My sister and I were very much church brats growing up. We weren’t pastor’s kids, but my first ever friend (and, for a few weeks in the fourth grade, fiancée) was. My father was head of the Sunday School (by second grade it was my job after church to run across to the school whose premises we used for Sunday School and unlock the classes before the others arrived) and organised all the church youth camps while my mother cooked for them. My first bee sting was at one of those camps.
The second Wednesday of each month was spent playing on the church office floor while my mother received the offerings collected by the deacons during home visits the previous week. Sunday mornings I sat with my dad among the elders, and my sister sat with my mum in the choir gallery.
One of my earliest memories are of when we had a braai to celebrate the completion of our new church building. This was before they started on the interior, so we had the braai inside the church. The aforementioned best friend and I had our dinner on the pulpit.
Attending children’s church, later youth group, and serving on the leadership of my school’s branch of the Christian Youth Association was a given with this background, as was the fact that I was firmly indoctrinated in the belief that we are put on this Earth to serve God and serve others.
And this is not a bad belief. The bad rep Christianity has gotten through the centuries is exactly because Christians too often forget that self-sacrifice (also known as “love thy neighbour as thyself”) is one of the two central tenets of the religion, and the world would be a much better place if everyone, regardless of belief, practised this philosophy more.
But I’m also a people pleaser by nature, which lead me to making a succession of choices that made me gradually more and more miserable. I kept convincing myself that I was doing the right thing, that it was my calling, that it was worth it. But I was miserable, going nowhere and getting there fast.
The new look of this site is merely symbolic of what has been going on with me lately. I made a decision to choose me for a change. For once I’m making choices that I believe will make my and my wife’s lives better and I’m not obsessing over whether other people will approve or even understand, nor whether it’s the right and proper thing to do. My beliefs haven’t changed, but I’m looking at them from a new angle.
And you know what? It’s paying off.
I’m feeling great. I’m getting excited about the possibilities of the future again. My writer’s block disappeared overnight and, while I’m not yet sustaining a decent daily word count, I’m getting fidgety if a day goes by without any new words being added to my novel (I’m still busy with last year’s NaNoWriMo novel, by the way, now titled The Scroll of Sekhmet) and I have a new hunger to learn stuff (I all but mastered Colemak in three weeks – just working on speed now). Even the wife is happier (by her own admission – an indirect result of my new way of thinking).
And it’s not just psychological. I’ve reached out to a very real opportunity and, while I can’t go into details just yet, let’s just say that my life is about to get pretty interesting…
I openly scoff at those new agey books (some even masquerading as Christian literature) that are so popular these days that claim you can change your life through the power of positive thinking, or by claiming a miracle, or telling the universe what you want. But sometimes, in the midst of all the magical thinking, the authors of those books do stumble across profound truths.
A few days ago a friend shared a Facebook status by Elizabeth Gilbert that pretty much describes exactly what I’ve been doing. This might just be me rationalising away the lingering discomfort caused by doing something solely for myself, but the gist of her message – that you can only really mean something for others when you are truly living your own life to the full – makes incredible sense to me.
Or to put it in the words of that oft-quoted passage by Marianne Williamson:
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
– Marianne Williamson