Enough

I thought I was trying to start a healthy habit, but it turns out I am really struggling to grow more faith.

After struggling for months of being sick and worn down, I decided I should really get serious about getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night. I didn’t really think through where the hardest part of this plan would be. If I had pick one word to describe it, I think I would have to use the word, “enough.” Not “enough sleep,” because despite being able to suddenly cut my caffeine consumption by 2/3s, I still feel tired. No. Admitting there had been enough in the day. Admitting I was done. Admitting what God had done was enough, and I could rest.

What was supposed to be an exercise in rest and restoration turned instead into an ugly power play. I wasn’t done yet. My things were important. I don’t want my life to just be work and sleep. This is not enough.

It made me stop and think about resting as an act of worship. First there is aspect in which we are to stop and look at what God has done. I think that’s how the original 7th day of rest came around – not that God was wearied, but as a observation of all that He has accomplished. But that’s not enough, either.

It’s also a sacrifice, in more than one sense of the word. In one sense, we have to give up the things that we want to do in order to do the rest God calls for. We want to think that we have to do things, or that OUR things are important, but what we’re called to do is agree with God that He is right: He provides all things, and this world is ultimately very insignificant. It’s humbling. Surely the bare necessities of food and clothing demand our attention. Surely Martha is right. But didn’t He say something about finding His sustenance in the work of God? About manna being provided double-fold the day before the rest, so you’ll still have food even when you don’t work? About clothes not wearing out for 40 years, because He said so?

It is very humbling. Because the other sense in which it is a sacrifice is in recognizing that our own striving, our own attempts at righteousness is not enough, nor even desirable by God. We have to be covered by something else – to rest and be covered in His provision. What we do is simply not good enough.

I resent it. I resent my human limitations; I want to be a god. I don’t want to have to rest. I resent that the world doesn’t actually fall apart when I rest; striving is so hard, it seems like all sorts of things should fall apart when I stop striving and rest. But they don’t. Because it isn’t really about us at all. My human nature is that I don’t want to agree with God. But isn’t that what worship is? Agreeing with God. Agreeing with what He says about Himself, about us, about this age, about what matters. The humility of bending the knee and admitting He has the final say in anything, that He is the arbitrator, that what He declares is true.

Who gets to decide what is enough? I find myself muttering to myself, “this isn’t enough.” Who decides? I have so much more than so many. So much less than so many. Who draws the line and says, this is enough? In truth, God. In truth, going to bed at the end of the day and saying, “it is enough,” is not a declaration that we are enough–we’re not. We never will be. It is agreeing with God that what He gives is enough. It is not fighting with God to be more powerful than we are, and agreeing with Him that the nature He gave us is one that needs to rest — and only can rest, if we truly believe God will provide whatever is truly needed. That it’s enough to rest in Him and the things He does, and to not do things myself. That it’s enough, what my lot in life is right now.

It’s hard to make ourselves small. It’s painful to make ourselves small, or rather, to recognize the truth of our smallness. But it’s also the only way we see the greatness of God. We so easily lose sight of what “holiness” means, or “authority” means. We’re far too inclined to put ourselves on level with God, and in doing so, rather than make ourselves large, we make God small.

The feeling that things are never enough is part of how God made us. . .He has placed eternity in the hearts of men. We subvert that to say, this day was not enough, so I’m going to stay up later, try to squeeze more in. What it should really drive us to do is to recognize the smallness of our to-do lists in view of eternity. It really doesn’t matter, it really isn’t important, because it really won’t last. Only the things that God is doing will last.

I am still incredibly frustrated by how little time I have. Week two of “getting sleep” is not shaping up to be any easier. The only thing I have now is the recognition that this is actually a spiritual battle. That the resentment I feel at having to rest needs to be turned into the humble acceptance — and gratitude — that it is enough. Because God said so, and He is fearful and wonderful, and I recognize my place beneath Him. He is enough.

Advertisements

Importance

Last night I listened to two people talking, and realized we were practically from different planets. She was raised with nannies — the first was from a town of only 300 people, can you imagine? (yes. . .yes, I can). The rest were from England. Of course. Don’t worry, she then became an au pair herself in France, 45 minutes outside of Paris, for 2 years.  Mummy dearest has bright red nails and an accent, and can’t imagine living in a small town for even two weeks, is a bonafide work-a-holic, and is considering getting a second home in Hilton Head, or if her brother buys a boat, anyway.

