The Freedom of Uncertainty

As part of the launch of her new book Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey is hosting a synchroblog exploring the idea, “I used to think ______ but now I think ______.” This is my contribution to that project. You can read other entries here.

Usually, when things fall apart, there is a reason. An ugly fight, a giant shove, a shocking secret.

And sometimes, things fall apart for no foreseeable reason at all.

It’s just what they do.

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Sarah Bessey’s new book Out of Sorts starts out with these words that so perfectly sum up my story of faith:

“Once upon a time, you had it all beautifully sorted out.

Then you didn’t.”

For most of my life, I thought I had faith pretty figured out. Having been raised in a Christian home and sent to Christian schools, faith was my first language. It was the way I was taught interpret the world, which, while in many ways a blessing, carries baggage of its own kind. Christianity was laced through everything I did. There was, and still is, something in it that rings inherently true to me, a knowing I can never fully describe.

That, at least, hasn’t changed.

Many other things have, though.

There was no inciting incident, no major tragedy or triumph to set me off on a path of wandering. It just…happened. And one day I realized, or perhaps finally admitted, that I had moved and no longer knew exactly where I was.

I’ve taken up residence here, though I still don’t exactly where this “here” is. It has a lot less certainty than wherever I was before. But I’ve come to a restless kind of peace with the uncertainty.

For as much as it is uncertain, it is also freeing.

Because I used to think there were far more wrong ways to follow Jesus than there were right ways, and now I’m not sure I, or any other humans, have quite so much say in that kind of “wrong or right” as we often think we do.

I used to think doubt meant I was failing at my faith, and now I think doubt can be good. It’s a sign I have something at stake, something worth wrestling with, something I’m not ready to give up even when there is more that doesn’t make sense to me than does make sense. Doubt means I’m still thinking, still engaging.

I used to think reading the Bible and praying and going to church earned me credit of some kind. They’re important for spiritual growth and community, certainly, but salvation doesn’t depend upon them. My faith does not cease to exist when I fail to read my Bible or pray consistently.

I used to think God likes me more than he likes other people, and I’m still working on losing this idea. He doesn’t like me more because I go to church or because I don’t do certain things. Following Jesus is not a race—there are no winners and losers, no competition to beat. Grace is wide, and long, and deep.

I used to think feeling distant from God was all my fault and was always a result of major sin or failing. It might be sometimes, but now I think there are seasons of faith, and they change sometimes regardless of what we do or don’t do. True faith exists beyond feelings and in spite of a lack of them.

I still believe in right and wrong, that there are ways we are to follow Jesus and ways we think look like following him but are actually the opposite.  The edges of what I hold to be absolutely true have blurred though, more so already than I ever thought they would, and I’m learning to hold those absolutes less tightly. “Different” is not as scary as I once thought it to be. There is deep value in exploring ideas we disagree with, even if ultimately we end up in the exact same place we started. At least we stretched ourselves, learned to see things from different angles. As Sarah puts it, “If our theology doesn’t shift and change over our lifetimes, then I have to wonder if we’re paying attention.”

Because life, I am certain, has more questions in store for me yet. It’s both a wonder and a terror that I will never be truly done sorting through faith, will never truly arrive. So these words, from the oh-so-beautiful Benediction of Out of Sorts, are one ones I will cling to, return to, and take as my own.

“I pray you would be an explorer, you would recover delight and wonder and curiosity about your faith, about God, and about the story with which you continue to wrestle.”

I’m never going to have this faith thing all figured out. But I will keep showing up, because I believe that God is bigger than my wrestling and wandering.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How has your understanding of faith changed?

Sitting Well

Mostly, I want things quickly. When I get home from work, I’m not thinking about what I can eat that’s perfectly nutritionally balanced and hopefully tasty as well—oh no. I want some dino nuggets I can throw in the microwave and be eating two minutes later.

Waiting is not my forte.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Luca Serazzi, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Luca Serazzi, Creative Commons

Lately, my life has felt a bit off-kilter. Not in major ways, but in small ones, and in areas I did not expect to feel this way.

This is not my favorite way to feel.

