Like most people, this summer completely overwhelmed me. It felt (and honestly still feels) like the world was tipping sideways, sliding toward a precipice of anger and confusion waiting to swallow us. The news is always bad; people are grieved and shocked and dying and selfish.
In June, my friend RachelAnn told me about a podcast by a woman named Jen Wilkin, which is a recording of a study she led on the biblical books of Joshua and Judges. At the time, I was sold because RachelAnn mentioned that Wilkin spoke on the character of Rahab in a way that was different than any teaching she’d heard before. I, like a lot of women in the church, tend to think of the Old Testament as a bit of a barren wasteland for women--a place where the true heroes are the men, and the stories about women are mostly just those illustrating abuse or suffering.
I couldn’t anticipate, at the time, how deeply this study would affect me. I didn’t know how it would not only completely upend my perspective on the amount of time and attention given to women in the Old Testament, but also transform my anxiety about the world. The one thing--the only thing, I think--that could reach me in a place of true grief over the state of the world and the state of my own heart was a careful study of wickedness, and the God who moved the authors of Joshua and Judges to record it.
I began with Joshua, and true to RachelAnn’s words, I was struck by the story of Rahab and her courage and faith. It’s been years since I read this book, and I felt as if I was reading it with new eyes. This post is partly an encouragement to listen to Jen Wilkin’s study, because it’s extremely thorough in scholarship and timely in its nature, but it’s also just a reminder that all of scripture is precious. I admit that I spend the bulk of my time in the epistles and the gospels, but after living in Joshua for eleven episodes, I am hungry now for the words of the Old Testament. The care God took with the Israelites as he brought them into the promised land, the way the stories are recorded, and the steadfastness of God’s promises are life in a time when we are all feeling uncertain and, to be honest, a little abandoned. Patience is probably my least present virtue, and to read about the many times God had his people wait, and wait, and wait was both crushing and freeing to me.
But really, the book of Joshua felt like a warm up to the book of Judges. It was important in content and context, but when I began the episodes on Judges I felt the true surgery begin. This book is both beautiful and horrible. It tells of a people who are constantly doing “what is right in their own eyes,” with no true leadership and no desire for the good of others. For large chunks of the book God is silent, allowing events to unfold. I felt my heart resonate with the squandered land, the injustices, the exploitation. It all seemed so familiar.
In her lectures, Wilkin kept saying, “If you want to know how the Israelites are doing, look at the women. How are the vulnerable being treated?” She guided us through the beginning of the book, where women have the status to negotiate for what they want (the story of Aksah), places of leadership (Deborah, who also presents qualities of God in such a way that she points to the character of Christ) and the ability to fight for those less capable (Jael). But by the end of the story we are seeing a people who have begun to abuse the vulnerable (as in the truly horrible story of the Levite’s concubine) and care so little about the value or interests of women that they give their blessing to the abduction and rape of hundreds (the wives of Benjamin.)
I knew these stories; I had read them before. But they always seemed disjointed. Now, with the background from the study of Joshua, and Wilkin’s careful contextual analysis, they were transformative. I went to see Rachael Denhollander (the first accuser of convicted sexual offender Larry Nassar) speak last Spring, and her talk was all about how important it was when she came to truly believe that justice and forgiveness are inextricable, and that it was through her study of the Old Testament that she found healing in the fact that God is a God of justice. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I think I can understand a piece of that now, even though I have not gone through what she has gone through. There is a simmering anger I feel, and I think a lot of us feel, at the continual abuse of women, and of people of color, and of the marginalized, and the only way I know to find peace from the anger is by seeing that God cares even more about it than I do.
There were a million personal applications along the way that made the Joshua and Judges study especially helpful for me, but the overarching message is this: God is not overwhelmed by evil, even though we are. And through the many stories about women that are found in Judges (and now I recognize, are found in the entire Old Testament) he is showing us that he sees. When I cry out in my spirit about the endlessness of pain and the triumph of evil, the book of Judges is saying, “He sees.” He does not always help in this world, which is hard for me to understand, but he always sees, and it always matters. And he will always have the last word.
