I wrote this several weeks ago, thinking I would finish it the next day (ha!), but I've decided it stands on its own, though it only covers the first part of what I called it...
The alternate title was Failed Resolutions, Lenten Abandonment, and The Demise of the Prayer Closet, but at least one (facebook page) reader, who also happens to be a good friend, encouraged a more positive sounding outlook, so I took out some of the angst. It also turns out I've already blogged about giving up (for) Lent, so there's no need to repeat myself.
It's been an interesting week. Last Sunday evening our community group, hosted by the aforementioned good friend (hereafter referred to as AGF) and her husband, discussed whether there is such a thing as following or not following God's will when it comes to making decisions about our life (not about right and wrong). It came up because we're doing Storyline, Donald Miller's new project, and in it, he posits that when it comes to our vocation, we are free to choose what to do, same for marriage, and other life altering choices, that there is no one right path. Naturally, this brought up a discussion of Calvinism and God's sovereignty. Our church is Reformed (PCA), but not everyone in it is (welcome to Marin County). One person said that only applied to salvation. Others agreed that God doesn't expect us to consult him about what color socks we wear.
I struggled with the simplistic way that Miller offhandedly threw this out there, with absolutely no theological basis even mentioned. But as the discussion went on (including a disagreement over whether our church was really Reformed, despite my saying that our pastor told me from our first meeting that he was a "winsome Calvinist"), a light went on. If God really is sovereign, then sure, we can "choose" whatever path we want, because he's actually writing our story anyway - we just think we're choosing. Maybe this was what Miller was implying, since the book does, after all, purport to be a tool that helps us find our individual stories and how they fit in with God's greater story. My AGF pointed out the distinction between being puppets (which is often how Calvinism is misinterpreted, including by me for many years) and being characters in God's story.
Still, this doesn't mean we don't seek God in our decision making. I mentioned that way back when I did Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God study (which I didn't finish, because my husband and I were in the midst of our whirlwind courtship - same reason I dropped War and Peace, though I did recently read Anna Karenina, and we never got past the opening chapters of Boundaries in Dating...), I brought up how we are to seek to hear from God through prayer, the Bible, other people, circumstances, and his creation (I can't remember if there were more ways it said he reveals himself). I also asked everyone if, despite their "choices," things ever turn out the way they plan/envision. Everyone agreed that no, they do not. So we think we're controlling our futures, but we're not.
The very next day...I'm driving to the grocery store and having a dilemma - do I go to Trader Joe's, like I had planned, or do I go to Costco, because I need a bunch of stuff which is more economical there. As I argued both sides (I frequently identify with the lead character in Fiddler on the Roof, who always says "...on the other hand..."), I prayed that God would lead me. Approaching the exit lanes, I saw that they were quite congested, and it would be a bit challenging to get over. It felt like a wall had gone up. I decided this meant I should go to Trader Joe's.
Of course this reminded me of the previous night's discussion and the giggling about how silly it would be to invite God into those kind of petty details. Well, folks, this is how I live my life. Not all the time, but when I do, things actually turn out better. God really does care about every decision, and though he doesn't always make it clear which way to go, he does often enough, if we just ask him. And what can it hurt? Unless we don't leave the house until he audibly tells us which color socks to put on...then, it could be a problem.
...Back to Trader Joe's, and some evidence for what I've just put forth...within a few minutes of being in the store, I looked up and saw a friend from church (who is in our community group, but hadn't been able to attend the previous night because her son was sick). She was interested in what we had discussed, so I ended up debriefing her, and we had a really encouraging conversation and exchanged hugs (always good!). A little while later, I bumped into my mom, who knew I was going to be there, but wasn't sure exactly when, and she and I had a nice chat. Then, when I was in the check-out line, I saw an old friend I hadn't been in touch with for years, but lately had been thinking about more often, and wondering how she was.