I’d like to make it go away.

Our world is mostly conditioned to fix things, too.

This is good, in a sense—if there’s blood, it likely needs a Band-Aid or perhaps something more serious.

But bruises don’t need Band-Aids. Bruises need time, and that is the hardest thing to give them. It’s why I eat instead of pray, it’s partly why I fill my schedule so full, it’s why I watch TV rather than sit in silence.

Who knows what might happen in the silence?

 

So I do not want to sit here, in the place where things feel off.

I want to hurry, rush, fix.

Overwhelmingly though, I’m getting the sense God may not have a quick fix in mind. His timing is so different than mine, can be so frustrating and hard to understand. If things feel off, I want them righted, right now.

Except what if I will learn in this off-kilter time can’t be learned any other way?

It’s not an entirely pleasant thought. It might be a true one though.

 

It feels like God is inviting me to sit.

 

At church on Sunday, despite a fairly full worship space, I ended up with two empty chairs on either side of me and three empty chairs right in front of me. A wave of loneliness washed over me. I know enough people at my church–I likely could’ve found someone to invite to sit by me, or I could have gone and sat somewhere else, by someone I know. It was what I wanted to do.

But it felt like an oddly fitting scenario to be in. As much as I wanted to rush to make things more the way I wanted them, it occurred to me that maybe God has me right where I am, both in that seat on Sunday and in life right now, for a reason I cannot see.

Maybe that reason is simply, frustratingly, learning to wait.

Or maybe it’s something bigger I’ve yet to see.

Whatever the case may be, I’m trying to sit well.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Do you ever feel like God has asked you to sit for a while?

Of Singleness, Again

I feel like I’ve written about many of the difficulties and complicated feelings I have with being single.

But the problem is, writing about it doesn’t make it stop.

Seasons change, both physically and metaphorically, but just because I’ve been in this particular Season of Singleness before doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Snow makes roads slippery every year–experiencing it before doesn’t make it any less dangerous or annoying or scary.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Wonderlane, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Wonderlane, Creative Commons

So most of the words I’d say about singleness today are words I’ve said before.

It’s frustrating.

It can be lonely.

The fight feels disheartening and never-ending.

And I’ve been here before.

Each time I’m here though, the landscape changes slightly. It’s the same feelings, but brought up because of different circumstances or felt in different ways.

I’m no stranger to this restless agitation, this feeling that, while I know a significant other wouldn’t right all that’s wrong in the world, it would at least give me someone to face it with. I know I’m complete without a significant other, I don’t need one to glorify God and to live a good life, but I’m pretty sure I’d like one.

At the core of this feeling, it’s something I think we all feel in one way or another: I want something, something good, that I do not yet have and don’t know if I ever will. The particularities look different for each person, each situation, but the ache that sits at the heart of it–I think we’re all acquainted with that. Sometimes the pain is dull, hardly noticeable, like a bruise that only throbs when it’s brushed. Other times, the pain is acute, forceful, demanding to be noticed and tended to. These moments arise uninvited, often unforeseen, but cannot be simply pushed down. They must be noticed, wrestled with, given time to pass.

Because I do know this too shall pass. The blessing of seasons is that they always change. But winter can still feel a little bleak, even when it’s come before.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Do you have things you’ve wrestled with before but that keep coming back?

I Didn’t Ask to Be Human

Being human can be so frustrating–in big ways, certainly, when bodies don’t work like they should or relationships are fractured or big plans fall flat–but in a thousand tiny small ways, too. The little, everyday messes that pile up until suddenly, I’m about to snap.

Photo credit: Flickr User Macro-roni, Creative Commons

Photo credit: Flickr User Macro-roni, Creative Commons

And it occurs to me: I didn’t ask for this.

None of us did.

We didn’t have any say in whether we wanted to be born, to come into this world with all its heartache and storms and irritations.

Yet, here we are. Moving through our days in all their chaos and joys, the dark mixed with the light.

My initial reaction to when I feel like I just. can’t. anymore. is to run away. To remove myself from the situation, set it aside, avoid it until maybe I have the strength to deal. Hibernation has often seemed like an appealing concept. This says something about who I am and how I’m wired, I imagine, though I’m not sure of what, exactly.