It makes my brain cramp. Because our lives are so different, yet we’re still just people. It’s not that their lives are charmed. Tales of divorce, counseling, drinking, endless streams of intimate relationships ending in broken hearts, longing for reconciliation, loneliness, and endless activity to avoid accidental self-reflection.

It leaves you thinking a little, what do they have that I don’t? Anything can happen in life. And then you realize, oh, yeah. What they have that I don’t have is money. I can’t just go home and buy a new car. I can’t just eat grass fed beef because it’s better for me.

It’s not that I’m without privilege. I do have privilege. I don’t have to start working the second I’m done with school, because I have family I can stay with, who will shelter and feed me. They have before, and likely will again, lend me the money to buy a car, which will be a far better deal than taking out a loan from traditional sources.

I just always wonder how far to push those resources. Because for a certain while, it makes sense, and after another certain while, it feels like taking advantage of someone. And it’s also a struggle, because it comes with a certain lack of identity. And both of those things eat at me.

I’m not saying I have to pull myself up by my own boot straps in order to be legitimate, although certainly there are temptations to be that way. But you don’t take things without giving things, and the more “support” you take, the more “autonomy” you give away. You have less and less control over living situation and environment, what you eat, who visits and when. It is further complicated by the thing about being alone vs being around people who care about you.

So this morning I started thinking about things like, how much money saved up is enough money? Is it better to rent or buy? How terrifying to buy. And things like, good glory, the amount of debt I have for my schooling could buy me 3 great American dreams. And that opens up the whole struggle I have about the school debt: when you know you will likely never pay it off, do you try? The pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps says yes, but it’s hard to convince yourself that in light of canceling any other aspirations for life.

I like life binary. I like right and wrong. Be simple and clear cut. It makes me so highly annoyed when I find out life is complex and confusing, and without straightforward answers. You might not get a diagnosis; you might just be stuck managing your symptoms. You might not get your dream lifestyle, but wind up living 15 different versions of making do, longing, and scheming to try again. You might get your education, but always wonder if it was worth it, or if it should have been went about in another way. (Right now I don’t think that, but ask me when I’m confronted with making payments.)

When it all comes down to it, I sometimes think I just want to stop being confused by life. I want someone to say, “this choice is the right choice, this choice is the wrong choice.” Armed with irrefutable conviction, I could then accept the consequences and carry on. But there is a niggling part of me I keep fighting with, the part of me that says, you can do a lot of the things you want, if only you had the guts to take the risks. And the risk adverse part of me says, “risk is stupid.”

I’m sick of doing what I’m supposed to do, and want to be reckless and do my own thing. But that is at war with the part of me that says conventional wisdom is both conventional and wise for a reason. There’s no good reason to not work for 2 to 3 years.

But I want to be in control. I don’t want to be riding on the waves of societies expectations and  social systems. I want to be busy being me. And when I talk about it as a defiance of society and the world, I feel so holy and I think I should find courage to make risky decisions. Other times, I wonder if I’m just fighting God. I want to be in control. I don’t want to be told what to do with my life. I don’t want to do those hard things, I want to do MY hard things.

I mean, just for supposing. . .suppose I turned down lucrative full time employment, in hopes of finding something part time? That’s a luxury only achievable by support of others. If I took full advantage of that support, and defiant risk in the face of all that’s responsible adulthood, I could do that. But I feel like I owe my support better than that. I feel like I owe my support a faster pay back than a part time job, too. And I’m not sure which is worse, feeling like your life is being ruled by money or emotions, but having it ruled by both at once sure does stink.

So while I try to resign myself to the idea of seeking full time employment. . .I also find myself looking for the silver lining. How fast could I save it up if I stayed with the support system? Could I outright buy a place I would want to own, and skip renting or mortgages? Would I feel too guilty not spending more toward school loans? Would I be able to save that much while paying back borrowed money for a vehicle? Could I manage the relative lack of autonomy for another two or three years?

And behind it all is the persistent longing that my life could be defined by more than my job. The one area where I feel like I have no control at all. I pray about it a lot. But I still have so little idea of what God has planned or why He has it planned. I don’t know why we wander, and I don’t know why we so often have to wander alone. I feel sad about where I am, but also certain, in some part of me, that God is good and gives good things.

