Posted in family life, musings

fear of change

After eight years of working in a genomics research center, I’ll be transitioning to being a stay-at-home parent a week from now. Technically I’ll be working eight hours a week, in a sort of consultant role, which will keep me connected to the science – but it will still be a big change. It’s what I’ve been wanting ever since Rondel was born almost four years ago – but as it approaches, I find myself becoming more and more anxious.

I like my job, and I am good at my job. My supervisor respects me and my opinions; the researchers who rely on the services our facility provides respect me and my scientific knowledge and experience. I know what types of problems are most likely to arise, and I have tools and strategies for troubleshooting them. And I know that if I put in time, effort, and energy, I will have a successful outcome.

To be totally honest, I really like having the respect of other professionals whose opinion I value and who do innovative and important research. It gives me self-confidence: I may be a complete wreck if I have to call my doctor to schedule an appointment, but when I sit down with a researcher to discuss their experiment and figure out the best plan for them to take moving forward, I am completely at ease. It also gives me a sense of identity and self-definition: when acquaintances ask what I do, I can tell them about the science and feel that I’m doing something of worth, something that uses my talents and gifts, something beyond just staying at home and cleaning and cooking like any other person could do.

At the heart of my nervousness about the transition, then, I think, is a fear of losing that respect and identity – of becoming part of the crowd, no one in particular, no one with any valuable skills or gifts to offer my community. When I spend time with other moms, I feel so inadequate in the areas they are gifted in: my home is rarely clean, laundry and meals happen on an as-needed basis rather than with planning, small talk eludes me, playdates terrify me, schedules and extra activities overwhelm me, my children are dirty and wild. My mind is usually lost in a book, or an idea, or a project, instead of focusing on the people around me. I say nothing and feel isolated, or I say too much and still never manage to connect with anyone else. I simply don’t have the skills that these other women have, and without them, I’m not sure where I can fit in or belong in the mom world (especially the homeschool mom world… those women are so organized that I give up just at the thought of trying to be like them).

In the workforce, in academia, where everyone is a bit weird and everyone is valued simply for the expertise they offer, I knew where I fit in and I knew how I could flourish.

In this new world, I’m afraid I won’t ever be able to flourish – and that in my lack of flourishing, I will stunt my children’s future as well.

I’m not going to let my fears make a decision for me, when I believe on principle that a self-directed education is ideal for children, and when I observe pragmatically the stress that a classroom environment would add to our family life. I’m going to choose to let my love for my family be the motivating factor here instead!

But I’m still afraid.

Posted in musings

choice, identity, fatalism, and change

Sometimes the homosexual movement (and, I think, our culture as a whole) strikes me as a bit fatalistic – as if our identities were set in stone and nothing we do or choose can change them, only repress and mask them.

There is a sense in which this is true, of course; I doubt that I could change my sexual attractions, or my intellectual curiosity, or my Jekyll and Hyde combination of loyalty and jealousy. Those things form part of my personality and natural identity. Further, the core tendencies of our being seem to remain constant factors over the years. My primary identity no longer rests in my intelligence and academic prowess, but I still value my intelligence and operate out of confidence in it; on the negative side, I am no longer so frequently controlled by my anger, but it is still an ever-present struggle to be master over it. So both my strengths and my weaknesses remain with me, and although I try to favor the former over the latter in how I live and in what I express outwardly, they both form part of my essential personal identity.

On the other hand, there are deep things about myself that are chosen and could in theory change: namely, my religious and philosophical beliefs, my worldview. These beliefs are what informs my identity and causes certain aspects of it to develop and mature (or, on the contrary, atrophy and fade) over time. A belief that integrity and courage matter pits itself, in the core of my being, against my innate shyness, distaste of conflict, and anxiety. The belief of a Catholic nun that she has been called to celibacy for Christ sets itself against her natural sexual desires – for even the celibate have sexual identities, that they choose to set aside in the service of some belief. The belief that humility is valued by God over pride wars within me against my self-confidence, arrogance, and secret insecurities. The belief of an atheist in the value of independent free-thinking might war against his inner desire for an authority to trust or a guidebook to follow. So too, I would imagine, for the traditional Catholic or conservative Evangelical, the belief that homosexual actions are inherently disordered would set itself against some of the deepest desires and attractions within them.

These deeply held beliefs are not able to change our identities like a switch, or even, in many cases, like the gradual dawn of the sun. But they are able to guide and shape those identities – to prune and direct them as we grow. In my examples above, most of the traits and aspects of identity being fought against are not inherently bad and could be considered good given a different set of core beliefs (it is not hard to think of cultures and religions that place a much higher value on harmonious conduct than on the confrontation brought on by principled courage, or to call to mind worldviews that consider respect for authority far more important than critical thinking). So why choose to not embrace those aspects of our identity just as much as some other aspects? Again, it goes back to the framework of belief, the set of principles, that we have chosen to believe and to take as our truth. And that can change. It very often does change over the course of a person’s life!

So the language of identity need not be as fatalistic as it sometimes sounds. Perhaps we cannot ever truly change our identities without some great trauma or damage to ourselves, but we can shape their trajectory, giving more weight to some aspects and less to others. We can still choose the beliefs we hold, even if we cannot choose the components that make us up. For me, this is a great hope! I am not bound forever to the shyness, the anger, the jealousy, or the intellectual impatience that form a part of my identity, personality, and character – or, more accurately, I am not bound to be forever ruled by them. Their share of my life can decrease as the things I value more are increased.

What I have left out in this consideration is, of course, the reality of the changing power of the Holy Spirit, and the ability of Jesus to make us truly new creations in Him. I wanted to try to look at the questions of identity and choice from a less uniquely Christian viewpoint. But where I do find the most hope for personal change, as well as (rather surprisingly) the most grace for what I am right now, is in the transformative and redemptive plan of God. For that is what Christianity proclaims: that from the inside out, in the very center of our identity, we shall be changed, and everything that is wrong or disordered or confused or dead within us shall be removed, and what is good shall be made to flourish in ways we never dreamed.