o hope

I feel like I am being sucked into one of those places where I just don’t know what the point is any more.

You try to help people get better, but they don’t want to get better, or never get all the way better, or it comes and it goes, or they’re back for something else, or you can’t figure out how to help them, or — you know what? We still all die anyway.

Write paperwork that no one reads. Go to work with co-workers who couldn’t care less you fell off the face of the earth. Collect a paycheck with little more motivation than paying bills. Go to bed tired. Wake up tired. Do it all over again and again, with nothing but a slogging sense of endurance.

Why? For what? I can grasp around some philosophical and ideological reasonings, but no real concrete substance of why.

Ironically, one of the reasons I first got interested in this field was because, even if everything else went wrong, at least I would still be doing something meaningful: alleviating suffering and taking care of human beings. Never mind all the people who don’t seem to want to get better, the people beyond any of my helping, and the somewhat appalling sense of something close to selling oneself on a street corner: being paid to care. Not in a deep meaningful sense of community building and relationship growing. People coming in who you honestly truly cannot stand, and yet pasting on a terse little smile and a professional voice, and listen to them go on and on in the most objectionable way — not because you actually care, but just because you can’t kick them out on the grounds of being unpleasant to be around.

I sometimes find myself thinking that if I was working to — support my own house and land, or if I had my own family, or if I had energy enough to be passionate and involved in some of my (many) other interests — then the why of it would ease up. But I don’t really think that’s true. I’ve seen too many people with their own property, and their own families struggle with the why, and to my shame, too many people with health much more limited than I still find a way to be passionate and involved.

I feel a terrible loss of agency, and I tell myself fiercely, “Good!” I need humility, need patience, need to look to the hand of my Master. But somehow I feel like I am losing things I need to lose without also gaining things I need to gain, leaving me completely barren.

I tell myself I have a job, a good job. Many people don’t have that. I have food and clothes. I have mother and father and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins. I have a grandmother. I have a few close friends. What else do you want? I rebuke myself sternly. What else do you really need? Would anything really satiate you, anything really make you happy?

I am angry at myself for trying to tell me I have no right to be unhappy with my circumstance, as though I ought to be content in that which is clearly lacking. Here I can see, to my shame, my arguing with the Potter that He doesn’t know what He is doing. But still, I protest. Where’s the plot? Where’s the fruit? Where’s the hope? Where’s the direction?

How many people, I scold, have spent their whole lives longing for a fraction of what I have? Well, yeah? How many people have more than I have? I know my defiance is helping exactly nothing at all, but still, it is there. Why should I not want more next year than I have this year? Just because I’ll always be wanting a little more seems no reason for complacency, for settling. Justifying my anger, justifying my dissatisfaction, justifying my victimhood. If there were more progress, I wouldn’t be so resentful.

For a while, I could play the game of just-beyond. If I could just get through this class –! If I could just get through this semester –! If I could just get through this degree –! If I could just–! But now that’s run out. Welcome to the stale American dream of slogging. I tried my hardest to make the best of the journey, but now the journey has stalled at something that looked like a destination. And while I furiously lecture about how a new plot point should be right here, how I can’t do the same thing over and over without seeing some kind of fruit, how a course to a new destination needs to be set, I don’t see any way forward, or any direction or any path. Or any point.

And I know that people talk about the grass being greener, that satisfaction is an illusion and if we can’t find peace in the present, we never will in the future either, and so on. But the thing is, that’s a double edged sword. If the grass isn’t green now, how will it ever get greener? If there’s no peace or satisfaction and there never will be — what’s the point? Why get out of bed to go to work? Deeply ingrained duty and responsibility and the illusion that there is no choice can carry you quite a ways, but they don’t carry you on in joy, or in hope. Instead it brings with it the keening wail of “how long?”

