12 October 2008

God in the Launching, in the Leaping, and in the Landing

For a little while now, I've been experiencing an interior shift that I can't quite name except to say that it feels like a gentle nudge to move from a posture of primary preoccupation with myself toward one of giving, offering, and pouring out for the benefit of others. Things I once thought I'd never live without, such as the chronicling of daily life and interior growth on my personal blog, have become less urgent while an awareness of impending participation in the greater mission of Christ has intensified.

As this sense has percolated the past several weeks, I've been content to simply notice its arrival and prepare myself to receive the change it carries. I have felt no need to clutch stubbornly to the way things have always been, and I have felt ready to receive what is new. Slowly, impressions began to form about what those changes could be. Opportunities began to present themselves. Much of this was open-ended and preliminary, and I found myself in a posture of prayer and thoughtfulness about what could eventually emerge.

Then, about a week ago, I found myself feeling confused, frightened, and alone. I found myself feeling small, helpless, and certain of failure. I sat in bed and told Kirk just how little I knew to do. I cried a lot of tears.

The next morning, I met with my spiritual director. I told her I wanted to explore this shift taking place in me and why I had begun to feel so scared and alone in it, when it had been growing quietly and painlessly for weeks. Why had my stress level spiked?

We talked about my experience of God in these places. I felt confident that God was in the nudging, in the preparing of me for this shift in posture, in the ushering in of something new . . . but in the decision-making and the planning and the moving forward, I couldn't sense him at all. I found myself believing he had left me alone to figure it out and make everything come to life. I found myself believing he expected me to get there on my own.

As K. and I kept talking, I discovered this is actually a familiar pattern. I could recall several transition points in my life that I attributed to God's sanctifying work, a prompting toward his intentional growth for my life. I embraced these movements of God in my spirit . . . and then proceeded to "work out" that sanctification process in my own power. When I involved him in the process, it was primarily as though reporting to a figurehead: him a superior to whom I told where I had been and what I had done in the accomplishment of the operation, as though defending just uses of resources given to me and the utilization of my own strong mind and constitution.

K. asked, as she often does, if I could recall a similar circumstance in my history of life experience. Had I ever been entrusted with responsibility and then left alone to carry it out?

While I knew there was likely more than one occasion in which this had happened, one in particular kept presenting itself at the forefront of my mind. In that instance, I'd accepted the responsibility to care for a situation without fully understanding what that responsibility required. In that instance, things got out of control and I was alone in trying to handle it. In that instance, I failed to keep the situation stable, there were dire outcomes, and I was held responsible. In that instance, the situation warranted greater strength than I actually carried, yet I was still entrusted to have been adequately equipped to handle it.

The challenge for me was then discerning where God was when all that happened. I went back into that moment and tried to get a sense of God's presence there. Where was he, and what was he doing? Why did he leave me there? Why did he let that happen?

In my mind's eye, I could see him sitting there with me in the aftermath, listening as I received the reprimand. I could see him nodding at me, telling me he understood the situation was unjust. And yet he did not intervene. He let things crumble around me and did nothing to save it. He let me take the fall and didn't put the truth in place. I carried the burden alone. God didn't lift a finger.

How could I trust he would lift a finger now?

I had to face God's passivity in that moment, and so I let him have it. Why didn't he rescue me that night? Why did he let that burden get handed to me at all? Didn't he see what became of it, how many lies I believed about myself and the rest of the world after that, how many years I believed everything would fall apart if I didn't hold everything together and do everything right?

Maybe we only serve a passive God, a God who spins circumstances into motion and then lets us deal with the rest.

I sat in K.'s living room with my eyes squeezed shut that morning, tears streaming down my face and my thoughts racing with anger and sadness, wondering what God could possibly say to me, wondering if he could possibly say anything at all that would begin to help me understand, that would begin to make anything better.

And slowly, like an onion, I felt him unraveling the cloth strips that were wrapped around my head, covering my eyes, the cause of blindness. Slowly, slowly, he unwrapped them in order to let me see. The weight of the cloths began to fall away. Dots of light began to shimmer on my eyelids. And quietly, gently, I heard him say to me: "My daughter, it is true. I did allow that to happen. I was there, and I did not lift my finger. But you see, I had a greater scope in mind. I saw a vision beyond the story you could see. There is the greater story of your life, and how I've planned to use you. Because of what you've carried, you can come alongside those who also carry these burdens. You can touch them, because you know how they feel. You know what it feels like to be where they are."

It isn't that God was absent. It isn't that he was uncaring. It's that he had a different aim in mind entirely.

In light of this revelation, K. is helping me see that perhaps now, too, I am not alone in what is coming. God does not prepare me for a great leap and then go back to his comfortable house while I make a jump for my life. He is here, the whole way, with me. He will be working his purposes in ways only he can know, in ways that may never be revealed in my lifetime.

As I prepare to take a jump into a whole new realm of being right now, I don't have to figure it all out ahead of time, in order to guard against failure or devastating outcomes. It is not all up to me. I am not alone in this. I can trust that he is with me not just in this preparation to launch, but also as I actually leap across the giant chasm, and eventually as I land on the other side.

Here's to the leaping, hand in hand with God, not having to do it perfectly, not having to do it alone.

07 October 2008

The Plague of Self-Doubt

It would make me angry, the way so many women doubt themselves, except that every time those feelings rise I think, "But is that right, I wonder? Maybe I just see that pattern because I want to see it." Soon my anger's vigor gets swallowed up by that giant sea of uncertainty and I don't say anything.

