I sat before the computer for long, silent minutes. Fingers hovered, stiff yet from the night’s sleep, but ready and waiting, waiting for a message.
My mind, my heart: there lie the problems in the wordlessness of this morning.
The busy, flurried constant movement of life makes me lack focus, holds my fingers still and my voice mute but my mind and heart and the person within me that seeks to be skips about in the constant movement trying to gain purchase. I am squinting in an attempt to focus but I lose it amidst the fray. I can’t even define what IT is this morning.
I rose early and alone, thankful for the ticking clock and the hum of the furnace and the steady breathing of my husband, for the nothingness and potential held in the near-silence. I need to write. Not just to find the focus, the IT, but to reach out. I literally need to write a 1500 word piece on friendship for a publication. It was due weeks ago.
I’m not dragging my feet. I can’t find them.
So I began with prayer (not a planned and holy moment, I need to clarify, but more of a “Crap! I need help” prayer). I lifted a small ‘thank-you’ for the gift of this solitude, for a stretch of morning that’s open. I launched into the reason I’m praying, my liturgy that is as familiar as the array of lettered keys on my keyboard. My mind clicks off the letters and I form the words again to God: how do I keep on being faithful in the little things, Lord? How do I stay focused on being your girl and being in this small sphere of influence you’ve given me? Is my lack of focus the reason my circle stays small? What scares me into being mute? Why am I tempted always to close the keyboard, to set the process aside and do something else with my time?
And on and on I go, like a whirling dervish seeking that still, minute plain in the midst of the swirling mélange, whereupon I might stand with solidity and strength of purpose. But instead, my beseeching prayer dissolves and I’m surprised by my own attention disorder: my prayer began in earnestness and ended with shredded cabbage!
No longer was I in the throne room seeking God’s wisdom, but in my mind I was planning dinner, cooking it and ticking off the day’s to-do list!
What’s wrong with me, God? My mind yells as I throw off covers and head toward the kitchen for coffee. I follow the padding of my feet toward the kitchen.
Buechner says you can’t do much worse than look to your feet when you need to know the purpose of your own life. We do the thing in front of us that needs to be done, don’t we? Our footsteps reveal our value systems. We have bills to pay, kids to be shuttled or fed or diapered or listened to, we have commitments, we have spills and accidents and closets to clean, we have deadlines and doctor appointments and that nagging ache between the shoulder blades, we have dinner and church and retirement to think about.
Our feet take us to so many places, don’t they? And is it just me or do you, too, wonder about the dance and the skip and the gas-pedal-pushing of our feet?
When I went to Africa, I noticed the walking people. Most didn’t have cars; many didn’t take public transport. For many people in Africa still, their lives and work and education take them no further than 20 miles from home — no further than their feet can walk. Their dreams, their dinner, their destination is always within walking distance.
We think this isn’t fair. We think that they need to have their opportunities expanded. They need freeways and interchanges and opportunities like we do. And there is truth to that. But, I wonder, could we be missing the gift of ambulating, of pacing toward and within the life we’re meant to have? How many of us miss the possibility of the neighbor, the nearby, the small pool of light in the corner of the world wherein we find ourselves because we are busy building a tribe, making connections and finding followers, or searching the internet for that dream that lies beyond what we know to be routine, and available, and right within our grasp?
My son builds dimensions from flat sheets of paper. He is only nine, yet he sees the possibility of structure and shape and movement from a piece of paper upon which I could only lay words or lines or color. His nimble mind follows the origami pattern of fold after fold, unfolding and turning and creasing, re-creasing. His fingers press the two-dimensional square into sculpture. Some resemble familiar forms, like dinosaurs or fighter planes, others are designed to be abstract and active, to move or change shape. I am amazed that by following the pattern (and sometimes hundreds of steps) he creates a miniature, three-dimensional sculpture that delights; that he transforms a plain into purpose.
Then, he reaches for another sheet of origami paper and begins again.
My oldest child is at the university. She is writing papers and reading books and meeting people on the same quest she happens to find herself upon at the moment: seeing life from the starting point and asking the big question, “What should I do with my life?” She has no clear idea. No dream of nursing or teaching. No clear calling or singular passion. I wonder if I’ve done this to her and sigh.
This “being” life is weird. It doesn’t pay bills or resemble a career at all. Nearly twenty years ago I chose, quite intentionally, to be a wife, to be a mother, to become a writer. I didn’t know how it would look or how difficult it would be. I knew it was counter-cultural. I was an 80s child. We were supposed to be the generation that would finally figure out how to have it all and do it all. Every advantage lay at our fingertips. We could DO anything. And there I go, like some sort of inner-hippie-driven free spirit (or June Cleaver throwback, you decide) and choose to be things.
But there is a lot of doing in the work of being. I get burdened and confused; I watch my be-coming daughter doing the same. She is looking into farming, bee-keeping; into options she assesses to be purposeful and rewarding. And is it so wrong to have a small life if it is one lived peaceably and with intention? What if all she does is make goat-milk cheeses to sell at the farmer’s market or coax hives into giving season after season of honey? What if she pursues a life of small but meaningful purpose? Is the education a waste?
She asks these questions and I have little to say in response. They are my questions, too.
Slowly, I remember what I know of the art of living: it is found in the ambulating, in the intentional steps repeated across a plain of paper, in the concert of mind and hands and feet working together, in the asking questions and trying and failing and frustrating.
In the ambiguous morning light, I get my coffee and return to the layers of comfort of the bed and glance at the notebook computer, charged and waiting near my bedside table.I lay hold of something on which to fix my focus.
I am done spinning and the words fall into my soul in utter, beautiful silence: Return to the word.
And that’s what I always must do. I return to the Word and find my being within it. I return to words and write the songs of life and sing wherever I am, to whomever (if anyone) might hear. They are words of freedom and of being, of walking and listening and marveling. They are the syntax of my life being lived in pulses.
I read a Psalm of David and see twice he mentioned God’s hands. What do they hold, David, I query, God’s hands?
Into your hands I commit my spirit, redeem me O Lord, the God of truth. (30:5) But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, You are my God.” My times are in your hands. (30:14-15)
My living these years on Earth, what is it if I don’t commit it to Him?
What can I accomplish apart from his redemptive plan and his timeless truth? Who can I become if I refuse to acknowledge his proper place of Lord over my life and agree with David: my times are in your hands? What could ever be more rewarding than leaning into the wounded side of my Savior, of taking his hand and walking—one step at a time—into becoming alive?
I don’t have the answers to my earlier questions. I don’t have a wide door of opportunity opening before me or even a defined purpose for this writing. I have a lamp unto my feet and a blog post offering, a tithe of my life that I trust to God to do with whatever He chooses. And I have freedom from the flailing.
And I have a truth to hold hard: all the doing falls into place, into pace, when I choose to be in God.
When your world turns on its ear, when it spins out of control, when changes or challenges become confounding or overwhelming…will you, too, join in and turn and return to the Word? What message have you found there that clears the chaos and shines a beam of light on the way you should go?
Do you, like David (and me, too) respond with words or songs? Do you share them? Would you? Not every written word is fit for public exposure, but it’s in the story-telling that we perpetuate the gift of grace-being. And our world needs this gift.
Bless you – Alyssa
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