dear hilary: shun that bulls**

Dear Hilary,

What do you do with the “what if’s”? What do you do when you’re smiling, writing him a letter, confident of the love you have for him–and then that nasty little “what if” crawls its way into the back of your skull? What do you do when you want to believe that you’ll be a good wife and mother and student and friend and God-seeker-follower-lover but that “what if” comes and tells you that you will mangle and destroy and harm everything you touch and that the sin and fear you hate so utterly will tie you down and win?

love,
doubting thomasina

Dear doubting thomasina,

I try not to swear too much. It’s not so much because I don’t believe it’s ever right but more because I want to be sure that I do so powerfully – that I name things what they are, that I respond with force to things that are forceful, vehemently to things which deserve my vehemence.

And the “what ifs”, my dear, are not more nor less than bullshit.

Yep. I said that word, and I would say it again. The what if’s, which slide up to you, glamorous, sleek, offering you a glimpse into the future, the chance to plan ahead, the chance to give you a head start on everything coming your way – they’re a bad apple. A bucket of bad apples.

The question, “What if this happens?” sidles up to you, and suddenly, then, it seems almost irreversibly, you’re far and away down the road of worrying, convinced you’ve got it wrong and you look behind you and the what if is far away down the road, laughing.

I believe that this is the work of darkness in the heart. I’m acquainted with this darkness. I can spin into questions about whether I am a good wife or a good student or a good anything, and from there I ask, “what if I’m not those things and I’ve been seriously f***ing up every part of my life from birth until now?” It grows, like shadows do at the end of the day – quickly and without warning. And, like darkness, the what if’s make you lose your sense of touch, make you feel like you’re waving your hand in front of you but you can’t feel anything, can’t be sure of anything, can’t hold onto anything.

Oh, how I am acquainted with this.

And then there is the fluttering flag planted in your beautiful letter: What do you do?

Can I call it, perhaps, how do we overcome? 

This is what I believe with every fiber of my being: we overcome this bs by shunning it. We gloriously slam the door in its face when it knocks, when it comes around to the side porch, we look at it, and we say “no.” Say it with me. No.

There is space in the wide wild kingdom of God to overcome – and it begins with no.

It begins with shouting back, and I mean it, say it out loud in your room and say it out loud in your letters and say it loud in church or in the car or in the woods, speak it out:

I belong to Jesus.

Do you remember how Jesus showed us the picture of ourselves, trembling, vulnerable lambs, and then told us – “I am the Good Shepherd”?

He said more than that. He said that his sheep know him. That we know the sound of his voice.

You writing this to me tells me you know that there is something wrong with the voice of the what-if. It doesn’t sound like Jesus, does it? It doesn’t sound like the Good Shepherd. It doesn’t sound like hope, like love, like confidence in Him through whom we are more than conquerors, through whom we are co-heirs, through whom we are raised up on the last day and never lost.

The voice of the what-if is the voice of a stranger.

You can call bullshit on that.

You can shout-sing-cry-whisper-pray-rage it, tell it that you belong to Jesus, that you do not listen to the voice of the stranger.

And then, however you can, in words or tears, in laughter or hope or something else altogether, ask Jesus to call out to you again who you already are. Ask Jesus to tell you the better story of your life, of your hope, of your wonder, of your worth. Ask Jesus, “who am I?”

Hear yourself called beloved again. Then, holding onto that, shun those what-ifs.

Love,
hilary

dear hilary: the other side of the door

Dear Hilary,

I have a question. And it is this: how do you know when it’s time to move on? To give up? I said I wasn’t like anyone else. That I wasn’t going anywhere. And I don’t want to. What if the deep quiet love with a wild and crazy illogical side is the true love. I’m sure I could meet someone new some day and fall in love with them, have a passionate romance, what have you. But what if this is my only chance for that deep true sitting quietly by your side not saying a word just being there love? What if he is the person i could spend the rest of my life with, just like he was terrified of? How do I know whether to let go because clearly he isn’t ready to admit anything yet? If he even actually feels the same at all? and because i don’t need this back and forth pushing me away and pulling me back nonsense? Or whether to just be patient and hold on, because the wild quiet love is worth waiting for?