Wilkin ended her study by referencing the book of Ruth, which ironically, although Ruth is my namesake, has always sort of mystified me. It seemed like such an odd little book to be placed right between the chaos of Judges and 1 Samuel. But when I read it with fresh eyes full of context, I just cried. It’s so clear to me now why it’s there--right there, immediately following some of the worst evil found in the scriptures. Because in it, as Wilkin reminds her listeners, we see a picture of sacrificial love from both Ruth and Boaz, a story of courage and tenderness and selflessness, that is so deeply in contrast to the stories we just read. Ruth, like Boaz, points to the character of Christ, and through their descendents God brought about the birth of the savior that is the true triumph over the chaos we still feel.
Most remarkably, Wilkin points out that the story of Ruth runs concurrent to the rest of the book of Judges--not after it, but at the same time. While all this chaos is happening, while women and the vulnerable are being abused, while people are taking what they can and rejoicing in the suffering of their enemies, God is faithfully, quietly at work. That is a true hope to cling to, and one that has radically altered my feelings about the world I live in right now. We do not control the hearts of our fellow people, and most of the time we can’t even do much to fix the horrible things that have been done. But we have the courage to continue to live and to work because God has never abandoned his people, and he never will.
Maybe it's because for the past few months I've been in such an uncertain period of my life, but I've recently been thinking quite a bit about joy. Unlike happiness, which is something that cannot be called upon or chosen, joy is something that we can, in fact, choose to have.
That reality has always kind of confounded me. Because my understanding of joy is usually a false one (mixed up with the idea that it is the same thing as happiness) I've always viewed verses that discuss choosing to have joy, or being overcome with joy, as quite difficult. I want someone to just tell me exactly what it means to choose joy. Joy is slippery, because it must be sincere, but it is also a clear decision.
In addition, the Bible not only encourages us to be joyful, it commands us. One passage that has been a stronghold for me for many years is this one from Romans 12:12:
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (NIV)
I don't know exactly what it means to be "joyful in hope," but I know that I'm commanded to do it. And as with so many other things, that is a good place to start. CS Lewis wrote a whole book that told the story of his journey to joy, called, appropriately, Surprised by Joy. In it, he discusses the ambiguous nature of joy, and explains what he thinks joy is:
Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with [happiness and pleasure]; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again... I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.
And later on Lewis writes:
All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still "about to be."
In Lewis's opinion, then, joy is something just out of our reach, something that we receive only when in communion with God. And yet we are clearly commanded, throughout the Bible, to rejoice, as in Philippians 4:4:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (NIV)
So what does it mean to choose joy? How do we separate joy from the health and wealth gospels and the wrongness of expecting Christianity to bring prosperity and happiness?
I think it has to do with the first verse I quoted. Being joyful in hope points to the fact that this is not something we can pull from inside ourselves, or manufacture. It is a constant choice to call ourselves back to the truth of hope--a reminder to fix our eyes on the grace and promises of Jesus. On a super practical level, it probably means reciting the words of the gospel to myself, meditating on the work of Jesus, speaking with God. It means questioning my motivations and assumptions, and forcing myself to weigh my words and my thoughts before sliding to extremes.
In this season of life, it means being grateful for the blessings poured out on me, and being patient in the uncertainty. It means trusting in God's provision, and not being cynical about my dreams. It means being faithful to wait, and pray, and cry maybe, and not giving in to the frustration of constantly being in a state of uncertainty.
The times in my life when I have had the deepest awareness of both the fragility and the beauty of life are when I've had to wait, and be joyful in hope. Especially during this season of Advent, let us rejoice in the goodness of a God who commands us to pursue something so very good for us.
Last year my brother Daniel released an EP with five songs on it. It was called At Last - Far Off, and it has some of the most beautiful worship arrangements on it. One of my favorites is Psalm 77--it is such a simple refrain, but one that is refreshing and humbling.
Worth listening to, especially during this time of advent. Or check out his new single just released for Christmas, Puer Natus Est.
Basically, just listen to his stuff. It's all good.
I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m getting older, or if there’s something specific to the way NYC has been shaping me, but I’ve recently been thinking a lot about being able to just be who I am. At this point, while I will always continue to change and grow, I am settling into the woman I am and the way I’ve been shaped. The process of questioning myself doesn’t end, but there are some things I know, and I want to have the ability to just be.
