A chapter closed

Another one of my sisters got married at the end of last month. Maybe it’s because my sisters are so close to me, so involved in all my most important memories, that I struggle to take their weddings seriously. Every time I have to remind myself that this is real; I stand in the vestibule ten minutes before it all begins pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.

Weddings in general tend to leave me a little dazed. They happen so quickly — after months of preparation and flurry and nerves on edge, two people whisper those conclusive words, exchange rings, smile for photographs, hug distant relatives, dance and eat cake, and somehow, in just a few short hours, the Change happens. A bridge crossed, a door closed, a new chapter begun. 

Maybe all big changes are like that. Months and even years of preparation, inner turmoil, questions and fears, and suddenly everything converges in one sharp point. There’s only this moment, a decision, a quick, almost innocuous action, and the rest is what you make of it. 

I find, as so many things draw to an end before I set off on this discernment journey, that I want all of my goodbyes to have meaning, to betray even a fraction of the real thoughts and feelings I’ve been too nervous — or too proud — to show up until now. I’m consistently struck by how little of myself I’ve shared with the people I love most. Why do we struggle to be real with one another? Perhaps it’s more fair to ask, why have I always struggled to be real?

Words just fall flat at a certain point. I’m afraid that’s my only excuse for the long silence on this blog, and for awkward goodbyes in person over the last month. Before certain realities, one has to be silent.

Despite the frustrations, the long bouts of loneliness, the pain of unanswered questions, I have loved my life in the gap, and I’m going to miss it. It’s good to feel the sting of this goodbye; it means I’m not running away. All the best things in life require some sacrifice. As one dear friend reminded me just this weekend, the most important things are also the hardest. 

Please pray for me as I enter formation. Know of my prayers for you (and please feel free to email me with any particular intentions that I can carry with me when I enter in August). 

Friends, readers, I want to thank you in a special way for several wonderful years on this blog. Thanks for your encouragement, your comments, and your particular insights about life as single young adults. This is the last post on Life in the Gap — another chapter closed. I pray that we will all be open to answering God’s call, even as we persevere in the silence for as long as he asks it of us. May we always be generous. May we give our hearts away in love. May we set the world on fire. 

God bless you all,

Mabel

 

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How eavesdropping led me to a resolution

One recent morning I sat in a coffee shop doing some freelance work and half listening to two mothers who sat chatting in chairs beside me. One of the women did most of the talking, and she complained. A lot.

She complained about her schedule, about her kid’s teacher, about long emails and too-short spring breaks, about the cold, about her husband’s not taking her seriously when she said she wanted move to California.

The impish part of me wanted to interrupt and ask if anything good had ever happened to her, or at least in the last week. For crying out loud, here she was hanging out with a friend on a work morning, drinking hot coffee and wearing comfortable clothes while the red-eyed, suit-wearing masses lurched in and out around her, desperate for their morning fortification before a long day at the office.

But after a few minutes of listening I winced — yes, physically winced — as something very unpleasant occurred to me. How often have I been that person pouring out all my tales of woe, my insecurities, my frustrations and worries and fears into the ready ears of sympathetic girlfriends over similarly warm cups of coffee on pleasant days off? In fact, come to think of it, when was the last time I had a chance for a heart-to-heart that didn’t turn into an all-out Mabel Venting Session?

I can’t think of a single time.

Because, truth be told, I’m a world-class whiner. That might be too modest, actually. I wrote the book on whining. (The book itself was pretty negative and sales were weak, so I don’t talk much about it. But I digress.) I have a pretty amazing life when you look at it objectively, but somehow there’s always something to complain about. Negative feelings will crop up, and they must be given their day in public, mustn’t they?

When I’m not whining I’m backhandedly expressing my petty hurts over perceived slights and offenses. This acquaintance didn’t come to my dinner party last week, that roommate has been giving me the cold shoulder ever since I innocently remarked that she could clean her own dishes every once in a while, and my sister hasn’t called or texted me in weeks, which must mean she hates me. There’s always something to mutter about.

