As I arrive nearer and nearer to the heart of things — at least as close as I’m able to get right now — what lies at the center are these four things: Jesus, Aaron, gratitude, and strength.
As I leave things behind — heavy things, things that have kept me trapped and exhausted for so long — the outer ring of this beautiful center is gratitude. I’m so thankful for what it is to be human, and for this world and how gorgeous and odd and heartbreakingly lovely it is. I’m so thankful for blackberries and peonies and newborns and the smell of rosemary and the sound of singing, especially the wild, raspy, throaty kind. I’m so thankful for kisses from little boys and the hush of snowfall and the scent of lavender. I’m grateful for Paris and Jerusalem and San Francisco, and for Three Lakes, Wisconsin; South Haven, Michigan; and the bonfire pit at my in-laws’ house, where four generations of that special family have roasted marshmallows and, invariably, sung in perfect six-part harmony.
I’m so thankful for Aaron, for our marriage; for the gentle, daily, weaving together of stories and souls and bodies; for the life we’ve made together, the family. With each passing year, I’m more thankful. We’re more than we were a year ago, and a year before that.
The temperature’s dropping as the sun dips behind the clouds. I feel like I’ve sat on every bench in this entire camp, and at the same time, I feel like I never want to leave. Tomorrow I’ll walk for coffee, maybe, early, in the cool of the dewy morning. And then I’ll find another bench, maybe an entirely new one, and my laptop and I will settle in for as long as it takes.
I used to be afraid that I was hollow somehow, that I only existed if someone could see me and hear me, like a toddler playing peek-a-boo. My whole life was an elaborate attempt at never having to be alone with myself. But the invitations kept coming, grace upon grace, to leave things behind, shed old skins, release long-held brokennesses, and when I finally walked away from all those things, there I was, alone with myself, and what I found astounded me: I wasn’t afraid at all.
More than that, instead of being afraid, or hollow, or nothing at all, what I found was strength. I found an unshakable core of love and passion and desire to make the world better. I found focus and a sense of power I’d never known. This is the great anomaly of it: we cling to these structures because we think they are what keep us safe — as if we’re bugs who need exoskeletons, shells outside of ourselves to protect us. But when you start to understand how strong you are, you realize that you don’t need a shell at all. The inside is strong and secure, and doesn’t need to be shielded by all those other things — performance, proving, busyness.
There is nothing left to be shed, and at the center is strength, gratitude, Jesus.
I’m practicing that last part, to be honest. For reasons I still don’t totally understand, the idea that the person of Christ is sitting next to me, bodily, keeping me company, breathing in and out as I do — it’s still tricky for me. And it’s still tricky for me to hand Him all my silly human concerns — little wounds and worries, dreams and discouragements. But I spend more and more time sitting with Him, not with the Platonic ideal of divinity, abstracted away to a safe distance. I sit with Jesus, the human-and-divine Being sent to be with us, Emmanuel. I practice being with Him. It feels as awkward as I’m making it sound, I’m sure.
I’m learning, minute by minute that I spend sitting with Him, allowing myself to be heard, my heart held, my dreams known. We’re in uncharted territory now, so I don’t know exactly how things shift from here, but I’m finding that my ability to sit with Jesus makes me more present and connected with Aaron, with my boys. As I create space and imagination within myself to be heard by the actual person of Christ, my capacity to hear the people I love is increasing. And my sense of strength, deep inside myself, grows and grows.
So much of life seems to be about reclaiming. Creativity, of course, is so easy and natural for children, and most adults struggle to recover that wild courage to make and imagine and play. And I’m learning that spiritual practice is a reclaiming, too. I used to know how to do this kind of prayer, when I was a child, when so many voices weren’t yelling their bad advice at me while I prayed, telling me I’m doing it wrong in a thousand different directions.
Here’s the thing: I might be doing it wrong, in someone else’s view. But as I sit, my heart grows more compassionate. My gratitude increases. I become more humble, more thankful, less fearful. So maybe there isn’t a wrong on this one, so long as it’s yielding a God-ward heart. And at the end of it all, at the center of it all, that’s the whole of who I am: this God-ward heart. Amen.
Author, Present over Perfect