Specifically, I’ve been thinking about this in relation to art, and to being a Christian. I am much less worried about being a Christian than I have ever been before in my life, and that strikes me as encouraging and also kind of embarrassing. This is who I am, and yet for most of my life (and there are still many moments) I’ve been worried about how people will treat me, or what they’ll think, or how they might misperceive my beliefs. But I’m starting to believe deep in my core that it’s okay to just be. I am a Christian. It’s who I am. It’s okay.
And I am an artist. This post is about why I am starting to question the label “Christian artist.” This is not the first time I’ve questioned it, but it’s the first time I’m putting it into words. Questions about it have crossed my mind several times recently, most recently when I came across this article about Switchfoot and their contention of the label “Christian band.” (I know this is an old article. But hey, I’ve been busy.) When asked if they are a Christian band, their lead singer, Jon Foreman, says:
"To be honest, this question grieves me because I feel that it represents a much bigger issue than simply a couple SF tunes. In true Socratic form, let me ask you a few questions: Does Lewis or Tolkien mention Christ in any of their fictional series? Are Bach’s sonata’s Christian? What is more Christ-like, feeding the poor, making furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or painting a sunset? There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds. The view that a pastor is more ‘Christian’ than a girls volleyball coach is flawed and heretical. The stance that a worship leader is more spiritual than a janitor is condescending and flawed."
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling oneself a Christian artist. But I agree with Foreman that there are certain unfair expectations that arise with the label. Like erroneously expecting a pastor to be more pure than his congregation, expecting an artist who is a Christian to only ever create art specifically referencing Christ is severely limiting. Would you expect a bank teller to make a Jesus reference to every customer who comes up to his booth? Or a journalist to work a Biblical narrative into each byline? And yet Christians who are artists are often unfairly expected to reference Christ in every piece of work they create.
The genesis of this, I believe, is complicated. I would argue that it is partly cultural, and partly theological. Culturally speaking, it’s closely tied to the fact that in many parts of the West, and certainly in the United States, the cultural consciousness surrounding art is unhealthy. I’ve written about this before, but because art is considered a luxury, only as good as its entertainment value, and primarily an industry--not as a way to share stories and therefore an integral part of life--artists tend to feel the need to heavily justify their decisions to be artists, whether in a monetary sense or otherwise.
Theologically, the matter is complicated by the fact that most art in the West during the Middle Ages revolved around the church. In addition, during the Reformation Christians developed the idea that any kind of art during worship needed to be heavily justified, and as art became more important outside of the church, this trickled down into art outside of worship as well. Today, these cultural and theological pressures often take the shape of artists telling their Christian friends that they are pursuing art so that they can either “bear witness in a secular industry,” or use their art as a platform for proclaiming the name of Jesus. Neither of which is a bad thing. But, I would argue, neither of which should be the primary goal in being an artist.
As Christians, we are called to bear witness first and foremost in every aspect of our lives. That is certain. But that is true for every Christian, no matter what profession, and it does not always take the form of explicitly naming the name. In some fields, like my father’s field as a physicist, it never does. The great thing about art is that it can take that form. But it doesn’t have to.
There is no need to justify a career in the arts any more than to justify a career in plumbing. Art is inherent to humans, and storytelling begins as soon as speech does. As Christians, sometimes we speak in our daily life about how much we love Jesus, and sometimes we speak about how much we love coffee. Artists should be free to speak about either as well. And really, there is a lot of laziness that has come about because of the concept of “Christian artists.” There are many beautiful pieces of sacred art, or stories about Christian experiences that are heartfelt and important. The Biblical narrative is woven through all of us, as Christians, and it should come out of our pores. But there are also plenty of pieces of horribly lazy art and stories with the name of Jesus plastered on simply because there is a market for it.
Artists who are Christians cannot be lazy. They cannot rely on a market, as many have. It’s much more difficult to tell a diversity of stories, some of which specifically name Jesus, and some of which don’t, and it’s difficult to interact at all times with a world that holds different beliefs and values and find ways to create and converse with artists outside the Christian faith. But it’s important. It’s a command, to all believers.
In the same way, Christians who are not artists must refuse to be lazy as well. It’s much easier to rely on a Christian label or art industry to provide entertainment and enjoyment, for us and for our kids. But we are called to engage in the world, and to feel the pulse of its heart. Doing the work of evaluating art--by artists who are both Christian and not--is important. Some of it you’ll have to throw away. Some of it will touch you deeply. And that’s good.
