"If you wait for the perfect inspiration, you will remain paralyzed in your writing." Words from a dear friend hit home this past week as we toured an art gallery created by her daughter, a recovered perfectionist. I was honestly thinking the same thing when she sweetly cast her eyes to mine and shared the words out loud. I am honestly saddened as to why I have not been able to get my fingers to the keys. I have had several thoughts about the "whys" but when I stop and really reach within my deepest truth - it has to do with fear. I am not even sure it has to do with fear of imperfection. It feels more like fear of rejection. Or judgment. Or of being misunderstood. Just all of it.
I have recently been reading more. I don't make New Year's resolutions, so it is not a part of that. Truthfully, I have been reading due to my interest in escaping my reality, specifically, my work reality. If I am being very honest, I do not like working in healthcare right now. It has nothing to do with my sweet little patients, but everything to do with the older and the younger brothers - as described in the book, "The Prodigal God" by Tim Keller. This book is one of many, written while the author is reflecting on the Parable of the Prodigal Son from the book of Luke 15:11-32.
If you are not familiar with the story, the quick synopsis from the trusty ole Wikipedia is described in this way: In the story, a father has two sons. The younger son asks for his portion of inheritance from his father, who grants his son's request. This son, however, is prodigal (i.e., wasteful and extravagant), thus squandering his fortune and eventually becoming destitute. As consequence, he now must return home empty-handed and intend to beg his father to accept him back as a servant. To the son's surprise, he is not scorned by his father but is welcomed back with celebration and a welcoming party. Envious, the older son refuses to participate in the festivities. The father tells the older son: "you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours, but thy younger brother was lost and now he is found."
I've spent a lot of time struggling with the idea of the older son being upset when the younger son returned home. I've been that older son a time (or ten) and have had trouble reconciling the tension between always doing the "right thing" and being confused by those that do not being granted grace upon grace. Moving past the need for perfection in my own life coupled with the understanding of how very much "little brother" I actually have in me has helped me stop wrestling with this parable and instead embrace the loving acceptance of the Father.
In Tim Keller's book, The Prodigal God, he uses the parable to explain the two ways people strive for happiness - by moral conformity or self-discovery. He defines moral conformity through the lens of the older brother and his life and attitude. Strict and obedient to all the rules, the moral conformists always choose what is "right" regardless of what might be best... The one who seeks happiness via self discovery represents the younger brother - the seeker of self satisfying pleasures and the one touting the mantra, "I'm looking out for number one."
The past two years have truly been heartbreaking to be in healthcare. There is no trust left. Anxiety is through the roof. Access has exploded where any patient at any time can have access to anything. Stress piled on top of stress has caused those of us still hanging on (read working in healthcare at all) to cling to either a strict data driven robot mode or that of self preservation at all cost. People don't function best under the level of stress we have endured these past two years. All kinds of undesirable behaviors infect, spread and replicate. Sounds like a virus, huh?
In a profession where the unfortunate truth of hierarchical patterns of the past still prevail, being a female *nurse* practitioner has me placed in a box by others that I find very hard to burst free from. Years of experience continue to be discounted as my own area of expertise and contribution to the field of medicine is belittled because of my title. Living in this box that I do not place myself in but am continually placed in often leaves me very discouraged. While the older brother types pressure me to cough up exact data driven methods to my every decision, the younger brother types forward the less than desirable tasks my way to preserve their own sanity. I am not writing this for sympathy. And I am not ashamed at all that I *chose* the path of advanced practice nursing. I write this because this is an area of heartbreak for me and many others who are still fighting the good fight of self acceptance and value in a profession that often tells them differently (please hug an NP today).
Just like an artist bears her soul on various platforms of media, so does the writer. Coming to the keys not fully knowing how to even begin to express myself in a way that a reader might not take offence has been absolutely crippling. Especially when I have been placed in a box by many in my career. I have always written from a place of faith and inspiration which has been founded on the truth I glean from scripture. I am not a biblical scholar so fully include that disclosure. However, I have long loved the Lord and have tried my hardest to share that love with all people. And somehow, in this time we are living, even that very statement can make me seem unenlightened.
The art display was one of release and realization for me. I have been hiding. I have been afraid. And not of Covid. I have been afraid of being misunderstood. I have been paralyzed. I do blame the pandemic for the isolation that has lead to the breeding of polarized ideas and false assumptions of others' intentions. The beauty of the each canvas I visited opened my eyes to what the world was now gaining from this artists' vulnerability and willingness to truly bear her heart and soul.
Not a scientist by training, she researched the human body in a way that was true to facts but also fashioned each painting to include a part of herself, making them a fantastic blend of the way of the older and the younger brother. It was exquisite. Her artistic reflection of each body part and system could educate and enlighten even the most intelligent of scientists. What if we all embraced the idea that an artist with no medical training could teach the noble prize winner in human anatomy and physiology a new way of understanding the heart?
What if instead of throwing out facts to others without considering their position, we paused to listen. And then we learned that maybe its not as simple as we think it is to not want to get the Covid vaccine. What if we adopted a posture of truth telling with compassion and started a revolution of people seeing others as people, not political parties or platforms? What if I told you I have had multiple conversations with people who are afraid of getting the vaccine who talk to me because I don't judge them? I am not perfect so don't misread that. I am not getting on my own high horse. I am simply saying that this is the reason I have not been writing. I cannot even feel safe to encourage friends and family to engage others who think differently about the topic of a vaccine - something I know more about than the average bear, but not nearly as much as others. Something I personally believe in wholeheartedly.
What if we put aside our titles and realized the gift each human being is in the collective health of the whole person. What if each person in a medical office was truly seen as essential to the care of the patient? Even the healthcare provider who took the time to ask with true sympathetic curiosity, "Tell me why you are hesitant to get the Covid vaccine. I want to understand." And what if that time was considered "well spent" instead of a waste of time on a selfish person who just won't listen. Have you tried to hear them? What if the janitor at the local church who has been noticed to sing praise songs while working was invited to do a solo at the church service? Without asking her the exact religious affiliation and background she comes from to vet her appropriateness for a specific sect of Christianity? Does God care about every single rule following detail of her past or the heart of the servant singing in deep adoration and worship to Him?
What if I told you I have been co-leading a bible study of diverse women, some of whom I have met on the ATT because I care deeply about feet on the ground ministry. I may have met one women after commenting, "Praise God!" as I passed her and saw her hands raised in the air in a posture of worship. No posts, no pictures, no black out posts on the day Facebook calls us to "show up". But my friends and sisters of various color and age have been a huge part of my life this past year and a half. I only write this because this is what a lot of people are doing - they are carrying the burden of the racial (and just plain) divide silently and diligently behind closed doors. It is uncomfortable for me to write this as I hear in the back of my mind, "Don't let the left hand know what the right hand is doing..." But, I am not alone in this type of work and it is worth bringing up.
So, thank you to the artist who inspired me this week. Thank you for helping to open my eyes to the absolute gift each of us are. Each organ that lives and breathes, each part that makes up the whole. Each person whose gifts are needed in this difficult time of our lives. Being a logical person by nature, a rule following first born, this art display tapped back into my younger brother free spirit of expression and creativity. It reminded me that there has to be a better way for us to encourage the blend of the older and younger brother types because neither alone is the desired way of being.
What if we all try not to place people in boxes they don't choose to be in. We have become an incredibly judgmental society. Reach out to that old friend whose Facebook posts have left you disenfranchised during this crazy hard past 2 years. Call out beauty when you see it, even in someone you are certain is of a different political persuasion. Smile at a stranger who has a t-shirt on of the candidate you did not vote for in our last election. Consider each person as once an innocent baby in their mother's arms.
In the podcast I listened to yesterday, the speaker said, "God's love does not start with me, it stems from me." Just like the Father in the story of the prodigal son, God sees us when we are holier than thou and when we are rebelling with the pigs. He always welcomes us into his loving arms, so eager to embrace us that he runs to us. Let us enable His pure reckless love to infiltrate our beings so that anything that comes out of us is an extension of His kind of love. His kind of love, when allowed the freedom from our own fleshly restraints and preconceived notions, breeds the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, gentleness, faith, modesty and self-control. I am convinced that all of these traits are what this world needs to heal. Instead of allowing the status quo of fear and judgment overtake your thoughts and actions, remember there is another way.
Like the artist and the writer, we all have untapped gifts that this pandemic has squelched. I encourage you to reflect on what creative passion you have that can be released today. And when your neighbor releases that passionate expression, breathe in and out the beauty of his or her heart that beats uniquely. What can you learn from someone else's self expression today? How can you see God's goodness in another?