The Long and Winding Road Toward Peace
I spent a lot of years all pent up inside my other self. I expended so much energy trying to get by it’s a wonder I got anything done. Never far from my consciousness was the realization that 41 percent of those with gender dysphoria try to end their lives. That painful awareness is always present, like a film over your days. You can never wash off that film. It accumulates.
I was not unproductive. I ran a large non-profit, preached in megachurches, served as a television host and magazine editor and columnist. But I was spinning in pain, like a top wandering aimlessly across a table until it finally crashes onto the floor. I thought speed and busyness would take me through my days without having to confront my true self. It did not.
How many Americans are running at a crazy speed because they refuse to slow down enough to experience their pain? We are addicted to speed and use it to avoid all manner of existential realities. Once I finally acknowledged my pain and that I was not okay, life got better. I had named the unnamable. I would deal with my pain and healing could begin. My addiction to speed ended. Peace descended in the midst of all the turmoil, and life got better.
I am still busy. Some of that is in my nature. My father still sits down at his computer every week to work on his Sunday school lesson. He drives to the nursing home every weekday and spends two hours with my mother. Dad likes to be busy. So do I. I work out six days a week, mountain biking, road biking or running. A lot of my busyness is working on projects that might result in work that pays. I lost a comfortable salary when I transitioned, and had my pension pulled. I need to work.
Now, however, I work without the preoccupation that was ever present earlier in my life. I work from the overflow, not out of avoidance or fear. I have learned it was not only my gender dysphoria that caused me so much distress. I was also struggling under the weight of evangelicalism, with its belief in inerrancy and other doctrines I had come to reject. It was all too much. Often I crawled into bed amazed I’d made it through the day.
I often wonder how weary God must be. There is a scene in the movie, The Shack in which Mac, the protagonist, sees God seated in the garden, eyes shaded by sunglasses and resting in a chair. Mac says, “Catching some rays?” God replies, “Oh honey, you have no idea how much work I’m doing.”
God knows something about my fatigue. In the garden Jesus faced the reality that none of his disciples could hold space for him through the night. In conversation with God, Jesus asked for his cup of suffering to be removed. All he heard was stony silence. Jesus was afraid he might die in the garden. He was sweating blood, a highly unusual condition that results from extreme emotional duress. Eventually God sent angels to minister to him. Jesus understood what it was to be utterly exhausted.
In some ways I have more energy now than I have ever had. There is no underlying noise to remind me that so much is out of balance. I do occasionally feel my age, but I’m not ready to slow down. I’d like to work with this high level of energy for at least another 10 years. It is good to feel comfortable in my own skin. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.
My motivation to remain busy is no longer related to avoidance. It is all about a renewed sense of purpose. I believe in the church, not in the church that builds walls, but the church that breaks walls down. Not in the church that sees God as an angry parent, but the church that understands God never stops loving. That is a message I feel compelled to spread. It is a message of urgency. God is inclusive, not exclusive. Christianity is transformational, not transactional. Religion is about loving relationships, not judgmental exclusion. And that, my friends, is a message for which I am building great energy, while feeling very much at peace.
And so it goes.
7 thoughts on “The Long and Winding Road Toward Peace”
Thanks for sharing this wisdom, Paula! I especially resonated with the notion that your current busy-ness comes not out of a need to avoid, but out of a renewed sense of purpose. After leaving both a career and a marriage that were no longer life-giving, and becoming an empty-nester, all within the course of 2 years, I was very unsure about my direction and purpose, beyond knowing that I wanted to work with adults around matters of personal and spiritual growth. It’s taken a few more years for that vague notion to flesh itself out into the transgender diversity training that I now do as a cisgender women. And yes, God has been faithful, leading each surprising step of the way! Grateful to be on this path of new discoveries with you, Paula, and thanks for continuing to inspire me with your wisdom.
The songs that your essays over the past few years remind me of, in order, are: She’s Not There (with a different reading than was intended by the Zombies), A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, and Within You Without You. I mean this as a compliment. You have traveled down the long and winding road knowing something of the barriers you would encounter and yet you persevered and managed, in the end, without a GPS, to find a place in your soul and in the world where you could be accepted for who you are.
Oh Mark, thank you so much!
Your last paragraph is perhaps the most succinct description I have ever read about what the church should be. An old friend of mine used to say that people couldn’t handle the simplicity of the message of Jesus. Your description couldn’t be more simple and clear!
So true Stephen – so true.
I am growing more convinced that our addiction to noise and phone is originally fueled by the fear of silence. The silence that will allow us to feel and hear God.