In a miraculous twist of fate yesterday, my children were napping during NPR’s program Fresh Air. I was in the kitchen making a meal for a friend who has a new baby, but when I heard the show’s guest, I was immediately disappointed: it was Buzz Bissinger, Pulitzer Prize winning author, writer of the Vanity Fair cover article on Caitlyn Jenner, and author of many books, including Friday Night Lights, which has a 25th anniversary edition coming out. I thought to myself, What do I have in common with this man? I haven’t read his books, I am not interested in sports, ugh. But out of a sense of obligation to the fates that allowed me this precious time cooking early enough in the day to have an hour to LISTEN TO NPR WHILE MY BABIES SLEPT, I kept it on. And I was glad I did.
Mr. Bissinger is a fascinating, intelligent, incredibly articulate gentleman. He answered the interview questions about his experience researching Friday Night Lights and the response over the last 25 years with conviction, passion, and integrity. It only took me about 5 minutes to warm up to him and start thinking, I need to read this book!
He is a compelling figure. Who has surely written compelling pieces, even though I haven’t read them. Yet.
The second part of the interview moved into his personal life; he has recently been treated as an inpatient at a rehab facility for a shopping addiction. But as he talked, it became clear that the shopping addiction, which primarily involved leather clothing, was a symptom of something even deeper. He says, “…the admission of the shopping addiction was just a, you know, a cover in a sense for some deep, deep-seated, you know, sexual habits.” His official diagnosis was “complicated sexual addiction.” After a childhood with a difficult mother (who always wore leather gloves), he grew into a man with some gender confusion, who enjoys cross dressing, has had all of his body hair removed, and has indulged in dangerous S&M activities.
At this point in the interview, my heart was heavy. Bissinger is very open with his story and speaks very highly of his supportive children and wife, who decided to stay with him throughout the addiction and recovery. But I couldn’t help but think, This is just one more story of brokenness. The sadness is not worth it to me.
And then Bissinger said something so profound: “My life was guided by shame. And that’s what I learned most of all in rehab. I was ashamed of myself, so you find an addiction, but it’s not enough, so you up the ante, you up the ante and you up the ante.”
There it is—the human condition. An articulation of my own heart—he could have been speaking for me. Bissinger explains that the road to rehab was full of dangerous behavior, “the search for an identity that will probably never quite come.”
In my head, I know that my identity has indeed come, although this side of Heaven I won’t experience its fullness. I also know that my identity has nothing to do with my sexuality, my past, my successes or failures, my race, etc. My identity is that which God has named me. And yet, do I live out of that identity? Do I walk around in joyful confidence of God’s love for me? Or do I look for ways to cover up my shame and numb the lies that threaten to swallow me up? Do I find my own way of upping the ante, my own form of a shopping addiction? Bissinger is articulating my functional theology.
At the end of the day, Bissinger is describing you and me. All of mankind. Granted, our search for identity may not lead us to rehab or gender confusion, anonymous sex, or infidelity. Etcetera. Yet we all struggle against the shame, against the voices that tell us we aren’t good enough; in fact, forget good enough—how about the voices that tell us we aren’t enough, period?!
Bissinger says he has made peace with his search for identity. He says he is happier. I think that’s where the disconnect is for me—I don’t want to be happier; I want to be hopeful. I don’t want to accept that my search for identity will never be conclusive; I want to relish in the confidence of who I am because of my relationship to The Great I Am. Bissinger says, “You have to strip yourself bare, and once you strip yourself bare, you build yourself up.” But my experience tells me something different—shame strips me bare and only Jesus can build me up; only the unconditional, sacrificial love of Christ can change me, convince me, coax me into believing the truth of who I am and experiencing the peace that comes with that.
I can assert with all confidence that Mr. Bissinger will wake up tomorrow and struggle. As will I. What will I do in the midst of that struggle? Will I trust the God who promises redemption or fall back into my shame, looking for ways to up the ante? Will I believe that vicious, manipulative voice in my head or the kind, gentle voice of God who only asks for my trust?