We strive so hard to avoid hurting one another’s feelings that we just end up being ugly. Instead of addressing issues head-on directly with the person who is causing us an issue, we “play nice” to their faces and then vent our frustrations in completely unproductive ways. Okay, I say “we.” Some people have learned the fine art of confrontation, but too often I still hide behind the mask of “niceness” because it avoids unpleasant discussions and emotions.

But when the mask comes off? It’s hideous. There was nothing attractive about that woman I overheard in the coffee shop. Indeed, I don’t even remember what she looked like because I was so distracted by the ugliness of everything she had to say. Yet she’s probably a lovely person, a good wife, mother, and friend, and I probably caught her in the middle of her purging session, when all the ugliness came out at once because she’d kept it bottled up for so long.

I have a long way to go, but that morning forced me to take a good look at myself, and to make a promise: to live honestly and speak openly with those who have to live with me, instead of bottling all my emotions and pretending nothing is wrong. I’m terrible at it, but maybe confrontation gets easier — or at least a little bit less terrifying — with practice?

If it doesn’t, don’t tell me. I may not have the stamina to keep it up. But I’m determined not to let long-held bitterness over trivial things make me ugly. That’s not what God made community for, even if the realities of Other People can drive you crazy sometimes.

Mabel

 

Profile No. 25: Travis Rinn

Dear Readers, 
It has been such a privilege to receive so many profiles over the past month and a half. I never expected this project to turn out so well…and to be so rewarding! I’ve enjoyed reading the stories and reflections of other people living in the gap, and I hope you all have too. While the regular profiles have come to an end, I still have more…and I will be posting them over the coming months. If you haven’t been profiled yet but would like to be, please send me an email (single dot lifeinthegap at gmail). I’m always delighted to get new profiles, and eager to share them. I would also still love to receive good, thoughtful guest posts. Guest posts can be about anything related to life in the gap, as long as they’re told from your personal perspective and describe something from your own journey. 
Starting this week, we’re back to regular postings from yours truly (a.k.a. “Mabel), and maybe we can convince Virginia to share her thoughts with us now and then as well…
The theme for the rest of this month will be seeking the face of Christ, especially in the most vulnerable. With Christmas past and the March for Life almost upon us, it seems like a good time to explore that seeking that should shape and inform our lives. 
I’m looking forward to a great 2014 with this blog, and thank you as always for reading. 
–Mabel
Profiles in the Gap
Travis Rinn
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Travis Rinn is a software developer living and working in Austin, Texas. 
Did you expect this time of singleness?

I always thought I would be single at this age. I had the notion that I should establish a career before marrying.

If so, is it what you expected it to be? If not, what did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing?

I thought that if I chased wealth first, then the girls would come, and after that I would find a Catholic one and worry about all this God stuff later. As it turns out, the Holy Spirit bonked me on the head in the middle of amassing that wealth, and now my plan is all out of order. So no — it’s not what I expected at all, but what I expected wasn’t what I should have been going after. I guess you could say the change is pretty exciting.

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it?

I did seek fulfillment in my career, but I have come to realize that it is only part of fulfilling the role that God has for me. I’ve tried to take a more balanced role since coming to that conclusion.

How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult?

For a while, it didn’t play much of a role at all. I was the guy who skipped Mass to watch the NFL pre-game show. Later, through the meddling of the Holy Spirit, I came to realize that it was in fact the most important thing and should inform everything I do. I try to put my Faith first in everything now. It makes all the difference.

Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?

I use my time to benefit God. And in particular, I have given a lot to the young adult community as a leader and coordinator of various groups and projects. I have some software ideas (games and Catholic apps) and no time to write them, and if I didn’t have little concerns like bills and a mortgage, I would love to take a few months off to build one of them. Maybe some day…

Profile No. 22: Bill Gonch

Profiles in the Gap

Bill Gonch

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Bill Gonch lives and works in the Washington, D.C., area

Did you expect this time of singleness?  

I expected to be single, but I expected a different singleness.

The whole time I was growing up I was an atheist. I had some vaguely defined plans for what I’d do in my twenties, but they all involved my career, interests, hobbies, fun. I figured I’d get married someday, but I didn’t think too much about the timeline. More to the point, I didn’t think of using my twenties for anything other than whatever I happened to want.