Here, I should mention that this woman and I had originally met in the religion section of a bookstore, where I had engaged her in conversation, learned she was a Christian who had been hurt by the church, and so had not been in fellowship in several years. I invited her to the young adults group a bunch of friends and I had started to bring the singles from different churches together. She ended becoming part of our group and marrying a guy in it, shortly after I met and married my husband through that same group (it was called "Catalyst"). When I talked with her briefly at TJs, she told me where she and her husband were going to church - it was such a relief to know she was doing well and still following Jesus.
...If I had gone to Costco, like my logical brain was telling me to, instead of praying and being steered (literally) away from it to Trader Joe's, I would have missed those divine appointments. Yes, I may have run into people I know at Costco, but because this topic was so on my mind, I really believe this was God's way of affirming my seeking him, even in seemingly trivial decisions.
I'll talk about the re-repurposing of our bedroom closet and the war between the two places that share one location (homeschool) in my next installment, Lord willing...
Upon Advent Eve...
Life is a liturgy. We follow a pattern of worship not just on Sunday mornings and through the church year, but in our seven day week - in each day and each hour. We need structure and spontaneity, freedom and discipline, planned time and blank spaces. The liturgy of our lives should be purposeful and flexible - day by day, moment by moment. If we aren't intentional about ordering our time, then our pattern of worship (which is what every second of our lives is) will not be consistently meaningful or guiding us to grow. Repeated thoughts and actions are what make us who we are, so liturgy forms us. It's soil that roots us - do we want to be rooted in this earth or in Christ's kingdom? It is the rhythm of our lives - do we want to dance to the music of the world or the song of our Savior? I want to follow the Son, flourishing in the light, as I joyfully move in worship of my Creator.
When I was a freshman at Westmont College (the only year I would spend there), second semester I found myself in the little white chapel next to the pond almost every night (even though it was quite a hike from my dorm), and at other times as well. I was homesick (okay, lovesick, too - pining for a good friend that I hoped would become more - he didn't), lonely, and grieving the absence of my roommate (and kindred spirit) who had left after our first semester (to be with the boyfriend she thought she would marry - she didn't).
I felt such an aching that I longed for God to soothe. I didn't want to be where I was, but I had to for a few more months, so I sought solace in that prayer chapel, a place free of distractions, quiet and peaceful, where I could be alone with my Creator and Savior. It had a prayer notebook where chapel comers could write to God, which is what I did. And I read what others wrote. In fact, I even made some friends that way, because we sometimes wrote encouraging responses, thus beginning a dialogue. But my main purpose for going to the prayer chapel was to seek God, to be consoled by his presence, and to hear him speak life to me through his Word.
I also liked the security in the ritual of "escaping" to this private place. I knew I could go there at any time and that I would be refreshed. That I had a secret space to pour out my heart and to come undone with no one but God watching, and holding me next to his heart, even if I couldn't always feel that with my emotions. I would come away with that peace that passes all understanding, which Jesus promised his followers. I might be romanticizing it a bit, but whatever happened during that season of my life, I always remember it as the time when I experienced the deepest intimacy with God.
When I left Westmont, I sorely missed that sacred place. The heartache of unrequited love (actually more of a crush but I still felt devastatingly disappointed), the confusion of navigating my educational and career path, and many more challenging circumstances made me pine this time not for a guy or even a friend, but for a special meeting place with God. Anytime I would go on a retreat, if there was a place of prayer - be it a chapel or garden - I would gravitate there. I even started a flickr group specifically for people to post pictures of such small sacred spaces. I made up my mind that one day when I was married and had my own home, my husband would build a prayer chapel in the backyard.
Fast forward twenty years from my twenty year-old self, and now this forty year-old has finally entered the promised land. It doesn't quite look the way I imagined. It's not even a building, but then again, I have no backyard to put one in. And no one built it for me - it started with a simple thought I had one day while freshening up in the bathroom (funny how my best ideas often originate there). Our closet is attached to the master bath, so I began thinking...wouldn't it be nice if instead of using this tiny room for clothing storage, I turned it into a little spa where I could give people facials? Then I remembered that I wasn't an aesthetician but a homeschooling mom who couldn't even wash her own face on a regular basis, let alone provide pampering to others.