I know that I cannot run on anger. But I also know that I cannot run without hope. And when mornings run into evenings and days blur into smudgy memories I feel grateful only to have made through. . .either the well of hope is not deep enough, or the rope on my bucket is just too short to reach it.

And I can think of a lot of things to hope about, for hope deferred, for later, for when-this-is-all-done. But I can’t find a whole lot of meaning or purpose or hope for – tomorrow. For the day after tomorrow. For next month. For why I am here. And the prayers that I pray seem to bounce and rattle and never really drive home.

There is something to be said, I know, for endurance. For faith without sight. But there is a lot to be said for hope, too, and hard to stand and watch it crumble into little more than an intellectual construct with little light to offer on cold days and short nights. Hope was supposed to burn.

 

Reassess

I’m pooped.

This would not be so disheartening, except that I badly calculated.

Rather than the 6-8 hours of manual labor I have some how remained certain I can coax my body to do, I planned on 3-4 hours. Yet after 1 hour of manual labor, I am drained utterly. Standing is work. Trying to do mental work is work. Planning is work. There is little I can do but sit and talk, after a mere one hour of physical labor.

At a different point in my life, I might likely have rallied around some cry like “rage! rage against the dying of the light!” Now? Now I recognize that, wanted or not, I am spent. Recalculate, but admit the truth. You can’t do practical things with faulty data.

It’s sad to me. It is a very real, in-my-face reminder that I cannot be the person I want to be. And a reminder of how often I drink that worldly wisdom in, without even realizing that’s what I’m doing. Isn’t becoming who you want to be the epitome of a life’s existence?

Only, in the moments when I am awake, I don’t believe that to be true. I remember again how it is spoken that Jesus was sent into a mortal body, to learn obedience. The One true, perfect, holy – to enact obedience. How much less us? Yet that is not a thing of our own planning or devising. This is sobering, and humbling.

I had just three goals for this not-winter season. (1) Finish painting the porch. (2) Make my garden into raised beds. (3) Go through my things and cull.

I thought these were very modest goals, achievable, and, whether I knew it or not (I don’t know), a way of clearing up responsibility so that I would be free to do whatever I wanted. No half-finished projects taking up familial space, no piles of belongings getting in others’ way. By the end of fall, or the end of the year at the very least, I would have a nice blank slate to spring board off of.

Instead, my health problems have continued in fits and spikes, the gifts being not feeling miserable, not a return to previous capabilities. I barely, sort of, mostly finished the painting of the porch, with help. I got maybe 1/3 of the way through the garden project. And perhaps 1/8th of the way through culling my belongings, or even knowing where my things are.

Emily P. Freeman says too often we think our limitations are thing to be fought against, rather than recognizing that limitations are one of the ways God directs us in His will. There was a time in my life where I would have thought that struggling against my limitations was almost a moral purity, a strength of character. I have tried that enough times that I have been forced to sit down and consider that, maybe, just possibly, Emily was right.

So I stopped fighting, gave up on the garden bed, and came inside. But that was maybe my one last chance to do anything with the garden this year, and I was incapable. So that’s the end of that goal for this year. I can still wrestle a bit with my belongings for the rest of the year, but in all honesty, I have to admit: most of what I planned to do this year never happened.

So: time to regroup and reassess. Oh, guys, I have no limit to the things I want. No limit to the things I want to do. No end to the plans I can make. And, after years of hard heart, closed ears and a forehead of flint: a brokenness that makes quite clear I have limitations. What comes next, then, cannot be guided by what I want, what might be able to be done, what I can plan for.