Is that enough? I don’t know. But I think it’s the most important.

 

 

 

Trust and obey

So often I only seem to manage to write here when I am stuck in an ugly place, and that makes it all the more refreshing to be able to write, occasionally, from places of noteworthy peace. Not, mind you, noteworthy energy or noteworthy answers, or noteworthy understanding. Just peace.

This is not a peace that comes from knowledge. I mean, my peace is “God has a plan.” But I’ve heard that and “known” the unceasingly. Sometimes, what we know becomes in a more full sense for us Truth: in the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

Since there is no new knowledge, it seems at times hard to describe to anyone else the kind of change that takes place. There was no sudden revelation or clear words from heaven. If I could partially attribute it to anything, I would attribute it in part to finally having a chance to digest some of the most difficult and unpredictable things I’ve ever gone through. Note that I did not say “going through those things”; I said digesting having gone through those things. There was very little peace in the midst of them, or even right after them.

In the space of one night, I went from my body functioning, to my body and my mind not functioning at all. When you cannot even depend on the body that houses you, so many kinds of uncertainty open up. This lasted months upon unending months. In one year, my health dipped drastically lower than it ever has, improved to higher heights than I can remember in decades, and finished the roller coaster by dropping once again. I am in the process of spending the better part of a year being essentially homeless, and driving north and south and east and west across this country, big enough to span many countries. In this rotation alone, there’s been more nights than I can count where I literally did not know where I was going to be sleeping that night.

I have said it before, but one seems to have to continuously re-learn: Sometimes having utterly all control stripped away from you leads to a greater peace when you finally have no choice, no option, no power or ability or determination to do anything other than trust.

And sometimes you don’t or can’t, and you just slog through weeks and months of misery. There’s that, too.

That’s why I feel like digesting all the hardness and uncertainty is only part of it. The other part — again, we are not discussing new knowledge, so my apologies if you were hoping for a revelation to change your life — is the growing conviction that God loves me. That God likes me. That He’s not arbitrary and distant. That He has plans for me — GOOD plans, not cold, calculating, take-your-medicine-and-stop-whining plans.

I can’t for the life of me tell you how or when that happened. Except, obviously, sometime between now and the last time I wrote. Again, no grand revelations. Just a quiet coming along side, you and Me — we’re in this together. He goes ahead to prepare. And it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be more than okay; it’s going to be good. I don’t know how or what or why or when. I just know it has to be good. Because He is good, and He is in control, and I have heard that all a million times before and sometimes it just turns into Real. My Lord and my God.

 

If I was a good writer, I would stop right there. Many a good work has been painfully burdened with an uncalled for epilogue that doesn’t display any trust in the reader. Even knowing that, I feel compelled to point out that “my Lord and My God” is what Thomas said after God rubbed his face in the fact that that he was not believing the things he needed to be believing. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much Job in a nutshell, too.

It continues to fascinate me how it is so much easier for us to believe the things that terrify us rather than the things that will comfort and encourage and strengthen us. Perhaps, for some select few, hope comes easy; but for most of us, it seems, it takes a good deal of audacity to hope. (This concept did not, incidentally, begin with a certain senators book; I dare say it’s been around a good long time, but you might enjoy reading this: http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2008/03/for-the-record/218866/ ) I think that everyone can interpret the use of that word – audacity – a little differently. For me, it is the idea of, “Who am I, that I should expect any good?”

Again, maybe not everyone struggles with that particular aspect. But while it is more frequent a topic to discuss “hidden sins,” most people don’t even seem to acknowledge another fault: hidden dreams. On first scan, it seems unnecessary to call it a fault. Wanting good things, verifiability good things, and not making a fuss out of it, hardly seems like something to complain about. But the problem, I have discovered (and to me, this part is new knowledge) is the “hidden” part. Because hiding implies that it isn’t safe or can’t be trusted. To “hide good things” is to in a way act as though one cannot be trusted with good things, or with us, or with our delicate hearts. Rather than dare to tell Him, “God, this is really what I want from the future,” I stash it in the corners and peek at when I pretend He isn’t looking. That’s not trust.