Another idea emerged. It was true that if I moved the clothes out, the approximate four foot by (just under ) six foot closet could actually be converted to a room. And if not an actual spa, wouldn't it be nice to have a restful room, a sanctuary of sorts? Thus was began the project of repurposing our master bedroom closet into a prayer closet (alternate names: upper room, secret place, sabbath chamber, sacred space, rest spot, quiet nook, hidden sanctuary).
Once everything was cleared out (I moved our clothes into the kids' closets - we may eventually get a wardrobe, in which case this idea will have birthed two magical places!), it was just a question of what to put in it. When I thought about seating, I kept picturing a moon chair. That ended up being the one extravagance of our humble prayer closet, but it was totally worth the splurge, as it has turned out to be exactly the right chair - I feel hugged whenever I sit in it! After taking one child at a time into the prayer closet, I realized it was a space where two or less could gather, so I wanted comfy, inviting seating for a child as well. That turned out to be a makeshift "lounger" I created out of throw pillows and a comforter (our winter one right now). When I'm alone (which is most common), it serves as a foot rest.
I didn't want to clutter up the place with stuff, and it's tight quarters, so I decided on one small, narrow bookshelf we already had. The shelves are for the Bible, my journal, and books to aid in prayer and worship. I started with just the basics, so as not overcomplicate things, but gradually I will add others we have that are helpful for practicing liturgy, sabbath, and the contemplative life.
The top of the bookshelf is mainly for the oil lamp, which allows me to adjust the brightness, unlike the large overhead light. Its only drawbacks are a faint odor and that it gives off a fair amount of heat, especially with the door closed (I sometimes leave it ajar) and if I have it turned up, so I also bought an aromatherapy diffuser plug-in halogen nightlight that has a dimmer switch. I put a few drops of essential oil - usually lavender - in the glass dish and its fragrance fills the room. I also keep some strongly scented candles on the overhead shelf (where I store memorabilia - pictures, journals, etc.), so that the room always has a distinct, gently floral aroma. Sometimes when I come upstairs to go to the bathroom in the middle of our school day, I'll splash water on my face, a spritz of rosewater toner, and then open the prayer closet door, inhale the sweetness, reminding me that in a little while I'll be able to retreat here. Just a glimpse of the room and a breath of its scent is soothing and calming.
Walls. Not the emotional kind. I'm talking white space. I knew I wanted imagery to evoke beauty and serenity in this special space, so I finally put to good use those old calendar pages I had saved - of Greece, the Mediterranean, whimsical garden scenes, waterfalls, Scriptures - and put them up, but not too too many, mind you. It's kind of funny because we've lived in our house seven years and I've still not hung our pictures on the walls!
Another thing about the lighting and the windowless space that occurred to me is that it's similar to what it would have been like it the catacombs, those underground passageways in Rome where the early church met in secret to worship (we were just studying that in our homeschool history). Ironic that their light shone brighter in those dark caves than out in the sun where the worship of of Christ was forbidden.
For the past year, my husband and I have been reading books about Sabbath keeping, and we've been trying to practice that in our family. Keeping the sabbath is a tangible way of seeking the rest and peace of God. By setting aside one day each week to cease from labor, consumerism, social media, etc., and to actively pursue the things of the spirit - in body, mind, and heart - it trains and empowers us to live that way in the midst of whatever pressures might surround us during the week.
I had the epiphany that this prayer closet symbolizes, and actually is a vehicle for that sabbath rest. It's a tangible expression of stopping and breathing and focusing on what really matters, and giving all my cares over to Jesus, and receiving his love, grace, truth, and whatever "word" he might speak to me for encouragement and growth.