The bottom line is that we are Christians first, and that changes the way we think, speak and breathe. But once it gets into our blood and marrow, we as artists don’t need to be constantly questioning our profession. We fix our eyes on Jesus, and trust in the process of sanctification. Sometimes that means we’ll create art that speaks intimately of Christ’s sacrifice for us, and sometimes it means we’ll write a comedy sketch about the bus stop. Whatever project we’re working on, let’s not be afraid to just be.
*My brother Daniel recommended a book called Art and the Bible by Francis Shaeffer to me recently, which apparently speaks directly to this. Worth checking out!
Friday is moaning
and Sunday is laughing,
but Saturday is silence.
I breathe the deep stillness of both
the cross and the empty tomb,
but the disciples and the women
knew only the pit of having had Him
and being left with nothing, and silence
weightier than existence,
that broke the earth
and rewrote it backwards and forwards.
Silence that fills lower and higher--
pouring out of a sepulcher
that calls forth my adoring wonder.
(Last two lines inspired by The Valley of Vision)
This is the kind of post that is addressed explicitly to Christians, and will be confusing and strange for many of my friends who are not Christians. So, secular friends, if you keep reading, you are about to get an intimate glimpse into one aspect of Christianity. And Christian friends: grace. Grace all around.
I was having drinks with a friend of mine the other night, and she shared with me that when she was growing up, her mom never once talked about sex with her. The extent of their conversation about the topic came down to her mother saying, “I hope you’ll stay pure until marriage.” My friend, who is a mature, grown woman, laughed. “What does that even mean?” she said.
But I sensed her frustration, and our conversation turned to the topic of the sex-talk--or lack thereof--in Christian families. Most people don’t spend a lot of time discussing sex with their parents, Christian or not. But as we talked I felt my own frustration growing at the lack of guidance and information provided to most Christian children. Girls in particular.
On this site, my sister and I post about issues relating to women, and one very important issue is sexuality, sex, and the body. This huge topic, this intimate topic, is one that many Christians don’t want to talk about. But that does not mean it is not important, and it does not mean it will just go away.
Christian women grow up with a lot of myths. Many of them are not told explicitly to us, but are prevalent nonetheless. I think there is none more insidious than the myth of purity, that is often barely explained but strongly upheld. Girls are taught that they are the boundary-setters, that they are princesses, that they don’t need sexual brokenness counseling. They are taught to automatically associate the word “masturbation” with “male,” because it is assumed that Christian women are never interested in exploring their own bodies. Like Edith Wharton, confused and scared on her wedding night, Christian women don’t often get a clear picture of what sex should be, and are taught not to ask questions.
None of these myths are spoken outright, because it’s tough to speak about sex. Here, I want to extend some grace. I doubt that most Christian parents want their daughters to imbibe these ideas. I am sure that many parents have their own sexual brokenness, and find it difficult to discuss these things with their children. But I know for sure that not talking about these issues will not keep a girl “pure.” It will only cause her to seek out answers elsewhere, to grow confused about the difference between what her body and Christian culture are telling her, and to be deeply ashamed when she realizes she cannot measure up to these standards of purity.
There are many Christian writers who urge parents to talk about sex with their children, but their tone often takes this quality: “If you don’t talk to your kids about sex, someone else will!” Which is essentially saying that parents are responsible for getting inside their children’s heads before they become polluted by the outside culture. But I would flip that on its head. If you don’t talk about sex with your kids, you won’t get to. You’ll miss out on the conversations you could be having. You’ll completely ignore a fundamental part of who your child is, and how she was created. You don’t have to have conversations about sex with your daughter. You get to.
We are, whether we like it or not, sexual beings. We live in a culture that has taken this beautiful part of ourselves and stretched it as far as it can go and reveled in it, and this has led to brokenness and subjugation and pain. But Christians are responsible for walking the middle road--for not running to extremes--and as difficult and uncomfortable as that is, we are charged not to be lazy. We have a responsibility to uphold the blend of spirit and body and not give into the oftentimes very gnostic ideas of sexuality that dominate western Christianity. We are a community of people who are all on different trajectories, but one of the things that unites us is that we have all been created with beautiful bodies.
