Part of growing up seems, to me, to be about trying to figure out who you are. Isn’t it? Don’t we spend months and years trying to figure out what it is we like, what we want to do, what we don’t want to do, who we want to do it with, and how we are going to get there? We spend so much time trying to figure ourselves out (along with the rest of the world) only to find out that we’ve changed.
We’re not static. Bummer.
Last summer I served as a hospital chaplain in Newport News, Virginia as part of a educational process known as Clinical Pastoral Education. If you’re a seminary student from a mainline denomination, chances are you have heard of CPE. For some of you it may create flashbacks to nights on-call with bedside prayers for the dying, congratulatory prayers for new parents, conversations with those facing life-changing illnesses or rejoicing after successful, albeit strenuous, surgeries.
For me, it brings back a feeling of accomplishment and memories of profound growth. I learned a lot about myself during CPE, which I think is quite a great feat in itself. How exciting! It wasn’t just that I learned more, but what I learned- one point being that I viewed myself as a static being. I thought that at my core there was a “Courtney” and growing up was all about trying to figure out how that Courtney operated- finding out what her strengths were, her weaknesses, what made her tick… I learned during that summer that I thought there existed one solid sense of self, and everything I did or didn’t do was “more” or “less” Courtney. When I tried new things and pushed my boundaries it wasn’t an expression of who I was, but me being “not very Courtney”. Similarly, less life-giving habits were just “the way Courtney is”. What a mix of excuses and uncelebrated potential. Even before I tried to do these new things, I had the mindset that I was doing something crazy, something that didn’t fit my personality.
Then it hit me: it’s not that I am figuring out who this solid core “Courtney” is (well, it is a little), but that I am discovering all the ways in which this Courtney continues to change. I am not static.
One thing I really enjoyed doing this past January was hiking in Petra, Jordan. I am not a hiker, especially not one that does full day climbs. But I did. Was this just completely unlike “me”, or did I change? Granted, I still don’t particularly enjoy hiking, but that type of exploration is right up my alley. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it four years ago, so I think that I have changed.
Similarly, I don’t like vegetables. I know, call the police, have me arrested, I think they are a waste of stomach space 75% of the time. And yet, I lived abroad in Jerusalem for a year and found myself enjoying vegetables. Now, you could say, “Oh, Courtney, you just didn’t realize you liked these kinds of vegetables! You hadn’t enjoyed them because they weren’t prepared well!” First, are you saying my parents can’t cook delicious vegetables? Second, no, I hated vegetables (I assume we’re going to argue that corn and mashed potatoes are starches and not veggies still? Yes? Ok then.). But between the mysterious “then” and now something changed. Courtney enjoyes (some) vegetables. [Okay, let’s not get crazy, I still would choose a piece of fruit, cheese, meat… anything, really, over a plate of veggies, but the point is I would choose to eat some of them if I had the chance.]
Sometimes we discover things that were hidden about ourselves (think the “blind” or “hidden” quadrants of the Johari window), but I think that sometimes we discover that things have changed. They aren’t just aspects of our selves that we failed to comprehend, but habits, traits, opinions that have changed.
I’ve thought at times about how helpful it could be to adopt an alter persona, one that did the things I wish I had the confidence and courage to do. Yet I’ve come to realize it’s not about trying to be something I’m not, but rather trying to express all the things I am…now. I am confident, although I may not always appear and feel it. I am the kind of person who would go and live a year in a country a quarter of the way around the world where I don’t speak the language. I am the kind of person who would go to an opera all dressed to the nines. I am the kind of person who would bike across the Rocky Mountains (okay, okay, let’s not get crazed here!).
The point is, “Courtney” is everything that “Courtney” does.