Aren’t we all striving for some sort of balance in life between confidence and conviction and humility and a healthy fear of God?
It seems parenthood is no different.
Sometimes my husband and I are completely flummoxed by this seven pound something human being in our midst. We wrack our brains for why she could possible be crying as if the answer were not completely fixed and finite. Other nights as she floats dreamily off to sleep, we proudly (yet quietly) slap each other high fives and reward ourselves with glasses of wine or bowls of ice cream (I now understand why so many people gain weight in parenthood with these celebratory rituals!).
As I lay awake last night, holding my breath and waiting to see if my sleeping baby would find rest, I was reminded that this balance between confidence and conviction, humility and fear of God, does not come easily. While parenthood is yet another experience that teaches us that control is but an illusion, I don’t want to walk on eggshells, especially during this season of Lent.
If we believe that in Lent God is reworking our lives to find a new balance, how might we reinterpret these pillars of confidence and conviction, and humility and fear of God?
Might we walk with the knowledge that we are children of God, with which comes great conviction, but also great humility. Might we discover that humility doesn’t mean timidity, that being a servant is a bold role in this floundering world. And might we take heart that it is not we who craft this wondrous balance in life, but it is we who are being made new by a God who teaches us daily, through the example of Christ, what it means to be this wondrous pairing of confidence and conviction, humility and awe.
I’m happy to report that I have a draft of my dissertation–all five body chapters–and am working to make revisions to these before the baby comes. Throughout the pregnancy, even though I haven’t felt great, I’ve been really active, continuing my normal runs (albeit shorter and slower) along the canal, and I’ve had a fair amount of energy, which I’ve been really thankful for.
Still, it’s been discouraging to hear unsolicited advice and comments from strangers or acquaintances warning that I’ll “get nothing done after the baby comes,” or that the energy, productivity, and passion that I have for my dissertation project will necessarily fall by the wayside.
I can’t anticipate what it’s like to have a baby.
I imagine it will be an uncanny mix of exhaustion, joy, and fear, and schedules and priorities will necessarily have to shift, but I have no way of knowing what’s really coming. It’s a completely new experience for my husband and I, and so these comments have, on occasion, sprouted little seeds of doubt about myself and the life and passions I seemingly will have to give up for a new baby.
I’ve been noticing, however, that I’m not a stranger to the unknown, and that through all the unknowns in my life, God has been decidedly faithful, providing possibilities I, myself, could have never foreseen. It’s been helpful as I approach the unknown of having a child to remember how my husband and I felt, for instance, before going to live in China. We had no idea what to expect, and yet, we prepared as best we could, seeking counseling, reading books, imagining potential conflicts, difficulties, and pitfalls, as well as looking forward to the excitement of a new experience.
I recently read a blog post about productivity from Zen Habits in which the author describes anxiety as a lack of trust in the future. While I think this makes sense, I don’t necessarily see a reason to trust the future per say, but I do want to be a person who trusts God with my future. God sees possibilities for us that we can’t, but we often struggle to let God be God when it comes to the future. For instance, the teaching experience that I just completed at Drew that was so formative for me wasn’t even on the radar until summer last year. If I had panicked and chosen something else, I would have missed out on one of God’s possibilities.
It’s funny how this kind of trust in God can impact not just the future, but the present. For instance, when I realized that the negative voices of strangers often came from a place of anxiety themselves, I gradually began to also hear the confidence and encouragement of friends who know me well. My spiritual director told me she’d never been more productive than when she had a newborn who slept all the time, my advisor never wavered from believing that I could complete both a dissertation and have a baby, and my friends only seem to be more supportive of me now that my husband and I are embarking on this new season in life. It means so much to have God using these friends and mentors to remind me who I am during this time.
I love a challenge–I always have, from that first trip to Mexico in high school to our life in China, to writing a dissertation, and finally having a baby–these are all things that at one point seemed impossible that God made possible. And so here I am, over eight months pregnant, working on a dissertation, expecting a baby, and wondering what possibilities God has in store for this coming fall.
And with God by my side, I hardly feel anxious.
It’s this challenge of faith, trusting the future to God, and leaning on God to yield contentment and peace in the present, that’s keeping me grounded, confident, and filled with gratitude. I don’t think contentment is about sliding into complacency. On the contrary, it’s about living faithfully with the uncertain, another challenge that God’s been guiding me through these past years. I just keep marveling on how much God can do with our lives when we bow them at God’s feet rather than wresting them from a God who wants to show us possibility.
How do you trust God with your future? How do you find contentment in your present? How do you worship God with your life?
Ferreting out the feelings buried beneath all those lofty thoughts (ha!) does not come all that easily to me.
But I practice a lot.
Just like any other discipline, I practice faith to grow in faith. I practice the rhythms of letting go and listening, that also do not come all that naturally to me. And gradually God makes it clear that God’s been there all along, and yet, I come to experience God in new ways.
“Sturdy,” was my reply the other day, when my spiritual director asked about who God is to me lately. It’s not in the Bible, although a host of other like adjectives– steadfast, firm, unshaking–do come to mind.
Sturdy feels humble, though, like it might have fit neatly into Jesus’ Aramaic vocabulary. In the dictionary, one who is sturdy is strongly and solidly built, capable of withstanding rough work or treatment, and showing confidence or determination.
And when you think about it, despite some of the depictions of his fragile frame, withered on the cross, Jesus walked everywhere during his ministry, and he shouldered that heavy cross without complaint.
Jesus was rugged, dependable, and sturdy.
And I think the miracle of faith is that we, who are weak, whiny, and worrisome, we are invited to share in that sturdiness. We carry it within us when we dare to give and receive love, when we refuse to abide by the ways of this world, but abide in God instead. We become sturdy when we see and believe that God is making us new, by living in us and through us.
We become confident, not in ourselves, but in the sturdiness that inhabits hearts, hands, and feet. Our fragile frames can endure great trials because of who God is, what God has done, and who we are becoming.
So this weekend, look for signs of sturdiness in those around you, in your life, in you. You’re stronger than you think, because you carry not only the cross, but the resurrection within you.