Refusing to talk about sex with our children means that, yes, they will go find out about it elsewhere--but it also means that we are missing the opportunity to delight in the messiness and the fearfulness of our created beings. Like any truth in the Bible, we can’t just point to a verse and charge each other to obey it. We have the responsibility of tracking it throughout the scriptures and understanding what God is saying in the entirety of his Word. The story of sexuality is an especially beautiful one. God has so much to say about the proper place for sex and the amazing expression our bodies have, and if we don’t take the time to understand this for ourselves and to share it with those we love most, we are denying a fundamentally beautiful truth.
There is no blueprint for how this can be done. Every parent has a history, every child responds differently, every situation is unique. And there is absolutely a proper place for sexual discussion, and an acknowledgment that it is only a part of who we are as humans. But I know too many women who have been sexually broken and had no one to turn to, because Christian women are supposed to be the pure ones. We are none of us pure. We are every bit as gritty and vulnerable as men. Until the church, and Christian families, can lift the taboo off the sex-talk and truly embrace both the beauty and the brokenness, girls and boys will continue to grow into themselves piece-meal, without truly understanding the purpose, danger and beauty of their sexuality.
I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, but this year, since January, I have been giving a lot of attention to the cynicism present in my heart and my mind. At first, I was startled by its very presence. I have always considered myself an optimist, attuned to the thoughts and feelings of others. There should be no room for cynicism in my heart, especially as I continue to grow deeper in my faith.
But of course, this is not the case. As I have been observing, my heart is steeped in cynicism and fear. Over the past few months I have noted this with dismay, marking the crippling outworking of it in my life. I tell myself that whatever it is that I want, I won’t receive it or it won’t come to pass, because good things just don’t happen to me. I don’t walk in the rosy light that so many seem to walk in. I struggle.
Even a snapshot look at my life should reveal to me how ridiculous this is, but it doesn’t. Today my pastor preached on greed, and Matthew 25, speaking to us about money. Such a touchy subject, but one that Christians have to hear, and I felt my recent convictions about cynicism stirring in my heart, because I think my cynicism is often just a mask for selfishness. Especially when it comes to money, but really in everything, I truly own nothing. Everything has been given to me, and yet in my heart I deeply believe that I am entitled to what I think I need. On my birthday, a few weeks ago, I jokingly told my family that this was my name-it-and-claim-it year. As I get older, and figure out what I want, I want to know that what I want will happen. That I’ll be taken care of.
I don’t want to be rich. I’ve never wanted to be rich. I just want to be comfortable. I don’t want the best job. I just want a job with health insurance, where I feel that I’m using my talents and skills. I don’t need a month in the Mediterranean every year. I just want a few weeks to dip my toes into the ocean. And these are not bad desires. Comfort and security often lead people to a place where they can be loving and useful to others, and where their skills are truly used for good.
But my absurd cynicism rears its head and makes these desires more important than they should be. My cynicism is born out of selfishness, but it’s also born out of fear. It’s a way of buffering my heart against failures. If I care too deeply, or want something too badly, I will be hurt when it’s not given to me. But if I cynically tell myself not to get my hopes up, I won’t feel the sting when it doesn’t pan out. I live in my crippled shell of fear, with selfishness textured in, because I don’t understand that every moment of breath is a gift.
My pastor described God as a billionaire taking fistfuls of money out of his pockets and throwing it at people. We live in the midst of the incredible gifts thrown at us--and I don’t mean the money or the comfort or the security. I mean the way the train runs around a bend and comes to a stop in front of me, and the yellow daffodils nodding at me on the kitchen table, and the glancing eye-contact I shared with a woman I passed on the street yesterday, and the heavenly smell of coffee brewed on a rainy morning. We live among splendor, every moment of it rubbing up against pain, and the tension of holding the sorrow of the world in one hand has to be balanced by the joy of holding the beauty of it in the other.
I don’t want to imprison myself in a shell of cynicism. I don’t want to be afraid to trust, and to love, and to risk. I want to give generously, of my money, and my time, and my prayers, and my love, even if it’s not reciprocated, as hard as that is. God has given me common sense so that I don’t squander my gifts, but he’s also given me a world to explore and to love, and to help. He has given me so many good things, and there is no time for selfishness or fear or cynicism.
