Updated on May 6, 2016
Two years ago, I was in desperate need of saving. With an intense distrust of people and a mind overflowing with unanswered questions, I was about to graduate from college. Life as I knew it would soon be over and I would be forced to enter a world that I was completely unprepared for—a world that I really didn’t want to be a part of.
I spent the majority of my four years at school behind the closed (and locked) door of my dorm room. Leaving only for classes and the occasional trip to the “kitchen” (sink & microwave) at the end of the hall, I became a recluse. Anxious, callous, and lonely, I was “safe” to judge others from the confines of the four walls of my room—the four walls that not only granted me a respite from the too-small campus, but also completely drained me of any energy I managed to cultivate.
Despite spending my days in class seeking the answers to existential questions, whenever thoughts of my impending future plagued me, I concluded that the only thing I knew was that I knew nothing—nothing about other people, or how to interact with them, or even who I was around them. Such a nauseating revelation required drastic action. I needed to escape my mind…I needed to turn my never-ending inward reflection to outward action…and most importantly, I needed to begin to interact with others. Hoping it wouldn’t be “too little, too late,” I committed to a year-long mission trip. I would be forced to live, serve, and travel with a team of five individuals—individuals who most likely didn’t share my unorthodox views on life. However, any discomfort I might experience from our differences would be a small price to pay in exchange for the hope of a brighter future.
That year abroad was one of the strangest of my life. See, over the course of the year, something happened. No, not instantaneously…and no, not without those aforementioned high levels of discomfort. But gradually, tied in with tears and laughter, I discovered something even more terrifying than the fact that I didn’t know how to interact with people—I discovered that I needed other people. No matter how much I tried to ignore this revelation, I always came back to the same conclusion: I need other people. I told myself those four words on repeat until it was no longer necessary…until I was able to recognize others as individuals deserving of love, rather than mere “problems” I needed to solve.
But now, a year later, apparently the honeymoon is over. Despite my best efforts, it has become extremely difficult to look at someone…anyone…and see more than just another puzzle to piece together. No longer surrounded by a supportive community, I’ve fallen back to old habits far too easily. See, paradigm shifts require an extreme amount of work. In order to permanently change your thinking, you need to choose.
Choose to reject erroneous ways of thinking.
Choose to fight for truth.
And choose to believe such truth.
My problem is that lately, I haven’t chosen much of anything. Instead of fighting, I’ve become a passive participant in life. Instead of believing, I’ve allowed myself to forget much of what I painstakingly learned over the past year. However, the business of forgetting is quite dangerous. In allowing yourself to forget, you’re saying, “I’m ok with wasting my time.” You’re also saying, “I’m not worth it. I’m not worth the fight. I’m not worth the struggle.” But guess what? You are worth it. You’re so worth it. And, I suppose by extension, I am too.
As easy and tempting as it is to return to the locked room where I sat in judgment of others, to do so would be shortchanging myself. Because I now know that so much more of the world exists beyond my four walls. I’ve experienced it, and I’m meant to experience more of it.This isn’t the end of the story. It can’t be.
So here’s to remembering. Here’s to exposing infected scabs and allowing them to properly heal. Here’s to letting myself seek, and even rely on, others. And here’s to that blog I wrote last year while farming in western Thailand…where I first realized I needed other people…when my thoughts turned to a wise fox speaking to that Little Prince in the green jumpsuit…:
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Growing up, I read…a lot. Reading was a serious occupation for me. See, when you have trouble with any sort of social interaction and you do not have many friends, books are magical. They transport you to a world that is beyond the monotony and struggle of daily life. They provide an escape. They help you make sense of an unkind world. As such, it only follows that my favorite book is a children’s book: The Little Prince. Because this book has enjoyed immense popularity, I feel somewhat predictable in claiming it as my “favorite;” however, it has taught me a lot about life…specifically, about the life that I failed to live.
In The Little Prince, a young boy falls from the sky into the Sahara desert, where he meets a pilot whose plane has recently crash-landed. The prince tells the pilot of his travels around the universe on his quest for meaning, where he meets up with an assortment of disparate characters before coming to earth. It is on the planet earth that the prince encounters a wise fox who patiently speaks to him about “being tamed,” or establishing a relationship built on friendship and love. Friendship is something that I have neither fully understood, nor become comfortable with. To my understanding, friendship consisted of an existence of sacrifices and struggles—both of which I had already experienced enough of on my own, without further complicating things by adding new variables (such as other people) to the mix.