Then, when I was almost 22, I learned that God exists.  I remember one night shortly after that: I was looking around at things in my room, realizing that each one of them was held in existence by a direct, constant act of God’s will. If He stopped perpetuating granting existence to my desk…pop! No more desk!

I grabbed my desk. I don’t want to tell you how long I held it.

You see, when I first believed in God, everything changed. I mean literally everything: every single thing that I could see or touch or smell was a different thing than it had been before I knew that God exists. Before, things were just things—they were brute physical reality, and I thought about them or didn’t depending on whether I needed them for whatever I wanted to do.

But now, every thing that was depended on God’s action for its existence. Every thing is a gift from God: rain and sunrises and scotch tape and earthworms and my sourpuss great-aunt. It was like I’d moved to Mars. (Oh, right, Mars is a gift, too.) I spent my twenties in an entirely different world than I’d lived in as a kid. By the time I’d started exploring the new world—which is the real world—any expectations that I’d had up until that time were gone.

If so, is it what you expected it to be? If not, what did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing? 

It’s been wild. I haven’t gotten married, but here are a few things I’ve done.

I’ve met incredible friends—people who are so good that they make me want to be better. Some people I know are so good that it frightens me, the way Aslan frightens the Pevensie children in Narnia.

I’ve sat with homeless men in a park late at night, giving out sandwiches and talking about our families.

I’ve learned—maybe it’s shameful that I needed to learn this, but I’ve learned—that homeless men have families, that they see them and care about them.

I’ve helped a man get off the street and into a homeless shelter.

I’ve learned that the devils who keep men on the street are beyond my power to defeat, and often beyond those men’s power, but not beyond God’s power.

I’ve organized church groups.

I’ve learned that I’m really bad at organizing church groups.

I’ve learned to pray the Hail Mary.

I’ve learned that one of Mary’s titles is “Exterminatrix of Heresies,” and that there’s a painting of her beating down a demon with a giant club.

I’ve been one of the crazy people who prays the rosary outside of abortion clinics, and I’ve learned that the stereotypes of those people are very far from the truth.

I’ve seen a woman approach an abortion clinic and then change her mind, deciding to bring her child into the world, because of things that my friend said to her.

For three years I lived with the Blessed Sacrament in my house. In my house!

I’ve counted among my friends men who wear brown dresses, giant rosaries, and no shoes. I’ve learned that they’re called “friars,” not “monks.”

I’ve become the godfather of little boy whose soul is immortal.

It’s been wild.

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it? 

I’d have found a lot more if I’d listened to what God was telling me.

There’s a passage in A Man for All Seasons that has been playing in my mind for the past several months. Richard Rich has been seeking a position in the government from Sir Thomas More, but Thomas refuses, believing (rightly) that Rich does not have the moral fiber for an intrigue-ridden court. Instead, he offers to appoint Rich to a teaching position. He says, “You’d make a good teacher, Richard. Perhaps a great one.”

Rich: “But who would know?”

Thomas: “You, your students, perhaps your colleagues, God. Not a bad public, that.”

I came to DC to work in policy two-and-a-half years ago. I thought it was the right move…and at first it was. My employer has an important mission and I work with wonderful, talented people; I’ve learned an awful lot from being there. But it’s been clear for a while that policy is not what I should be doing. For a couple of years now, I’ve felt a pull to return to school, get a Ph.D. and, well, be a teacher. At the end of this past summer the Lord hit me with a series of hammer-blows: it was time (past time, maybe), to apply. Lord willing, I’ll start classes in the fall. It doesn’t feel too good to be in the same spot as the villain in one of your favorite movies. But now, for the first time, I have a strong sense of vocation. I’m finally doing what God intends me to do. That does feel pretty darn good.

How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult? 

Goodness! You might as well ask, how does oxygen play a role in your life?

