About 8 years ago, including most of college before starting grad school here at UW,…
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:26-27
When I was growing up, I was told that every word of the Bible is to be taken literally. It was the direct word of God, and I was told that it has all the answers. When I couldn’t find the solution I was looking for within its pages, I thought that I wasn’t trying hard enough to read between the lines. I’ve always been a pretty straightforward person, so at the time this logic made perfect sense to me. God knows all the answers, and if it is Their Word written in this book, then it must have all of the answers too. After going through a difficult time in my life, I decided to abandon my faith because no matter how hard I tried and how in-depth I analyzed each verse, I couldn’t seem to understand how God would create a path for me that only lead to isolation and exclusion from the church due who I love, mental health struggles, and innate curiosity of things that I don’t understand.
I arrived on campus my freshman year to be greeted by a sign telling me to bring all of who I am. Facing a lot of uncertainty and anxiety surrounding my past religious experiences, I decided to take a leap of faith and join the freshman small group. During my time in this group, I had all kinds of questions because, for one of the first times in my life, I was not afraid to speak up. One day in particular, I must have been too caught up in the specifics of the passage because Erica told me that sometimes, I need to be okay with ambiguity. While the meaning of those words is simple enough, the prospect of letting go was daunting. I’ve spent my whole life planning every detail and to some extent, still do. Since I was in middle school, I’ve known that I want to be a psychologist. In high school, I spent hours researching each dorm and deciding which would be the best fit for my personality and how exactly I wanted my college experience to go. Looking back on it, Erica’s timing was impeccable, and I couldn’t have known the impact that her words would have on me, even now.
Not even a year later, a global pandemic sent us into a way of life that I never could have planned for. On top of the already drastic changes in daily routine and living that we were all experiencing, during my junior year, I needed emergency hand surgery, was struggling financially, and was on a six-month-long wait list for my continuing mental health struggles. What I hadn’t understood was that trying to plan things that I couldn’t control would only succeed in isolating me from the people that I care about, doubting myself, and feeling incredibly anxious at the prospect of simply living my life.
I spent a lot of time alone during that time thinking about where God would take me next and how I could best prepare myself for it. It felt as if there was a war going on between myself and the world around me and the harder I tried to push, the harder life fought back. I want you all to know that there is no shame in asking for help from those you care about as well as professionals. During this journey, I took extra care to reach out to spend time with friends when it was safe to do so, even when I felt like getting out of the house was a challenge. I also met weekly with a therapist who was able to provide me with ways to cope with these feelings. Eventually, I began to realize that I was keeping myself caged instead of allowing myself to take each day as it comes, like the birds in the scripture.
As time passed and I began to heal not only in my body but also in my mind and spirit, things started to fall into place on their own. Not to say that I didn’t try to play a part in molding my future but instead that we as creations of God are resilient and determined to survive no matter what life throws at us. I began to learn that God didn’t put me here to live in a constant state of happiness and perfection; instead, I was born to simply be.
As paradoxical as it sounds, the key to having more stability in my faith and trust in God was to simply let go of the expectations that have been set by myself and others. The Serenity Prayer, which many are familiar with, reads, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”. By attaching myself to a constant worry of the unknown, I was making myself unnecessarily miserable. I also didn’t allow myself to take in the moment and be mindful about how much spontaneous beauty is in the world around me.
The birds in the sky aren’t occupied where they will be in a year or if they are cared for. They are focused on their next steps. When danger approaches, that is when their focus turns to how to keep themselves safe. They were put on this earth to simply be. When we take the time to live this way, we have more energy to love ourselves and others, just as God intended for us.
As I’ve been going through this journey and learning to stop resisting ambiguity, I’ve felt more free every day and even paved the way for new experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to pursue. I’ve learned to love others and myself for who we are instead of being attached to an idea of who everyone is supposed to be. I’ve been able to admit to myself that maybe I don’t always know what is best. I’ve created a life that is full of spontaneity, love, and doing things simply to enjoy them rather than be “productive” or reach an impossible goal that I set for myself.
When I was in an unhealthy mindset, it was very easy to convince myself that the only things worth doing were those that were going to directly help me improve my life. I’ve always been a big fan of reading, but soon my love for books began to fade because I was too concentrated on the numbers and reading as many books as possible. I never took the time to read a book or watch a movie simply to enjoy it. Now I realize that time spent doing things that I enjoy is never time wasted. I go for long walks without rushing or having a destination in mind. I create art without worrying that it’s “good enough” to show others. I dance and sing in my bedroom every morning without worrying about who is going to hear me. Life is so much more fulfilling when I remind myself my value does not change based on how successful I am.
It’s not always easy to live this way and I will likely be struggling with anxiety for the rest of my life, but everyone grows at their own pace and on their own timeline. It is important to take the time to be grateful for now. The worst-case scenario probably won’t happen, and if it does, spending more time thinking about it probably won’t prevent it. All I can tell myself is that I’ve been through some extremely difficult things in my life, I can do it again, and I will worry about how to move forward when I get there. Like the birds in the verse and all the rest of God’s creations, we are worthy and loved and will be provided for. So instead of asking yourself, “What if everything goes wrong?”, remind yourself how many things have gone right.
M. C. graduated in December 2022. They offered this reflection on Grad Sunday (May 8, 2022); you can also watch it online here.