Over the weekend I was reading a short article by Tova Mirvis. She describes how she left both her faith and her marriage over a very short period of time. When I started reading, I wasn’t really committed to the piece. I was just passing the time. And then she said something that REALLY caught my attention. The author asked a question that I thought was a lightening bolt of a question, so I started to pay a little more attention. Are you ready for it? It’s a good one. She asked: “For how long would I try to deny what I really knew?”
If that doesn’t go boom for you, you are very lucky, extremely attuned to yourself, or you’ve not really taken a good hard look at what’s going on inside. Let’s unpack this question a little bit. For Mirvis, the question came after the seeds of religious doubt had been sown repeatedly and she cut down the resulting seedlings in order to maintain a harmonious marriage, and to ensure her commitment to her faith. She continuously found the edges of her beliefs, questioning the reasons for traditions, for practices, and for the systems that were in place in her community, in her faith tradition, and eventually also in her marriage. As she noticed these edges more and more often, it became really difficult to deny what she already knew, that she was an outsider, that she neither believed the same things nor (and perhaps more importantly) did she HOPE to believe them. She didn’t see the benefit of working towards those beliefs or living inside of them without sharing them in her heart. She began to feel that she was living a lie. “For how long would I try to deny what I really knew?”
When we look back at some of the biggest changes in our lives, we can almost always identify moments of knowing that we had in advance. In a breakup we can look back at the times we knew it wasn’t going to work out or when we became suspicious that things weren’t as they seemed. In a job situation, we can (from the other side) see the ways that a job didn’t suit us or bring out our best; we can identify the moments we wished we’d written a resignation letter. We get these little signals, and most of us dismiss them as anomalies, blips on the radar, one time things. And there are good reasons for that. It is far harder to assume that each of these moments is a little cry from our most essential selves, telling us things are not lining up correctly. Mirvis talks about the struggle to get right with her doubt: “I continued to observe the rules of Orthodoxy, hoping all this activity might eventually take the shape of actual belief. I felt alone in my marriage but warned myself away from the hard places.” This is what we do right? We just keep it up, hoping that the blip was just that and that persevering will allow us to get to something more meaningful.
And hey, listen, don’t misunderstand and think I’m not about a little perseverance, but continuing on a path that contradicts what we really know feels less like perseverance and more like continuing on a path to avoid the pitfalls of the other paths. Making big change creates, well, big change. We cannot renovate one corner of our lives without changing the rest of the room. Every action has a reaction and all of that jazz.
A big part of why most of us avoid major life renovations is the people part. As we make major changes, we often find that it is harder to relate to/be with the people who’ve become important to us or who make us feel safe in the world. Mirvis experienced this fully as she left both her marriage AND her faith community. She lost friends, lost lots of them. She traded feeling out of synch with her real self for feeling terribly lonely.
But that’s not the end of the story. Over time Mirvis’ perception of her loneliness changed: “I came to understand that the people who no longer spoke to me were part of one small world; with time, there be other worlds I would discover myself.” When we change things, when we renovate our lives, we sometimes leave people behind or make them so uncomfortable they choose to stay behind. And maybe, just maybe, that’s okay. Maybe in addition to really knowing that we need to change things, we could try really knowing that we’re still okay, that being our real selves, that listening to that tiny voice inside is not just acceptable but preferable and will take us someplace new, where there will be new people and new experiences, and new relationships to start, and grow, and nurture. Maybe the secret of life isn’t in persevering and making it work, but in questioning and listening and making it yours.
What are you denying that you REALLY know? What would it be like to admit that you know it? Does it feel like freedom (even if it’s a little scary)?