Friday, January 23, 2015

Why I want to want to be last

I was born with an extra dose or 100 of sensitivity.

Not many people know this about me.  I tend to play it cool and calm and very unemotional.  Or maybe I just think I do, but really everyone knows.  Maybe I'm not hiding it at all.

Either way, it's there.  The sensitivity.

I used to say it about Aiden.  That he was so sensitive.  And he was.  But it used to be endearing and sweet and I'd picture his future girlfriends and wife and think,  what a great trait!

But then he turned four or five and I realized, oh crap, this is going to be a problem.

He was sensitive alright.  So sensitive that he couldn't sleep at night if someone was mean to him at school.  So sensitive that he stopped playing soccer, which he loved, because sometimes kids yell.  So sensitive that he would come home and torture his brother after a bad day, just to release all the ugliness built up inside.

And I remembered that sensitive is sweet for a 2-year-old, but after that... it's painful.

Sensitive is seeing things that aren't always even there.  Sensitive is assigning malicious motives to a less-than-enthusiastic hello or a preemptive goodbye.  Sensitive is torturous reflections about what did they mean and were they talking about me.  Sensitive is soft and tender easily turned hard and prideful.

Because what they said or what they didn't say or what they might have said if they had the guts is so painful because it makes us feel less right.  Less heard.  Less understood.

And my immediate reaction to feeling these things is to make myself more right.  More heard.  More understood.

It's why I have lengthy, eloquent arguments in my head ALL THE TIME.  And honestly, I sound so good in these arguments.  So incredibly right.  I can't recall if the other person talks at all.  But if they do I am sure they speak words of repentance, and understanding, and wow, I didn't realize how right you were.

And then after the imaginary arguments don't make me feel any better I turn to Joel for validation.  I ask him, do you think this person meant this by saying or not saying this, or by doing or not doing that, and he looks at me carefully and says, I don't know.

At which point I insist that the person did mean what I thought they meant.  And now that we've established that we can move on to talk about just how wrong they are.  And just how right I am.  And all of the very valid reasons why I am so right.  And also, do you think I'm right?

He usually advises me at this point to talk to the person if it's really bothering me.  Which is funny because, come on, who really does that?

So in the end Joel doesn't make me feel better.  And I'm left with a frightening choice.

Decide to assume the best about others and, particularly, their feelings towards me.  Decide to admit that I might not be right.  Or decide, in the end, that it just doesn't matter.

That even if they meant the thing that I thought they meant or even if they completely misunderstood me and I was totally in the right, or even if there was a grain of truth to what they said or didn't say and deep down I have to admit I wasn't as right as I wanted to believe.... that even then, it doesn't really matter.

I don't have to defend myself.  I don't have to prove myself.  I don't have to show anyone how right I am, or how worthy.

The boys often fight about who gets the best cup or the choice of book or who's the first to get their coats/hats/shoes on and who's the first in the car and who's the first out of the car and the first in the house and the first to get snack.  We tell them sometimes about what Jesus said.  That the last will be first.  And the first will be last.

To which Finn originally answered, "Did you hear that Benji?  You're going to be first in heaven."

They don't quite get it.  Because frankly, they'd rather be first now.

I like to think that I've put these childish ways behind me.  That I'm not fighting for first.  After all, I'm not climbing the ladder to fame or fortune... nor do I have any desire to.

But I fight in a quieter way.  For what I deserve.  In defense of my absolute rightness.

I waste a lot of time worrying.

And sometimes it does take a hard conversation.  It takes choking down my fear of confrontation and saying, this is how your words made me feel.

It can go both ways from there, which can be really scary.  But in the chance that it could save a friendship, it's worth it.

But oftentimes it's not a friendship at stake.  It's my own pride.  It's my own voice inside saying, they don't understand, they're judging you, and they're WRONG.

It's all about how I look to the person who said or didn't say, who did or didn't do.  And deep, deep down, I want to look good.

But what if it didn't matter to me?  Feeling misunderstood.  Feeling judged.  Feeling last.

In fact, what if I sought to be last?

I'm reading a book by Jen Hatmaker right now, Interrupted.  In one chapter she talks about her choice to stop climbing to the top, whatever the top is, and instead to descend, right to the bottom.  She says this...

"...once you hit bottom and recover somewhat from the descent, it is shockingly peaceful down there.  It's much quieter.  The chaos of ego and pride recedes.  It's, well, kind of still and beautiful.  I find myself exhaling and thinking less about the race going on up higher.  Releasing the compulsion to be right, to be respected, to be understood, to be winning - if not natural, it's certainly a relief."

What if I let you believe whatever you want to believe about me, as long as it doesn't hurt someone? What if I even let you think that I might be wrong?  And what if I admit to myself that I, in fact, might be wrong?

What if I stop fighting for my position, and let myself be last?

It's easier said than done, I'm sure.  But I practiced it recently and, you know what?  It felt really good.

I let go of my need to be right.  To be heard.  To be understood.  And the voices in my head finally quieted down.  My racing heart slowed a bit.  I was able to focus on my family and not on the person and the thing that was said or not said.

I used to be last, or near last, a lot.  As I've mentioned before, I was never much of a runner.  Besides hating it, I'm also pretty darn slow.  But I played field hockey in high school and in order to play the actual games, which I loved, they made me run, which I hated.

I remember sometimes the fastest girls would fall back from their spots in the front, and run instead behind us slow ones.  They would shout encouragements at us, which honestly, I found quite pandering.  But I understood what they were trying to do.  That they had given up first place to push us from behind.  To tell us how great we were doing, and to keep it up.  Which I really did hate, but I wonder, in retrospect, how many runs that got me through.  I usually picked someone with an equal distaste for running to keep me company on our long runs.  And we'd commiserate, for sure, but we wouldn't push each other.  Would we have finished strong, without those girls behind us?  Or would we have started walking... like we really, really wanted to?

Anyhow, all this to say, maybe last isn't so bad.  Maybe last leaves us more concerned with the people in front of us, and less obsessed with the finish line.

Maybe choosing last can set us free from having to be first.

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