Tuesday, March 13, 2012

To Whom It May Concern: Failure, Freedom, and The Future

"We are all failures at least, all the best of us are."-J.M. Barrie

So, I turned 29 a couple of weeks ago. It's not 30, but for me, it's a rather important milestone, coinciding with a new beginning in my life. Some of you have noticed my relative silence in the past year and a half from the Internet world---haven't been blogging or relishing in the plethora of theological or political discussions happening as I once did. My activity in this forum has pretty much been limited to posting random pictures from my everyday life, the occasional vague status update, or recycling quotes/lyrics/videos that resonate with me. I despise "over-sharing" via facebook, and I have no intention of airing the most intimate and guarded details of my personal life in such a public forum, but a general update and basic explanation for my disappearance seems warranted.

Failure. If I had to sum up the "theme" of the year 2011 in one word, that would be it: failure (Or a trendier way to put it: 2011 was an "Epic Fail"). Sure, I graduated from college with a near perfect GPA, but all my straight A's couldn't erase the F's I earned outside of school. I got divorced and might as well have worn a huge scarlet D on my chest. Though divorce is such a common occurrence in this day and age, it is an utterly agonizing, horrifying, and often incapacitating experience that ruptures and transforms every single aspect of your life. Like the wobbly tower of a near-finished game of Jenga, the last wooden slat of my hollowed-out 10-year marriage was yanked out and finally crumbled, crashing to the ground. However my own personal definition of "success" was formed (from a mixture of the bible, my church tradition, my own ideals, hopes, and expectations), ending up divorced at 28, after ten years of marriage, seemed like the worst way in which I could fail. I feared hurting my ex-husband, hurting my son, hurting my family, and my friends. I feared being scrutinized, rejected, judged, condemned, abandoned, betrayed, and hated. I feared losing all that had come familiar to me. Even though, the familiar was broken, damaging, and painful, the familiar is always less scary than the unknown. Sadly, many of my fears were warranted. It hurt. I let people down. People let me down. I lost friends. I was consumed and disappeared.

Failure (A.K.A. Divorce), for so long, was not an option. I hate to fail, and everything that comes along with it: feelings of disappointment, inadequacy, humiliation, and the gnawing awareness of letting down everyone you love. There's a certain involuntary vulnerability that failure demands. So, I denied failure haunted me, ignored it, fought against it, prayed against it, rejected it, but most of all, I feared it. I spent years in emotional paralysis because of the fear to fail in this way. Failure was the mental Boogey-Man lurking the dark halls of my mind, hiding in locked closets in my heart, threatening to destroy everything. I knew well the consequences of this failure.Dissolving a ten year marriage doesn't just end the husband-wife relationship (as if that un-tangling process isn't complicated and painful enough), but a divorce ripples out beyond a splitting couple into the lives of their immediate and extended families, friends, churches, and communities.

Divorce changes everything. It changes the very orientation of your life: where you live, how
you function on a daily basis, how you interact with the larger circle of people in your life, how you speak and see relationships. Divorce shines a harsh, unforgiving spotlight on the corpse of a
marriage, and then rips open the blinds for the whole world to peer inside and speculate whose fault the death is: Was it a murder? Was it a suicide? An accidental overdose? Whose fault was it anyway? People have questions, assumptions, advice, opinions, and oh, do they want answers. Rumors circulate. Bits and pieces of "the story" are traded like baseball cards. Battle lines are drawn. Sides are taken. Family and friends are put in the middle. Children hear and see things they never should.

So, failure was the enemy to be kept at bay at all cost. And it did cost me.The only problem was I was living a lie, a lie with noble intentions, but a lie, nonetheless. Success (as it was defined for me or defined by me) was a relentless taskmaster whose burden grew so heavy, that I was crushed beneath it. I watched myself and my ex-husband slowly, though alarmingly, deteriorate, caught in a dysfunctional cycle with no easy answers. In the end, maintaining an appearance of success was so unbearable, that I begin to long for failure, to pine for it, dare I say, hope for it. Suddenly all the devastating consequences of failure seemed a small price to pay to be freed from a prison of "success." Suddenly, failure was not so menacing. When I finally found the courage to turn on the light in the dark halls and closets of my mind and heart, failure no longer looked like the terrifying Boogey-Man I had always imagined. Failure took the form a patient, gracious mother quietly beckoning me to humbly rest in her arms, teaching me to mourn before I could rejoice, to bleed before I could heal, to die before I could be reborn. Failure taught me that no matter how painful and devastating the truth may be, it is the only thing that will set you free in the end.

Failure left no stone un-turned--emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially, socially---nothing is the same and nothing will ever be the same again. It meant losing friends, facing my own brokenness, finding the courage to tell a complicated truth when living a much simpler lie seemed kinder and more convenient for everyone. But failure also brought bitter-sweet relief. It
revealed who my true friends are, and gave me the chance to love in a way I never thought possible. Sometimes facing your own failure, whether a true failure or perceived failure, may indeed be a tragic end to one chapter in our lives, but it *can*also give us an opportunity to start again, with a renewed hope for the future. And sometimes, through failure, we can learn to live again better than we could before. And I hope that's the direction I am headed towards.