Thursday, February 27, 2014

When Life Gets Quiet and I Can't Deal



The strangest thing about journeying with God is that sometimes, he spreads a nubby blanket under a shade tree and asks me to rest a while.

After years of shade-dwelling, lounging around in oblivion and sweet simplicity, we were pulled out and thrust into the glare. Our retina's half-burned, our cheeks well past rosy, we took up our hatchets, swinging them wild through thick uncertainty and tangles of self-doubt. Our legs and our hearts were taxed and strengthened with every rocky path.

Over time, the fears that seized us had tumbled around and around until every jagged edge was smooth and we were left with pockets full of marbles, sheepishly wondering what on earth was ever so scary.

It's astonishing that we were ever worried about this life of ease. But we were, or at least I was. I was terrified, pacing in the pitch of night, swallowing down that persistent rumble of dread. There was no tangible "thing" I could point to, no lurking monster or strange apparition. I had nothing but my good common sense and the collective words (both spoken and otherwise) of almost everyone I'd ever known, warning of danger in these under-streets of life and in the unfamiliar alley-ways of bottom-up living.

I'd been told my entire life to walk toward light, to climb and climb, to get and have and gain and grow. I was sold the lie that I could do my job without my life ever actually changing, that I could love my neighbor and the poor theoretically, my nobility hinging on my invisible willingness to do more if God ever asked me. (Not that he would because he had missionaries for that.)

I was scared because I was stupid. And I was stupid because I was a newborn, infant Christian masquerading as a stalwart soldier of the faith, allowing my years of "service" to speak for me. My name is Shannan and I've loved Jesus since forever.  But I did not know obedience and my ability to trust God was inconclusive since my feet had only known sure footing.

Hindsight being the illuminating wonder that it is, here's a short list of some of the things that knotted my guts: poor people, graffiti, teenagers who wandered around after dark, loud cussing, language barriers, crumbling sidewalks, busted-out streetlamps, cigarette smoke, broken beer bottles, mental illness, low test scores, neighborhood hooligans, junky front porches, rumors, rotten teeth, dirty clothes, rap music, and litter.

It wasn't the threat of murder, assault, abduction, or even vandalism that had me emotionally hiding under the covers. It was mostly just dirt and brokenness - literally.

We've learned to step over buckling concrete and I don't mind saying I now see a certain beauty in the juxtaposition of Little Debbie wrappers amid splendor.

Now what?

What do we do when our house is back to its regular decibel level and the hooligans have actual faces and names?

My newest instinct is to search out a pocket of darkness and run headlong into its light. I find myself day-dreaming about a future where every clean thing is put through the wringer, compacted and compressed until I'm left holding a jagged hunk of coal like the prize that it is.

But I'd like to think I'm done making plans, so instead, I drift through dim, quiet evenings, feeling around for some meaning. I teeter on this chain-link fence, jittery as a midnight cat. Something new must be coming. I'm skeptical this rest will last long, equal-parts terrified and hopeful that I'm right.

Since nothing else seems to work, I pray quietly and out loud, thanking God that he's already here, active in my rest.

The problem is, I don't know if I completely believe it.

I can nod along with Solomon, imagining myself swaying easy with the seasons. But I don't remember requiring convincing when it comes to retreat and I've lost a good bit of faith in myself along this way. I've fallen in love with a God who calls me out past my limits. It's hard for me to picture him lounging with me on the couch.

I know for sure that sometimes we're entrusted with simply doing what was asked of us - love the poor, console the brokenhearted, make family of our neighbors - while he throws his legendary, ridiculous grace around. Christ lives in us, walks the blocks by us, so why wouldn't we run to our local wounded the same way we butter our toast, clock into work, change the oil, pay the mortgage, and soap up tiny arms and legs every day? Why shouldn't he expect us to weave his highest calling into the fabric of life we tend without question?

Getting here was the easy part. Letting roots fall down into the earth is a lazy girl's labor. Growing them out takes muscle and grit and quite possibly more time than I'd like to share.  I don't know if Relative Inactivity was ever logged on God's calendar, or if I'm dealing with my familiar refusal to do the hard work. I don't want an out and I'm sick to death of the excuses that held me captive in a middle-class ghetto of oblivion where all the edges of life blurred into something mostly pretty and my spirit was dying from a lack of truth that shows up with shared pain.

So, I wait.
My heart and bones rest while my eyes scan a full perimeter.

I do small things, desperate to believe the kingdom magic where common sense gets everything wrong. I do small things, leaning in while we all somehow, in spite of ourselves, slide closer to eternity.