This parable, roughly written yesterday and today, captures the story of my life and my church’s life. Here’s how it goes:
A beautiful young woman fell in love and married the perfect man. It was a famous wedding. They were the ideal couple. They had the admiration of everyone around. It was a fairy-tale wedding and a dream marriage. Things were wonderful. For about a year.
She realized, as she became more mature and self-aware, that she wanted to continue to grow and develop as a person. She wanted to discover who she was and be that person. She started to become more vocal as she spoke her mind. She was confident enough in herself and in their love to be herself and to experiment with her own chosen path of self-discovery and self-expression. At first her husband was slightly amused. But over time it developed into bafflement as he began to realize that she was indeed changing. She wasn’t the quiet, submissive woman who fell head over heels for him. She was more honest about what she thought, and he wasn’t sure he liked it.
So, one day, as an attempt to re-establish order, he lashed out at her about something she said: “What are you doing? Why are you changing the rules? We had an agreement! We used to get along so well. We never used to disagree! Now you seem to question everything I say. I want things back the way they were. I want you to fulfill the vows that we wrote ourselves where you said you would always honor me and look to me as the head of our household! We were happier then! You’re the one who’s changing, not me! You’re wrecking something beautiful.” He was angry. She never saw him so furious. And it frightened her.
He was right. She was changing! She could see that she wasn’t the sweet naive girl he married. Or… was she changing? Maybe she was just becoming more confident in who she was. Maybe her true self was coming out… her true self that at first temporarily slept under the power of infatuation but was now awakening in spite of his resistance. It took a lot of courage for her to be herself. His reactions were becoming more violent and cruel. Over time things got steadily worse until she felt she had no choice. She actually began fearing for her safety. Nor could she bear the thought of living in his prison for the rest of her life. She tried to talk to him about it, but he always managed to make her feel it was all her fault. He would get angrier and angrier. So, with all the courage she could muster, she told him she was leaving. She couldn’t live with him any more. She was tired of being controlled. She wanted to be free to be herself. His rage and attempts to force her into submission only drove her further away. Then one day, to everyone’s surprise, including hers, she left. She could finally breathe the fresh air of freedom that she had risked everything to earn.
But she soon found out that freedom is costly. He immediately started to talk to all their friends and everyone they knew about how she had changed. He told people about how she used to be so compliant, how she used to adore him, but how over time she was becoming more defiant and difficult. He emphasized the fact that she changed the rules, reneged on their agreement, and that she had left him! She watched in horror as their friends took his side and ostracized her. She heard terrible rumors about herself. She heard that she had slept around, and that she married him for his reputation and for his money. She heard that she had “issues”. When she had to go out, she felt something like shame. People seemed to be staring at her, talking about her, laughing at her. She couldn’t help it, but this shame developed into a full blown complex. She was once beautiful. Now she felt ugly, dirty and embarrassed. She found it more and more difficult to leave her house.
She continued to go to work and to school. She continued to see the few friends that stuck with her. She continued to try to live her life as normally as she could. But she just couldn’t shake the shame she felt. She went for counseling. She went to seminars. She attended workshops. She read books. They all said the same thing: she had the right to be who she was. She was free and deserved that freedom. She was beautiful. She had a great personality. Her hard-earned individuality was attractive and even sexy. But no matter how many times she heard this, she wasn’t convinced. She wondered if she would ever become the person she knew she was. She wondered if this thick fog of shame would ever lift and she could walk in this world with a sense of confidence, self-assurance and happiness.
Until one day, as she was pushing her cart through the grocery store, she noticed a very handsome man catch her eye. Obviously embarrassed that he was caught looking at her, he simply smiled, said “hi”, and moved on. She caught a look at herself in the freezer section door. She realized she looked pretty good. And someone, a handsome someone, had noticed. She chuckled to herself as she suddenly suspected that she had always looked good, that she was always beautiful, but that it was her own shame that clouded her face, bent her back, and diminished her confidence. Maybe if she had been a little more alert she would’ve noticed that several men had noticed her. She just hadn’t noticed them. She felt different. She suddenly felt a small spark ignite in her bosom.
As soon as she entered the house she found some documents related to her marriage that was now dissolved. She took them to her fireplace and set them on fire. They caught flame and died out in just seconds, but the smoke that lingered in her nostrils symbolized for her a new lease on life. She was herself in all her glory! She had nothing to be ashamed of. She was clean, new, fresh, beautiful and sexy, and confident that she would love and be loved again. She was attractive! She decided that she would never again allow the opinions of others, real or perceived, to control her again. Instead of seeing the last ten years as a derailment, a detour off the path of growth, now she saw that it had contributed to her growth. She would never have chosen the path that she had to take, but she sure enjoyed the new and exciting place she found herself in.
The sketch is one of mine called “I Will Be Me”.