“The secret of being in love, of falling in love with life as it was meant to be, is to befriend our yearning instead of avoiding it, to live into our longing rather than trying to resolve it, to enter the spaciousness of our emptiness rather than trying to fill it up.” – Gerald May
I sit in my living room tonight, fingers clicking away at my 2004 Toshiba laptop, seeing as the Macbook bit the dust a few months ago. My back is tired from babywearing and my scalp stings from hair ponytailed too long. After giving the baby broccoli that made her choke and cleaning up the subsequent vomit, and scrubbing dried blood off my 3-year-old’s carpet from last week’s nosebleed, and, somehow, eventually getting two tired little ones to sleep, I plopped myself down on the couch with a box of Oreos and went to town.
My heart and mind have been aflutter as of late, buzzing with thoughts, questions, ponderings of life, of this particular chapter, of why this way and what’s the lesson here. For coming up on three years my husband and I have been praying for God to create for us a specific reality. A full-time pastoral ministry job for Simon, greater financial security, the opportunity to “settle down” somewhere, and a house that’s ours, with a few bells and whistles. So far God has not made these things happen. He has not granted our requests, and I use the verb granted on purpose because that’s what genies do, and it’s become apparent to me that I’ve needed to learn repeatedly that God does not live in a lamp nor does he have the voice of Robin Williams.
It’s been difficult to know what to do with God’s seeming inaction. Does God not care about us? Does God not hear us? Does God think our wants are silly or childish or misguided? We have wondered many times over what God could be up to. Perhaps we are supposed to be learning patience. Surely this is for our sanctification. This must be a lesson in contentment. Often times Simon and I just look at each other in this context and shrug, and because we’ve had this conversation so many times, the meaning of that body language is well-understood.
We are learning patience (or, rather, learning how impatient we truly are and occasionally being humble and aware enough to pray for increasing patience). I do think this journey has been and continues to be sanctifying; there’s a hallowing out and refilling process that God just has playing on repeat in my heart, excising the bitterness and envy and selfishness and ladling in softness and courage and grace. We are learning to be content with the riches we already possess, and perhaps more importantly, to view them as riches in the first place.
And, alongside all of this, good Christian growth as it may be, still wanting, still dreaming, still incredibly human. I’ve seen my husband go round and round. Is God trying to tell me something? Am I on the wrong road? Is it time to give up this dream? And I look at him with tearful eyes and tell him I just don’t know. Because I don’t. I don’t know when “not yet” means “no.” I understand asking the question, as time marches on it becomes more nagging and harder to avoid. I understand the heart can only take so much strain and I wonder alongside my husband what the right prescription is of dream-chasing and sanity-preservation. But I also know that our God cares about hopes deferred. I know there are countless ancestors of the faith who waited, and waited, and waited, and waited for very long periods of time before their dreams came to fruition, before God’s callings on their lives became manifest. Sarah. Joseph. Moses. Jesus. In her song “To Those Who Wait” Bethany Dillon says of God, “You can do more in my waiting than in my doing I could do.” It’s a struggle to believe that but it’s also an anthem our hearts cling to these days. If those words are true than this journey isn’t for naught. God is not passive; when I can’t see it, he is still moving, still seeing.
So I encourage Simon to keep after it. Send in another application. Do another interview. Browse Zillow when it’s fun and gently tell each other to stop when it’s gone too far. And we keep up some kooky cycle of hope, excitement, confidence, disappointment, despair, cynicism, thawing out, and hope again. We keep hope alive, and sometimes it dies, and later we resurrect it. This church, that church. This place, that place. I pray for Simon before interviews now but I don’t pray he would find favor with search committees or that he would get job offers. I only pray for God’s will to be done. That’s a prayer I know will be answered, and I’m coming to see that, when I believe God is good, all of the manifestations of his will are good too.
And along the way, well, I’m learning that’s maybe that’s the point: being on the way. They say it’s about the journey, not the destination. And our journey has been painful, confusing, and though it’s no forty years in the wilderness, to us it feels long. In other words it’s been ripe for learning. Learning who we are, who God is, how a marriage grows, how children teach us. How we can walk the line of practicing contentment and simultaneously having unmet desires. How it’s okay and human and normal to want some stuff, like worldly stupid material stuff, but how our lists of “must haves” have been trimmed immensely as we grasp more deeply the treasures of Heaven. And perhaps at the core: we can embrace wholly our humanity and our sainthood in Christ.
Sometimes I try to force it. God, I’ve arrived, I understand everything you’re trying to teach me through this trial…now go ahead and give me the things I want, ok? Just writing that sentence finds me a fraud. Some days I truly find myself close to God, intimate with the lover of my soul, and actually thankful for these circumstances that have caused me to lift my head toward Heaven, a child who realizes her limits and gazes up at her mama for help. And I do feel myself stretched, deepened, expanded. The Spirit has been at work in my heart, in my husband’s heart, and there are days that I see it. I notice how we respond to the hard things, and I think about how we responded a year ago, two years ago, and it’s clear we’ve grown.
And still there are other days. The ones that are long, generally lacking meaningful sleep and heavy with three-year-old meltdowns. The ones that are just so ordinary, so much more of the same, where I don’t feel at all compelled to do anything that would be nourishing for my heart. No reflection, no prayers, no writing, no pillow talk. Just escape. More Big Bang Theory reruns and Facebook scrolling. The necessary chores (or not) and an evening of technology next to my husband but not engaged with him. On these days, and there are a lot of them, I operate on auto pilot and I turn my heart’s volume dial to zero. I don’t want to hear from God; I don’t want to hear from my own soul. I want to eat junk food and post pictures on Instagram and mindlessly like everyone’s statuses. I want to be tuned in, to be fully alive, to commune with my Maker…but my humanity is ever before me, and quite honestly, I am physically and emotionally exhausted much of the time. And it’s easier to devise clever hashtags than it is to release vulnerable heart-breathings.
So here I am, this is me, this is my family and our back-and-forth, to-and-fro faith struggle and journey. Our Christmas list, the desires of our heart, is largely the same as it was last Christmas and the one before. We’re still asking, still praying for those things that we long for, some of them on the holier side and some of them just human. And on the surface, or in the “short story” version, Jesus has not seen fit to answer our prayers. But is that really the case? I’m learning to listen to Abba, Father, as he whispers gentle truth: No, beloved, it’s not. I am here, I see you, I am moving. At this very moment I am working all things together for good for you who are called according to my purpose (Romans 8:28).
Merry Christmas, my friends. Thank you for traveling this road with me.