You see, I have never been very good at “getting to know” people. Rather than putting in the necessary effort to invest in a relationship (and believe me, it required a huge amount of effort on my part), it was easier for me to forget about others and allow others to forget about me. By not allowing others to invest in me, I could keep my distance from two words that I am not very fond of: “responsibility” and “forever” (both of these words carry way too much weight and require too much follow-up for my liking). This strategy would allow me to deem friendship as something contrived and artificial, and allow me to criticize those who clung to such frivolous ties. However, being here in the middle of nowhere, I have discovered that maybe…just maybe…I was a bit harsh…and maybe, there is some value in this thing called friendship…maybe…
“What makes the desert beautiful, […] is that somewhere it hides a well…”
It is my responsibility to choose in. After all, isn’t this the reason I came on this year-long journey, rather than pursuing any of the other opportunities available to me? This was a “place” where I could not run away, where I would literally be “stuck” dealing with others—others who I could not escape from and who could not escape from me. While I fully understood and welcomed the fact that this year was about loving and serving others in established ministries around the world, this year was also about discovering what God wanted to do in my life and how He could change me into the person He created me to be. In choosing in, I am forced to go through difficult times, followed by more difficult times, and yes, then even more. To be honest, there are times I feel like I am wandering through the Sahara desert the Little Prince landed in…I am hot, thirsty, and tired; but just when I feel as though I cannot go on anymore, God reveals something grand to me. I am suddenly revived and feel as though I can push through my circumstances. These unexpected moments are nothing short of beautiful.
“I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies”
So far, this journey has not been easy. Sometimes, I still question what I am doing here and sometimes, I even awaken with thoughts of uncertainty about where I am and who I am with. However, I cannot even pretend to know the will of God or His plan for my life; instead, I must simply trust that He has everything under control. Little by little, I am learning that I need to have relationships with others, modeled after my relationship with God. Despite my best efforts up until this point in my life, I have learned that I cannot live as a recluse. Throughout his travels, the Little Prince encounters a king, a conceited man, a tippler, a businessman, a lamplighter, and a geographer. Although my life has, at times, imitated the lives of each of these selfish, close-minded individuals, I am slowly learning to change my ways and live my life differently.
- I don’t want to live like the King on Asteroid B325. I don’t want to insulate myself from the world with a false sense of power as I decide when to use or not use my voice.
- I don’t want to live like the Conceited Man on Asteroid B326. I don’t want to be proud and chase after accolades that the world rewards and values.
- I don’t want to live like the Tippler on Asteroid B 327. I don’t want to live in the shame of being too fearful to change old habits.
- I don’t want to live like the Businessman on Asteroid B 328. I don’t want to spend my life focusing on only quantifiable things, failing to invest in the lives of others.
- I don’t want to live like the Lamplighter on Asteroid B 329. I don’t want to be bound by the constant fear of doing something wrong and, in the process, lose sight of who I really am.
- I don’t want to live like the Geographer on Asteroid B 330. I don’t want to spend every minute of my life sitting behind a desk, waiting for others to tell me of their adventures. I want to experience first-hand all that life has to offer.
No, I do not want to live like any of these individuals the Little Prince visited on his journey away from his planet, his precious rose and his three volcanoes. Rather, I want to simply live the life prescribed by the wise fox the Little Prince met after landing on Earth. It has taken me a long time to admit, but I want friendship. I want to tame and I want to be tamed. Only then can I begin to know and fully appreciate the wonderful individuality of each person I meet.
Here in Thailand, living with just the five other members of my team, I am constantly reminded of what true community can look like. I want to fight for the others and I want the others to fight for me. Surrounded by majestic mountains and fully engaged in the life of the farm, I have forced myself to get along with people who I might not have otherwise associated with. Although not always easy, I am learning to think differently…to forgive stray comments and quirky behaviors, and instead, to appreciate each person’s uniqueness. From quick conversations over tasty snacks at a shopping mall, to long, thoughtful talks while riding in truck beds under the stars, I have seen more of the “world” than I could ever have hoped for, and I didn’t even need to travel to another country to see it. While I admit that “friendship” still does not make complete sense to me, I know now that I need to continue to choose to learn more about this gift from God each and every day.
In the beginning of the The Little Prince, the narrator describes his experiences as a six-year old child who shares his “masterpiece” with adults—a drawing of an elephant swallowed by a boa constrictor. However, because the adults are too close-minded and have no childlike imagination, they merely see a picture of a hat, completely unable to see the elephant. My time here has taught me that I need to choose to see the elephant inside the boa constrictor. I need to discern what truly matters in life—the things that are not visible to the eye, but the things that are only visible to the heart…things like friendship and love.