Upon reflection, maybe this piece has more to do with it all than I first realized. The last month or so has really been a time of me confessing my hopes and dreams and desires to God. I don’t think I ever before really understood how hopes and dreams could be involved in the same sentence as “confessing,” but I have been becoming increasingly convicted that this was an area that I tried to keep from God. That He could have His plans, and I’d make my little doll house plans, and if they didn’t happen, I understood, but I would have my own little doll house plans, that I would mostly try to hide from Him so He wouldn’t mock him. That’s not trust.

I do repeat myself. It’s important. Sitting there and saying, “You know, God, this is what I want,” is something that I actually continue to find to be incredibly difficult to do. But as with confessing sin, also strangely freeing. There’s a quiet resentment to hiding your dreams. And there is no guarantee that by confessing your dreams, you get them miraculously fulfilled. There is freedom in clearing the air and admitting freely that you do have hopes and dreams. But there is also that audacity of hope.

And that is when I discovered, when I bring the desires of my heart before Him — as is His explicit injunction — He doesn’t mock me. He doesn’t crush me. He doesn’t promise blank-check I’ll get everything I want, but (curiously!) there seems to be no offense in me saying, “these are my dreams.” I might not get what I want, but if I don’t, it’s only because He has something better planned.

I still wonder. I still want to know. But I am so much less afraid.

Comprehendeth Not

After the last series of complaining  was tried, wondering if I was sick and wondering if I was depressed– well, I was sick. After the antibiotics, I went back to wondering if I was just tired, or maybe some depressed, or maybe the antibiotics weren’t enough.

Well, maybe. Maybe any of those things. Maybe none of those things. Maybe all of those things together. But I was suddenly struck with an epiphany that regardless of ANY of those things, problem numero uno was: I was believing lies.

Believing lies doesn’t make them true, any more than “knowing” the truth means you are always believing it.

More often than not, I find that looking to actual children helps me to understand my own situation. A child may “know” that there aren’t monsters in the corner of the room. But in the darkness, the child may see what looks scary. . .and it feels scary. . .and believes it to be scary. And maybe the adult tells the child not to be afraid, and the child knows the adult is telling the truth, but maybe it’s still hard to believe. Maybe it takes the light coming on in the room to see the monster is just a sweater over a chair for the child to believe the truth, but the truth was always the truth, no matter what the child was believing. And maybe, once the light is off again–even though the child has seen the truth–it’s hard for the child to keep believing the truth. Because, there it is, looking scary, feeling scary, and seeming to lead to nothing but scary conclusions.

And looking at my future, short-, medium-, or long-term, has looked pretty scary. It’s felt pretty scary. I’ve believed it to be scary. But that doesn’t actually mean that it is scary.

I grew up with the Bible. I grew up hearing the very word of God. I know those words, and not only do I know them–I’ve never known not knowing it. And it’s very easy to take for granted the things you’ve always known, like that the earth is round or like when you jump up you’ll always land on the ground. It’s very easy to take for granted the people who have always been there, like an annoying older brother. And sometimes, I wonder if the fact that I have always had a Bible at easy reach, always heard the promises of God read aloud, has lulled me into taking them lightly.

Yes, yes, I know everything will be okay–but right now I feel frightened, I feel hopeless, I feel. . . and then I stop, suddenly struck but the realization that a lot of people can’t say, with true certainty, “everything will be okay.” A lot of people can’t say “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed within us.”

Having the promises of God are, truly, a precious thing. Because that means we have something to cling to. We have an adult, even if at the moment in another room, speaking the truth. We’re not left alone in our terror, and the truth of the situation has been revealed to us for us to believe it. Although we see, or hear, or feel, or reason, or logic out scary things – we don’t have to believe those terrifying things, because we’ve already been given the truth by the One who actually understands what is going on, and the truth that He speaks is: Fear Not.

And just because we’re screaming in the darkness, seeing and feeling frightening things. . .does not negate the truth.

What it means is that we’re being lied to. And, for the moment, believing it.

And oh, there is such freedom in that, do you know? When you suddenly realize the horrible things you think you are seeing aren’t the truth, and you don’t have to believe them? It is a bit like waking up from a bad dream. You might still feel jittery, and in some ways  it might still feel real — but you know it’s not really the truth. Not really.

And there’s another way that it’s freeing. You have to respect the truth, no matter how painful or uncomfortable it might be. But you don’t have to respect lies. There’s no need for “well, maybe. . .” or, “I guess I should see how it goes. . .”No. Wholesale, out-right, complete rejection. That’s a lie. That. Is. A. Lie. And the truth, the certain, unchanging, unrelenting truth is: Fear Not.