My acting teacher Mark Lewis used to say: “Everyone should have their heart broken, and break someone else’s heart. At least once.” We are obsessed with safety, especially the safety of our hearts. We pack ourselves in so tightly that we can only ever look forward to the next thing, because maybe it will be more satisfying than the hollow isolation of the present. It doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t make us any safer, and it’s certainly not Biblical. So this year I am resolved to continue to watch my heart, to pray that my cynicism is slowly carved out of it, and to open my eyes to the momentary blessing of each day.
Whatever your stance on the issue, this post by my friend Courtney is worth reading. She's not interested in yelling or arguing. She just shares her honest, beautiful story of anorexia, pregnancy, and, ultimately, love.
Take a look at Courtney's eloquent words.
Each of us, in our own way, lives in brokenness. Some people display it much more than others. But as I walk through my own season of pain, I am realizing more and more just how beautifully important brokenness can be.
All of our bodies are broken. Some are extremely broken; some are mostly healthy. In the grand scheme of things, I’ve been hugely blessed. I do not live with a debilitating disease, or a life-altering injury. And yet my body is imperfect. I have had depression; I have had eczema. And the older I get, the more I realize that my body is irreparably wrong.
The catalyst for these recent thoughts has been my problem with OCD tendencies. I do not have OCD--it takes quite a lot to be diagnosed as OCD, and to have it affect your lifestyle. But lots of people have tendencies, which manifest in various ways. Some people obsessively check outlets before leaving their house. Some people hum or clear their throats. I often find myself with ticks--feeling the need to take deep breaths, or touch the door handle on my way out of a room. These have always been things that I can control. Recently, I have been compelled to constantly twitch my back. This is annoying. This is wrong. This is out of my control. This is broken.
This is not uncommon, as I said. These tendencies come and go, and I’m not worried about my health. But what I have been realizing, as I struggle daily to turn off the part of my mind that’s telling me to twitch, is that I do not control my body. I do not have the ability to clamp down and force myself to be “normal.” Deep inside, there is something in me that’s broken. If I’m honest with myself, that thought is terrifying. And I’m sure that everyone else, if they’re honest, is terrified as well. At some point, we realize that we do not control our own selves. We realize that there is something within each of us that is broken and bent. Something we can’t fix. Paul speaks to this rather ugly truth quite eloquently in Romans chapter 8, when he says:
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (22-23)
And yet, this is where beauty comes. When I struggled with depression, I had to come to the world-grinding realization that I do not control my own mind. There are things I cannot fix. Through this process of facing my OCD tendencies, I have come to the same realization about my body. It, too, is wrong. It, too, is broken. And yet one step beyond that devastating realization is life. Because once I realized, in my depression, that I did not control my mind, I found myself resting on the promise that there is one who does. Likewise, though I cannot control my body, I know that it is under control. Broken and painful, it is not abandoned.
God uses many means to teach us about himself, but for me, the most consistent and effective way has always been to reveal my weakness to me. Just as I was called back by the pain of depression in my mind, I am called back by the pain of this (granted, pretty light) physical problem. As C.S. Lewis said in The Problem of Pain, “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” It may take months, or years, but I am continually surprised at the beauty that comes through our broken and wasted bodies and minds. And, like the state of my soul, the state of my body actually gives me hope. Right now, my soul is filled with bitterness and anger and pride and many other sins. But one day, my journey of sanctification will be over, and my soul will be free. Likewise, one day this broken, aching body will be new, and will be strong, and will be so beautiful. (And, because I’m not a gnostic, I know that the process is somehow interwoven and mingled together. And that makes this broken body even more essential.)
It’s important for us to know that we’re not alone. First, in the sense that we are not the only ones with strange ticks and problems and afflictions, or whatever your brand of brokenness may be. Humanity as a whole is dealing with a world full of crushed souls and bodies all wrapped up together and slowly dying. It is wrong to think that we are alone in the terror of living in bodies and minds that we don’t understand. And it is also important that we understand how truly understood we are. Not by ourselves, or by other humans. But by the God who created us, and feels our pain, and our ticks, and our addictions and compulsions. By the God who provides peace enough to bring us to the point of total fear and helplessness, and then remind us that he does not leave, or abandon. He knows every broken bit of us, more than we know ourselves, and he is faithful to preserve us, and promises to make us whole. Paul, continuing in Romans 8, provides us with a powerful assurance and beautiful promise:
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (26-27)
If there is a more powerful hope than that, I have never encountered it. We are held in the palm of God, prayed for by the Spirit, and rest in the advocation of Jesus. Even in the power of our awful broken minds and bodies and souls, we are known thoroughly and loved completely. Right now, I am thankful for a body that reminds me of my weakness, if only so that it can continually bring me back to reliance on Jesus, and I eagerly await a body that is strong and perfect.