Sometimes it’s possible to escape, and arguably even healthy. But I can’t protect myself from all the frustrations of life. Even if I could, it would be unwise, for as much as I don’t want to be, I’m learning here.

We’re all just learning to be human the best that we can, really.

Figuring out how to navigate through a life we didn’t ask to live, but have been given anyway, and now have to–get to–choose what we do with. Escaping from my irritations is an appealing option, but someday there will come a time when I’m faced with a similar situation with no escape possible. How will I know how to handle it, and that I can handle it, if I avoid it now?

So instead, I have to choose to actively engage with all those frustrating bits about being human that I’d rather avoid. I didn’t ask to be human, but I can try to do it well anyway.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What frustrates you about being human?

Thoughts On Moving (Again)

I am packing books, taking down wall decorations, and loading boxes, for the third summer in a row. In a few weeks, I am moving again.

Some people are good at moving, enjoy it even—maybe not so much the physical act of getting all of their belongings from one place to another—but they relish the idea of a new place, whether it be the same general area they started in or a whole new city, state, or country.

These people are what I have come to think of as “Bird People.” Winged, easily moving from one place to another.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Broo_Am (Andy B), Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Broo_Am (Andy B), Creative Commons

I think I am a tree.

Meant to be rooted, deeply, though with branches spreading wide.

We Tree People don’t do so well with the Moving. Every time, it’s not simply a matter of putting physical objects into boxes and vehicles and transporting them to a location; it’s disentangling my complicated feelings about this transient phase of life I’m in, why I’m in it, how I’m pretty sure I’d prefer to not be in it exactly as I am, but not really knowing how to solve it—or even if I’m supposed to solve it, because maybe I’m just supposed to live it.

Moving is a messy business for Tree People. Even if the roots haven’t had years and years to grow, they’ve started. And each move is a transplant.

Sometimes I wish I were a Bird Person. It would make this moving easier, even exciting, instead of so laborious and weighty. But I suppose there are complexities with that way of life that I cannot see from my view.

It takes me a while to settle in a new house, to hang my decorations on the wall and begin to make the mental shift to know what I mean when I tell someone “I’m going home.”

As many times as I’ve now tried, defining home is still tricky. I’m always trying to conjure up this feeling of home, one that’s not tied to the people I’m with because that is constantly changing as well, but to define it in a way that fits me and where I’m at. Home, for me, is a word I want to evoke feelings of warmth, comfort, and coziness, but I’m not quite there.

I’m still figuring out what to do with these roots of mine.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Are you a Bird Person, or a Tree Person?

That Book Won’t Fix You

I got mad at Shauna Niequist once.

I read her book Bittersweet, and I expected it to fix me.

I was so broken, so hurting, so full of bitterness and pain and I didn’t know what to do with any of it.

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And this book called Bittersweet, with its subtitle of “Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way,” seemed to be just what I needed. I needed help with all those things.

Yet it did not fix me.

For rational people, this makes sense. They’re words on a page–ink arranged into letters and letters into words and words into sentences–and on their own, they hold no power. But I’m not always a rational person, and I looked to that book for healing like small children look to Band-Aids. To not find it there left me disappointed, saddened, and yes–a little mad.

But of course, it is not a book’s job to fix me.

It would be lovely if they could, though. The problem is, when I find something in myself I know is a little broken, a little jagged-edged, a little not quite right, I want something tangible I can do to make it better, and I want it quickly.

I want to read those pages and feel the edges of my hurt begin to close.

The only real way to fixing is through living, though.

Not that books are bad or that they can’t help in the healing process. It is so, so good to know we are not alone, to find that other people have sat where we have sat and had a hard time getting up too, to see the ways we may begin to put ourselves back together.

In Bittersweet, Shauna writes about her miscarriage and the longing and the sadness of What Might Have Been. While I don’t know the particulars of that kind of grief, I think we all know what it feels like to have things not turn out the way we had hoped, for whatever reason those hopes might have been taken away from us or never given in the first place.

