Humility, Gentleness, and the Millennial Complex

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Photo credit: Arkady Lifshits via Unsplash

The way I write about wanting to “figure it all out,” and the way we feel pressured by modern society to do so, you’d think it’s our sacred duty. That, beyond anything else – loving our neighbor, shining our light, or basking in blessings – that’s ultimately what we’re here to do: figure it out. However ambiguous “it” might be, and however unattainable that goal really is.

I don’t know how exactly the desperate need to “figure it all out” became the earmark of my generation. I’d argue that part of it is because – for women especially – for the first time in history, we are capable of choosing any path we desire for ourselves. And society telling us we can have it all translates to us feeling that we should. And, consequently, that we need to adhere to a timeline (i.e. “figure it all out” as quickly as possible) to make sure we’re on track to do this.

But that’s a topic for another post. The point I’d like to make here is that “figuring it all out” is actually not my job.

Thank goodness.

The “figure it all out” frenzy – or the Millennial Complex, as I like to call it – is characterized by the belief that I am the one who has to do all the work. I am the one who bears complete responsibility for the way my life unfolds. And while I’m certainly not negating the importance or the blessing of freedom and personal choice, I am saying that as a Catholic Christian, I know better. I know that sometimes, in spite of my best efforts, life just doesn’t go according to plan. Sometimes things happen that are out of my hands.

Because I’m not the one driving the bus. God is.

The enormous duty of the Millennial Complex – the need to figure our whole lives out – is tinged with pride, isn’t it? Because what we’re saying when we subscribe to it is, “I am more powerful than God. I control my life, and because it’s all up to me, I need to make sure I’m not screwing this up. I need to figure this out. And fast.”

Twentysomething-hood, then, is teaching me a new definition of the word “humility,” one that is in keeping with how I saw “gentleness” defined in my Blessed Is She Road to Pentecost scripture study. It defines the fruit of the spirit called gentleness as being “submissive to God and… humble enough to be taught by God.”

So when we’re struggling to do God’s will, wondering what He’s asking of us… maybe the answer isn’t that we should desperately attempt to “figure it all out.”

Maybe we should wait patiently for God to instruct our hearts instead. Because in something that we see as not quite “figured out” yet – waiting for our careers to take off, for example, waiting for a boyfriend or husband, or waiting for any number of other things we seek – God is still acting with purpose in our lives, intentionally preparing us to become the people we are meant to be.

I think that practicing humility at this point in my life means not wanting so desperately to “figure everything out,” but to trust that it’s already being figured out… by hands much larger than mine. And to be willing to learn from His mysterious ways.

How Reading Makes Us Better People (and a Challenge!)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

I have this shirt. It says, “You are what you read.” I like it because it implies I should be a wizard for all the times I’ve read Harry Potter.

Of course it doesn’t quite work that way, though. I wish!

We won’t literally become every character we read about, or get sucked magically into every novel’s world through a portal that appears in our bedrooms (though, yes, that would be awesome).

But still, we are what we read. How does that work?

I would argue that, in addition to literature, all of the humanities and liberal arts (history, philosophy, theology, etc.) teach us principles that nourish our souls. Whether learning by example from events of the past, discussing complex social and ethical dilemmas, or theorizing on the nature of God -- when taught well, these subjects actually teach us how to become better people.

The study of literature is unique, though, because it takes this one step further. Instead of keeping discussion in the world of abstract theory, once a character is given a story, he or she becomes much more accessible. A recent Women’s Health article cited a study that demonstrated reading character-driven fiction (and narrative nonfiction, too, I assume) increases our capacity for empathy and compassion.  In reading about other people, real or imagined, from their point of view, we activate the same neurons that fire when a friend or family member tells us, in person, about something that happened to them.

At the risk of sounding like every English teacher you’ve ever had, reading expands our horizons by letting us live a thousand lives that are not our own, and opening us up to experiences we’ll never know. It’s how we’re able to step into another person’s shoes without doing some kind of sci-fi soul transplant, and develop our ability to understand what another is going through. So the more diverse works we select and immerse ourselves in, the better. What an extraordinary gift and privilege this is!

If you’re feeling super jazzed right now about reading all kinds of character-driven fiction, but you’re not sure where to start, let me help you out.

Three months from tomorrow is my first day of graduate school classes in the study of English Literature. Yay! And I can’t help but feel I should really milk this summer for the final opportunity (for the next two years, at least) it offers for un-guided reading.

So I’m definitely ready to hit the ground running (uh, hit the books…. reading?).

I work at the front desk in a dental office, and a couple of months ago, I started talking with a patient about “people” books she’d read and loved. I’m shameless in my hunt for recommendations, you see. I’m always asking other people what they’re reading. It’s a compulsion of being a bookworm, I guess. Anyway, this woman continued to spend her waiting time at this appointment writing a list of her favorites for me, and I’ve kept it in my bookshelf since, waiting to finish a few others I’d started before turning to it for my next contender.

And I think now is a perfect time to do that. Three months ahead of me and a passion for “people” books? I’m pumped.

You in, too?

If so, here’s the list. Happy reading!

  • ·      Anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • ·      The Kite Runner / A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  • ·      Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • ·      The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • ·      The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • ·      My Sister’s Keeper / Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  • ·      The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
  • ·      The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (she put three stars next to this one!)
  • ·      The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
  • ·      Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
  • ·      Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • ·      Anything by Barbara Kingsolver (except, she was adamant, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle)
  • ·      The Bluest Eye / Solomon / Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • ·      Meridian / The Third Life of Grange Copeland / The Color Purple / Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker