I’ve mentioned this before.
I do think it’s worth repeating.
I believe the secret to the dreaming life is knowing when to let go of a dream.
Here is what I have neglected to mention: that dream never really goes away. There are days when you see it back there in the past and you thank God your dream was never realized. But there are other days and other dreams. You look back at them and you ache for the younger you who poured so much of herself into that dream. You wonder, what was the point of all that effort? Was it for nothing?
All this makes you a little less eager to embrace new dreams.
I shared my story this week. I wrote it out: how God spoke to me and the language was my desire. But there is more. There is always more to our story while we are living it.
Here is Part Two: My dream came true (the dream I never could have imagined on my own), and it is good. But the old dream, the dream I willingly released, still comes creeping back. Some days, I look over my shoulder. I remember how in that dream I was called professor (not stay-at-home mom). In that dream I wore heels (not muddy garden boots). In that dream I had an easy answer to the question what do you do? In that dream I was admired, respected, and I stood at the front of the room.
Like many dreams, it was a muddy swirl of selfishness and altruism. Of wisdom and foolishness. Most days, I am relieved that I no longer keep office hours. No longer grade essays. However, there are days when I look at the interview jacket in my closet and wonder, with something that might be an ache, if I’ll ever wear it again.
I’m not sure I want to wear it again.
I haven’t given it away, either.
Old dreams are never fully discarded. There is no donations drop-box for the dreams we outgrow.
Standing in the doorway of my closet, fingering the polished fabric of that interview suit, I fear I am Lot’s wife. Will I, too, be punished for looking back?
That is a story I struggle to comprehend. It reads to me like something from the Greeks. Mortal women transformed into swans and trees and the shape-shifting gods who chase them. Certainly, the Bible is a strange collection of legend and history, myth and poetry, wisdom and epistle, but I believe it is God-breathed. Where is God’s life-giving breath in the story of Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt?
But Jesus says remember her and so I do (Luke 17:32). I remember her, and I remember that with the next breath he says whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and I remember that I have lived the truth of those words.
I remember how he lived them, too.
Maybe it isn’t a question of punishment but of choice. I can look back and cry my life away. I can squander these good days with endless longing and salty tears.
Or, I can listen. I can trust.
I can be grateful for memory. I can be grateful for the persistence of old dreams.
I can wake up every day eager to let it all go one more time, and one more time, because I know the only way to live is with empty arms.
“Sometimes God calls a person to unbelief in order that
faith may take new forms.”
Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss
I remember the day I stopped believing.
I see that day now for what it was: a doorway. Nothing would ever be the same for me having passed that threshold.
I thank God every day for leading me to that place. I thank God every day for giving me the courage to do what I had never yet done. For the first time, I doubted him.
I am not a risk-taker. I am a play-it-safe, keep-within-the-lines, follow-the-rules kind of girl. Growing up, they told me God is Love, and I believed them. And then I followed the rules.
Church on Sunday.
Read your Bible daily.
Rules which added up in my mind to this: you’ve been bought for a price so now live like you can make it up to him.
But, of course, we can never do that.
Which is why he never asked us to.
I stood in church one Sunday and sang some song about God’s love. I was in pain, I saw no evidence that God had noticed, so I stopped singing the song. I no longer believed in a God equals Love. I no longer believed that this Love saw me.
Here is the thing about unbelief: it is like a fire. It burns away the truth, yes, but it also burns away the lies.
What is left is a heart like a dead, blackened field.
In other words, what is left is the perfect ground for new life.
I do not want to idolize unbelief, no more than I would want to idolize certainty. All I want is to say: Do not be afraid.
On the days when you believe, the days when God is near, do not be afraid. Do not imagine it is up to you to keep the feeling going, like a bicycle that might disappear the moment you become too exhausted to keep peddling.
And on the days when you cannot summon belief, on the days when God is a void, do not be afraid. These days are dark, they may be painful, but they, too, can be a gift.
Which came first, my love for God or his love for me? Before I stepped through the door of this day, I’m not sure I could have answered the question. My view of divine love was a mixed-up mess of lessons I’d been taught, songs I had sung, parents who loved well, and my own lonely efforts to be a good person.
Maybe that has been the greatest gift of unbelief. Embracing it, I let go of everything I thought made me lovable.
And then Love found me.
“We love because he first loved us.”
(I John 4:19)
There were years when a little flag would start waving in my head any time I heard someone say God told me to do this or God told me to do that.
A red flag.
It sounded too much like crazy-talk. I’d never heard God’s voice, so what makes you sure? What makes you special?
Now I am that crazy person.
I’m the one setting eyes to roll with my casual God told us this and God gave us a dream, and, the boldest of all, God promised …
That’s the big one, isn’t it? Talk of promises is crazy and dangerous all at once. To talk about promises is to set oneself up as special and risk looking like a fool.
I am that fool.
This is how I got here: desperation. It was the not having, the hurting, the longing, and the pain.
It was that one time I threw my Bible against the wall. I could see the pages bent and the cover smashed, but I could also see words that were so comforting, so particular, I was tempted to make Bible-throwing a regular spiritual discipline.
It was that time I screamed at heaven, until I turned the corner around the clump of trees and saw an optical-illusion moon so enormous and fiery I couldn’t tell what it was. But I heard it. It said, “I’m here. You’ve been heard.”
Sometimes, it wasn’t pain so much as utter emptiness. When there are no friends and no activities, when the phone never rings and you’ve given up the job you pursued for ten years, small things begin to sound very loud.
Like the verse that pastor shared from the front. I was one of a crowd, but those words were an arrow and I was the mark.
Like the song that came over the speakers just as I asked my question aloud. That song with the answer.
Or, all those times (so many times) when all I could do was open my Bible on my lap.
And that’s all it took. Because there it was. Right there.
I’m wary of prescriptions, of three-step plans. But if you want to hear the voice of God (and think very, very carefully whether or not you do), then this is what I suggest:
Lean in to the pain.
Listen to the silence.
Let the emptiness be just what it is.