, I belong here and I matter.
Lewis says that he likes my music. Therefore, I should give it a shot.
This may sound crazy to you. But the proof is in the pudding, my loves. It turns out, it really helps to know that a dad believes in you and will have your back. Shocker. Who knew I could be confident in voicing my opinions, in dealing with the fallout and surviving social storms! Who knew that all it took to get me playing my music at venues, was believing that my amalga-dad would support me? Who would have guessed? Those child development psychologists really know what they’re talking about. And, truly, who cares if he’s a strange conglomeration of all the men your life?! Ya gotta do, whatcha gotta do. And, since you’re not putting expectations on any one of them, for more than they can provide (they have their own kids and grandkids), everyone is fulfilled and free. Incredible.
Solitude and Groups.
On the first Saturday of this year, I had the opportunity to attend a spiritual retreat called Day of Solitude. From about 10am to 4p, attendees took a vow of silence and wandered around a beautiful retreat center in Palos Verdes. For some of the time, I set up camp in my chair by a fountain. There was a maze you could walk, which really tested my fortitude for waiting. I prayed, wrote in my journal, meditated and, yes, napped. The entire experience was difficult but hugely refreshing. Things I didn’t want to think about couldn’t be avoided, and I had to work through several internal pressure points. It was also a great time to review the different things I had learned in 2018 and think back on where I was in January of the previous year. Afterwards, I had more clarity on where I had been, where I currently was in certain areas of my life, and where I wanted to go. While I have not taken a whole day to be in solitude and silence since then, I have made a conscious effort to be alone every day, for a little while. This is where some of my best creative ideas and most important revelations blossom.
On the other side, I was also part of several small groups over the last few years. I attended the incredible Emotionally Healthy Discipleship (EHD) courses, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Emotionally Healthy Relationships (offered by Mariners church in Irvine). They changed the way I viewed my emotions–no longer as things to be pushed down, but as symptoms to be listened to. That was hugely transformational. I also attended the ROOTED group, at my own church, and got to look at the foundations of my beliefs with new eyes. I wouldn’t have been ready for ROOTED without EHD and I am so glad that I did both. The point here is that I needed both purposeful solitude and silence, and groups to facilitate my journey.
Now, this section is where my journey towards hope gets a little muddy, because (as I will talk about later) development tends to snowball. After a while, when you’ve gained some momentum, it’s hard to define the interplay between learning, counseling, practice and whatever else you are doing. I would say the timeline becomes less linear and more like a web. But I will definitely say that reading, watching videos, and journaling were a huge part of my journey and accelerated a process that has made my life actually livable. Here is the list of what I know has helped me, in some way:
Books: Boundaries (Cloud & Townsend), The Art of Possibility (Zander), The Gifts of Imperfection (Brown), Outliers (Gladwell), Uninvited (TerKeurst), The Alchemist (Coelho), Braving the Wilderness (Brown), 12 Rules for Life (Peterson), Mere Christianity (Lewis), The Practice of the Presence of God (Brother Lawrence), The Entitlement Cure (Townsend), The Gulag Archipelago (Solzhenitsyn), Rooted Study Guide, The Bible
Videos: Charisma on Command (YouTube Channel), Bite Sized Philosophy’s Jordan Peterson videos (On Feeling Guilty, Inadequate and Self-Conscious, Don’t Use a Tragic Past as an Excuse To Not Move Forward, Advice for People with Depression, We Are Built for Struggle, etc.)
People: Jesse Itzler, Jordan B. Peterson, Tom Bilyeu (spent 10 hours answering questions, from complete strangers after an entrepreneurship event; blew my mind), Jesus Christ
Now, the amount of information I took in was too much to actively remember, but I learned to trust that—when a realization stopped me in my tracks and shifted my thinking—it would take root. There’s no way to keep everything you learn at the front of your mind, but what you put into your head will find its way back out again.
Now, to encourage anyone who is trying to change themselves, my thoughts changed much, much sooner than my actions did. I often got frustrated by this. But time shows the pattern. My negative thoughts became fewer and farther between, perhaps one a day instead of five a day. Months passed, and they started being separated by a couple days. I found that I no longer defined a day by the worst emotion I had experienced in it. I began to believe that a spat of depression would not last, that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, at the very least. Then, once I got through a few of those, I knew that I could survive and thrive, even amidst difficulty. My dark days became lighter, and my good days became less a respite from grief, and more the norm. This took years.
It’s 2019 and I started this process in 2015. There is no rush to it. There is only the desire to change and making tiny shifts, to get there. I spent some of this time trying to make myself feel better. This concept is ludicrous. It’s like breaking your arm and loading up on painkillers, as a care plan. I needed to find the source (past hurt) of the symptom (depression) and address it, with a combination of God, other people, the vast expanse of information available to me, and inward reflection. Too little of one of these, and I found myself getting out of balance.
Too little God? It’s easy to fall into the self-development pit of cutting people out of your life completely and being a generally forsaken, bitter person.
Too little people? I found myself avoiding the complication of community, as if I would come back to it perfect and whole in the future. Nah. You have to grow within community, or you’re not growing, because the second someone irks you—boom! You’re right back where you started.
Too little information? Running and rerunning over things you already know, but can’t seem to get still, is extremely discouraging. The fact is, there is nothing new under the sun, but there are thousands of people who have found different ways of saying it. Because these things are hard to understand! Keep letting information pass over you, until you find that speaker, podcast, person who says it in a way that makes it stick. Invaluable.
Too little inward reflection? I am an introvert, so it goes without saying that I need alone time to survive. But that doesn’t mean all alone time is created equal. I can waste my alone time and, even, journal-time, not actually going over what happened that day or just surfing the internet. When I journal, I can get too focused on what is bothering me, instead of asking ‘why does that bother me?’ There will always be irritations in life. Growth and strength aren’t found in eliminating irritations in your habitat. How we react to irritants is where the real growth and the real strength can be found.