Hallelujah.

Blessedness

Today is a gift for me to receive, not a burden for me to bear.

I kept telling myself this as I got ready to leave the house, because, naturally, the whole day feels like a burden. I thought maybe I had convinced myself of the truth of the statement, but nearly feel into tears twice during casual conversation while talking about the things I needed to accomplish in the next two weeks.

I know I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I know that’s a big part of it. And I know I’m primed now to catastrophsize at the slightest provocation. But I also know that part of the problem is that I truly have not learned the truth of what I’m repeating to myself.

Today is a gift. For me to receive. NOT a burden for me to bear.

I don’t like it when I start getting frustrated or worried about the future or counting off the things to do, and people tell me, “But you’re here right now, and it’s a gorgeous day, and. . .” Don’t minimize to me what I’m going through, people! It feels patronizing. This new “mantra” feels different to me, because it doesn’t argue with any of the things I’m saying. It says, “regardless of how uncomfortable or unpleasant this may feel, it really is a gift. And you would do well to consider why the One who loves you saw fit to give it to you. And if the only thing that is unpleasant right now is all that you have to do, you should remember you’re trying to lift a load that someone else is already carrying.”

There are a lot of things of nearly every moment of the day that are privileges. Some people like to list them, but I don’t. Count your blessings, they say. But that makes it seem like they’re finite, and CAN be counted. Express your gratitude! they say. But that makes it sound like we really have any idea what is good for us, what we should be grateful for. We’re like two-year-old children throwing fits because we can’t drink windshield-washer fluid. We grateful for being able to eat the unripe fruit that will only make our stomach hurt, and would have been so much better if we’d just waited, just a little. We resent rebuke, chastisement, and the challenge and correction that makes us grow. How can any “counting” make things better? Sometimes, you look and you look and you look, and it all just looks like CRAP.

I don’t think looking or counting or saying the right words is what it really takes. I think what it really takes is faith. That EVEN THOUGH everything looks like crap, it isn’t. That EVEN THOUGH it might look like dreams are crushed or hopes are dashed, God is good. That EVEN THOUGH grief and suffering at times become suffocating, God does love our own particular self. That EVEN THOUGH the blessings just don’t seem to be there, they are, because God never stops giving good gifts, even when we can’t recognize them..

We’re not fit to weigh our existence in the balance. Our balance is exceedingly far out of collaboration and has “NOT FOR LEGAL TRADE!!!” all over it in red letters. Only God actually has the capability, the “equipment,” to take the real weight of anything, the real sum of any whole.

Sometimes, we think about our own self worth. We know we aren’t to overvalue ourselves. But we forgot that we’re just as wrong to under-value ourselves. Sometimes it feels like every accusation is true and that we’re right to blame ourselves, and that we do only make every thing worse, and we deserve nothing better. And it’s hard to stop these lines of thoughts, because we know that we aren’t like God.

Only, in a way, we are. Because on God’s scale, on God’s balance, on the sum of our whole, is the blood of Jesus, the holy and righteous and sufficient sacrifice. And to do away with ourselves is drastically undervalue the redeeming work of the only Son of God. And to stop to consider what Christ accomplished is to realize that He is on those scales with us. So how can we not be loved?

In the darkness and the suffering and the grief and the complete pointlessness of it all, Jesus our Lord is with us. Are we not filling up His sufferings and grief until the times are full? It is a cursed world. But He is with us.

In our frustration and our hurt and our fears — things we can’t find any way to count as blessings — He is with us. And for that reason, and that reason alone, we are blessed.

Work hard, that ye may not work. . .

I read someone the other day saying that she was at a better place than these other people, because she had done the hard work of recovery. It made me mad. Now I need to figure out why.

I guess partly it just feels like she’s making it anyone’s fault if they’re hurt or scarred. Maybe she didn’t mean it that way; maybe she just meant the slope into the pit is slippery, and it’s a constant battle to keep heading toward the light. Maybe. But what I heard was that anyone who was hurting, broken and not “recovered” was like that because it was their own fault.

