The scene: February (why do things always seem to happen in February?). A Starbucks table, the kind not really big enough for two people so you’re crammed together, holding your drinks, each allowed one elbow on the table. It’s early afternoon, I think, and I look harried and there are creases in my collared shirt because I don’t really want to bother ironing it (truth be told, to this day I’m not great with an iron). I hold a mostly-empty cup, toss it back and forth in my hands. I have everything and nothing to say.
Let’s be simple about it: I had no idea where God was and I wasn’t really sure where to start looking. I was scared out of my mind and I didn’t want anything to change and I wanted everything to change. And I was so tired I didn’t know if I could physically worry any more. And now, I read your words and they stay with me, I think about them and I think about you, and I imagine us in a Starbucks somewhere, October instead of February, at some cramped table tossing our cups back and forth in our hands. Thank you for your sincerity. For being brave enough to say it, that where you are is lost, that where you are is unsure. I hope you know how brave you are.
Building in this life can’t begin somewhere less than your courage.
You say you’re digging a grave among the ruins, but I think you can be a bit kinder to yourself here. Yes, the not-being-known, yes, the unknown, yes, the being lost in the forest of your faith and how it is moving and changing, yes, that is real. But I don’t think it’s ruinous and I don’t think you’re digging a grave. I think you’re in a giant heap of questions and the pinpricks of light between them don’t feel like enough to be guided by. It applies across the board, every time you come to a new question – what do I do about the feeling of being unknown? What do I do about the person I thought I was? What about Christ? What about the boy? – everywhere you look, the question looks bigger and the agony of not knowing the answer grows bigger, too.
You’re in this giant pile of questions and you’re turning around and around inside them, and with all that movement, it’s hard to see anything.
Go more gently.
In the year of February meltdown in Starbucks, I took a ballet class. I learned quickly that I was not as flexible as I thought I was. And I would get into trouble if I tried too hard to get there faster – to get to a perfect arabesque at the barre, to get to a pique turn with the right releve. I couldn’t do any of it when I tried to do it all at once. How ordinary, the need to slow down. And how true. In ballet, like in the deepest spiritual and emotional questions, we must be gentle. We must be willing to submit to a gentler pace that leaves us longer in the uncertainty, longer in some of the fear, longer, even, in some of what is hardest.
What does this mean for you? I think it means you should stand still for five minutes and watch yourself breathe. I think it means you should go for a walk outside and yell everything you think you’re not allowed to yell at God at God, tell Him about the boy, tell Him about who you thought He was and who you thought you were. I think you then get really quiet with God and ask Him He is. Don’t ask yourself to hear or understand what He might say or not say. But ask that. Leave the question aloud in the night. Return to it, see how it changes.
And as for guarding your heart and the red flags around the boy? I have a lot of thoughts about it, but most truthfully, Fearful, I think the pinpricks of light around those questions will grow as you watch yourself breathe and talk to God and get really quiet. You care more about this than you first told me. Why else could you have put words to it? Guarding your heart is about so much more than the particulars of this person who knows you, who wants to know you, who you care about – it is about all the questions in the heap of questions. It is about being gentler with yourself. You will know more about where your heart is when it comes to this other person when you’re gentler with your heart, period. If anything, I want you to release yourself from the expectation that you can know what guarding your heart looks like perfectly now. It’s so much more important to me that you are gentler with yourself. It’s more important to me that you get those five minutes in the miracle of breathing and that walk in the woods (or in the park, or wherever it makes the most sense for you to go).
And, just as gently, I believe the light will grow.