Tuesday, July 20, 2010

First thoughts

I do not know if anyone will read this. I hope it will be of help to someone, but mostly this is an exercise in honesty with myself. I have discovered that I spend too much time making up stories about my life in which I am heroic, only to discover that, at best, I have only been doing my basic duty and no more. It is time for me to start telling better stories, to become honest with and about myself, and to learn to be valiant.

 

One of my favorite hymns is "Who Would True Valour See," sometimes called "He Who Would Valiant Be." The best version, in my opinion, is sung by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band (they get the martial pace of the song right). You can hear that version here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOPW-9mSw8Y

 

The lyrics (for the original Bunyan version) are:

 

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There's no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He'll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He'll fear not what men say,
He'll labor night and day
To be a pilgrim.

Merriam-Webster defines "valor" thus: "Middle English valour worth, worthiness, bravery, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin valor, from Latin val─ôre to be of worth, be strong: strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness : personal bravery"

 

I am lacking in valor. This is not an easy thing to admit: after all, who doesn't in some sense think that they are brave in dealing with their day-to-day lives? But it is true, and if true, must be admitted.

 

A bit of explanation may be warranted here. Like any little girl growing up in a conservative Evangelical church, I used to dream of marriage and family. When I didn't date in high school, it was a distressing, but I was assured that college boys were better anyway. College came…and went, without a single date. Not one. I was crushed—how was my life supposed to go now? How could I be a good Christian woman now? Over a holiday break, I had something of an emotional meltdown; a few days into it, God suddenly stopped me short. (I don't claim to hear from God on any regular basis: it's happened maybe three times, total. I've never been one of those people who seem to hear God telling them things about their lives every other day.) I felt as if a choice were presented: to continue down the path I was on, idolizing this idea of having a family, and searching for someone who would be interested in me. Or, I could go another way, the way of singleness and devotion to God alone. I didn't know what this other way was, what it would be like, or how I could possibly survive it alone. But at the moment of choice, I knew that I was completely free to choose either path…and that I had already chosen. (C.S. Lewis described a similar event in Surprised By Joy)

 

That small moment in my university library was a turning point: nothing has been the same since then.

 

But here's the rub: when I struggle with my life, with loneliness, with feeling like no-one understands, with trying to find how to live a single life when everyone around me is focused on married couples and families—it can feel heroic. It can feel like I'm being brave, conquering my feelings, bringing myself back into alignment with God's will and not giving in to bitterness over my path. But it's not. It's no more than is required of everyone else: chastity, love, patience, generosity, simple courtesy.

 

I am no hero, as much as I want to be. On my very best of days, I manage to do my duty. And that is a hard thing to face.

 

God have mercy on me, a sinner.