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Learning to be My Self

By September 15, 20095 Comments

1950's Housewife Before I got married I literally lived off a diet of frozen dinners, cereal, and take out food…unless, of course, one of my roommates cooked real food and I mooched off her.

What’s weird is that ever since I got married 5 weeks ago I’ve been driven by this compulsion to cook actual meals for my husband each week. This has never happened to me before. It’s as if my inner home-maker has been lying dormant for the last 28 years of my life until now. My inner feminist is mortified.

But what’s even weirder is that in spite of the fact that I’ve attained a college degree, a Master of Divinity, traveled the world and accomplished a lot of things, my entire life’s purpose and value on this earth now hinges entirely on whether or not I can cook a spaghetti sauce that tastes as good as my husband’s mom’s. Don’t worry, he hasn’t told me this…I just feel it. Deep within my soul.

As a result of this need to be perfect in the kitchen, combined with a complete lack of preparation, there have been some pretty significant disappointments along the way. Such as the “garlic incident,” in which I thought “clove” referred to the whole head of garlic. No one ever explained to me what a “clove” is (MOM!) so we had some really garlic-y chili one night.

It’s as if my inner desire to cook magnificent meals is some sort of cruel joke by God. He has instilled me with a desire without granting me the ability to fulfill it.

Thankfully a number of my friends have told me similar stories, and they’ve all encouraged me with the advice that I will get better if I keep working at it. In the mean time, I’ve learned how important it is to stick to the recipe. For a novice like me, recipes are clutch because I’m basically like a baby learning to walk. I need someone holding my hand with every step until I learn how much oil is necessary and how much salt is too much. Once I learn these recipes in and out, and once I’ve acquired enough cooking knowledge to understand the lingo and to know what will work and what won’t, then I can start to experiment. Until then I’ve gotta go by the book.

Now the reason I’m sharing this tale of cooking perseverance is that it actually reminded me of some words from C.S. Lewis. In Mere Christianity he writes,

Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self… Christ will indeed give you a real personality.

This idea has always been tough to wrap my mind around. The idea that God will give us our real personality, that the Christian life is the key to our true selves–what does that even mean?

Fortunately my little foray into the world of cooking has shed some new light on it for me. Clearly, I was not born a brilliant cook. If my husband sent me into the kitchen and asked me to whip up some pan seared chilean sea bass with a side of braised fennel and gruyere potato rosti, I would immediately crumple to the floor in a pile of sobbing. There’s no way I could begin to create that without a recipe…and several years of cooking experience. And a dictionary.

I need recipes to teach me the basics. I need directions to shape me and mold me into a chef. Recipes teach me the boundaries of cooking, the essentials and the non-essentials. Then, once I’m thoroughly versed in the recipes and rules of cooking, once I know them like the back of my hand, then I can begin to experiment. When I conform my skill set to the rules of cooking, I’m then free to cook recipes that reflect my particular tastes without destroying the food. I couldn’t experience that freedom without first learning the rules. In the world of cooking, rules are a form of freedom.

What does all of this have to do with C.S. Lewis? Well a human being is a lot like a recipe. In the same way that cake needs flour, sugar and eggs before it can even be a cake, human beings have some essential ingredients as well. God created us to be made of compassion, love, patience, and faith, among other things. Without these ingredients, we cannot be truly ourselves. Any attempt to forge an identity without these essential ingredients is like trying to make a cake using sausage and mayonnaise. It might be unique, but it’s not really a cake.

That said, we need to learn the ingredients to being truly human, and then pursue them. And this task is harder than it sounds. The world often teaches us behaviors that are sub-human–it teaches us selfishness, greed, anger, impatience, lust and pride. Because these behaviors are all sub-human, we become less ourselves when we mimic them.

With that in mind, we have to retrain ourselves to be human. This may sound silly, but given the degree to which we are taught otherwise by the world around us it’s an important discipline to undertake. We have to conform ourselves to those attributes which make us the image of God. And after we’ve thoroughly trained ourselves and molded ourselves according to that which makes us truly human, we will be disciplined in a way that sets us free. Our attempts at uniqueness will no longer be mere imitations of something we see around us, human-concocted ideas of being different, but will instead be a natural expression of who God created us to be, free of sub-human distortions.

I know that got kind of deep and theological all of a sudden, but I hope the analogy clarifies Lewis’ words. Right now I’m a terrible cook, so any attempt to make my spaghetti “special” will guarantee it a non-stop trip to the garbage disposal. I’ve gotta learn the essentials of cooking spaghetti before I’ll be free to experiment like that. And it’s the same with the Christian life. I need to learn love, mercy, grace, dedication to God and submission to His will before I can really know what it means to be myself. Only then in that context will my pursuit of uniqueness mirror my true self as God created me, rather than a carbon copy picture of the world.


  • J Pappa says:

    ha! i loved reading this blog because i definitely experienced this exactly! and i totally did the garlic thing one night too! but worse was crying becaus I couldn’t figure out how to open the garlic clove… yes i was that stupid. I also almost had a breakdown when someone asked me to cut up a whole pineapple… i just really was’t sure how to tackle that thing.

    but really this blog was so relevant for me because of where i’m living right now. living in a completely different culture where my worth in society is totally redefined (and based entirely on being able to cook and have children) has left me scrambling to God to find my identity. I’m still scrambling.

    Thanks for the blog 🙂

  • MJ says:

    after 9 years…I’m still not a great cook, but I have signature dishes. My husband (who is a FAR better cook than I-he’s much more daring) has finally accepted this is and is grateful for what I can do and at times we will cook a lot together. Which is it’s own brand of hilarity!

    Anyway, this is a great post and makes sense. I often wonder if we try to be “different” in spite of ourselves-no matter how utterly ridiculous it seems. I have found myself getting back to basices here lately, going back to the “big cookbook” for a refresher course. If that makes sense.

    Have you had any laundry incidents yet? I will never forget the time my husband helped wash my work clothes…oh the memory is still fresh, but now very sweet…:) The simplicity and complexity of the first year of marriage…

  • Cat says:

    Dude, what is it with garlic? I made lasagna for an entire YEAR using the whole head of garlic before I learned that wasn’t what “clove” meant!

  • Abby I Yancey says:

    Hey Sharon!!! So I love to read your blog. i don’t check it regularly but when i do i read 4-5 posts at a time. Before I got married, I didn’t cook at all, and i was really afraid and nervous about cooking…But now God is Totally helping me cook–He helps me be creative too! I’ve definitely been going by the recipe book (and part of me felt bad for that, like i’m not talented or something) but since i’ve been cooking so much, i’m beginning to do small experimentations. It is definitely the Lord who helps me, b/c there are so many nights and days when i really have no idea what to cook, or don’t feel like it. I pray and ask God for help and he always does. I’ve had some disasters… Burnt veggies, undercooked chicken, a pesto fail, but i have definitely learned a lot!

    Also, I read your blog last spring or summer about a gold ring in a pig’s snout, and it gave me such a perspective about beauty and modesty for other women’s sake, how it can be a way to love others. That really helps my perspective, loving vs. competitive.

    Also, I just read your 2 most recent posts on submission, which i loved and were challenging! I’m reading 1 Peter right now, so i’ve been thinking alot about those verses. and what they mean.

    I also appreciate how you really seem to see the breakdown of unbelief/sin in our lives and how so many of our actions can be linked to not that, like not trusting in the Lord and how that plays out.
    Alright, so that’s a long comment! I hope marriage is going so good for you!

  • Kristin S. says:

    Hilarious and thought-provoking post. While cooking, I have relied on this website many times : — the brief ingredient descriptions and substitutions are extremely helpful!

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