On the rare occasion I run into a scent like what my first girlfriend wore in 1988, I am delivered back to that time, whether I want it or not.
I have a desire, perhaps idealistic, that my life could have been monolithic, been a single story, consistent, moving in one meaningful direction, without diversion or division. But those days, months, and years that I committed myself to ideas and people who ended up being, at least in my life, dead ends, are for me segmented parts of my history, inconsistent, non-contiguous with the rest of who I am today.
The point I take from this is that as much as the whiff of that ancient scent takes me back to a good feeling, it takes me back to a connection with someone I didn’t commit my life to. I see, so clearly now, what a bad idea it would have been for her to have married me, in the immature and relationally destructive state I was in at the time. I look back and wish everything in my life, my decisions, my choices, my commitments, could have all flowed consistently and naturally into the commitment I made to the woman who ended up as my wife some fourteen years later, and the life she and I have made together. Those broken-off segments of my life are some of my regrets.
If I teach my children to hold back, to not commit to people and ideas that might be false, would that be foolish? Are we better served by more of a risk-taker’s attitude that always tries different things? Or is this another area where tension serves the Truth? Maybe the best answer is in the tension between striving for purity, for a narrative of our life indicating deep and consistent commitment to Christ and following His leading, on the one hand, and on the other hand realizing the value of trying and failing, to learn more about who we are and who God is, learning in ways we couldn’t learn without the risk.