Thursday, January 7, 2016

On the Precipice

Mt. Cheaha, Fall 2014

"Let's say I felt suspended, waiting.  
Between all these parts of the world and none of them.  
We feel this way sometimes in adolescence, too, surely most of us can call it up.  
But then there's the burning impatience for the next thing to take shape, 
for whatever it is we are about to become and be to announce itself.  
This was different: there was, I suppose, no next thing."  
~ Sue Miller, While I Was Gone


I'm turning forty this year.  I feel the weight of it looming, and have for some time, as if it's ushering forth some ambiguous significance.  Or sometimes, perhaps even scarier, as if its not ushering anything at all.  I wouldn't have been able to identify this sensation, not with words, anyway - until I read the excerpt above in a book recently (you know, because I've been reading actual books since I'm not on social media around the clock anymore).

Those words, they could've been my own.  If only I'd had the ability to label what I felt was undefinable.

As I creep closer and closer to midlife [formally defined as the period of life between 45-55], I'm becoming more and more aware of how little forethought is given to this particular season in life.  How, in the culture in which I was raised anyway, we give much thought to everything up until this point.  We play house as children, concocting dreams about: growing up, going to college, having a career, falling in love, getting married, buying a house, having a family.  Not necessarily in that order, but we - many of us - we do those things.

And then we're still.  Settled.

And yet, longing for any unsettledness.  Praying to God to simply, "unsettle me".

Asking God, "what now".  What next.

It's not enough.  It's never enough.  This insatiable craving for more, even when we have it all, we want more, bigger, better, nicer - homes, furniture, clothes, cars ... Everything.  More.  Always.  

We see it all of the time in our culture. We even have a name for it, we call it a "midlife crisis".  Men leave their wives, women leave their lives, all for this pseudo pursuit of something more, some undefinable, unattainable more.   

Could it be that we are not content with material comfort because God never intended for us to live in contented spiritual complacency?

That its this longing for unsettling that keeps us moving forward; the diving in to the serious questions of our lives and of our faith that keeps us growing.  We're contented to splash around in the kiddie pool when we're invited to swim in ocean's deep of His grace. "We are far too easily pleased", as C.S. Lewis once said, "like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
"They say, ‘Peace.’ But there isn’t any peace. They are like people who build a weak wall. They try to cover up the weakness by painting the wall white.  Tell those who do this that their wall is going to fall. Heavy rains will come. I will send hailstones crashing down. Powerful winds will blow.  The wall will fall down. Then people will ask them, ‘Now where is the paint you covered it with?’" - Ezekiel 13:10
In the context of this scripture "they" are the false prophets of Ezekiel's day, but in the context of our current contemporary Christian culture, aren't they also the world?  Isn't it the world, in general, that beckons to us as false prophets do, with empty promises of prosperity, of chasing after these things, these worldly ambitions.  On our screens and devices, we're marketed and sold lie after lie after lie to woo us onto the path of pursuing.  Pursuing what?  Security.  Happiness.  Contentment.  Peace.

They say to us, "Peace".  But there isn't any peace.

And why?

Because there is only one source of peace.


Jesus told His disciples, and us and the world in the gospel of John, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.”

And how, then, does the world give?  With whitewashed walls we construct all around our whitewashed lives.

That verse in Ezekiel was my life.  I lived it.  It's how I spent most of my twenties, chasing the world, throwing up weak walls here and there.  It was a lovely facade until the heavy rains fell, and those hailstones came crashing down and onlookers could've only wondered what had become of that whitewash.
  
And here I sit, on the precipice of forty, in the midst of a reconstructed life, a reconstructed marriage. Part of me is still trying to adapt to the stillness following so many years of chaos; and part of me is yearning for an un-stillness of a different kind.   We are still settling in to a new home and I'm quietly praying for more of an unsettling in my heart.  

And He's always calling.  If only we will quiet our lives enough to hear Him.  And I don't mean our "quiet time" - no, not some paltry twenty or thirty minute increments of devotion that I'd grown accustomed to having in the mornings or sometimes, in the evenings as I was falling asleep - but a quiet life.  

A quiet life.  Not really something I ever considered my calling.  There isn't much of anything that's quiet about me.  But maybe this is the quiet that Paul was talking about in his letter to the Thessalonians:  
"Brothers and sisters, we are asking you to love one another more and more. And do everything you can to live a quiet life. You should mind your own business. And work with your hands, just as we told you to" (1 Thess 4:10-11). 
I've read this verse before, certainly.  Skimmed it, perhaps.  Ignored it altogether.  But today, it's pressing in, pressing onto me.  Heavy.  This is it, maybe.  The verse for this year.  The prescription for the precipice and that there, just there over the edge of it, is His peace.

And why?  Because it's there here in the quiet places of life, we can sense His calling - out of the shallow end of the pool and into the deep; to go deeper; to have our faith made stronger...  

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my savior
~ Hillsong, Oceans Deep lyrics 

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