But even in my anger that she would say such a thing, there is also that voice that says, “yeah, healing is hard.” I don’t even like the word recovery, as though you were all right before and you’ve achieved those same heights. Life is to complicated for words like that to apply to people. But I do know – even from my chosen profession – is that healing is hard. It does take work, and it does take energy, and it does take the courage and bravery to face up to all of the ways that you are still broken. It means looking unflinchingly in the mirror–or maybe, looking in the mirror and flinching, but looking anyway. It takes patience, and time, and deliberation.

I’ve been home about 5 days now, and for the first time since I was home, I have finally, finally felt like I’m able to do “nothing” without guilt, to really rest. We like to think that “recovery” is something we can make into a project, too–how many times have I heard in my head over the last 5 days, echos of the thought of “checking myself into rehab”? I’ll exercise and eat right, and go outside every day. . .catch up on all of my correspondences, finish the projects that need finishing, visit all the friends. . . I will read spiritual books, and write all the things I’ve been meaning to write, and I’ll wean myself from screen addiction. . .I will cross all of my t’s and dot all of my i’s and I will set my house in order and I will fix myself.

But a disciplined regimen you hold yourself to by the force of your own will is hardly a way to rest, hardly a way to heal. You don’t release your mind by shoving it in rigid boxes. You don’t let go of things by holding on tighter.  And being angry at yourself for not being better doesn’t bring around any peace. You can’t be forced into healing.

This is exactly why healing is hard. You can’t put it on your to-do list and check it off. You can’t rush it. And, you’re also never really done. This is all so annoying at so many different levels, that for those of us or are goal-oriented, the temptation to just cram away everything that can’t be dealt with is immense. Sitting here and doing nothing when there’s so much to be done? Sitting here and doing nothing, with time so rapidly slipping through my fingers? Sitting here, when there’s so much to fix and change and define and explain and make better?

The hardness, the work, is in admitting you are broken, admitting you need to attend to that, and coming to terms with the fact that nothing is more important right now than sitting and doing nothing. The hard work is giving up on doing All Of The Things, giving up on being right, and giving up on being Just So. Not for the sake of giving up, but for the sake of accepting: rest. Peace in chaos. Joy, even within troubles. Hope for what is, and for what comes next.

It’s hard to give yourself space to rest, when your body is still full of adrenaline, when your mind is too fitful to allow you to sleep, and when you find yourself restless and impatient and unable to sit in stillness. It’s hard to let go of the fears that you aren’t working fast enough, aren’t accomplishing enough, and are not sufficient for the day. It’s hard to admit that you are less than you would like to be.

Saying that you have done the hard work of recovery, then, is a misnomer. Or at least, I believe it is. Healing is a kind of surrender, a kind of gentleness, that we short ourselves from in our desire to fix ourselves. We need less effort, and more stillness, but that’s advice no one every really takes. . .

Where are you going?

Alice, where are you going? Upstairs to take a bath.
Alice, with legs like toothepicks, and a neck like a giraffe
Alice, got in the bathtub, pulled out the plug and then
Oh my goodness, bless my soul! There goes Alice down the hole!
Alice, where are you going? Glub, glub, gurgle!  

My grandmother use to sing this song. She started out the, “Alice. . .where are you go-ing?” in such a gentle, soothing tone. You had to be quite sure it was a lullabye. Right as you were getting the goofy, almost dreamy, grin on your face–whoops! Alice pulls the plug!

How fitting an analogy to a 3-week break. Just long enough to make you think it will all be alright after all, but it’s funny how hard the end of the rest hits you, and then–glub, GLUB, gurgle! Alice, where are you going?

I thought I had it all together, right up until I started getting emails from my professors. You know what I mean, right? I’d done the resting thing. I’d done all the “have-to-do-this-or-it-wasn’t-really-summer” things. Got my ducks in a row for school. Just coastin’, going to take the next semester by storm, all full of energy and on top of my game. And then one email–one email!!–and the next thing I know, I’m fighting off a panic.

I can’t do this.

It’s almost kind of cute how many times I have to discover this.

No, dear, you can’t.

And the question really is, why are you trying?

Why do rage and struggle when you could be sitting quietly, resting your head like child?

Do you like getting yourself all worked up? Do you think you’ve become omnipotent since the last time you smashed up against this wall? And if you could do this thing, this one thing. . .what would it benefit you? What would it accomplish you?

What is your purpose?

Hang on, People

I always think I’ll journal my way through the most turbulent and changing times of my life, the times of our lives that most shape who we are. In the end of it all, I wonder how anyone ever does that–because my reality is that it takes almost all of my strength and courage and dedication just to hang on.