I mean that pretty close to literally. Faith gives me joy in good times and strength in hard ones. Faith constitutes the world: by it I know that each person I meet deserves my love and compassion and respect because each person is made in the image and likeness of God. I’m not sure I’d agree that it plays a role in my outlook: it’s more that faith is the very grounds by which other things can play a role. It’s not one of the things out there in the world, but the means through which I understand anything else that’s in the world. Faith is the pair of eyeglasses that lets me see the world clearly, and my soul comes with the same fine-print notice as my driver’s license: “Restriction: corrective lenses.”

Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?

I’d talk to more people. I’m very shy, and I have a hard time knowing what to say to people whom I don’t already know well. It’s an INFJ thing, I guess. But when I do meet new people, I’m always glad to have done it, so I’m trying to be more outgoing.

I’d write and publish more. Ray Bradbury once encouraged young writers to write a story every week for a year, because “No one can possibly write 52 bad stories in a row.” I’ve decided 2014 will be the year I get my fiction published, so I’ll be writing a lot and submitting things I’ve never submitted before. I’m just hoping I don’t prove Ray Bradbury wrong.

Finally, I’d listen to God more. It’s weird—I listen a lot when I’m talking with other people, but when I pray suddenly I’m doing all the talking. Talking in prayer is easier than listening…after all, if you’re just sitting there listening, pretty soon you find yourself thinking that you need to pick up some chicken cutlets on your way home, and how are you ever going to finish that report by Thursday, and—darnit—you left the dishes in the sink again, and hey, that girl by the Mary altar’s pretty cute. And then your mind’s entirely distracted from God and it’s time to start over on your page of Francis de Sales and see if you can salvage a bit of this Holy Hour for some actual prayer.

But I guess distraction isn’t the real reason I’m afraid to stop talking in prayer. The real reason is that sometimes, when you stop talking, God starts.

Profile No. 21: Dustin Siggins

 Profiles in the Gap

Dustin Siggins

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 Dustin Siggins is a reporter in the Washington, D.C., area. 

Did I expect to be single at the age of 28-and-a-quater? Simply put…no.

I had my first crush in September of 7th grade, and at 15 started looking for the right woman to marry. I figured it would take some time to find the right young lady for me, and by the time I got out of college we’d be ready for marriage.

Over the next several years, I was met with disappointment after disappointment. Starting in February of 7th grade – 1999, which was when the aforementioned crush and her boyfriend of several months broke up – a string of failures found me at every turn. At one point I was 0-17. For you non-sports fans, that’s zero “yes” answers and 17 “no” responses to my asking girls on dates.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I analyze. A lot. More on that later.

Finally, for a period of approximately eight months, good luck was mine. I dated a young lady for a month – she was vacationing for the summer in my hometown – and then dated my then-best friend for several months. The end of this latter relationship left me quite depressed for months, a state of mind that was finally broken by the stress and distraction of Basic Training after high school graduation.

I entered college quite optimistic about dating. My string of bad luck was over, if the prior year was any indication! Alas, by the time I graduated college I had dated one young lady for a month, and that was about it. Turns out, being an abstinent, pro-life, weekly attending Catholic made me a radical even among my fellow Catholics.

Thus it was that by the time I was a junior in college my regular commentary on dating was that I had accepted that I was going to be the 80-year old virgin. I told people I would make a movie out of it, and make lots of money – the PG version of “The Forty-Year Old Virgin.”

When I came to D.C. my optimism had rebounded, especially as I learned how culturally and geographically unaware I had been. Here I was not a radical, extreme Catholic – who knew the Northeast was more liberal than the rest of the country? Not me, at the time – and I hoped I had matured enough to change my dating luck around.

Again, luck was not mine. Turns out women don’t like it when a guy shakes hands on a first date (something I have remedied since). The Southern women found me a bit…blunt…and too intense. And despite my preference to become friends with a young lady before formally pursuing a relationship, my personality was putting me so far in the dreaded Friend Zone it was like being in the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by sharks. With chains.

In other words, women liked being my friend. But not my girlfriend. (Though this has its own advantages – the benefits of friendship, the benefits of hanging out with very attractive women, and none of the emotional stress of trying to date said friends.)