In my head, everything tumbles around in a jumble. . . half finished sewing projects I want to dig out. . .that novel I was 7 chapters into writing. . .the idea of writing a lectionary around the gospel of Mark, a scriptural patchwork quilt to enjoy. . .the watercolors and acrylics that astound me when I get them on to canvas or cotton paper. . .my dSLR camera sitting in a drawer, waiting for me to learn how to use it. . .the French course I’m half way through. . .the piano I want to learn to play classically. . .the tantalizing beginning of voice lessons I’ve heard. . .the almost grim (in the sense of admitting to real life) thoughts of house buying, and the giddy delirium of making a place my own. . .the conviction it is time to stay where I am working, and the aching sense of marginalization I feel every day at work. . .the consuming longing for a husband and the slightly guilty girlish dreamings of wedding gowns. . .the face and paws of springer spaniels, the only dogs that ever made my heart flip over. . . the quiet graces of household chores that, when rested, I actually find deeply satisfying. . . the idolization of making my body Work The Way It Is Supposed To. . .

Or do I order things more properly by priority? Another tumble. . .taking care of my body. . . being creative. . .being outside. . .resting. . . professional development. . .relationships. . . preparing for the the future. . . learning. . . throwing it all to the wind and becoming primarily devoted to religion. . .

I could go on and on. But it’s not directive.

They said boy you just follow your heart 
But my heart just led me into my chest 
They said follow your nose 
But the direction changed every time I went and turned my head 
And they said boy you just follow your dreams 
But my dreams were only misty notions 
But the Father of hearts and the Maker of noses 
And the Giver of dreams He’s the one I have chosen 
And I will follow Him 

–Rich Mullins, David Strasser, Giver of Noses

What I most want is to join with my husband and go recklessly follow God. Of course it sounds romantic. Golly, if you can’t sound romantic about wanting a husband, do you even want a husband? But every time someone starts prodding me that, if that’s what I really want, I should go out and get it (one way or another), all I can think of is Sarah trying to force God’s promise to happen on her time. That trying to force and smoosh God into doing what we want only leads to greater heartache.

So here I am, sitting in the shambles of what I thought I could do (I couldn’t), turning over plans in my head that feel like settling-for-less, dreaming of things I have no control over. I have no direction.

When I started this year, I felt like my job this year was to listen and pay attention. I did pretty abysmally at that, too. It’s hard to feel like you have a way to move forward when it doesn’t seem like you’ve ever moved forward.

The strand of hope that I’m holding to is just that. . .when we don’t get what we think we want, it’s because God has something else that’s better in progress. That we don’t have to figure life out, because God already did, and His intricate and beautiful plans continue to unfold whether we realize it or not.

The problem, I suppose, it that it’s just so unsatisfying when we don’t realize. We God stays that still quiet voice we rarely hear, when we want obvious change and progress and fruit and plot arcs. But it seems the only word I’ve heard from God of late is, “Wait.”

And that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Sometimes it feels like the only thing I’ve done with my entire life is wait. I want to start drafting plans or designing aesthetic principles, or something. I want to know what I should stop doing, what I should start doing, what I should focus on. Some way to clear out all the voices and fuzz in my head and have some kind of clarity about Next.

But if God says, “Wait.” What else can you say, besides, “Teach me to wait.” In calmness, not in fury, in joy, not in anxiety, in expectation, not in fear, in hope, not in anger. Eyes wide open, hands at rest and up-turned, attentive by ear, undistracted, and confident of the goodness of God. Maybe, the difficulty in waiting is because we try to wait unattentive, and then grow frustrated that our focus on distractions hasn’t yielded obvious change. Maybe waiting is so unsatisfying because we keep looking away.

I am afraid of waiting, because I am afraid it won’t produce fruit. I hate “practicing the pause.” I try to find every excuse away from resting. If I am anything, I am constantly frantic on the inside. Why do I not feel safe to be still?

If I have to be still, I want to know the exact reason why, the exact time it will be, what the pay-off is, and what I can do in the meantime. I don’t think this is an unusual want, but I do think it is unusual for it to be given. So it must mean that the call to “Wait” is not focused on the unwaiting, a thing God has already taken care of, but on the dwelling. The call to Be Still, and know that He is God, so oft repeated and so rarely headed.

I am not good at this. That may be why I need to practice. God help me.