when anchors are illusions, and control is never real, and the cleft rock is the only safe thing (or, for everyone else trying too hard)
The truth is that I’m tired. The truth is that there is a difficult, continually undulating tension between trying as a good thing—as character-building and an act of worship—and trying as a bad thing—as the opposite of worship, even an act of idolatry, because in the end my trying becomes an assertion of (ever false) control.
Control is always an illusion, my youth pastor liked to say, and even as I know intellectually that he’s right, I still grasp for the illusion, still attempt to sustain it, because grasping for the illusion of control still feels safer than admitting I can’t (have not, will never) have it together.
How does a person who needs to continually challenge herself in order to stay afloat her tendency toward sickness keep herself from becoming unhealthily focused on being healthy? I am trying. So hard. And in many ways, I haven’t had this healthy of a season in years. At the same time, the sheer amount of energy I’m pouring into maintaining this stability is threatening to destabilize me. For someone used to bad nights, weeks of aching sadness, the pressure to stay okay is overwhelming. And it is a constant temptation to take good things and, like Midas’ golden touch, corrupt them into things that no longer nourish, can only woo and ultimately taint. Exercise is good. Planning for the future (as much as is possible) is good. Proactivity is good. But when each of those things becomes a verb upon which I try to anchor my jettison self, when they become frantic attempts to sustain false illusions, then health becomes unhealthy and trying becomes failing.
Perhaps what it comes down to is this: my obsessive attempts at health are continually at risk of becoming ways of cleaving to something other than the cleft rock—Christ who was cleft for me. They are continually at risk of becoming ways of avoiding the discomfort of surrendering to Christ, learning to sit in the terror of stillness, accepting that who I am is more than (and is almost irrelevant to) who I try to build myself to be. I—we—are more than handicapped architects trying to build the best versions of ourselves that we can, trying to be both aesthetically pleasing and functional at the same time, trying to be more valuable real estate than the next person. So many times I let myself slip into the paradigm that I must create someone of worth (does it really always come down to our need to be lovable?) Control is always an illusion. All attempts to build are surplus scaffolds, and we are blind to our own blueprints, so why do we waste so much energy into designs that won’t hold?
A few nights ago, I found myself praying that Christ would show me that the cleft rock is a safe place. Because there are so few safe places, so few things that feel like they can hold the weight of my fear, my doubt, my longing, my sadness, my brilliant and incandescent hope. I need the cleft rock to be a safe place. But even as I prayed the words, I knew that I had answered myself by the adjective I’d selected. The cleft rock. Broken and cleaved for me. Cleft so I could cleave—could cling—to something safe and real and utterly sustainable. No amount of financial savings, academic degrees, resume-building, well-read intellectualism, or spiritual acts will ever save me. The fact that I feel like they need to save me is in fact just the indication that I’m not resting enough in what has already saved me—what has already ransomed me safe, and is not an illusion. The only control I can possibly have that is real is the control of having no control.
Here’s a question, for you as well as for me: how long has it been since you heard the Gospel? I mean explicitly heard it, not just felt it implicitly referenced. It feels a very long time for me. So I remind myself, and I remind you if you want to the reminder: the Gospel is not just such (true) claims as God is good, as he answers prayers, as he knows the plans he has for you. The Gospel is the very specific good news that everything that needs to be done to save you, to make you safe, to give you something to cling to that can sustain the weight of your beauty and terror, has already been done. It has been done because the divine Word embedded himself into history, into time and culture, and sewed the wound we could never staunch and could only bleed homesickness out of. It is the very specific good news that God came as a person and brought his kingdom down with him, and died for the worst that we didn’t even know we were capable of being, and rose again on the third day so that we could keep rising in him, practicing dying and—perhaps even harder—practicing living, until he comes back and the tension of “already, not yet” finally becomes here. Completely, entirely here. The Gospel is the truth that we are lovable because he loves us, and when all of our illusions tear and all of our trying fails and we sink into the pain and loneliness we poured ourselves out trying to avoid, the cleft rock still cleaves to us. He is a safe place, he is the safe place. We are safe. We are utterly out of control. He is utterly trustworthy. Don’t be afraid.