How blessed we are.
This summer has been a series of emotional ups and downs. From the beginning of June, when my internship ended, to, well, now, I have been in a continuous state of limbo as far as what my life this upcoming year will be like, and whether the dreams and plans I have for my life will, down the road, be possible. It’s been very uncomfortable, and stressful. But I’ve been learning.
At the end of my senior year of college, my acting teacher Mark Lewis gave me some great advice—to allow myself to slow down. To do something meaningful, of course. But to take the time to figure out where I was meant to be, and what I should be doing. In his words: “You should be able to wake up in the morning and say, ‘I think I’ll have a cup of tea today.’ And do it.” I started crying when he said those words. And that told me something very important about myself—that I needed to follow his advice and give myself some breathing room apart from the non-stop world of college.
I did a theater internship part time, and to make some money I worked as a nanny. I was blessed to have two great families and four incredible children to nanny. And as I worked at both these “filler” jobs—an internship that didn’t pay me and as a nanny with no benefits—I began to have my first doubts about the way we, as Christians, use the word “calling.” If you had asked me a year ago what my calling was, I probably would have said that it was to be an acting teacher. But as the year went on and I opened my heart to the children I spend time with every week, I started to question the use of that word.
By referring to our careers as our “callings,” I think we misinterpret the real meaning of God’s calling in our lives. As I spent time with Ruby and Miles and Zane and Andrew, the children I have gotten to know and love, I recognized that my career will not be as their nanny. But I am convinced that my “calling,” during the time that I watch them, is to be their nanny. I have come to believe that our calling is not our dream career, or even the career that best uses our talents and skills. Our calling is to be doing whatever it is we are doing right now, in this moment as we are breathing and thinking and loving. Our calling is to serve God through our actions, and to become more like him, whatever we are doing.
As I grew more and more sure of this, and as my internship ended and I was faced with the fact that I was still nannying, but was no longer working for a theater, my eyes began to open to the way I think about myself, and the things I have to do to get approval. My goal is to be an acting teacher. That will not change. God has given me the skills and the training to be an acting teacher, and I intend to pursue those opportunities. But while I waited, and waited, and waited for schools to respond to me, and things to happen, I got to see a pretty clear glimpse of what I think is important. What I really think, when it comes down to it—not what I say I think, or think I think. And it shocked me how many of my decisions are based on the way I think people think of me, or things that I think people think I should have or do. (See. It’s so messed up it’s even hard to understand grammatically.)
Things like living at home, or driving a beater car, or being on my parents’ health insurance. Or being a nanny. Feeling like I had to apologize every time I told someone what I did for a living, or add a long story about what I really want to do. And I had to ask myself when we as a culture began to decide which jobs you have to apologize for, and which ones you don’t. When did it stop being about the fact that I am a really good nanny, and the children I watch are being served by my efforts?
I don’t want to get on a soapbox. Trust me, I know what it’s like to get a college degree and be frustrated about not using it like I envisioned. But the point is, whatever we’re doing, if we’re doing it well, we are using that degree. We 20-somethings have been trained to look ahead and push forward, and we’ve also been told that we can do whatever we want. I don’t know whether we were also told that we can do it immediately, but we definitely act like we should. And I’m just not sure that—especially as Christians—we should be ashamed of the “filler” jobs most of us have to do while we chart our career paths.
I love nannying. I won’t be a nanny forever—for one thing, I wouldn’t have benefits, and for another, I have been given an opportunity to be trained as an actress, and I believe I should use that training. But if I was a nanny forever, my life would be just as worthwhile. I don’t know if we’ll ever truly believe that—if we as a culture can ever value something like nannying as highly as something like being a doctor (and I am certainly not downplaying the importance and skill of doctors.) But as Christians, we absolutely should. We are all given one calling—to worship God by becoming more like him. What career we choose is second to that. Because no matter what we do, we are called to give everything we have, whole-heartedly, to our occupation. And that is worth thinking about.
~ He Held Radical Light, Christian Wiman
~ An American Childhood, Annie Dillard