At the ripe old age of well over 40 I feel like I should have become. Yet there are many days I feel like I’m 20 again and floundering through this thing called life…only now I’ve got children that are pushing at the edges of adulthood. How do I bring this boy child of mine into adulthood when I oftentimes don’t feel like I’m doing this adult thing very well? I’m looking for a magic button. I keep falling into this trap thinking that this one thing will be the ticket. This one book that I read. This one bible study I participate in. This one opportunity that I accept; or don’t accept. This next paycheck. This next solution. But the thing is – all these nexts aren’t where I’m supposed to be looking. I keep myself so focused on my circumstances and not on the Keeper of the circumstances. One of my Psalms on repeat in my head is Psalm 121 and it starts out: I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. For the longest time I thought that looking up to the hills meant looking at Jesus. I love being in the mountains and for me the idea of looking into the hills brought such a picture of peace to me. This Psalm is all about finding peace so it totally made sense. Only, that’s not what this Psalm is talking about. The people looked up to the hills because that is where the pagan worship was. David says, I lift up my eyes to the hills and asks where does my help come from because his help wasn’t going to come from the hills, but from the Lord. If he kept his eyes on the hills, he was looking at the things that would never bring him help. He was reminding the people that the hills would never bring them what they were looking for. It’s only when they looked away from those hills that they would find God.
If I’m going to become this real self that God is making me to be I need to re-adjust where I’m looking.
We live in a culture that is focused on me. Stealing an illustration from a book I’m reading; it is like using a compass that doesn’t have a center and the whole time I am trying to figure out which direction to go the compass is pointing at me. I’m told that in order to figure out who I am supposed to be or which direction I should go, I just need to look inside myself and see what feels right. But when you look back into ancient writings, specifically Aristotle, you see quickly that this will get us nowhere. We will never know where we are going or where we are supposed to go without a center grounding us. We need virtue. Life ultimately can’t be about being this one specific thing or finding this one specific calling. It has to be about moving out of that center grounding in the direction that the arrow is pointing; which may very well be the opposite direction I feel like is right. There is a scene in Dicken’s Little Dorrit that I love so much. Little Dorrit standing at the doorway of their prison rooms looking out and her father chastises her that she better not defy him and leave him alone. She declares that she never would, but that it is very, very hard. This is my every day. My affections are so out of order; my compass is so off its center, that it is very, very hard to follow that arrow when it does point in directions I don’t like. Ultimately though, most often I am called to move towards arrows that are pointing away from what seems “natural” or “normal” because that is where we find ourselves walking on water in the midst of a storm or holding out our hands to a lame man that can now walk.
To learn something analytically is to learn about all the parts. Analysis is to take something and break it down and often when we’ve broken something down to the tiniest bits, it becomes completely unrecognizable. To learn something synthetically is to view it from its whole. I take in every part of it from the outside and I can see what it is; I can enjoy it from the whole down to the parts. If I know what it is from its wholeness, even when broken down analytically I still can picture what it was originally. The same is true of our selfs. We have a self that is our real self. The one that God has created each of us to be. And we continually fight against this self, because we think that this idealized self is so much better. If I try to live out of the pieces that I’ve tried to put together, that I’ve analyzed as the best self possible, I will never be the person that I’m meant to be. But who is this real self? How can I even figure out who my real self is?This is where I find a picture of the wholeness. In scripture, over and again, we see pictures of broken down people that have tried to live out of the pieces and God has graciously restored them to wholeness. To their real self. In Jesus, we see the completely synthesized Jesus. A picture of this wholeness that we can strive for. When I analyze my sin habits, those things that keep me from this real self, I cannot analyze them without knowing what wholeness looks like. Otherwise I’m going down a list of all these things that stumble me along and I will get bogged down in the tension. It is only when my eyes stayed focused on what I’m meant to be that I can break down all the parts that keep me away from that and day by day move deeper into the cross instead of staying at the foot of it. And one day I will fully be restored. That’s a beautiful story.
The more I read about the disciple Peter, the more I relate to him. He is forever plagued with regret and forever longing to be that person he so confidently declares he will be. His words speak so strongly what he wants to believe in his heart. Yet, he still denies Jesus. He still thinks he’s lost that calling and goes back to being just a fisherman of fish again. But Jesus. Oh how glorious is our Jesus that he doesn’t let him just sit in that regret. He doesn’t let him stay in that place of the past. He meets him there on the beach. He feeds him – both physically and spiritually. Just as the washing of the feet cleansed the disciples both physically and spiritually – God meets us in all our needed ways.
My favorite turn of phrase lately is “oh well.” I need an emoji with hands thrown up in the air, because that seems to be my constant response to so much in my life right now. But it’s a given up response. It’s that place, like Peter, where I can’t imagine that God could really accept me or do anything in my life to change things. When I sit in that place realizing that I can’t change anyone and I can’t change my circumstances, no matter how hard I try, I just throw my hands up and say “oh well”.
But I don’t want to be resigned to life. I don’t want to sit in this place of discomfort and just curl up in it. For sure, I want God to swoop in and change my circumstance, but day by day I’m sitting in that realization that it’s me that needs to be transformed – not my circumstances. As long as my heart goes back over and over again to that same sin – to that same response to the things going on – I realize that God keeps me here maybe because he’s trying to make me something new.
A couple years ago I was going through some boxes in our basement and I came across all my journals from high school. I had at least a dozen little books filled with all the rambling thoughts of a teenager. It was a record of a young girl so confused about life, struggling with so many things and I promptly threw them all in the trash.
When we moved last year I came across another box of journals and these were from early college, married life and up to just a few years ago. It was a record of a woman less confused about life, filled with hope for the future, but still struggling with so many things. I almost tossed these, but when I started skimming back through some of them I was almost saddened. Not because of the struggles, but because of the depth of my relationship with Jesus. It was a record of a time when I was growing in my knowledge of God and the Bible inside each was page after page of prayers for my friends, for my new marriage, for my family and for my life.
My writing life is nothing like it was back in those days of my paper journals. I have a few going now, but they are more of a commonplace book; records of quotes I long to remember and different narrations of things I’m reading. Gone are the days of processing my life out on a page and with it the ability to look back and see how the Lord has grown and stretched me. I know what it was that caused me to stop this constant recording of my life and I’m seeking to move past the shock that froze all the rambling words in my head. But, like something frozen, sometimes it’s easier to just toss it back in the freezer than let it all flow out. And sometimes it starts to flow and I cannot stop it.