Anne Lamott talking about teaching the youngest children in Sunday School one day with her friend Neshama:
Next, as always, we did Loved and Chosen.
I sat on the couch and glanced slowly around in a goofy, menacing way, and then said,”‘Is anyone here wearing a blue sweatshirt with Pokémon on it?” The four-year-old looked down at his chest, astonished to discover that he matched this description — like, What are the odds? He raised his hand. “Come over here to the couch,” I said. “You are so loved, and you are so chosen.” He clutched at himself like a beauty pageant finalist. Then I asked if that day anyone was wearing green socks with brown shoes, a Giants cap, an argyle vest? Each of them turned out to be loved and chosen, which does not happen so often. Even Neshama — Anyone in red shoes today? — leapt toward the couch with relief.
My Jesuit friend Tom once told me this is a good exercise because in truth, everyone is loved and chosen, even Dick Cheney, even Saddam Hussein. That God loves them, because God loves.
— From Grace (Eventually), Thoughts on Faith
Anne is right — knowing we are loved and chosen does not happen so often in our daily lives. I’ve been puzzling lately over this, because it’s become so clear to me that we are all children of God, and so we are all loved and chosen… no matter what or who we are, no matter how we express ourselves or behave. Why do we think for even a second we aren’t?
Our culture is part of that equation. We are told in every way possible that it is the packaging that matters. We are bombarded with messages that if only we will buy this or that product we’ll have whiter teeth, mintier breath, smell sweeter, look thinner, have a cleaner house and fresher laundry, have more confidence, clearer skin, more hair, and a six-pack to show off and attract a partner who will love and choose us.
But that simply isn’t true, and living in that bombardment eventually results in a bunker mentality. Who hasn’t felt pressured, threatened, or judged by those messages? You have to work hard to keep this idea of the “good life” going, requiring more purchasing, which requires more money, which requires harder work and longer hours, which saps time from the relationships that provide you with love. All the emphasis is on receiving; more accurately, acquiring and collecting. Sounds like a true rat race to me… and do you really want to be a rat?
When you shift your focus from getting to giving, you actually shift quite a lot in your life. As you learn to give love in every situation, no matter what it is, you turn the tide around so that you receive without effort or push. You learn that you can be loved and chosen, even wearing a blue Pokémon sweatshirt or an argyle vest. It truly doesn’t matter what the packaging looks like.
Women especially in this culture are slammed with advertising and information that contain overt and subtle messages about how to be loved and chosen. Make no mistake, the messages about hair, makeup, diet, and demeanor all boil down to sex appeal (whatever that is) and how to get it — and that is sold as the only way to a man’s heart. But this mindset shortchanges both men and women.
We are all complex, fascinating creatures. Even those of us with the simplest of personalities, desires, and way of living are more complicated than may appear on the surface. We have to be — we live mostly in our minds, no matter how aware we are, and while we edit our thoughts, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Humans are the only species that are capable of in-depth analysis and reasoning, and so our thoughts are layered, winding, and interconnected in surprising ways.
This means love between human beings is also a complex affair. (I’m speaking mostly of romantic connection here, but it applies in various ways to other relationships as well.) When you start thinking about how thoughts can mesh, complement, or collide between two people, it gets pretty amazing. At least, it amazes me. How do we agree on anything? What does attraction really mean?
To me, real attraction is more spiritual than anything else — we fall in love with another’s mind and heart, not their appearance. Because once you know a mind and heart for the beautiful joy and wonder it is, you forget the details of what they look like. My late best friend Pam used to always describe me as I was when she first met me, even though I’d gone through a dozen different hair styles since. I always had permed curly hair to her. (Gave perms up decades ago.) She never remembered my current hair style, it just wasn’t important… but she always remembered the details of my life and heart, even when she was so sick.
I always knew we were chosen family… girlfriends so close we were sisters. Her own heart and soul were as gorgeous and open as her large violet-blue eyes. We chose each other as young single women, struggling to make a living working in a bank and living on our own, both of us a little battered and bruised by life. It was the heart and soul connection that bound us together over the years and through the ups and downs of our lives. And we made the choice, over and over, through mistakes, misunderstandings, and forgiveness, to stay close.
We all get upset and irritated with others, no matter how much we love them. A younger Facebook friend of mine, the mother of a preschooler, shared this a while back: “Even if you love your child to bits, toddlers can still make you crazy.” And I enthusiastically agreed… and commented that as parents, that feeling lasts a lifetime, off and on. So by the same token, those you choose to love will eventually become irritated with you.
How do you handle a loved one becoming irritated? Does it threaten your security? Does it scare you, make you run, make you hide? Or do you just get angry back at them? Can you listen to what is bothering them and understand and own your part in it?
To not only be chosen, but to stay chosen, strikes fear into many hearts. I have known both men and women whose greatest fear is to be left behind by a loved one. Those people have reacted in many ways — jealousy, control, manipulation, excessive emphasis on “looking good”, even going so far as plastic surgery to insure those good looks a little longer. Only a few have addressed their own fears directly, or worked to strengthen the relationship in order to keep falling in love over and over again with their partners. We humans just seem to address relationship issues by focusing first on the other person, rather than our own behaviors.
But we can only change our own behavior. We can’t change the ways of anyone else, and it’s fruitless to try. In fact, you’re likely to cause your own troubles with that person if you do. The way to stay loved and chosen is to choose to work on your own life and to grow.
That choice strikes fear into hearts, too. “But what if I grow into someone the person I love doesn’t like?” Well, that’s a risk, but it’s one you’ve got to take in order to choose yourself, which is the only choice worth making to live a full life.
When it comes right down to it, if being chosen by another is your first desire, you’ve already decided to grow into something you’re probably not. I don’t know how that works for you, but for me when I’ve tried it, I can’t sustain it. Well, I did for years career-wise, but I can’t claim I sustained much of anything… mostly I kept falling down and trying again because I was too stubborn to think I might have been wrong about my choice. Did it with a couple of men, now that I think about it. *Facepalm*, as my young friends would say.
When we are most ourselves, when we are growing into who we are, we are at our most beautiful. It may not change us much on the outside — well, we develop a glow we may never have had — but on the inside, we are gorgeous. And since it is what is on the inside that determines how we treat ourselves and others, how we get along on this crazy ride called life, then I think that is what really counts. Gorgeous, breathtakingly beautiful, stunningly deep and true… oh, that is what I truly want to be. Loved and chosen, that’s me.