In 2011 I utilized online dating for seven months, and finally started “playing the field.” Effective though these tactics were, they never felt comfortable, though online dating did lead to a short-lived long-distance relationship. And then, finally, luck was with me as I dated a woman for almost five months and almost fell in love with another later in 2012, despite the brevity of the second relationship (two months). In early 2013, one of my closest friends and I discussed dating, but because of our religious differences we decided to simply maintain a very close friendship.

So where does this leave me, as 2014 nears? It’s been a tough year, I’ll admit. My younger siblings are both getting married next year. The average age of marriage for men is 28, which puts me behind the eight-ball, and for most of my life I’ve thought that guys who are unmarried in their late twenties are losers or have gigantic personal flaws. And the constant discussions of discernment in the Catholic community mean the subject is dating is always on my mind.

However, tough times allow for growth, and this year has also been one for large personal growth in certain areas. They include:

  1. A priest told me in July that our goal in life is to be a saint. Everything else helps us on that path. It was a good reminder about priorities.
  2. Despite rumors to the contrary, I talk far less than I want to. The filter between my brain and mouth is gigantic – which should scare those of you who know how much I talk. I find this filter necessary to strategize how best to talk to people in life, especially since my default setting is to be extremely choleric, and this can alienate people. However, a friend recently told me I should not worry about filtering because of what other people might think. While we all have our flaws, by being so tactical, I am not being who God designed and intended for me to be. To a degree, I’m letting the flaws of others dictate my behavior, which is not productive for anyone.
  3. Clearly, I am someone who analyzes and thinks a lot. While this is naturally part of who I am, and thus does not paralyze me as it might others, it can also create an inefficient style of behavior. As my friend Isaiah once put it: “Dustin, I love you, but you have got to learn to take yourself less seriously.” To put it another way, by thinking and analyzing so much, I’m essentially trying to control my life to a fault, instead of putting it in God’s hands.

In short, I need to learn to relax and go with the flow instead of always trying to create the flow. For example, my one romantic idealistic trait – wanting to be one of those old couples that’s been married for 70 or more years – may need to take second-fiddle to the rest of my life. And rather than get frustrated when people who don’t follow key Church teachings get engaged and married, while I follow them and remain single, I need to remember being a saint is the first and foremost goal.

Marriage is not a competition I have to win. We’re trying to be saints. Comparing myself to my siblings, or the average age of marriage, is to miss the forest for the trees.

So where am I as we enter 2014? Frustrated, absolutely. Recognizing that even at the age of 28 – a full-fledged adult – I have a lot of growing up to do? Grudgingly, yes. I’m trying to not miss the forest for the trees, and remember that people mean well when they say contradictory things like “Be yourself, but be low-key,” or the falsely uplifting “The right girl is out there for you!”

So what should I expect out of life right now? I don’t do “New Year’s Resolutions,” as self-improvement should be a continuous process, but I think I’m going to prioritize a few things this year:

  1. A friend gave me a piece of advice recently that I’m going to take into consideration: Rather than focus on multiple aspects of life at the same time, try to focus on one aspect to make it as successful as possible. She suggested one’s career path, and indicated this would be a good idea in order to be happier, and happiness is attracting to the opposite sex. I think I’ll take her advice, with a twist – prioritize everything but dating, and let the dating happen as it will.
  2. I’m going to work on being more aware of why I act as I do. I always apply my friend Ben’s advice – “Don’t care what people think, but don’t give them reason to think badly of you” – but I’m going to try to keep the latter mindset balanced with greater emotional awareness.
  3. A retired priest advised me to just be Dustin. Let’s see what that looks like, rather than being “Dustin who’s constantly being hard on himself.”

In the end, the goal of every human being should be to walk on the path God has for us, and be happy regardless of what life throws at us. We should be whole people as much as we possibly can – and, in my case, if a cute girl walks across my path, life’s a little more attractive right now. And if she becomes my wife, my ability to walk on the path of God’s Will will be more complete than it was before our paths crossed.

