People say that their faith is tested during tough times of job loss or divorce. But, I’m not so sure I had much faith to test. You likely know my story of getting fired because it was shared in Harvard Business Review’s forum on failure. That is the secular part of the story. I have walked a parallel spiritual journey also.
You might remember, I was evicted from my family because I (an Islamic women!) wanted an education. I lost my family ties, the community in which I was raised, and my religious tradition in one fell swoop at age 19. Not that I especially noticed the spiritual was missing for a long, long time. But then my job situation got precarious, and my relationship with my first husband equally difficult. A rather odd set of decisions brought us to the doors of St. Jude’s Episcopal Church. His family was Episcopalian. He didn’t stick around, yet I did.
One day, I went to church and, like most newcomers, hid out in the back pews. On that particular day, the preacher, Karen Siegfriedt, spoke on a book called “A Child Called It”. In it, a child is forced to be humiliated, physically abused, and so on as a parent focuses on one child to express their frustration and disappointment at their own life. It struck too close to home.
The sermon reached me. “Healing is possible; Wholeness is possible.” “Love is possible”. “With God, all things are possible”. And I wondered, and hoped … could this really be true? That hope started a journey. With that question, a window opened that would let light into my heart.
But, before that, I sat in the pew, and cried. No one seemed bothered by it. But it must have been quite the audible snot factory. Some person I didn’t know and without turning around passed a Kleenex back behind her, and then the next person did the same, and so on. Until it arrived, for me, 10 rows later…a gift.
When I first started this journey towards wholeness, I was seeking it like a lost object. It was a “thing” to be found, and then I could put it in my pocket. With it, I could then return to the life I was living and achieve more “success”. But it turns out that this journey was not about finding a thing; rather seeking it required the seeker to change. That is, seeking it forced me to be aware of a reality beyond the one I was raised with, to step outside my own story and my own conditioning and history – and then, it required a surrender of sorts.
I wish I could tell you I loved it. Mostly, I resisted it.
Here in the late 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, we have difficulty with anything that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence. We cherish the scientific, the factual, the proven. We cherish the analytic models and frameworks that define truth and provide clarity. But as many a good idea thinker points out, those scientific methods measure only those things that we can control, leaving out important things that are beyond our control.
To operate from intellect and scientific method denies us the ability to recognize the things that are mysteries. A seeking like this changes ones hearts, softens you, and reveals a newness, slowly. I’m slowly discovering ways to live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. (otherwise known as the fruits of the spirit)
What I had to give up.
I suppose I’m making this sound all good. It hasn’t been. Mostly because I had to give up something big in this journey and I, truth be told, miss it a lot.
You see, to be a seeker is to… not know.
For all of us “experts”, this is the most uncomfortable thing. And given how much I have been an expert and a leader (a division, a start-up, a program), stepping into this double helix of a life in faith meant giving up that commitment to know. In my case, I had to be vulnerable. It meant moving into a place where it was more about the journey than the end destination. I contributed to this book on Leading with Wisdom where I said that by moving from fear to love, I was able to be more present to not only the “what” of the room but to seek out the why and the how. I was open to hearing people’s stories without judging them so we could all move forward in uncertain times. Which, sounds so lovely but feels like walking in quicksand. And, while I do it, it is still hard.
I miss that certainty of the hard-edged side of me, a cynical, intellectually tough, analytic know-it-all-ness. The world was so much more black and white. So much more crisp in resolution. Even when I was wrong, I never felt I was wrong so being wrong just felt like being right.
I have had to give up my edge, that bravado that people use to impress each other. When I meet people in start-ups, venture capital, at conferences, etc, they all remind me of this energy of how confident I once was of knowing. I don’t impress in the same way anymore. And, when that precludes me to certain opportunities, I live with that. My unknowingness probably reminds other people of something they don’t want to admit – that they really don’t know it all, either. It probably makes them feel vulnerable, which perhaps scares them. It used to scare me too. There’s an emptiness to it. It feels like a hole or a void.
Yet, perhaps it is that very void, the space itself that is important. I don’t have a tidy lesson to draw as much as a story to share. The Snot Factory Story, I’ll call it. Today, this Easter, is my 10-year anniversary of starting this journey. And all I can say is this: I am grateful.