09 Mar Welcome to walking in the dark.
If you find yourself confused, if you feel you are walking in the dark not knowing if the ground in front of you is safe, not knowing where you are headed: welcome.
Maybe your faith has started to crack apart. Maybe you have spent a decade or more caring for children and now the pressure has finally eased you do not know who you are. Maybe after two years living through a global pandemic the things you thought you wanted no longer make sense. Maybe you have suffered loss and tragedy and are questioning everything.
This is for you.
In the last decade I learnt three words that have proved immensely helpful to me.
I don’t know.
Yes I had heard them before, but they were not words I thought I was allowed to use. As a Christian I thought I had the whole meaning of everything pretty much sewn up. That’s how you feel when you are taught things in binary. Everything is either good or bad, right or wrong. And while that was helpful to me as a child, it kept me safe and made sure I got good exam results, it hasn’t been very useful to me as an adult.
The world is so flipping confusing. So much changes so quickly.
For a good few years (at least a decade) I tried to squeeze the multicoloured, multi-faceted, unpredictable experience of life into black and white, into formulas on a page. But often, just as I thought I had it all boxed away, it would morph and burst out of the container I had put it in.
Richard Rohr* talks about life in two halves. In the first half of life we build for ourselves a wonderful container. Somewhere we can live, which makes sense. This container is linear and understandable. It gives good odds on guaranteed outcomes. It creates safety nets. It looks like academic achievement or career success. It looks like getting married and having kids. It looks like ticking boxes and working on a script about fulfilment.
The second half of life is rarely a choice we make. It is usually a place we end up when the container we have created breaks apart. We often arrive in the second half of life surrounded by rubble and in pain. The things we thought we knew didn’t work! All that effort and I still didn’t get what I wanted! I got what I wanted and it didn’t make me feel good! My marriage has collapsed! My mental health is shot! Fill-this-space-with-you-own-calamity-tragedy-and-loss.
We arrive kicking and screaming, looking over our shoulder to see if it is possible to go back to the warm womb of unknowing. But once you have seen you can’t un-see. No matter how much you want to.
And so we find these words:
I don’t know.
Although it feels scary to admit.
Although we wish we did.
We don’t know.
But eventually there comes a day when these three words stop being an admission of failure and become your permission slip to enter a world of possibility. The possibilities that arise when we don’t know the answer.
So God is not male. How do we re-make he/she/them?
So my faith no longer makes sense. How do I move forward?
So the life I thought would fulfil me doesn’t. What will?
So I don’t know what I want. How can I figure it out?
I don’t know.
It is necessary to camp here for a while. Make peace with it. And as you do you will realise you are far from alone. There are many others of us here with you.
“The seed is in the ground. Now may we rest in hope while darkness does it’s work.”
Barbara Brown Taylor
“New life starts in the dark. Whether a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb. It starts in the dark.”
This is the place where you begin to trust yourself.
Not because you have any answers to anything, but because you can keep yourself alive.
You are able to care for yourself even here.
You are good.
You are able.
And at night as the lights of the city called ‘what you knew’ dim and fade to black, you will see the stars. And not just stars but constellations. Galaxies smearing the sky with colour. The lights of a thousand thoughts you didn’t know were possible.
And so the answer to the problem of God being male in every place I go and no one seeming to be that bothered about it: I don’t know, I don’t know the answer.
And so the solution to my faith not making sense anymore and the devastating loss of that community: this is hard, and I can’t fix it.
And so all I fought for, the work, the family, the house, the achievements haven’t fulfilled me and it seems all anyone can offer me is another ladder to climb and I am too tired for that: I get it, it doesn’t make sense.
And so I seem to have lost myself somewhere along the way and can longer access my ‘knowing’, the part of me that helps me figure out what I want: I’m right here with you.
But in this place of unknown and unknowing, of giving up on the things I thought I knew, I start to find the edges of myself. I start to understand the shape of my body. I start to remember the things I loved before everyone else told me what to love.
I inch forward and call it progress.
Because it is.
Thats all for today. Please know, even if it feels you are making no progress: you are. Sometimes we have to slow down so much as to make any progress seem almost imperceptible.
But staying here with these contradictions and uncertainties, holding the tension even though it is excruciating, is progress.
If you enjoyed this post you may well enjoy one (or both!) of the books I have written.
My most recent book: You Don’t Have To Do It All
A short anti to-do list full of permission to stop, slow down and start living the life you want, not the life you think you should have.
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