Posted on September 30, 2017 by Jenn Zatopek
As a child, I always longed for adventure but rarely had opportunities for them. My parents and I lived in humble dwellings: mobiles home in childhood and small apartments in adolescence. Traveling is privilege, so I coped by creating a rich fantasy life to fuel my unanswered dreams.
I envisioned faraway places from pictures I’d seen in glossy-covered photography books and big thick encyclopedias, cities that sounded exotic to my childhood ears. I’d dream about places like New York or Boston or the Rocky Mountains or the tropical blue ocean in Hawaii. In my fantasy, I’d be there as in Really There in the far-off place, living an adult life, working professionally, making friends, feeling full and satisfied to count myself lucky enough to have moved away from my hometown.
Then I graduated with a masters in counseling and started applying like mad for jobs out of state, specifically jobs in the Pacific Northwest, because it’s a lovely part of the country that I’ve wanted to live in for the past decade. I have a paradoxical desire to stay and go from the Southwest, which remains a source of discomfort for me. So much joy and sadness intermingle in these shadowlands, like life, of course, but still, I wanted a new home.
So I prayed for a job opportunity in Seattle landed an interview. From the flat dry lands that I live now I flew with fear and hope to the Northwest, to the place of my dreams. I interviewed at a social services agencies and was offered the job, and this is where the story could have ended, ideally with a picture of me standing at a picturesque point in Seattle, perhaps at the Space Needle or Pike’s Market.
But the bitter truth I’ve swallowed called insight is this: I prayed to God on whether or not to leave or stay, and the answer came in the next morning. Sadly, the answer was a loud and clear “no,” like a loud fist that slammed on the table of my heart, and I felt relieved but grievous as this went against all that I had dreamed of before. What about all my yearnings to leave and all those years of trying and failing to go? What stopped me from leaving?
The real truth is that God didn’t keep me from moving to Seattle. I kept myself from moving.
On that fine spring day years ago, I awoke from a dream in which my father, not God, told me to stay. I remember waking up early, drowsy from being half asleep, and seeing his mean scowling face in my mind’s eye. Right then, I gave in and decided it was God’s will to stay. At the time, I was in a religious context which encouraged believers to follow dreams and visions, and so I gave in to what I believed at the time was the right thing to do. I believed I had no choice but to say no.
The trick for me in growing up and giving up old ways of being is to remember to be kind and understanding to the woman I once was. After years of working on healing from past childhood wounds, I now understand why I stayed and the reason is simple: my father was my first God.
For years, I prayed to God and feared wrath, judgement, condemnation, and punishment, and it only fueled my incredible self-hatred and loathing. I engaged in all sorts of unhealthy behaviors and things finally came to a head three years ago when I stepped through the doors of a recovery meeting. I was utterly exhausted and decided to give 12-Step meetings a try.
There I learned how to lean into the discomfort of being loved as is while also stepping into the honor and privilege of examining my life. I could reconstruct my understanding of God, but first I had to face the painful truth that the God I brought with me was in many ways my father. It makes sense to me now why my father was my first God–he was the person I looked to for everything when I was little. Some people are luckier than others when it comes to good parenting. Those of without it have more work to do but as I truly believe, we are always worth the work.
So today I remember the girl who awoke with a start years ago after the strange visitation, and I breathe in slowly and look at her in my mind’s eye. I smile with compassion at this beautiful woman and remind her that she is loved deeply by God. I practice kindness towards myself today, especially when the desire to move away runs strong. Today, I practice trusting the Creator cares for me and wants me to give away this hope to others, including myself.