Sincerely,
Steadfast and confused.

Dear Steadfast,

I pondered your letter the whole time I was away, driving along the autobahn or standing in museums looking at bits of five hundred year old German script or taking pictures in front of statues of Martin Luther outside churches. I pondered while I ate cake and drank black coffee – what do I possibly say?

Your letter asks the question I answer two ways and then ten and then back to one, and then wrap myself in a knot trying to sort out. I don’t have a clean answer; I can only tell you a bit about what other, wiser people have told me, and tell you a bit of a story, and hope that spreads a little glow on your path as you go.

Not too long ago, there was a guy – I’ll call him Mr. W – that I was firmly, steadfastly convinced that I would be in a romantic relationship with. We hadn’t had one up to that point, but we had the glimmering possibility of one. We had long conversations about what felt like everything on the planet, we liked a lot of the same books, we liked ideas, we liked to sit in bars over wine or gin and argue. There was chemistry, no doubt about it, and there were sparks flying, and I was sure that this was the love you talk about: wild and quiet and passionate and steadfast all at once.

But. That little word, every so often, would pop up – in conversations about Mr. W with my friends, or with myself. But. There was the irreproachable fact that we weren’t in the relationship I saw a glimmering possibility for. We weren’t together on the couch after a long day of work. We weren’t writing the letters, making the picnics, holding hands, telling our friends. I knew that possibility was there; but it hadn’t been made true.

So, Steadfast, I asked, point-blank, not in pretty words but in true ones. I put on makeup and thought about what I’d wear and ate half a grilled cheese in my brother’s truck beforehand because I was so nervous. And the answer was no.

Before the story gets too long-winded, I want to bring you with me, if you will, to an afternoon just before I asked Mr. W for the last time about the glimmering possibility of us. I am sitting on a couch in a brightly lit office, and my counselor, wise woman that she is, asks me how I feel about the prospect of having this confrontation. The words, awful, terrible, please don’t make me do this please please please come to mind. But there, clanging like an iron bell (thank you, Sugar), are the words I speak:

“The truth has already arrived, though, hasn’t it? I’m just going to open the door for it now.”

She looks at me in surprise, and I mirror the same expression back to her. Yes, she says, smiling. Yes.

Steadfast, I think the truth has arrived. I think you know this, from the letter you sent me, and I think you are now peeking at it from behind the door of your heart, and you have to decide if you open the door. Opening the door to the truth won’t mean you get special knowledge of what the future holds. But from everything you tell me, this guy, he is saying no, and that’s the truth standing at your door. The other things you know about him or his life situation, they aren’t knocking. They aren’t here. When all has been laid out on the table before you, and the answer is no, then no is knocking at your door.

My counselor told me over and over in the year before I opened the door that it takes the time it takes. No more and no less. So I’ll echo that to you, too. It takes the time it takes. You are allowed to be steadfast and confused before you open the door and walk outside and meet this guy’s answer and grapple with what it offers you and what it denies.

But eventually, I think, that’s where you must go. You must open the door. You must look that answer in the eyes and listen to it, and let it ache, and let it roam around, and let it lead you. Because the truth will always lead you somewhere. His no will journey you to a new place. Mr. W’s no took me somewhere completely unexpected. The truth does that.

And here is the other thing, for your fear (and my fear) about whether there will ever be any love like the one you express in your letter – the truth also always leads towards fullness. The guy in your letter, he doesn’t sound like he leads there. His no will not bring an end to the fullest love that you can imagine – it will bring only an end to one possibility, glimmering and beautiful though it was.

There is fullness and joy on the other side of the door. I promise this. And in the acceptable time, I have all kinds of confidence you’ll fling that door open.

Love,
hilary