But for today, for a minute, it’s not all right. I understand that God is sovereign, that bodies are fragile and fallible. I understand that grief mellows over time, and that guarantees aren’t part of human life, as much as we’d like them to be. But on this day…I’m crying just a little for what might have been. (page 110)

Those words don’t fix the pain of what might have been, but I’m becoming more okay with that.

Since that time I got mad at Shauna Niequist, I’ve learned I can read and take the stories and words for the gifts they have to offer, without expecting them to hold everything. As much as I’d like them to, these two-dimensional words will not, cannot, mend the very three-dimensional reality of my actual life.

They can help me know I’m not alone, they may point me in a direction that can bring healing—but they cannot heal by themselves. No book can handle that much pressure.

Instead, as I’m learning with many areas of life, sometimes the only way out is through.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How have books helped you?

When Grace Doesn’t Seem Like Grace

Christians like to talk about grace. We extol its virtues, and love a story of the kind of radical grace that turns lives full of darkness and despair to ones full of light and hope. We like dramatic, flashy grace, the kind we can quickly point to and say, “Yes, there–that is grace at work.”IMG_8580

I want my grace to be big, so noisy I can’t escape or ignore it. Grace doesn’t always look like that though. That’s not how it’s showing up for me these days. Instead, I am perpetually at risk of not seeing it at all, or perhaps even choosing to not see it.

Because sometimes grace shows up in small, nearly imperceptible ways, edging its way gently along the cracks of our lives so that we hardly notice its presence. It doesn’t sing or shout. It does its work quietly, holding us together, knitting us up not with stitches, but with slow, quiet, patient healing, bringing our battered edges back together.

Sometimes grace leaps, and sometimes it plods along, diligently doing its work.

Sometimes grace simply looks like holding us where we are, not letting us be pushed or swayed, but not doing much pushing or swaying of its own, either.

This indistinct grace has a beauty to it, a kind not appreciated often enough. The stories of big grace don’t happen for everyone, but the slow, small grace does.

We just have to remember to look for it.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Where have you seen small grace at work?

The Best Thing I Did While Traveling

Three years ago at this time, I was in Edinburgh, Scotland. Before that, I had visited London and, very briefly, Oxford. As international travel goes, it was a short trip, but it was also wonderful. I didn’t go all the touristy things the guidebooks say to, but I did spend a lot of time walking around the cities, and had the fortune of meeting people from the cities who showed me a side I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

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Edinburgh, Scotland

 

It’s cliche to say, but the trip really was life changing. I couldn’t be more grateful for having gone on it.

And while I took pictures (literally hundreds), what I’ve found to be even more valuable as I think back to my trip is a small black notebook I carried with me wherever I went. My phone didn’t work overseas, so I was devoid of my usual instant distraction. I found myself soaking in much more than I do on a regular day at home, which was partly due to being in another country, but also due to having set a goal for myself of filling that black notebook by the time I got home. I didn’t quite make it, but I did fill a lot of it.

It was not a perfect trip–at one point, I got sick and threw up into a plastic bag in a London tube station as a train load of people was getting off, and proceeded to spend the rest of that day in bed at the hostel–and there were other more standard traveling hiccups. But while I wouldn’t have taken pictures of those moments, I’m glad I wrote them down. At one point, I wrote:

I think it’s good that I waited so long to do this, too–with my affinity for writing that I’ve only somewhat recently truly realized, I feel like I’m able to appreciate things twice–the first time I’m more aware, because I’m already thinking about how I’m going to recount it in writing later. Graphically speaking, it’s like I get to regurgitate things onto paper later, in the best way possible.

Looking through the photos help me see one dimension of my trip, but reading that notebook fills in so much more. I don’t get to just see the sights, I get to read how I felt as I wandered around Edinburgh Castle, how quickly I fell in love with the oldness of the cities and how every building seems to tell a story, and remember the pride I felt when I successfully navigated my way through London all by myself. They are moments and memories no picture could contain in quite the same way.

I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to travel abroad again, but when I do, I’ll definitely be aiming to fill another little black notebook.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What’s the best thing you did while traveling?

