empty shelves + extended metaphors

Life right now looks like a lot of strange things. Empty shelves. A messy bedroom that’s become quite the creative vacuum. Cardboard boxes full of books.

Since when did I come to own over 300 books? Not really sure how that one happened. But I suppose libraries don’t really happen; they become. One series there, a good biography over here, and that collector’s edition you found at the thrift store and just had to have for your shelf. And soon enough, it’s more than you can handle—a collection of books you fear you’ll never have time to reread.

Dark? Yes.

But the idea of library shelves just connects with too much in my life for me to pass up on the metaphor. I’ve been tossing around a pretty earth-shattering (for me) metaphorical theory that friends are like clothes and our closet can mirror our friendships. (Probably going to do a whole post on it in the future. Stay tuned.) However, it’s just occurred to me that the same parallel could be made with friends and books.

Some books you reread all the time—it’s the Bible, daily, for me, and others (like C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia) are up for a re-read as often as I have time.

Others are old favorites—those books that you love so much you wish you could reread them, but not enough to actually do it. Maybe for fear that they’ve changed, or that you have? And they won’t move you the way they once did.

Still other books are for reference—a dictionary, a thesaurus, a book on Irish castles. You don’t need them often, but when you do, you really do. 

And then there are those books no one really wants to acknowledge but won’t clean from their shelves because they’d look empty without them. These are the filler books. We read them at one point, or another. Maybe we went through a phase of geeking out about them. But high school is long over, and it hasn’t aged well, and it’s high time we donate to them to Goodwill.

Yet they just sit there. Shelf filler. Taking up space that could easily by filled by better, deeper, more mature books.

Yeah, you can see how easily I get sucked down the rabbit hole of metaphor. Somebody stop me.

It’s just…

As this year comes to a close, I’m finding myself tying together a lot of threads and ideas that I’ve struggled with for a long time. Some bizzarre things are finally coming full circle in ways I never knew they needed to. And some things, I’m choosing to bring full circle. I’m drawing the line and ending the shape and moving on.

You know what, it’s time for that clothes metaphor. Hang with me. It gets good.

Imagine our closet representing our array of friendships. When we’re young, our clothes are chosen for us. As we get older, we constantly outgrow things. We get hand-me-downs from siblings. And then we become teenagers, and find our ultimate aesthetic and settle into a sense of style that will last for a lifetime…

…er, for maybe two and a half years, until we realize that most of that stuff is cringey and needs to go.

And then we actually grow up. We start buying all our own clothes, developing our own styles. Sometimes we model our look after a friend’s. Sometimes we go the opposite direction everyone else is going and wear the things everyone else finds too edgy or retro. Some pieces may be thrifted, passed down through so many owners and holding so many stories.

In the end, we have a closet. A library of clothes. A collection of friends, new and old.

I had to clean out my closet, too, recently, and I became painfully aware of my tendency to hold onto things that I don’t wear, don’t like, and could easily donate or resell. There’s always that nagging feeling of, “well, I might wear it one day.” But “one day” never comes, and you begin to realize the truth.

That shirt is never going to fit you.

You can’t hide that hole anymore.

Those shoes are falling apart because they were cheaply made to begin with.

That color looks terrible on you.

You outgrew that sweater a long time ago.

It doesn’t take much of a mental leap to see how all these statements connect to friendships and connections. They’re self-explanatory. I will add, however, that not all the metaphorical realizations are negative. Sometimes you find a pair of shoes you forgot actually do fit you, and you wear them often. You find that random shirt that fell off its hanger a year ago and has been sitting on the floor of your closet ever since. Or you realize that old flannel pairs perfectly with the shirt you just bought.

And I’m very, deeply grateful that this year hasn’t just been full of negative metaphors. In reality, it’s been good. Beautiful. Cathartic.

I’ve reconnected with people I thought I never would. Some stories aren’t really over—only just beginning.

I’ve found that you can know someone your whole life and suddenly get to know them—really—for the first time, and find them one of your best friends.

I’ve made new friends, too, and learned not to expect too much from them, but also not to present any version of myself that’s false or manipulative.

Because I have done so, in the past. As an enneagram 4w3 (shoutout to all you enne nerds out there), I know how to shift my persona and distort myself to become whatever I think people want me to be—and I do it alarmingly well. Over the years, I’ve become different things for different people, and allowed myself to be twisted into something that was hardly me. Of course, part of this is growing up. Growing up is comprised of inevitable change and finding yourself. But it’s still a problem, and it’s a bridge I’ve begun to burn.

Mm, bridges. Another great metaphorical rabbit hole I won’t go down. But I love bridges, both physical and theoretical.

And sometimes, you have to burn those bridges.

(Theoretically, that is. This post is not authorizing destruction of bridges by arson.)

Bitterness destroys everything it touches, and hateful words are a consuming wildfire. Bitterness cannot be the flame that burns your bridges down. You’ll be burned in the process. But—make no mistake—some of them must come down.

Forgiveness must come first. But sometimes forgiveness isn’t closure, as much as we want it to be. It just forgives, releases, and walks in the other direction. The hardest things to forgive are the things that are never apologized for. But you can forgive, even if that apology never comes. However, that forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to keep standing there.

Walk away. Let it go. Keep going.

Taylor Swift reflects pretty well on this kind of situation: having that coat that doesn’t fit you but that you can’t get rid of, that book you never could bring yourself to finish, that connection that’s become toxic and shallow.

“Your name on my lips, tongue-tied

Free rent, living in my mind.”

I don’t know you. (Or maybe I do, if you’re a friend reading this. If so, hi friend! And even if I don’t, welcome. I hope this is meaningful.) But I can speak for myself, from my experience, from this journey of life and love and trying to seek God and love my neighbor as myself. And Taylor is right: some of those things have lived in your mind long enough. It’s time you kicked them out. Evicted them.

Maybe you aren’t mean to be close to that person anymore. Forgive, and walk the other way.

Maybe that relationship was never meant to be, but it got you where you are now. Forgive, and walk the other way.

Maybe you’re done with trying to manipulate them to like you, becoming an actor just to be appreciated for something that isn’t even you. First, stop. You’re you. Not that. Then forgive, and walk the other way.

Maybe you’ve wasted enough time with bitter, circular, empty thoughts. Your mind was made for so much more. Forgive, and walk the other way.

This sounds easy and simple. It isn’t. This has been a process that’s taken years for me, and it’s not over, and it may never be. Sometimes our past has a hold over us that we wish it didn’t. We wish we could just deal with it and be freaking done with it already, because we’re sick of going through the same mess.

Healing isn’t a milestone. It’s not a mountaintop. Healing is a process and it’s a journey.

Some people will walk with you on that journey. Maybe, you’ll find one person who will traverse the whole thing with you. Others’ paths will parallel, join, intersect.

And some of those paths will diverge. Listen—their journey is not yours. Maybe they just envy your path. Maybe they want you to envy theirs. Maybe they wouldn’t have chosen your route—perhaps they criticize your vocation, your opinions, your family, even down to criticizing the coffee cup that’s in your hand. Maybe they don’t like the one who’s traversing the path with you. Still, stay on the path.

Don’t be encumbered. Let things go—the tattered sweater, the trashy novel. Forgive, and walk the other way.

There are better things on the road ahead.

One thought on “empty shelves + extended metaphors

  1. Hmm, thank you for your post, Bo! I am dealing with the same thing right now. Funny enough, today was my last day of college so yeah! My pastor taught on this last Sunday. It is on the website for Highlands Church in Cumming, if you wanna listen 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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