I often have terrible trouble deciding between what I really like and what I think I should like, what I actually want and what I believe others expect me to want. This sounds like an answer to a job interview question about weaknesses--"I'm too dutiful!"--but in reality it does cause anxiety and fear, this inability of mine to peel apart desires from external pressures and expectations.
My uncertainty over what I want manifests itself in every form imaginable. Do I like this band or do I just feel I should like them? Do I want to make music, or do I feel I should because it's what people have come to expect of me? What sort of career do I dream about? What sort of books capture my attention (and which bore me)? Where do I want to live? What sort of clothes make me feel like myself? What kind of church community do I want to invest in? What issues of injustice in the world rattle my bones and demand a response?
Sometimes I believe that even if I completely still myself, if I find a place to be alone and survey the landscape of my heart with no watching eyes as witness, I'll find nothing; I'll discover I don't desire anything, only this unwavering ability to please and perform for others. I've always hated books or articles about jobs and calling that say, "Close your eyes and imagine there are no constraints on money or time--what would you most want to do?!" because it assumes there is an answer deep within the heart to be discovered, and what if you close your eyes and ask the question and nothing leaps to mind?
This fantasy (or lie) that I am a totally blank slate causes other people to seem compulsively fascinating to me; they appear to be neat and tidy character studies in preferences and habits and hobbies, while I feel like an echo, a ghost, in comparison. This is how she decorates her bedroom, this is what he likes to read, this is when she likes to wake up, this is how he decides what career to pursue, I think, marveling at all those choices. I like to try things on for a while, but I'm not always sure what is me. Sometimes everyone else appears to be effortlessly themselves, so sure of who they were made to be, while I'm the only one pretending or experimenting. This is a lie, of course, but a convincing one.
(At still other times, the things I really love embarrass me, and so my problem becomes less of knowing what it is I want and more about finding the ease to express that without fretting over what someone else will think).
It can be surprisingly difficult to pin down my own hopes and dreams. And this question matters to me because I am determined to live with great intention--to allow my hopes and dreams and convictions to shape my decisions now. I don't mean this strictly in the sense of wanting to check goals off a list, or achieve it all. I just mean: I want to recognize my own priorities and understand how I hope to spend my time on this earth, and then make my choices accordingly. It's so easy to end up living at a million miles an hour without pausing to ask if you like or support or connect to any of the activities that consume your calendar. This question of what I want should shape my decisions about play and volunteer activities and family and travel and church as well as work, so I don't waste my one life doing things because I think I should.
Strangely, I have been using Pinterest as a sort of counteractive tool for all this indecisiveness and uncertainty. I try to pin what I like, what catches my eye; I try not to edit. If I feel unable to be totally free in this exercise, I create another secret board and go to town. While Pinterest undeniably has a seedy and depressing side, it's become a soothing sort of practice for me--to practice liking what I like without discrimination, to review collections of what I like and see patterns emerge, to begin to understand what I'm drawn to.
Yes, it feels a little silly to practice discovering what I like with possibly trite issues like clothing and music preferences, but I also suspect that with any serious changing of the self, we must start small. To begin to understand what I feel drawn to when considering something fairly ordinary like clothing will (hopefully) allow me to better recognize how to go about deciding what's for me when it comes to more important questions, like how to spend my money or raise my children or love my neighbor.
It's also important for me to add: none of this talk about wanting and desire is disconnected from my desire to embody and welcome the Kingdom of God in my life. Yes, there will be times when what I want will need to be set aside or released; I hope to avoid living a selfish life that revolves around getting what I want at all times. But I see also see a great distinction between pure selfishness and paying careful attention to our longings and hopes. I believe God intends to set us free from the petty tyrannies of one another, from living bowed beneath the slavery of keeping up appearances at the cost of true and abundant living.
"Barricade the road that goes Nowhere; grace me with your clear revelation.
I choose the true road to Somewhere."