The Only Way Out is Through

For some time now, I’ve been in a Strange Space when it comes to God and faith.

It’s not the type of thing you notice the day it begins, that you take note of in a journal. “Today, I entered a weird wilderness-type space in terms of my relationship with God.”

Photo Credit: Flickr User mypubliclands, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User mypubliclands, Creative Commons

It just kind of…happens. And then, one day, you realize you’ve been there for A While.

Throughout this While in this strange space, I’ve been on alert for other people who have been in similar situations, trying to figure out how they got out. A sense of wandering, of wilderness, of disconnect from God and faith does not seem to be uncommon–I’ve read books, blogs, and stories of people who seem to have felt the way I do.

The one thing all of those lacked, though, is an easy answer.
I’m beginning to wonder if this wandering lostness I feel is a case of the children’s rhyme “Going on a Bear Hunt.”

Going on a bear hunt, gonna catch a big one, here’s the river…can’t go over it, can’t go under it, have to go through it.

Of those options, “through” is not the one I’d pick.

And yet, it seems to be the answer: There are no easy answers. Reading the Bible, praying, going to church, being involved in Christian community–these are all good, but they’re not a magic fix to where I am. If they were, I wouldn’t still be here. Instead, the way out is to move through, not to pretend I don’t get frustrated with God for his seeming silence and the way that reading the Bible and praying don’t “work” like they’re supposed to. No. I have to move through the wondering, the questions, the frustrations.

As I do, it’s not with the guarantee that the answers actually exist in the form I’d like them to. Like I can’t pinpoint a day I entered the “wilderness of faith,”  I don’t think I’ll be able to pinpoint the day I’ll move out of it–if I move out of it. Because as much as I believe there are seasons of faith just like there are seasons in the weather, God never promised to be who I want him to be and to show up when and where I want him to and to fit my picture of what he’s supposed to be.

He’s God. That’s kind of the point.

So maybe my “out” will only ever be like more “through.” Maybe I’ll continue to learn what faith looks like when it doesn’t look like what you thought you knew.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How have you carried on through wilderness times of faith?

All Groan Up (Or, Why I Read)

One of the many reasons I read is to find myself.

It sounds counterintuitive, to read about other people in other places doing other things, to learn about me. But it’s one of the things I find most powerful about writing. I can be reading a blog post by a mother of small children, or a fiction book set in 1743, or a memoir-esque book by a guy and say, “Me too.”

It’s one of the reasons I write here: I believe in the power of the “Me too” moments. All Groan UP

Recently, I received an advance copy of the latest book by Paul Angone, whose book 101 Secrets for Your Twenties I also reviewed. As I read All Groan Up: Searching for Self, Faith, and a Freaking Job, I felt like I was being given permission to feel all of the things I feel about being in my twenties. While the level of uncertainty in my life is not nearly what it was soon after I graduated from college, I still wrestle with feeling like I don’t have everything figured out, with wanting to figure out what I’m really doing with my life, and with trying to make peace with where I am instead of continually longing for where I’m not.

Paul’s specific experiences of being a twentysomething vary from mine, but even those I can learn from. All Groan Up is a refreshing reminder that being a twentysomething doesn’t have to be quite so lonely or quite so scary.

All of this fits in so well with the thread behind this blog: The Art of Becoming. As Paul writes in All Groan Up:

  Yet becoming an adult is not a onetime thing. You grow into growing up, each season bringing with it things you’re going to have to secretly Google to figure out how to do.

I know we have this yearning to “arrive.” To make it. We want to unpack our bags. Paint the house the color we want. Tear down a few needless walls and build a huge custom desk that will never leave the room.

However, every time we think we’ve made it, we look out the window to see a U-Haul truck waiting to take us to the next town.

But maybe not making it is a gift. If you’ve arrived, why bother still exploring?

There are things I still don’t love about the idea of never truly arriving, but I think there’s truth in it. And when I let myself, I can see there’s goodness there as well. All Groan Up was a great reminder of that, and a great reminder of why I keep reading–and keep writing.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What have you read that’s made you say, “Me too?”