A Place Worth Being

The messages I feel strongest about tend to fall into two categories: one, lessons that are tucked away in some place where I feel like I own them; and two, lessons I know to be true but have a tendency to forget. I have moments with the second kind when I think to myself, “my goodness! If only I could remember all the things I have learned, there would be a lot less to trip over!” This message contains a lesson of the second kind: never disqualify today from your journey. Today always counts. Every time I re-encounter this lesson, I am in a new place that I disapprove of. Today, I am in a place of questions.

Questions are supposed to be liberating possibilities. They are supposed to let us out of our boxes to go exploring all that could be. But it can be exhausting to have so much open space in front of you. At the end of the day, I like to have answers and once I have one, I don’t like to second guess myself. I dislike the sensation of going backwards. To not have the answer is not quite so bad as having had one, and then not having it anymore. You can imagine then how I feel about a place where my current plan is to abandon my previous plans! It sounds exciting and romantic when it’s about a 40 year old woman who is deciding to reinvent her life and discover all that she can be. But as a 24 year old college student, it sounds merely like the a-typical, indecisive predicament of immaturity.

I don’t consider myself to be a planner, just like I don’t consider myself to be logical or organized. But right now I am very much acting like I want my life to be planned, logical, and organized. I want As that lead to Bs and no strange Qs or Rs in between them. I disagree with putting things in boxes, but here I am, stuffing it, pounding it, jumping on it until it gets inside that little box. I don’t want loose pieces. I want to be that person who when I’m faced with questions, I have intelligent answers.

“Don’t ever wish to be anywhere other than where you are,” is something I say. I say that the beauty is in the journey, and we should embrace and appreciate whatever phase of it we are in. But we don’t do well with needing to be somewhere and not being there yet. We don’t live well with the half baked and half built. Sometimes we respond with striving and become frustrated at ourselves for not being further along. Other times we settle for where we are until this is all there is. But today isn’t the fullness. Neither is it disqualified from being a part of it. Today is important. But today is incomplete.

How does one learn to appreciate a place that is uncomfortable instead of merely seeking to escape it? If I can only be at rest in a place that is complete, then I will spend my life anxious and waiting to arrive. So I pause in my rush to find the answers for tomorrow, and I look instead to see why today is a place worth being.

Lessons from the Kitchen Shelf

I have sausages in my fridge. Sausages and cheese. Don’t ask me how they got in there (I bought them). I never buy sausages! And I’ve been avoiding cheese for so many grocery shops that I had to go out of my way to find and make the purchase. I can’t quite remember why I decided cheese was important to avoid, but it’s been a well observed principle for some time. I generally verge on the side of conscientious health when grocery shopping and for several months I could applaud myself for not buying anything that had any kind of label. That is why the sudden appearance of two cans of spaghetti on my pantry shelf is scandalous. Sausages, cheese, and spaghetti–all of which have labels and were not found in the produce section!

Something has happened of late where I suddenly get these creative ideas about what I want to be eating–random cravings that simply don’t go away. If I’m wanting chinese food, then the only thing on the planet that is even going to taste good is chinese food!. Basil leaves, falafel, and white cheddar cheezits have all made it onto my craving list lately. My roommate has become accustomed to us driving around town together and suddenly pulling into a drive-through because I get this brilliant realization that it’s been three years since I’ve had a sprite, and there’s no time like the present to fix that. While driving the other day, I suddenly declared that I wanted guava juice. She informed me with a side-glance that that was the strangest craving yet, and queried as to whether I had been thinking too much about Africa. There were no drive-throughs for that one. I still want guava juice.

I’ve never been particular or opinionated about what I wanted to eat. I’ve been one of those annoying guests who when you offer them a drink, politely decline until you insist for the third time. It takes far too long to figure out what I want, if anything at all. Likewise, it’s torture if a group of friends nominates me to decide what we will eat or do, or where we will go. I think too much to be entrusted with such decisions. When somebody asks me where I would like to eat, I have to think about the preferences of everybody else, how to compromise between them, where can we get that, how much it costs, how that fits in everybody’s price range, how far away is it, who’s driving, and whether it’s too far to ask everyone to go. Exhausting. No wonder it takes me so long to answer, and I usually don’t reach an answer at all. “Where do YOU want to go,” you might say as if that somehow eliminates all other questions and makes it quite simple. But no, because what I want is always connected to what I perceive other people want. What I want most is to choose well–to choose something that I think will provide the maximum opportunity for enjoyment and connection. This amiable motive has not always worked so well for me.

It’s hard to figure out what you want in life when you’re thinking too deeply about what might happen if your prayers go answered. If God gave me my heart’s desires, would I suddenly realize what terrible prayers I had been praying all this time? So when He comes asking me what I want, I hear a trick question, and I start trying to figure out what I ought to be wanting instead. “What do you want?” is a question He has been whispering in ears for some time now. People who don’t want, who don’t desire, sit back in life and wait for a controlling cosmic power to make decisions about their lives for them. The only way that we really do things–get up and move forwards–is when we are either propelled away from our current situations by pain or fear, or when we have a desire and we’re after seeing it fulfilled.

I’m convinced that our Father wants children who are active with their lives–children who run with this God-given capacity to desire. But far too often we put our lives on hold, waiting for Gabriel to arrive in our living rooms with a direct assignment we can be assured is flawless. Then we’ll run and act and desire. But to ask us what we want? How are we supposed to figure that out? What does God want? Was this really the place He intended us to be in right now? Do we have the right skill set, or could our human weaknesses compromise the mission? And after all, even if we have found the mission, and we are the person to take it on, how do we know it’s the season? All legitimate, well-intended questions that have a place in our lives. But sometimes we ask these questions until we are dead in our tracks. If we can no longer respond to the prompting, “what do you want?” then we have made ourselves ineffective and powerless soldiers. We are sitting on the pause button, bound by fear.

My father always taught me that “He gives us the desires of our hearts” has two meanings. First, that He puts those desires in there, and second that He brings the fulfillment of them. It’s a flawless plan really. Our hearts get renewed into the nature of Christ, carrying His DNA, and therefore we reflect His nature and dreams. Our desires are an expression of His, and as we live them out, He brings the answers to the very things He planted in our hearts. I am convinced that when we take the journey to discover what we want, we are discovering the nature of God that is reflected in us. I am also convinced that should we make a mistake, He is powerful and gracious enough to correct our prayers, and guide our footsteps. But if you have nothing to desire, nothing to go after, you only have things to shy away from and avoid. You live in response and fear towards that which is wrong, instead of actively living towards that which is good and pure.

Sausages may not be my exact definition of what is good and pure, but they give me a degree of satisfaction sitting there on my shelf. Every time I get up in the morning and know exactly what I want to eat today, I smile, because I’m learning. I’m learning how to know what it is that I want, and how to give myself permission to go after those things. Sometimes these kinds of lessons are just too big to learn out in life, and so He teaches us in daily parables of the little things. So here He meets me every day, teaching me lessons on the kitchen shelf. You can be sure that once I get it, I will stop buying sausages.