In my ordination service nearly 10 years ago, I was presented with a stole made by a talented fiber artist in Chicago. I had commissioned her to create a vestment that would symbolize and express a combination of natural elements with images I felt represented my personal theology: fire represented by a chalice of compassion, earth represented by a tree of life, air represented by wings of a dove, and water represented by waves of challenge. I would probably choose the same symbolism today, even as my own theology has become more deeply Humanist over the years.
What I'm thinking about today is that symbol of water - the waves of challenge. I had no idea when I chose that image just how much challenge I would face as ordained clergy, or just how incredibly high those waves would grow and how harshly they would crash down upon me from time to time! But I think the image of challenge as waves is an important one. And the idea of making waves is just as important. You see, I spent much of my life trying desperately to NOT create waves. Perhaps it was the time I grew up in, the regional or religious culture, or simply my gender that influenced and fueled the desperation. But what I remember thinking is that making waves was absolutely not appropriate. As a young adult and then as a parent reaching middle age, I wasn't comfortable with making waves, even if it meant sacrificing a part of my own authenticity. But then I hit the 50-year mark. Oh yes, turning 50 was an unexpected awakening for me. There's something about coming to terms with the reality that life moves forward, not backward, and death is imminent, that creates a shift in thinking. I won't say I'm 100% comfortable with making waves but I'm now dedicated to being authentically me, waves and all.
One of my recent favorite quotes hits the proverbial nail on the head:
Don't worry if you're making waves simply by being yourself. The moon does it all the time.
I might change that quote to say Don't worry if you're making waves simply by being authentically you! In my study of applied positive psychology one of the core strengths that contribute to well-being, or flourishing, is authenticity - living one’s values and beliefs, being true to oneself and expressing that truth to the outside world. This refers to fundamental identity, not simply opinions. So if by being your self you make waves, don't sweat it. If you're making tsunamis and hurricane size waves of destruction that's something else. If you have an ounce of self-awareness, you know the difference.
If you struggle with dreaded social comparison or just can't seem to allow yourself to be authentic because you're too concerned about the idea of making waves, please know that there are ways to increase your strength of authenticity. It's something I continually work on! Try being mindful (see yourself as if for the first time), reflect on your values, and know the difference between your own motivations and external motivations. Living authentically increases your vitality, improves your personal well-being and your well-being in relationships to others, and it does something else too. A hospice nurse in Australia spent time with palliative care patients who were in the final weeks of life as she studied regrets expressed by dying patients. This nurse reported that the most common reget she heard was "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." Living authentically means living, and dying, without regret.
Waves that are created from a place of authenticity, fundamental identity, and expressing your truth in a way that is loving and respectful may indeed present a challenge. But these are the kind of waves that are perfect for surfing! Be yourself, don't sweat it, catch a wave, hang ten, shoot the curl, and hang on for the ride! Cowabunga!
I had hoped to post once a week, and did for a short time. Unfortunately, my doctorate research and other obligations have taken priority over the blog. BUT, I will return soon! Some postings may be articles I've written for publication, messages I've delivered in congregational settings, or excerpts from papers written in my doctoral classes.