on the comfort of struggling with the same things as six years ago (or, my 319th post, and more honesty than i care to think about)
It’s the first month of 2017, and I’ve had this blog since a few weeks before I turned seventeen. That means there are six years of posts on here—and though I know here is not really anywhere, in another sense here is one of the most consistent spaces I’ve ever known. Indeed, here has been in my life more regularly and for more years than any church or school I’ve been a part of, and there are few friends from six years ago that I still keep up with. In a very real sense, this blog holds some of the truest parts of me, the most honest I know how to be. If I’ve strived for anything here—if I believe in anything—it’s honesty.
It’s the first month of 2017, the first January in my life that I’m not in school, and therefore the first January in my life that I have absolutely no idea what is waiting for me at the end of this year. A year ago, the shocking loss of Dr. Lundin still burned like a flame; a year ago, I prepared to live and teach in Morocco, spent a month studying the arts in London, and wrestled through a painfully uncertain summer to finally land a job and—as it turns out—continue to wrestle through a painfully uncertain fall and winter.
And it is still uncertain. My God, it is uncertain. Despite my prayers for guidance and calling (the latter being a word I’m growing to distrust), I still feel utterly directionless in terms of the future. I have no idea where I’ll be six months from now, or at the end of this new-and-already-growing-old year, no idea what God is preparing me for.
And yet, for whatever unspeakable reason, I believe God is preparing me for something. For whatever unspeakable reason, anxiety and sadness are not my deepest emotions. Someone told me once that you can be at peace without feeling peaceful, and I think that’s where I’m at. Externally, I struggle regularly with the discomfort of being just graduated from college, in my early twenties, without a clue of what life has in store for me. And yet, deep down below the turmoil and confusion, it feels as though there is a reservoir of grace–miles below me, perhaps, where sometimes I doubt its existence, and yet still there. I encounter that reservoir when I read through chapters of Genesis at a time and realize how raw and turbulent and beautiful a story it is. I encounter it when I read Thielicke’s sermons on the Lord’s Prayer and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, and in the moments when I’m frustrated with someone and a quiet tenderness infiltrates my bitter spirit. Grace truly is the only way I can say it. Even as I feel it blessing me, like the mild but utterly holy sprinkling of water on a child, I know that I have only just dipped into this reservoir. I know that it is deep, infinite, and—this I believe with all of me: if (when) I fall into despair, anxiety, and hopelessness, it will not be because the grace ran out but because I am not being still enough to receive it.
One piece of this grace feels strange and a little ironic: I am almost comforted by my struggles—the fact that they are the same struggles I had six months ago when I first started this blog. I sometimes write that loneliness feels like my most faithful companion, but I think there’s another way of saying that: loneliness, reoccurring as it is, teaches me the faithfulness of Christ. It gives him almost….almost a handwriting, a personality. When I write letters to people, it essentially becomes prayer, and this used to bother me. But the more I thought through it, the more I realized it made sense. It feels natural to express myself in a letter to someone who has a distinct personality, mannerisms, a face, and when I receive a letter, there is comfort in the familiar handwriting and syntax. I don’t think I’m saying this coherently, but the consistency of my struggles, the persistent loneliness and sadness, almost gives Christ that intimacy, because I know that he will meet me, and I know how he will meet me—in the same passages of Scripture I’ve read countless times and that nevertheless speak so tenderly; in the same poems by Rilke and Eliot; in hymns like “Rock of Ages” and “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken.” I know that if I sit on my bed and pluck “Mighty is the Power of the Cross” over and over and over again, I will not be able to resist the grace that trickles in through the notes, and I know that even when I fail to turn first to him and instead turn to friends, still God will meet me in my friends’ love and let me pour myself out to him when I realize for whom I am truly longing. As wearying as it is to struggle with the same things, there is also a way in which it gives God a handwriting, a way for me to recognize the shape and texture and fragrance of his healing.
In the end, as always, I’m speaking more to myself than to you, self-convincing more than sharing. I don’t even know entirely why I continue to write, except that there is something unspeakably holy about stringing these different shapes together on a page, ordering them and reordering them, in a way that communicates something to you—holds meaning, tells a story, confesses a secret. And this too is grace, is healing. The ability to write itself, to write from a self, and to other selves, and to Christ who also has a self… In the words of dear John Ames, “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, all of them sufficient.” Maybe the simplest and truest paraphrase of everything I’ve been trying to say is this: I am learning to slowly believe him.