Incredibly, the title of this blog post is based on true events. One afternoon I was innocently eating copious amounts of cake, as I’m liable to do at office birthday parties, and trying very hard not to fall asleep because I get sleepy after eating anything anymore it seems. I’m not sure if I should see a doctor or if it’s just adulthood.
Anyway, the birthday girl and her vegan friend were sitting across from me and having a conversation about cow milk versus the million other types of “milk” that exist these days. They made the mistake of thinking that I was listening to them when in fact I was, as I just admitted, eating copious amounts of cake and trying not to fall asleep.
Suddenly the vegan proceeded to put all these judgmental words in my mouth as she narrated what she supposed I was thinking as I sat eating my cake and hearing the two of them speak. It was hardly accurate, but I let it pass with a smile and opted not to say anything.
But she was not to be ignored. The conversation somehow transitioned to a discussion of doing laundry in the homes of exes and binge drinking. And the process repeated itself.
It was certainly something to behold because over the course of our conversation she spoke of her restrictive diet, daily life, and love of getting drunk and assumed I would judge her on all counts.
And it struck me as ironic because even though this girl struck me as comfortable in who she is, it was an almost frightening process watching all of these insecurities come to light as she laid all this judgment on herself in my name. She assumed that I had been silent because I had nothing nice to say and that if I had chosen to speak I would have been as harsh to her as she had just been to herself. And her eyes glistened with this reverse condemnation as she kept trying to bait me into saying something to prove her theory right.
It was a crazy moment for me because I knew that this outburst was not a result of anything I have ever said to this woman but rather a direct result of how I choose to live my life. That’s right, this person was offended by how I choose to live my life because my actions conflict with her worldview and belief systems. She assumed that I’ve never done laundry at an ex’s house because she assumed that I lead a chaste life. She assumed that I don’t spend my evenings getting drunk or going to trendy clubs. She also assumed (incorrectly) that I would mock her diet choices because she knows I eat cheese and have an affinity for most dairy products. In short, she was mad at me for being me because she read my decline of a more stereotypical twentysomething existence as a judgment and rejection of herself. She saw me as a living embodiment of total condemnation and she was absolutely defiant in the face of this perception. I could see it in her eyes.
Believe it or not, I run into these kinds of attitudes a lot. I try to lead a holy life because I love God and I really would like to be a Saint when I die because I really want the beatific vision. Most people think that’s nothing short of crazy, especially for someone my age who is expected to be as shallow and aimless as the pervading millennial stereotype would suggest. However, this desire affects how I choose to live my life and sometimes it makes me stick out like a sore thumb. Especially when I am around people with no discernable religion who think that I act this way because I somehow think I am better than them. That I decline to partake in these actions just so I can arrogantly lord it over those who do as a way to feel good about myself.
This saddens me on many levels. The first level being that I really don’t have any ill will towards others even those whose lifestyles are vastly different from my own and it upsets me when people assume I do, not because of anything I’ve ever done, but because they don’t understand the love or belief system that motivates me and instead simplify it to a belief system they do understand: elitism and condescension. The second being that my generation is truly one that revels in bad behavior to a large degree because it is the cultural norm and fitting in is a huge temptation, especially for those who feel lost and/or long for a purpose. Even though society paints the glittering road to partying, hookups, and careers (wealth) as the road to success, fulfillment, and happiness I have come to believe through my experience that most who subscribe to that model do so as a distraction from a deeper pain or because they are still in the cycle of believing that once they finally attain those elusive things they will achieve the success, fulfilment, and happiness promised. And that makes me sad too because I believe that promise to be absolutely empty, a bold faced lie that leads to dissatisfaction if not total ruin.
Furthermore, I’ve never understood the general defensiveness of the worldly model. This girl puts on a cool and content demeanor but the words she used to judge herself were not mine they were her own. She had cooked up all these accusations against herself and dared me to step in to play the part of her accuser. In other words, beneath all of that bravado she was angry at herself and while she was not expressly happy with her life choices she was at least comforted in the fact that they are common and therefore, according to the world, excusable choices. But my presence stood in the way of that. My presence was a threat because it made those choices less common and consequently less acceptable, and she proceeded to get as defensive as you might expect.
People often don’t believe me when I say that my Catholic faith is very freeing because they see morality as “restrictive” and “repressive” to every “natural” urge and not nearly as exciting as the freedom to do whatever the heck you want whenever you feel like it. However, I would argue that one of the biggest freedoms of morality is that the process I described above does not happen in reverse. People don’t chastity-shame me (not for lack of trying!) but because it is a decision that does not cause me inward shame and I don’t ever regret practicing it. It does not cause me shame because I believe it to be right and I believe it to be a fundamentally good thing whereas when I experience shame it is typically because I believed myself to be in the wrong but went and did it anyway because I’m a weak and sinful person. And I choose chastity, for example, not because I feel like I have to or because God would send me straight to hell if I didn’t, but because honestly I like to practice the presence of God in each moment and the more I do that the less other pleasures of a more earthly variety appeal to me. It’s true. So it is hardly a personal victory when I turn down things that are no longer appealing to me in the first place. No one congratulates me when I opt to drink craft beer over Natural Light…
People often incorrectly assume that you have to be good and then God comes to you, but I have always done it in reverse, by virtue of my profound neediness, by inviting God to love me however He finds me in a given moment and letting Him love me to perfection. Because sometimes in my weakness the only thing I have to offer is a desire to be better (or even a desire to desire to be better). And the Trinitarian Christian God is so loving that even the smallest desires of this nature prove enough every time.
And my continuing down this path is not something I do to be “prudish” or something that stems from a desire to be superior to everyone else in the room, it is a choice I make because once you take the leap and invite God into your life He really will give you His healing and His love. And I persist in this endeavor for the very human reason that this simple yet profound love makes me happier and more joyful than all the other things of Earth combined. And that includes all those things the world insists you MUST HAVE in order to be happy such as material wealth, multiple sexual partners, nights of binge drinking in trendy clubs and yes, even cheese. And therein lies the freedom. Because if you believe you must have wealth, for example, to be happy then you become something of a slave to it because to lose your wealth would be to lose your happiness. But having God as my happiness is secure because not only is He faithful, He is the only thing in life or death that I can never lose.