I feel like I keep relearning all the same lessons over and over again. Every three years or so, I come face to face with my biggest strongholds: pride in a mistaken sense of identity, grasping for control, and false independence, just to name a few. Whenever this happens, I find myself mentally throwing up my hands in the air like an exasperated second-grade teacher. “Didn’t we go over this already? Red and blue make purple, two plus two is four, and no matter how brightly you smile, you don’t have it all together? Have you forgotten again that you can have your cookie after the carrots, and you are the Beloved of the Most High God?”
Cookies are helpful when such seasons come around.
These lessons happened first in high school, gently because I was new to self-awareness. Then again, a few times over in college because there is nothing like the hard growing that happens between being a moody teenager and a functional semi-adult. Back to the basics, I charmingly called them then: love, control, pride. I figured at that point I had relearned these things and—check! All done with that nonsense. (See a pattern with control here yet?). But time rolled on and the relearning came once more during a season of struggle post college. Close friends helped, as did my boyfriend, in helping me realize that if I share my vulnerabilities with trusted people then intimacy grows, which was what I craved most. Being known, ya know?
As I said earlier, these seasons come rumbling along every three years, give or take. And three years ago, this last October, I married the aforementioned boyfriend. Sweet Stephen. Let me introduce you to my favorite second-grade teacher because Lauren needs to relearn some things, once again.
How do I deal with my same brokenness now in the classroom of marriage?
About six months ago, Stephen and I found ourselves on the brink of a season of transition. We had just completed a two-year project, saw a large life plan fall through, and found that the next phase of life could go a few different and unexpected ways. Transition times always unnerve me. A major difference between me and Stephen is that he sees ultimate freedom, mobility, and opportunity in times of change and I have mini panic attacks.
One coping device I thought I had overcome in earlier years was that when I am anxious about circumstances I paint on an extra layer of independence and confidence to hide the fact I am really scared shitless (anyone else relate?). There is nothing inherently wrong with independence or confidence—those are traits to celebrate. However, the wicked way it gets twisty is when independence leads to isolation and I say things like, “I can do this;” “I can figure this out;” or, “Here’s what we’re going to do” over and over again in my head. With these mantras I march myself right into not letting anyone in and not asking for help, all in the almighty name of I’ve Got This. And the more confident I appear, the more I think people can’t see that I’m about to break—like a red balloon that gets blown up and up and up, puffed and packed with air until it can’t take any more and bursts open.
We’ve done this before, Stephen and I. He has helped me walk back from self-made deserts and called me on false confidence. But now, married and internally struggling, I found myself shifty-eyed and cagey, sneaking job searches on my phone, running budgets in my head, creating master plans out of sheer desperation, denying and outright lying that anxiety had taken up space in my chest, like an unwelcome but too-familiar friend. I forgot, partly on accident and partly on purpose, that “I’ve got to figure it out” doesn’t have a place anymore. Now it’s “We’re in this together.” Now it’s laying down the defenses and choosing to pick up trust.
Marriage doesn’t fix personality dysfunction or unpack your baggage for you and put it away in your new spare bedroom closet. It also doesn’t mean that there is no longer a place to still be scruffy or human. The reality is, in another three years I will likely be hopping over anxious thoughts like an ungainly bird that forgot that it has wings. In such seasons of struggle, I crack and moan like the earth itself thinking that I will disappoint my husband, family, my God if they see that I am not perfect. But that is not truth. And if there is one thing marriage is, it is truth. Seeing someone for who they truly are, allowing your love to know your masks, and hearing them when they slowly and kindly ask you to take them off.
I have found grasping for things like perfection and control is like trying to hold running water, and marriage is when the beloved comes over, sees you in your muddy mess, asks you to sit on a rock, and uses the rushing water to wash your feet instead. When anxiety floods, struggles pound like waves, or fears rain down, Stephen is the one who doesn’t offer me an umbrella and escape, but rather, helps me build a cistern. To take in the waters, understand the depths, and use it for the garden later.
Struggles are starting points for growth, and big surprise, I will still struggle, relearn, and grow, even now as a married person. The difference now is that someone will watch the flowers grow with me and know how hard they had to fight, and how much I had to lay down in order for them to sprout, their golden goodness welcoming and softly hailing my movement forward.