When my friends invite me to their birthday celebrations, I like to put them on the spot by asking them a particular question. It's a three part question, but occasionally I pare it down to take pity on the poor fumbling recipient. Because, really, it was probably poor form on my part to just spring the question on them publicly, to begin with (On an unrelated note, I don't seem to receive as many birthday invitations as I once did).
But this year, for the first time I'm sitting around by myself on Christmas Day - a natural result of living and working in Asia while your family does not. It's not my birthday, but this time of year is meant for reflecting on the previous year and looking forward to the new one*, so endeavoring to answer the question myself seems to be a good way to mark the holiday, given that I don't have energy for a lot else, having just worked a normal day in the classrooms.
The question is "This year, what have you learned about other people, about yourself, and about God?"
Regarding other people, this year, I've been learning that people aren't necessarily what they say they are. This seems extraordinarily basic, and I could have told you this was true well over a decade ago, but I didn't really have the vision to be able to both accept that this is how someone sees themselves and that this also isn't how they actually are. It was a matter of eternally giving someone the benefit of the doubt, until they were clearly idiots. Naive, yes, but I didn't want to think poorly of anyone who was kind to me.
I don't know what (finally) triggered the increase in my perception, but it is developing - I can now notice that someone is not everything they believe they've cracked up to be while still liking and valuing and generally respecting someone. I know, it's a revelation a long time coming, but I've never been into the gossip and drama scene, so it's taken me a while to figure out.
For example - I've noticed that someone who prefaces a claim with "I don't usually do X, but...", where X is a negative action, such as complain or curse or raise their voice, generally does actually do X. Someone who slams someone else for how they behave likely has contributed a great deal to the conflict themselves. And someone who takes pride in being non-conventional is probably less non-conventional than they expect.
Yet, it doesn't matter so much. I don't have to condemn anyone or stop being friends with them or give them up as hopeless. The world just makes a little more sense when you believe what you see more than what others see in themselves.
Regarding myself, this year has been affirming. I'm coming to realize that people actually like me. I should remark that I've rarely had a problem getting along with anyone. I'm not suggesting that I've been perpetually worried about people disliking me. But "not having a problem" with people is quite a different thing from being actively liked and wanted around by people.
My close family and long-time friends aside, I guess that by-and-large I viewed myself as someone whose company wasn't resented but wasn't particularly sought, either. I don't know why. But for example, I remember once, maybe six years ago, staying for a few days without my family in the province where my cousins lived. Most weren't around while I was there, but one was... kind of. It was out of his way to come see me, and I knew it, so I texted him that I didn't want him to feel obligated to come see me if it was too inconvenient. He responded with an "Of course I want to see you!" - an enthusiasm that caught me off guard. It left impression enough that I still recall it.
This year, though, I have noticed that this kind of thing is not all that strange. People do actually seek me for my opinion. They confide in me things they don't tell everyone. They invite me to events that aren't open invitations to everyone. They jump at a chance to be part of my group or team or to sit beside me, and look forward to when I arrive. They learn from me. It's weird, man!
Not everyone, of course. Not all the time, of course. I'm not a hotshot superstar with a million drooling fans. And I doubt if people liking me is happening much more now than previously, except, perhaps that the contexts of the last year have taken me away from people who have known me for years upon years, and so there might be a little more intentionality in some relationships and a little less taking-for-granted.
Again, I don't know why it's changing, but I'm finally getting around to believing that the silly idea of "not resented but not sought out" is just that - silly.
With regards to what I've learned about God, I have two items here. The first one is that God sends me places for reasons I don't know.
I became a teacher partly because I want to invest in students. I've gone into my teaching assignments with the idea that I'm going to show them love and develop relationships with them and that this will be my primary contribution to society and the Community. Yet, in most cases so far, that hasn't be seemed to be the result. I get along with my students well. I'm a good teacher. But I haven't developed the relationships that I keep envisioning and that I hear of and see happening with other teachers and their students. So I scratch my head about what I'm doing wrong.
You know, though, that maybe my "primary" reason for being somewhere has more to do with the church community I'm a part of, or the colleagues I interact with, or the lessons I'm meant to learn from a particular situation, rather than the effect I keep hoping I'll have on my students. Even in retrospect, I don't know exactly why I'm anywhere I go (GPS wasn't working, maybe) but usually I can name some of them. They're just not what I expected.
Early on in my stay here in Asia, I was badgering God a little bit, asking, "Is this why I'm supposed to be here? Is this what you have in store for me?" and the thought came very clearly into my head (with a tone of amusement) that, "Oh, you have no idea what I have in store for you."
Of course, I want to strive for more effective teaching, but... maybe I'm not doing something wrong.
The second item is that God is a God of abundance. This has been particularly real to me since coming to Asia. I was concerned about how easily I would find the things I needed - an apartment, transportation, Community, and so on. God has not only provided (and He's always been very gentle with me), but He has unexpectedly provided in abundance! I look forward to recounting some of these blessings in a further post.
Merry Christmas, everyone! I would love to hear about what you've learned this year, if you're willing to share.
“Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.” E. M. Forster ...especially when you figure things out as slowly as I do! :-D
*Ok, maybe that's more of a New Year's thing than a Christmas thing, but I want to write it now while I'm feeling inspired.