That doesn’t sound like a particularly profound piece of life experience: “Well, mostly I just hung on.” But sometimes I wonder if anyone ever really does more than that.

I’m writing a little again now, but I know perfectly well that’s because I’m between waves. When the next one hits, I don’t know that I’ll have anything left to give to writing, again. But part of me says, “There is this little spark. It must be kept alive.” So between the waves, I make another little desperate foray.

What do I say to you, if anyone is listening at all? It’s not that I don’t have things to say as much as so many things seems to cut more deeply than words can express–or, at least, my ability to wield words.

I am learning to be grateful for things I never considered being grateful for before. Like dirt. Not even good dirt–rocks bound together by hard clay. For sore muscles. For people who help you eat cake. For dish clothes. For golden rod. For freezer space. For vegetables.

How do you explain this? It seems sometimes that it’s only when you feel the cut of lack that you rejoice to taste the joy of having it again.

I don’t have any intention of convincing anyone they should pine for sore muscles or be filled with wonder by the ground under their feet. It’s just that the earthquakes rending the landscape of my life have left me grasping for any things of value or goodness, struggling to sort out the rubble and find the things worth keeping. There’s more than a small amount of desperation in this–it’s no sea-side stroll of leisurely beach combing.  It’s confusing, and frightening, and opens up more deep and probing questions than I can count that I thought I had relatively settled in my mind–or never dreamt existed.

And yet the words are “fear not” and “I am with you” and “do not be afraid.”

The confusion has not abated, but the fear ebbs and wanes.

Don’t be afraid of the darkness, friends. There is a light that shines in it, brightly, and it is worth the following.

All You Need is Love

That was a song we had to sing in choir this semester. (I think we did a lousy job at it, by the way, but that’s another story.) I was thinking about things this morning in a half be-fogged, am I awake or asleep kind of state. There are a lot of things I’ve been reading that have been helpful, but ultimately unsatisfying. Emily Freeman wrote some books I really like, a lot about courage and God putting inside of you these yearnings and limitations. I read Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 blessing, and her blog is mostly more of the same. I tried to read “Desiring God” by John Piper, but he liked too much to hear himself speak, and even though he had some really good things to say, I couldn’t make it all the way through. There’s a big simplicity-less-is-more movement going around.

They all have some good and interesting things to say for the moment, but none of them have ever radically changed my life. At the end of a couple weeks, I feel more like I’m holding onto a “one quick trick!” then I am something that really changes my outlook. I don’t think the authors mean them that way, and I’m sure they were very real epiphanies and experiences of growth on their behalf. But God didn’t tell people they had to keep a numbered list of His blessings in order to be His followers, and many of His people don’t have paper or even know how two write, you know? So as helpful as that exercise may be, it’s not like it’s the “key” to figuring out how to follow or serve God.

As I was complaining aloud about these “one-quick-fixes” I also asked the rhetorical question of, “I mean, it’s not like You talked about any one, simple thing!”

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.

Der. Yeah. But I meant, besides that.

It doesn’t really answer my in-the-now questions (do I just take any apartment, because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, or do I hold out for something that will really make me happy?), but it did kind of clarify for me why I had been finding so many things to be ultimately unsatisfactory. It reminded me again of my own given understanding of “the meaning of life” was: Expressing the love of God, while it is still called Today.

That doesn’t always give me direction, but it is usually helpful for giving me perspective. I still don’t know what to do about an apartment. . .but I realize that as much as it seems to really matter–it doesn’t. Where you lived for 6 weeks really doesn’t matter. The attitude you give while searching is actually more likely to matter, because it’s people you’re dealing with. The thanks given to the people who turn you away. The warmth you show to the people that you would rather not stay with, but might have to anyway. It’s funny to think that the bubbly pleasantries I do without thinking mean more than the the agonies I endure over All of the Things, but I think it’s true.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Being responsible isn’t as important as being loving.

Being joyful isn’t at important as being loving.

Being right isn’t as important as being loving.

Having things figured out and being on time isn’t as important as loving.

Having the right amount of stuff or exercising three times a week doesn’t rate, either.

Some could argue that some of those things flow from loving, and maybe there is some truth to that, some of the time. But the point is, you have to go to the source. Being responsible doesn’t making you loving, even if loving can make you responsible.

