Rebecca Behizadeh is beginning her third year with Life Together this August as Director of Hiring and Development.
At my 30th birthday party, I was jobless, homeless, partnerless. I celebrated with friends at Le’s in Harvard Square - my entree was $12, and I was incredibly relieved when they paid the bill.
I had just moved back to Boston after spending two years traveling and living in India, Nepal, and New Mexico, and before that I’d gotten a Masters in Divinity from Harvard. I’d been told by all of my teachers that I’d be a spectacular thing (I am, after all, a millennial), and I’d received egregious scholarships and awards to substantiate these prophesies. But now I was crashing in the basement of my friend’s parents’ house in Cambridge and going on interviews for entry-level positions at giant non-profits. When I finally secured a 2-month temporary job at one of them as Development Coordinator, they assigned me the email address of “intern1.” Intern1. Part of me was confused. All my life I’d been told I was going somewhere, but perhaps I had made a wrong turn?
Engaging in a hippie search for meaning in your 20’s is understandable, cute, even enviable. Prolonging that search into the 30’s starts to feel like a controversial lifestyle. Before returning to Boston, I’d looked around and realized so many of my companions had fallen off the trail, and what used to be a throng of us had trickled down to just... me. While a solitary path isn’t in itself an indication of error, it did provoke a reassessment. What was this free-wheeling thing that I was doing, how much of it was search, and how much of it was escape?
When I was growing up in the Bible belt, I had been taught that everyone has a “God-shaped” hole at the center of themselves. Or as Augustine says, “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.” There are many beautiful aspects of travel and exploration - even now half of me wants to be hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, or learning Spanish through immersion. Traveling for me is a way to constantly refresh life, to pump the channels of the heart full of wonder and humility, to ensure a steady sensation of discovery. But it’s also a way to skim the surface of relationships, to run away. I remember in college reading scholarly debates about whether or not the Desert Fathers and Mothers were running away from the city or running to the desert. My experience is: all seeking is part escape.
I’m not escaping from exotic things. I could give you examples, examples to break your heart, and yet you’d already know the story. I haven’t discovered a new thing. The fact that humans suffer, from systems of oppression, from cruelty, from earthquakes, from freak accidents, from disease - I’ve been both running away from these truths and searching for the answer. But in the last few years, I’ve been trying a new thing: to stay. Running away can mean there’s more possibility, or it can mean avoidance. Staying can mean I’ve given up, or it can mean what I’m looking for is already here.
At the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, the delegates declared that Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully divine, what was called a “hypostatic union” -- a seemingly mathematical error, that one could be composed of two natures and yet be 100% of each. I remember in college finding this theology something inscrutable, a “divine mystery.” Now I search for the contradiction. These days, my heart is always 100% two things - grief and joy. I am plagued by the grief in the world and the vulnerability of being human, yes. But there’s joy, too. That joy doesn’t exist alongside or in tandem with the grief, it isn’t a consolation for grief - no, that same exact sensation of grief is the exact same sensation of joy, of the unutterable, astounding privilege of being able to love fragile, passing things, and risk being torn apart by them. When I’m in hypostatic union with myself, there’s nothing to escape.
Now I have a lovely apartment, wonderful friends, and a job that challenges and invigorates me. I would like to tell you that I’ve left my restless days behind, but I confess often experiencing doubt that I’ve made any of the right decisions, or that my decisions make any dent in the world. At the very least, shouldn’t I be living somewhere with better weather?
I haven’t read Augustine in a while, totally on purpose -- old-style theology (men in power writing about how to be humble) gives me a rash. So I can’t remember the context of his quotation and can’t risk researching it. But when he wrote, “My soul is restless until it finds its rest in you,” I hear, “My soul is restless, always, and that is finding you.” I’m restless for meaning, restless for justice, restless for relationship, and that’s where I rest.