Thoughts on Growing, New Experiences, and Art Appreciation
Over the last two years, I’ve been learning like I’ve never learned before about myself, my family, life in general and most importantly, my faith. I’ve allowed myself to be stretched a bit and pushed out of my comfort zone. I’ve felt like a guinea pig of late; thoughts, books, foods, and cultures I have experienced anew, within the realm of reason and my faith.
I have not done any of it because I want to be hip, fresh, and trendy, or to become another person’s idea of hipsterdom. I have done it a little out of fear of the absence of change. I’ve asked myself questions like, “what if I never change from the person I am today to the person I am when I’m ninety?” and I’ve observed others. “Are they too comfortable? Not content enough?” Are they stubborn about change inspired by a greater power? Accepting discomfort in my day to day, pushing through a chapter of a book I may not love, trying a food I’ve onced made faces at, and allowing myself to feel vulnerable and hurt at times in my relationships all comes down to this… I do it for the sake of growth in my person (my father calls it “building character”), increased virtue, and a life well lived.
My husband has come in to me curled up on the bed before, quiet and pensive, but distraught. When asked why I was so, I explained that I wasn’t the person I wanted to be and I had been okay with that in the past! I explained that I didn’t just want to live my life or “survive.” I wanted to be extraordinary, I wanted to pray for sainthood, and I wanted to be obedient to God in all ways. In short, I wanted God to use me in a powerful way, and the thought that I just wasn’t living my life the way I wanted to was eating me up inside. I had come to a realization that I was content a little too much to be surviving the mundane, and living for worldly pleasures. I had a daily routine that I didn’t feel the need to depart from, and it wasn’t even a routine that made me happy. I was content to let damaged relationships stay damaged, and I figured I couldn’t fix them anyway so why try… I left very little room for God’s will and movement in my life. Once that huge realization slammed into me, all I could do was lay still on the bed and rethink my priorities. How did I want to live? Was I happy being mediocre? Was I willing to live my whole life for a few fleeting pleasures? Did I want to raise my children the way that I was behaving and would that encourage goodness and virtue in them?
No, I wasn’t happy. I was depressed everyday. No, I didn’t want my children to believe in worldly things that would leave them longing for more, and I didn’t want them to end up lost and alone in a sea of people who believed just that.
So where did that leave me? I arose from the bed and decided it was time to start really living. Not that “surviving thing” I experienced month after month, but actually choosing goodness and virtue instead of instant gratification and ease. I knew that I had a lot of growing to do (both in the immediate sense and the spiritual sense), and it was time to make the choice to grow. Sure, I had been a good friend. But had I been a great friend? Sure, I tried to live for God, but had I been trying my hardest?
You know what? Living is hard. Holding your tongue when someone says something against you hurts. Choosing to let go of fairness in your relationships doesn’t make you want to do a little jig. Eating a piece of salmon that makes you want to gag obviously isn’t a fun experience.
But you know what else? Surviving is harder. When that comment against you hits and you retaliate with the worst thing you can think of in order to hurt that person, you don’t feel good. You feel worse and you sink into a depression. When you write up a score card within your marriage to see whose turn it is to do the dishes, clean up the cat vomit, or take the trash out, you don’t feel any better. You feel tense. You can’t enjoy that time of your partner taking their turn dealing with life’s messes because you know it’s not their gift to you, it’s a rule they abide by whilst resenting you a little more each day. And when you don’t try that salmon, how will you ever know that you like fried fish, and let’s be honest… One day, that fried chicken is going to get old! (Come on, a little lighthearted humor for the post.)
And so, here I am, in my new life, feeling uncomfortable, a little awkward at times, and stretched, but I also feel grateful for my blessings and I feel like a broader person. I don’t feel boxed in by my perfect little square of likes and dislikes. I’m still learning what I like, and I’m learning more about people, the world, and God through my new experiences and willingness to attempt things out of my comfort zone.
A perfect example of this is my recent ventures into the vast world of Art appreciation with my husband. When I walked into an art museum for the first time, I definitely felt a bit uncomfortable by the high-class atmosphere of the lobby. I felt confused by the awe-struck silence of those in the galleries who stared for fifteen minutes at what appeared to me to be a blob on a canvas. I even judged the artist of the canvas in question for their “lack of talent” and thought them to be shallow, when in reality, it was I who held that title. Let’s not even talk about the fact that I once considered the people observing the art to be complete snobs… I was stuck up, close-minded, unapproachable, and prideful.
It wasn’t until I allowed myself to open my mind to new things that I actually began to see what others saw and I identified with them! I started to see that people really were in awe, and for good reason! On closer inspection, I learned a bit more about the artists, learned how to appreciate their style of art, and learned what they were trying to express! It was then that I was able to empathize with the artist too. It didn’t stop there. Some of the art I observed on that first trip moved me deep inside, and still others taught me things I did not know about my own faith and the world! Without being stretched out of my little bubble of what I do and don’t do, how would I have ever known of the beautiful world of religious and sacred art! And oh, how amazing is that world! On that first trip doing something I would normally never do, I grew in so many ways. I learned lessons of empathy, humility, and beauty, thus worked to increase virtue, and I learned about my God and my Catholic faith!
Now, I am an advocate of new experiences for the sake of growing and increasing virtue. I am a believer in allowing yourself to be moved and put in temporary discomfort for the sake of becoming a better person and living your life well! I may even adopt my Dad’s phrase of building character with my own kids. I want to be a great future mother. I want to build relationships with everyone that I can, and not just a select few! I want to be molded into the person that God wants me to be. I want to be extraordinary for Christ.
Lastly, these words from Pope Benedict XVI echo in my mind since we are on the subject of greatness and comfort.