Can I tell you something? Something secret? A story that hasn’t much shine to it and if I’m being honest, was downright unraveling for me?
I started 2018 with twelve hopes and goals for the year. My list was borrowed from an Ann Voskamp printable tool, many of them inspired by one of her New Years posts about the hard and holy things she wanted to do this past year.
This December, I reread a beloved Advent book I got in 2017. When I read it last year, I revisited the same daily readings over and over again, letting the hope of His coming soak into my bones. I reflected a lot and journaled on the pages. This year as I skimmed past journal notes, I almost didn’t recognize the woman on those pages. I hardly remember this lost girl who wrote of her broken hope. I wrote about my firm footing being stripped away, about feeling alone in a marriage where I felt we embodied the “unequally yoked” couple you are warned about as a teenager in church and swear you’ll never become. I wrote about feeling unsure of who I was becoming and not knowing if anything up to this point even mattered anymore. In July, I shared with all of you a little of the ways He has been decluttering and rearranging this little house that is my heart. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis likens us to a living house and I think he really does describe it best:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
Last Christmas, I felt shame that I had fallen so far – I felt ashamed of my doubt and it’s written all over the pages of that Advent book. I hated myself for letting go of my uttermost and truest held beliefs, so soon after my husband started questioning and doubting, letting himself be stripped away, rearranged, and decluttered. I hated myself for letting happen the very thing you hear about in marriages that are “unequally yoked”. I was supposed to be winning him over with my faith and instead, I was laying on the floor, bleeding out and confused. I didn’t understand what it meant for God to build quite a different house from the one we had always known. For him to rewrite the narrative of faith in our lives. I wrote about all of this in July for you but if you missed it, you can catch up here.
So that secret? That shameful thing I did and kept secret?
I wrote my hopes and goals for the year and when asked to resolve to believe something, I left it blank.
See there? Fourth line down? Blank. Empty. Unsure.
I didn’t know what I believed so I left it blank. After 25 years of staying true to core and fundamental beliefs, I hadn’t the wherewithal to fill in that space because if I was being honest, I couldn’t define anything anymore. I couldn’t come up with a single concrete thing to write so I didn’t write anything. You can spend your whole life priding yourself in never wavering on your belief in His realness, His love, His sacrifice on the cross… and then one year, you are devastated to find you simply don’t know if you believe it anymore. It’s downright horrifying. I left the space blank and this shameful white gap harangued me for months. It taunted me from the wall where I had pinned the list beside my bed.
You know, I pinned something else to the wall at the start of 2018. There in the bathroom – if you’ve washed your hands in my home you’ve seen it – a lifeline. Clinging to a promise that stirred both longing and relief in me.
“I am come to find you wherever you may be. I will look for you til the eyes of My pity see you. I will follow you till the hands of My mercy reach you, and I will still hold you… to My heart.”
– Charles Spurgeon
I think you know what happened between then and now. Oh, He surely did knock about this house in a way that hurt abominably.
Do ancient stories have to be literal to be true? Do they have to be real flesh and blood in order to be holy and real to me? Do all other religious traditions have to be wrong in order for Christianity to be right? Does faith need to fit in one tiny box in order to be the kind of transformative we hear about in church on Sunday? Or can it be a chaotic mess of grey, blurry, and jagged peaks and valleys? If God is who they say He is, is it even possible to trace His edges? Is it possible for one group of people to get it right – to claim to know who among us He will call His own? To claim to know how this mystery God will judge all these broken and trudging people left on the fringes?
These are just the beginning of the questions that have undone me – rearranged me. But you know, at some point, I stopped noticing or thinking about that gap I’d left on the page. New life began to form. New questions, new understanding, new doubts, new hope. New peace with where curiosity has taken me and where we’ve yet to go.
There have been new bridges between me and my husband. New appreciation for his journey, his bravery, his gumption. New love and fondness for his curiosity and the way he is always taking my hand in his, edging me toward change and growth. He nudges me away from stagnancy, gently inviting me towards adventure, though I tend to resist and cling to all that is familiar. He must have been afraid to start asking those questions – especially afraid of me.
A few weeks ago before years end, I stopped to look at my little list of hopes as I do from time to time. I saw the gap, looked at the blank space. The glow from my dusty hand-me-down lamp caught the white page in just the right way and suddenly light seemed to fairly beam off that little blank space. It burned a bit of a hole in my heart with its eagerness. It looked like humility, like nothingness, like the start of something absolutely exquisite. I don’t feel shame about the blank space anymore – I feel rearranged.
I’ve been thinking during Advent about what I would write in the blank space now. I know I want to fill that space in with something and yet, it seems poetic to leave it blank. To let the New Year strip away the old and find ever new meaning and understanding. To let faith always evolve.
I’ll fill it in. In Hebrews, the author admonishes the early Jewish Christians about still needing to live on milk as though they were infants, rather than solid food, “needing someone to teach [them] the elementary truths of God’s word all over again” (Hebrews 5:11-15). No matter your personal affect toward the Christian Bible, the words here and many of the teachings of Jesus ring with wisdom for all walks of life. Maturity is important in any faith; being ready and sound, not tossed about by the changing tides. I want to be steady, as I think we all do. I think though, that to start the year with that little space blank again shall be the resolution in and of itself – to be intentional and determined to learn and explore. To make thoughtful choices with regards to literature, podcasts, written reflection, etc. To take eager steps towards filling in a blank space this year in 2019.
When it’s time to fill in that little blank space, I don’t know that I could ever again write such literal, concrete, statements as I could have confidently written before this year. I still don’t know quite who or what I believe God to be. But I know that this enigmatic God followed me into the dark, that He has been coming for me since the beginning, and that there is nowhere He won’t go to bring me back to Him, to hold me close to His heart. I must believe in the love of this mystery deity, for if I don’t, there is nothing else. I don’t know how to describe Him but I am ready to try to define what I have learned this year – ready to build upon a new foundation towards greater maturity and enlightenment.
I don’t know yet what I’ll tell my sweet little baby boy about God – how I’ll put words to a mystery so great. The responsibility of faith weighs much heavier when you learn you are going to be a mother. But one day, when he asks, I’ll tell my boy about how it feels to walk in the dark for a time. To be lost and fairly quaking with uncertainty. And I’ll tell him how it feels to find that He has been walking with you all the way, trekking deep into the most poisonous corners of your heart, deep into your great shame and undone. Trekking, laboring, reaching with firm hands to bring you back to a love so tender you can touch it. It feels like light splitting dark, warming inch by inch every piece of a broken heart. It’s quiet – this soul-work. Most often, no one will know you are adrift. Without any fanfare or flash, we are being made new.
Ann Voskamp didn’t release a newly dated tool this year so this year’s list will ironically be dated “2018”. Again, it has a certain poetry to it. A new chance with many of the same goals and dreams for this year. An opportunity to build on this new work that my twenties have brought.
I don’t know much of anything yet (and probably never will). But this year, the little list of hopes and resolutions will be lit with colour. Light shattering dark.