Invitation and Opportunity in the Unfamiliar

“I am only watching movies I have seen and reading books that I have previously read. I am desperate for familiarly in my life…I need to know the outcome.” These confessional words came from a colleague about how she is coping with the pandemic. She went on to say, “I feel like I have no idea how anything in my life is going to turn out…I mean even next week!”

My strong sense is that our familiarity stock has risen dramatically. Most humans appreciate a sense of regular rhythm in their lives. We like to know that when we go to our favorite coffee shop they are going to have our beverage and pastry of choice. Mathematically speaking, we find great stability when our world makes A + B = C sense. Familiarity is the wonderful, soft, comfortable security blanket that helps us navigate our day to day existence.

One could suggest the antithesis of familiarity is the unknown. Yet I think it’s also fair to say that we all appreciate varying degrees of spice in our lives. Movie goers love to be scared or to experience an unexpected plot twist, and readers appreciate intrigue and mystery. A ride on a roller coaster can be exhilarating, but made so because we are firmly strapped in.

In my own ponderings about these very unfamiliar times, I have reflected on other occasions in my life when I have found myself in a completely new reality. For example, being a freshman in college. Almost everything felt different: living situation, academic expectations, social circumstances. Consequently, initially finding my bearings was very challenging.

My saving grace was a sage priest who served as a college chaplain. Living deeply in the waters surrounded by an entire pool of wide-eyed freshmen, she gently suggested to me things she found most helpful navigating the rough waters of unfamiliarity. “Your world feels different now, but you at your core are the same – hold tightly to your core values. Second, use the unfamiliar to your advantage. Learn new things, meet new people, and let go of things you’ve been wanting to let go.”

We are all hungering for familiarity. And yet there is an opportunity, an invitation, to fully embrace the person we are created to be: loving, caring, compassionate, respectful towards ourselves and others. In times of great uncertainty, the best response is to wrap ourselves in the familiarity of living as our best selves all the while open to new possibilities.

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