I have spent my time recently visiting a town in the state of Washington and living in the drama of two young adults who unexpectedly fall in love. I’ve traveled to London and New York City and felt the highs and lows that falling & fighting for their relationship took them on. In seven days, I have read not one, not two but five novels. Five.
As to my nature, more is better
I know what you must be thinking…”ummm, how did you?”, “why did you?”, “where did you get the time?” All really valid questions and believe me, my answers are anything but stable.
Once I started reading, I needed to finish. I needed to know how it ended and I went back & forth with guilt for not being able to put it down. My compulsion to finish eventually won out and I stayed up reading until 3am on more than one occasion. I absorbed as many lines as I could while I cooked dinner, over lunch breaks, or while sitting in my car before picking the kids up. Every moment I could squeeze it in, I was reading. I needed to know how this story would turn out.
With a book, I can know the ending
Without realizing it, the lack of control over my own life was being played out through the fictional story I escaped to. I picked up a book and found the extreme satisfaction in being able to know the ending. So once I started reading I continued until I finished, five novels later. My therapist smirked at me as I said it all out loud, I can still see it now. “Is there something else in your life that you wish you could know the ending to?” Oh, how I wish I could know or control the outcome in my life. It’s a constant ping pong match in my mind. The back and forth of wishing for control and then talking myself off the concept in order to surrender to the God who is good and who loves me more than I can comprehend.
I have been so busy escaping into fictional stories that I have forgotten the Author of creation is writing mine
I have always loved reading ever since I was a child. I have loved the freedom books offer to jump into different eras, cultures, and imaginations. These past few weeks though, if I’m being honest, have had nothing to do with reading itself. Reading has just been the thing I’ve used fill a longing in me. I’ve been down this road before. Past experience shows that I could remove “reading” and put in many other outlets in attempt to soothe an unsettled mind and heart with no avail. The moment my enjoyment crosses the line into compulsion, I have to look at what’s going on underneath. What am I running from? What need am I not allowing God to meet in me? When things get hard, my default is to run. Run from what is difficult so I don’t have to feel the discomfort anymore. Running always seems easier, always seems “right” so I can disengage emotionally. “Feeling all the feels” still makes this girl completely uncomfortable.
Running from the hard leaves all the meaningful things in the rear view
I think Ann Voskamp said it best in her book, The Broken Way:
“Suffering is an act of surrender, to bear under that which is not under our control. … Is this why we avoid suffering at all costs? Is this why we desperately try to avoid pain, because suffering is a surrender to the uncontrollable? Suffering asks us to bear under that which is ultimately not under our control, which proves to us we have no control. And maybe that’s too much for us in our autonomous, do-it-yourself culture to bear. Maybe more than we can’t stand physical suffering, we can’t stand not feeling in control.” (Chapter 13 – The Inconvenient Truth No One Tells You, page 171)
Which proves to us we have no control – Those words ring in my mind. I fight it and yet I’m not so sure why. Gosh, I imagine I look like a child fighting the comfort of their parents’ embrace. Can you see it? Have you ever experienced it? Just the other day I held our one year old during a fit in a store while she was flailing her arms and legs. I swear, my trying to be convinced that I have an ounce of control must look like that. Guys, I’m tired. All this fighting has motivated my flight into fiction. I have had this felt-safety in knowing how stories play out, being able to go over them in my mind without any surprises. The thing about it being “felt” safety though is exactly that: it is felt. And my feelings do not have the greatest track record in leading me into truth. Thankfully, I’ve returned from my travels just in time to celebrate the good news, the ultimate gift that entered our world.
In His perfect timing, God brought me home for Christmas
His grace loved me back into communion with Him. Always. God hasn’t ever stopped calling me to lay perfectionism at His feet, to lay aside the effort so I can stop long enough to look at what love really is. This act of surrendering has been demonstrated most fully by Jesus Christ, who chose to bear the brokenness of the children He and the Father loves. In our surrender to Him, troubled hearts and minds are settled. The One who has complete authority and control chose surrender for us. He chose suffering to show us what love is and what love does.
“Love runs through us through veins of suffering. I turn over my wrist to see that cross there again. This is the way. There is no other. Sometimes it’s so clear: we can only love in this world if we’re willing to suffer with the world. ‘God so suffered for the world that he gave up his only Son to suffering,’ wrote Nicholas Wolterstorff. Suffering is at the burning core of everything because love is. We need not feel alone in suffering because God is a suffering God who pulls close at our call. We can receive it if we want – there is always more God. In tears is intimacy, God understands because He stands with us.” (The Broken Way, page 170)
So this Christmas eve, I am grateful for our compassionate and gracious God who stands with us, who stands for us. I’ve run so many times, too many times and He still brings be back. He says over me, time and time again, that He’s not finished with me yet. He extends a hand of love and asks me to trust. I am grateful that He is bigger than every uncomfortable feeling, every lie, and every hard thing life throws your way and my way.
I don’t know where you are today but if you’re running or avoiding like I have been…1. I’m surprised we didn’t run into each other and 2. You’re going to be okay. How do I know? Well, I think we both need the reminder that we have this “Good News that will cause great joy for all people”. (Luke 2:10) It’s good news that God is with us, that we’re never alone. It’s good news that we are loved beyond our understanding. The “how” of this surrender that I’ve feared has been shown by Jesus. It always comes back to Jesus and when it does…hope abounds, joy overflows in spite of all that whirls around you.
The next fictional trip I go on, it won’t be in an effort to avoid…it’ll be to enjoy the stories and imaginations of those created by God. So for today, I won’t be running away. I won’t be trying to avoid. I’ll be here, praying to be present for those around me like I was meant to be all along.
I’m so happy to be home.