Profile No. 15: Kara Eschbach and Janet Sahm

Profiles in the Gap

Kara Eschbach and Janet Sahm

JanetSahm_KaraEschbach_Verily

I had the privilege of chatting earlier this month with Kara Eschbach and Janet Sahm, the founders of Verily magazine, who kindly agreed to be included in the December profiles on Life in the Gap. In particular, I asked them about what motivated them to go after the things they were passionate about — to take the risk and launch their own business — and how we can view this time of singleness as an opportunity, not a burden. (-Mabel)

What was the catalyst for launching Verily? Did being single affect your decision to go for it?

Kara: I was in a lucrative, comfortable job in finance, and while I was happy there, I wasn’t exactly passionate about it. I actually moved to New York City to take that job, which was definitely exciting. But I wanted something more meaningful. So when this idea for a startup came up, it just sort of made sense. I quit my job in finance and switched to magazine. I’d been doing a lot of writing in my previous job, and the financial background really prepared me to run a business.

And yes, I think being single did play a role. I realized it was one of those “windows” in life – the right time to do something like this, when I had no other things tying me down. I had no kids or family commitments, no mortgage…nothing saying I couldn’t take a pay cut and work really hard to make this a success. But there are windows like this throughout life – like older adults whose kids have all moved out, life is just full of times when it’s possible to make a decision like this. So why not go for it?

Janet: I was working a good job as an assistant in New York. I mean, it paid the rent! As a new graduate I was privileged to gain some experience in the fashion industry at Elle, and I quickly saw that to become a fashion editor in that kind of publication, I’d have to devote myself to 10 years of slave-driving work. I wanted a well-rounded life, not to become the typical obsessed career woman. Still, fashion is  my love.

Even while working my assistant job, I was thinking and praying about starting my own magazine. I wanted to start a publication that had more meaning, and let me be myself. My 9 – 5 job actually gave me a lot of freedom, too … outside working hours I could write and focus on honing my talents. It really gave me the freedom to be creative.

You two launched Verily together – and it’s been a big success! Does having friends on the journey with you make it easier?

Both: Yes! We were casual friends when we first started throwing around the idea of launching a magazine, but after working together on this project for the past couple years, we’ve definitely grown closer. We’ve definitely found that friends, especially for those of us who are single, become surrogate family. They’re the people you have meals with and celebrate holidays with when you can’t make it home to see your family. A community of friends is so important to living a happy, fulfilling life. Granted, that community is always changing as people get married and move on to other opportunities, but that’s part of the beauty of it, too.

What advice would you give to other young adults in the gap who are struggling with what to do next?

Kara: It’s typical to sit around in “the gap” just waiting, instead of figuring out what it is we really want to do. So often we’re waiting for things to be obvious, or for the perfect scenario, or we feel like we have to have a plan. I took a job in New York, not because I’d always wanted to go there, but because when it came up I thought it might be interesting, and a good platform for other things. Only once I got here did I discover other things I was really interested in, that got me to this point.

My advice for anyone in the gap? Walk through open doors. Even if they don’t look like what you thought you wanted…you never know where they might take you. Expand your network, meet people, and see what comes of it.

What if discovering and pursuing my passion just isn’t an option right now?

Janet: Even if you find your job monotonous and you don’t love it, there are endless possibilities for living a meaningful and fruitful life. Get involved. Start a discussion group to talk about controversial issues. Get involved in your church. Volunteer – and do it regularly. Use this time of freedom to become a more integrated person. Join dance class, a sports team, or a language class. Get friends together regularly to teach each other skills you already have, like photography or cooking.

Push yourself. There’s so much to read, to learn, to give. The more you can go outside yourself, the better. You learn to give of yourself and to love.

So often we take our identity from who we were in high school or college. We forget that we’re still growing, that we’re always growing and changing. Don’t throw away chances to grow and develop your character and yourself.

Kara: Don’t discount your current job just because it isn’t your dream. You’d be amazed at what you’re learning and developing that you don’t even realize. And much of it will come in useful down the road. My finance background prepared me to run a business. Janet’s background gave her lots of professional development, which she is able to use now, along with her creative talents. So many skills are transferable – so don’t write anything off as a waste of time!

Sucker punch

A week and a half ago, I heard a really nasty, second-hand description of myself.

Dear readers, a word of advice: if anyone ever says to you, “So I was talking to someone the other day and you came up,” don’t lean forward expecting to hear something pleasant. You may be in for a nasty shock.

