One of my biggest fears as a teenager was that I’d be called to preach. My father joined the ministry when I was four years old, after years in the streets, doing things I won’t detail in an open record. But when he heard the call, everything in my family changed. I became a Preacher’s Kid and things like church, spirit and “living right” became the top priorities. Only, I’ve always seen ‘living right’ as sort of a debatable, fluid concept. I curse like a sailor, believe in the power of sex, drugs and hip hop music and although I try to be a good person, I can throw some shade like a gold medal shot putter. The idea of having to give either of those things up in the name of ministry was the last thing I wanted. More importantly, I didn’t want the responsibility of someone else’s wellbeing. I can’t tell you how many hospital, jail and living room visits my father dragged me on. Each scenario variations of the same theme: something bad has happened and we’re waiting for Reverend Waters to come help us through it. He’d show up, pray, comfort, offer sincere words and we’d get back in the car and he’d take a moment and say, “man.” I could feel the weight of someone else’s sorrow pressing upon him. I didn’t want it.
Years later – well into adulthood – I found myself in a room with Iyanla Vanzant. “I’m not here to fix anybody’s life,” Iyanla knows this with the same certainty as she knows that she wasted $54,000 on a law degree. The five-time New York Times bestselling author gained more useful experience as a single mother on welfare, fighting an abusive relationship. But this particular statement struck me as odd, especially coming from a life coach, self-help guru and pastor. And well, also her OWN television series is of course called, Iyanla, Fix My Life. But for the Brooklyn native, ‘fixing’ anyone isn’t what she’s here for. “My purpose is to live my truth. That’s it.”
This struck me, as I – and many of my friends – approach that time in our lives where we settle deeper into our own individuality. If your teens are a time for firsts, and your twenties are a decade of boundary pushing, then your thirties is the time for unapologetic owning of what I call ‘your ain’t sh*tness.’ Iyanla calls it, “claiming your crazy.” And we all have crazy. You know those behaviors that we probably should’ve stopped by now, but we don’t because secretly we don’t really want to? You know what I’m talking about. Yup, that’s your crazy. And eventually, if you’ve done the work, you reach a point where you stop feeling shame for it, even hiding it and especially stop apologizing for it. You take ownership of all that’s wrong with you. Because that is the only way you will become ‘right.’ But that’s hard to do in a world shaped by the lazy expectations of others. Many of us, myself included, don’t always want to do the work. Let’s face it; digging into all of your own tender parts is some hard sh*t. And it’s rarely fun. Most of us would rather just ask someone that seems to have it together, to get us together as well.
We’ll call this phenomenon the “Oprah Effect,” where people respect and connect the work you’ve done so much, that they want you to do their work for them also. And it’s all innocent enough. After a several months writing my VIBE Vixen column and season on TV, I was experiencing my own ‘Oprah effect’ where everyday I’d receive emails, or get stopped on the train, in airports, even in the hair salon, by people who followed “JasFly,” related to my own experiences and now wanted me to weigh in on theirs. They’d tell me about how lost they were, about their struggles with weight, wanting to switch careers late in the game, move across the country and even really personal things like depression, abusive relationships and even thoughts of wanting to harm themselves. It all became incredibly heavy stuff. And while I listened or read the emails, I’d just keep thinking about how I was still struggling to figure myself out. And I began to recall my father’s exhaustive, “man” as I’d walk from one lost person to another. And it came with guidelines for who ‘they’ thought I was supposed to be. Of course these were not expectations I could ever live up to, nor was I even interested. I just wanted to experience my life, write, direct, and shoot cool sh*t and then share what it taught me and keep moving. I didn’t want to minister.
Iyanla doesn’t have this problem because she’s not all that worried about you, beloved. “All I can do is give you the information for you to fix yourself,” then she keeps it moving. In the fifth season premiere, Iyanla meets individually with two pastors, one a long-standing bachelor and rape survivor, the other a married father of five. Unbeknownst to their families, spouses and their congregations, both have been sexually involved with men most of their adult lives. But Iyanla insists it’s not about the pastors openly identifying as gay or bisexual. “The show is about living inauthentically,” Iyanla said after the screening. She has no opinion on the sexuality of these men, or how they reconcile it with their faith. It’s about not living a lie. And when she left them, she took none of their emotional baggage with her. They are not her responsibility. “You have to remove your ego. I can’t be attached to what other people do with the information I’ve given because then I’ll stop focusing on learning the information for myself.” It is called ‘self-help’, emphasis on ‘self’. Instead, what she hopes for them is that they might reach the point where they accept themselves as they are, something she had to learn for herself. “Who I am, as I am, is OK,” Iyanla explained, “because I am who God created and God is.”
This was my own ah ha moment. God already knows every f**ked up thing about you. And the lies you tell yourself and others is what stands between you and the lessons you’re meant to learn, and then share with others. That’s all we need to do. Heaven for a lesson is to become tool to help another. And that is the ministry to which we all have been called.