I've doubted myself for as long as I can remember. I don't pretend to know why, but I do know that self-doubt seems endemic among the women I know. Even the strong, secure, safe ones look at themselves from time to time and say, "Or...well...I don't know." Almost every serious conversation I have with another woman entails some degree of wavering about our perceptions, our feelings, or how we interpret the world in general. I don't even know if this is truly a woman's problem or if I don't hear it in men because it comes out differently.

But I do know a few things.

The ideals of femininity expressed among today's evangelical Christians often reflects values more medieval (or victorian...some of them strike me as exceedingly victorian) than biblical. I don't want to go through the list of "feminine characteristics" here, though I'll allude to a few later on, as examples. It seems sufficient today that most christian girls grow up with an image of what it means to be a christian woman, and they feel like they never attain it.

This seems even worse when girls are influenced by contemporary society. Girls get one message at church, another at school, and sometimes even another at home. What it means to be a woman who loves God fiercely and is willing to work and fight for Him isn't clear. There's not one mold, but several, and what fits in one doesn't fit in the others. What a ripe place for confusion!

Doubt seems to help us walk the lines between the molds. Instead of heeding the call to war and girding our loins to fight the enemy in our own ways if we're so called, many women walk around the house wondering if the desire to go is good or bad. In the end, we don't go because that debate is never over, and in staying home we meet the expectations of the Christians around us. While we don't stay for the right reasons, it's the staying that's important and no one sees the restlessness in our hearts. At the same time, having had the desire to fight and wrestled with it can please a more contemporary mold. We thought about taking our place in the lines, but golly, the fighting was over before we could get there.

Along similar lines to the ones above, self-doubt makes life easier. If we're not sure what to do, self-doubt lets us stick with the status quo. If I'm unsure that God is calling me somewhere that I'd like to go but that is more risky than where I am now, then I don't have to step into that until I'm sure. If I'm never sure, well, then I never have to change. Since following a calling like that often means fighting some non-biblical images of what Christians think a woman should be, and that can be an incredibly hard fight, it might just be easier to remain unsure.

Maybe it's also easier to live unfulfilled lives if we have the reason (excuse?) of not being sure what to do. Dreams are powerful things. They can change the world, if we give them a chance and follow where God leads. They're fulfilling, but they're also dangerous. And, as christian women, we're pretty much taught to avoid danger. So sometimes we face the dillemma of breaking the mold and facing censure for that, or living unfulfilled lives. Maybe having doubt about the call or the dream makes the unfulfillment more palatable, because we're not sure we should have been fulfilled in the first place.

As you think about these things, please know that there are several things I'm not saying here.

I'm not saying that every woman needs to break the mold. If a woman's life is within the mold and she's happy, then I'm happy for her. She's fulfilling God's call on her life--what more could I want for her? On the other hand, I hear more and more frustration about these things. There are enough women wanting to somehow, please, find a new mold, that it seems worth writing these things for them (...for me).

I'm also not advocating a reckless lifestyle or living without discernment. God's voice can be hard to hear, particularly when our own souls make such a racket that we couldn't hear him if he yelled. It's definitely worth it to take the time to hear his heart before we move forward.

Finally, I'm not pretending to know every heart. I'm sure there are a million reasons to doubt oneself, and if these don't fit for you, let me know what does. In fact, I feel more like I'm raising questions than offering answers. Why do women feel this way? Why do we hesitate, hold back and shuffle our feet in the name of uncertainty?

So, friends, women of God, what do you think? Why do we doubt? Because I haven't just heard this from women at large, but from our own mouths. I heard it as we sat around sharing our stories in the middle of the night, as we shared coffee, and as we talk on the phone. It breaks my heart to hear some of the most gifted, beautiful, amazing women I know doubt themselves and their ability to hear God. I want to love others in the name of Jesus as I'm called, and I know you girls do, too. So why does this hold us back? Any thoughts?

03 October 2008

"the seduction of safety"

Note: I thank you for continuing to respect my request not to offer advice or proffer solutions regarding the decision I have to make. I love you girls so much!

I can't get those words out of my head. They are haunting to me.

You may remember them from the John O'Donahue poem that Christianne shared here. I can't get them out of my head because I know they matter for me now. I imagine they will keep swirling through my heart and brain over the 27 days in which I have to make a big decision about how my life will change.

I'm vacillating somewhere between reasonable certainty and paralytic ambiguity when it comes to the choice before me. But in the midst of all the confusion, there is something that is crystal clear to me: whatever choice I make, I'm not going to be unequivocally sure that I made the right or best choice. I'm wondering if this is one of those times where God says: it's choose your own adventure time, and I'm going to bless whichever path you choose.

But I don't even know that for sure.

No matter what I choose, there's not necessarily any safety waiting for me. Going will be an adventure; staying will be one in its own right also. Neither will be particuarly safe. Each path comes with its own share of hazards that I will be responsible for managing.

Something else I'm sure of is that if I should become lulled into a half-conscious state by something that is safe and comfortable, but not where He's going -- if the path I take is going in the opposite direction of where God is headed -- He has a way of turning that around. I think of Paul on the road to Damascus and Jonah in the belly of the whale. Neither of those methods of grabbing my attention seems particularly gentle, and I do want to be attentive to His desires for me. With so many layers of uncertainty, I'm just not sure if there is a "correct" direction and if so, which one it is.

But somehow I know that wherever I end up is where I need to be. Maybe all I can do is embrace the adventure and watch as the world unfolds as new before me.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life's desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.