People, I am still stressed and frazzled. I still just want to know where I’m going to live, please and thank you. But on top of that all, I don’t need the extra stress of trying to figure out what “following God” looks like, or what shape that “should” be taking, or what I really “should” be making time for. Following God looks like loving the way He loved; it takes a different shape in everyone, but I should still be making time for it.

I don’t have to “get this right” as much as I need to “get” His love and the grace to share it.

It’s liberating, my friends. Not because love always feels good; sometimes it’s terribly brutally difficult. But because it means you can take your gaze off the inward. What should I. . . what will I. . .I want. . .I wish. . .I can’t. It doesn’t matter. It is, but it doesn’t matter. I still want. I still wish. In the grand scheme of life, it doesn’t matter. And it does matter every single last time I showed love today, no matter how small or fleeting.

And I feel like I’m speaking truth that I don’t fully understand myself, yet I feel like I have to speak it anyway, even just in an attempt to grasp it myself.

You might want a very lot of things. But all you need is love.

Truth: Life Is Messy

“Self-help” abounds. It drives me nuts.

Not because I don’t think that we should take responsibility for ourselves, but because almost all of the purported self-help is far too sloppy to be helpful. Cute articles with catchy titles, and slick lists of x-numbers of “easy” ways/steps to win the world–it’s kind of infuriating.

Because its like telling some how to change light switch plates, or paint or room or–for the very daring and committed!!–patch a hole in the dry wall–when what really needs to be done is to tear everything down to complete rubble and re-evaluate what a house and a home really is. There are very few people who actually want to tackle head on the big scary questions of “what life is about”. About life and death. About that fact that our past shapes our present and our present shapes our future.

Everyone has these questions. I don’t care how adorable her clothes are and how perfect her nails and how cute her hair cut–part of being human is wondering why we’re human and what that means. Some of us stuff those questions down deeper than others, try to smoother them harder than others, and some of us recognize that they’re there but try to fix the problem with Spackle and paint. But very few people want to lean over the edge and count how many lions are in the den. It makes those of us who are counting wonder if we’re all alone and why no one else is talking about the lions–but no one really escapes the reality that they’re there.

Fix-it lists and articles are all avoiding the fact that life is just to messy to be contained in dietary advice and “green” methods of housecleaning. It can’t be fixed with a one size fits all, and it certainly isn’t easy, no matter how you want to abuse that word. If it were easy, we’d all be doing it by now, not still wistfully reading about it and wondering why we can’t get our act together. Self-help instruction also implies that it’s our fault–that anyone can and should “take control” of their own life. Like if we just consciously decide what success is, and set our energies on it, well, duh: we’ll get what we want.

Realities are much more unordered. We don’t really know what we want, but we pick something so as to not seem directionless. Later, we decide we didn’t really want that, or perhaps changed our mind–or something changes that totally devastates our world view and what we thought was important. Or we think we want something, but the more we pursue it, the more meaningless it becomes. And in the meantime, the cat barfed over your favorite shoes, the car repair bill was six times more expensive than you thought it would be, and your mom was just diagnosed with cancer. Go zen that. Perky ponytails and green “de-tox” drinks aren’t going to save you now, or give you any direction. The bills still have to paid, the barf still stinks, and you can’t save your mom. Yay, control over the direction of your life.

Some people say, “no, no! It’s about you and your response, not the physical realities!” And I’m like, “Mind, meet body. Body, meet mind.” They are together, intertwined, and cannot be divorced from each other. No one is going to feel blissful watching their loved ones suffer. No one is going to be happy realizing they are out of money and out of options. And if there are fortifications that can be made to ameliorate these sufferings, it’s not five easy steps and someone else’s mantra. It’s not going to be avoiding the hard questions by studying laundry detergent recipes and giving up donuts.

It’s just that. . .we all want the hard questions answered, and no one can do it for us. There is no self-help article that can slog through the trenches for you. No one out there who can take a long look inside of you except yourself. When the narrator yells, “PLOT TWIST!” and all you can think is, “well, crap, now what?” nobody gets to answer that question except you. That’s both the beauty and the curse of being alive, and the chintzy self-help degrades both halves of that–the true torment and the equally true privilege, drowning in societal fads and an unrelenting whisper that if you just wanted it badly enough, tried hard enough, you could be a different person.

Look away, look away, look away. . .