This reflection comes from our friend Mimi Montgomery:

And I miss the days of a life still permanent / Mourn the years before I got carried away / So now I’m staring at the interstate screaming at myself, / ’Hey, I wanna get better!’

I didn’t know I was broken ‘till I wanted to change / I wanna get better, better, better, better, / I wanna get better

-Bleachers, “I Wanna Get Better”

I have a compulsive need to continuously have some sort of background noise going on while I drive my car—NPR, the radio, my iPod, calling my mom so I can listen while she shops at Walmart and mutter half-listening “Uh huhs” to her—basically anything to keep from hearing the resounding silence that fills the space around me when the noise is gone. As such is my fashion, I was driving around this weekend and poking at my radio screen, flipping through stations until I landed on something that wasn’t a football game or an advertisement for a car dealership. The Top 40 pop station was on and the song “I Wanna Get Better” by Bleachers was playing. As far as my need for background noise goes, it was the perfect filler—a poppy, catchy, upbeat song that suited my mission of driving around on a Saturday morning running errands.

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But then I was sitting at an intersection, bored of staring at the backs of cars filled with other people driving around, following the same motions as I, when I actually caught some of the song’s lyrics, stopped, and listened. Jack Antonoff was singing about how he misses “the days of a life still permanent” and “didn’t know he was broken ‘till he wanted to change.” He wanted to get better and I, in a moment of rare attention and clarity, listened and understood. I wanted to get better, too, but I didn’t know how.

Like my search for some sort of noise to fill the background of car rides, I regularly find myself filling much of my life with static, white noise that rises up and fills my ears and head until I can’t hear myself think. This was especially apparent during my college years, when the routine of schoolwork, classes, studying, parties, boys, and late Sundays sleeping until noon filled up my head so I couldn’t think of anything else. I was scanning the stations, hearing all sorts of noise coming at me from a million directions but I wouldn’t let myself really stop and listen to anything because I was scared of what I might hear. I was scared I would find out something I didn’t really like.

And then I graduated. I moved back home to North Carolina, unemployed, and suddenly I had nothing but time. Time to read, time to sleep, time to spend with my family, yes, but—terrifyingly, overwhelmingly, stomach-wrenchingly—time to think. The bustling white static of my college days had fallen away and left me alone with myself. And who was I? What did I want? What kind of relationship did I have with myself?

Suddenly my world was incredibly myopic, totally inward and self-focused to the point where all I could do was focus on the things I had or had not done and was currently doing. I had stopped and listened to myself and didn’t think I liked what I heard. The feelings of shame, anxiety, and self-loathing that followed my induction into the young professional world were intense and unshakeable. How would I ever find a job I truly liked? Would I ever make enough money? Who would ever want to have a trusting, stable relationship with me? These thoughts and others ran over and over and over across the screen of my mind, ticking pervasively along my subconscious as I went about my day until I felt like my insides were just a big, black mess of dread hammering within me.

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I decided I wanted to get better. But what did better mean? Trapped within this self-centered mindset, what David Foster Wallace calls “our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms,” I automatically assumed that I had to fix myself. That I had to get my own emotions under control, force myself into some semblance of self-confidence, and ferociously banish the anxiety and guilt that lived somewhere deep within me.

I was like a house that could be blemish-free if only I scrubbed hard enough at it—I resolved to be calm, cool, and collected. No longer would I let myself get overly despondent for no apparent reason. I was going to go to church every Sunday and really think about what it meant to be a Christian.  I was going to close my eyes and forcefully count to ten every time I felt like I wanted to snap at my roommate or cut someone off in traffic. I was going to adopt the sort of casual, “cool girl” approach to relationships that was even-keeled and temperate, no longer letting myself feel crushed or heartbroken by some guy but rather handling my emotions with a rational, controlled approach. I was going to forcefully stop and appreciate every single beautiful sunset and flower and remind myself how lucky I was. I was going to make myself be happy if it was the last thing I did. I was going to get better.

Of course, like all things bred on such fixation with one’s self, this approach fell short. The scrutinizing of my life’s minutiae did not lead me to some sort of grand self-realization but rather just propelled me straight back to where I began, questioning myself and my worth as a person in a never ending Sisyphean cycle of destructive self-obsession.

In John 3:30 he states, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Selfishly, I believed that I could do everything on my own, that if I just worked harder, forced myself to fulfill this idealistic vision of what a good Christian should be, all my insecurities and doubts would all melt away. But, as I have now come to understand, that huge and infamous wall of the egotistical self got in the way of my ever truly making progress. I could wake up early in the morning, read as many devotionals as I wanted, stay late at work and suck up to my boss, come home and work out and eat my vegetables and go to bed early, but it all would fall short if I kept on believing I could do it all myself. I had to abandon my own little world, my skull-sized kingdom of worries and preoccupations with myself, and turn my gaze outwards towards another kingdom if I was to ever truly find peace.

I had to decrease, to inwardly rotate the axis of my own little universe from the self to that of God’s. He was the center about which I had to orbit, not my own small nuisances and personal analyses.

Realistically, in the every day, this mindset can be as difficult to adopt as if I were literally re-orbiting an entire functioning universe. We are inherently self-obsessed creatures, and our minds are independently willful and stubborn. I often fall short of re-routing my mental inertia towards the bigger picture of faith and belief in God’s love, instead finding it barreling towards those old friends of self-doubt and loathing with which I am unfortunately so familiar. But, thankfully, mercifully, that is the beauty of God’s grace and love—that while I stumble around trying to figure everything out for myself, vainly feeling my way along paths at times twisted and obscure, He is there waiting beyond my own personal radio static for me to once again turn towards Him. Though we at times may misdirect our faith or find it wavering, He never falters.