I can’t remember what was said word for word, but apparently the final analysis boiled down to this: they agreed that “‘Mabel’ would be pleasant enough, if she’d just get contacts and smile more.”

Even now, ten days later and a few emotions removed, I have no idea how to respond to that statement. I think my friend told me about it by way of offering constructive criticism, and I’m grateful for the intention. Something about me needing to be more approachable or something, but the bulk of the message got lost in the weeds of delivery. It may not come across that way, but I’m a sensitive person, so this statement hurt. It hurt a lot. I’m not going to lie, I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut.

I don’t know who said those things about me, and I don’t care to know. The point is that someone who runs in my circle of acquaintances has passed some pretty harsh judgments on me based on little more than my appearance. Apparently my choosing to wear glasses instead of contact lenses–a) I think they look good on me, and b) contacts hurt after about three hours–and not having a naturally cheerful face make me not even worth attempting to get to know. On two pretty shallow points, I’ve been sized up and found wanting.

It’s damaging enough to your vanity to discover that people who care about you have found fault with you in some area. But to learn that a near stranger is passing judgment on you from afar because you don’t look quite right? Because apparently there’s some ideal standard and you just don’t measure up? “Ouch” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Maybe I should lose ten pounds and come up with a better acne cream, while we’re on the subject.

Then earlier this week I was introduced to a new colleague. I sized him up in one quick glance: unironed shirt, unwashed pants, thick glasses, funny voice, uses nasty language. And I immediately filed him under “he stays in his corner, I stay in mine,” and moved on. It wasn’t until later in the day I even realized I’d done it. I have no idea what his past looks like, what his talents are, where he comes from, or where he wants to go. I don’t know anything about his family or his education or his interests or his favorite foods. I only know what I saw in a 10-second introduction, and I passed a harsh judgment on him, and it was wrong of me. Worse than that, considering I’m still nursing my own little wound, it was hypocritical.

That got me thinking: How many times in a day or a week or a month do I mentally put someone aside as not worth my time? How often do I take in the externals and decide, whether consciously or unconsciously, that I don’t care to dive deeper and learn who this person is? Worse, how often do I create an entire persona for them inside myself based on what little I know, and then pass judgment on that image as if it were the real person?

I’m ashamed to say that I do it almost daily, on some level. I may defend it by referring to my personal “boundaries” and silly rules about how many relationships one person can naturally handle. I may tell myself “it’s obvious” this person is a certain way because of specific traits or mannerisms. But there’s no real excuse. I am a raving hypocrite. I cheerfully judge people I barely know because they don’t have the right “look,” or because they aren’t approachable, or because they seem too full of it. But when someone else looks at me and sees the same unattractive qualities, I curl up in a ball and whine that it’s not fair, because there’s more to me than my glasses and my facial expression.

Clearly it’s time for a serious gut check. You can all stand in witness: I’m going to start checking my reactions when I meet new people, in any situation. Am I really giving them the time of day, or am I mentally logging them away in the “not worth my time” file for some stupid, shallow reason?

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For the record, I’m going to keep wearing my glasses, and I’m going to hope and assume that if marriage is my true calling, the man who can love me will also love my spectacles. And while I have no problem smiling when I’m in conversation or there’s something legitimate to smile about, I’m afraid there’s not a whole lot I can do about the physiological structure of my face. Sorry, God made me this way, and my natural expression is somewhat somber. So to my nameless judge, I can only say: you sound like a jerk.* But I’m not going to judge you yet, because I don’t know who you are — and you’ve actually done me a service. So I forgive you, and I even thank you. You’ve forced me to see the uncomfortable truth in that Gospel line: “Stop judging, and you will not be judged.”

— Mabel

 

*In all fairness if, as I suspect, you are among my male acquaintances from the broader church community in the DC area, I may have been rude to you or curt with you, because that tends to be my “default” position when I don’t want to give someone the wrong impression. It’s not right, and if I have been rude, I apologize. In that sense, I will work on “smiling” more. But if you like your women without glasses — well, find a chick who doesn’t wear them.