A place. A day. These are actual solid tools, props if you will, to take all our good intentions and actually apply them. Illuminating the candles to start the sabbath. Lighting the oil lamp to begin a "quiet time." Saying blessings over the bread and the wine to remind ourselves of why we're at the Lord's Table and what we're entering into. Opening the Word to feast on God's goodness as I come to him alone, hungry and thirsty. These spaces, these ceremonies, these objects - they are examples of how our senses can be a gateway into what we cannot physically touch or taste or smell or hear or see. Liturgy - patterns that are repeated - engage all parts of who God made us. Through repetition, we go deeper and deeper into the knowledge of our Lord, becoming more intimate with him, just as our routines and traditions build closeness and strengthen the bonds in families - between husband and wife, between parents and children.
I'm only just beginning to use the prayer closet, and not nearly as often or as consistently as I want to, but already it has affected me deeply, and not just me. I have had very special times in it with each of my children. Quiet cuddling. Heart to heart talks. Prayerful problem solving. And each of them feels special when they get their alone time in it with me. Even just a few minutes, because usually that's all it is. Our middle child (age 8) set up her own prayer space underneath her desk! I nearly cried when she showed me. It brought home the truth that we lead by example more than words.
One last thing - for now - about this special space. I find that spending private time with God enhances the my experience of him in community. When I come to church on Sunday morning, the worship is that much sweeter when I have prepared my heart for it...or rather, God has. It also helps fill me with his grace and love, so that I have more of that to give to others. I'm not just in church desperate to be ministered to, but instead, I can minister from a full heart. Admittedly, I'm not totally there yet, but just like having a place for church helps motivate us to gather with the Body of Christ, so does the presence of a prayer closet invite me to come and meet with my Lord.
Reading this article about a ninety-five year-old woman who was one of Hitler's food tasters, I was struck by the conclusion:
Now at the end of her life, she feels the need to purge the memories by talking about her story. "For decades, I tried to shake off those memories," she said. "But they always came back to haunt me at night."
The walking wounded among us are not just holocaust survivors. Now is the time to begin dealing (with the past) and healing. Not wallowing in it, but praying through it, and in some cases, getting counseling, maybe for a season...or seasons...and not just for yourself, but for those close to you, with whom you are most likely to perpetuate the cycle of pain, if you don't stop it in its tracks.
We are born broken from our inherited sinful nature, and then the broken people who raise us inflict more damage, but when we invite God into the pain of the past, he picks up the pieces and makes us into magnificent mosaics. Fragile but held together by the strength of his love and radiant with his beauty. We are still his image bearers, even with the marks of our brokenness. And he joins us in our scars, his pierced hands and feet reminding us of his limitless love for those who will receive it.
Most people (well, only the lucky few who get them) take a sabbatical every seven years, but in my case, I've taken a sabbatical for seven years. Not from a job, though, but from what I'm doing right now: blogging.
Seven years ago (maybe even to the day), I signed off what was then known as the God blogosphere. I was part of that first wave of Christian bloggers who started talking aloud and then to each other. We created a larger dialogue that manifested itself in posts and comments and blog carnivals and even a convention - GODBLOGCON. Despite different denominations, backgrounds, ages, genders, and more, there was a kinship between us. That's not to say there wasn't also controversy and tension, but it didn't dominate our interactions.
My first blog was called Proverbial Wife. I started it in late 2003 or early 2004 (I had my first baby at that time, so it's a bit hazy, and I'm too lazy to go look it up). The name was a reference to the Proverbs 31 woman, whom I aspired to be, and it was quite catchy, but despite its popularity, I eventually changed it (felt like to much to live up to), and that - changing blog names - was to become a pattern with me. I can't even remember all the names, but the main ones were Marla Swoffer (as in dot com) and Marla's Musings and Always Thirsty. I also had multiple blogs at various times - notably, Olive Cheeses (food blog), GodBlogRoll (a directory of blogs categorized by bloggers' Myers-Briggs personality types), and Intellectuelle, a group blog of Christian women who won a writing contest I dreamed up - it was hosted by Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost.
I loved connecting with others who shared my faith and were deep thinkers, since it had rarely happened offline after I finished school. It was as close as I would get to being part of something like the Inklings - that group of Christian writers which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, my literary (and in Lewis' case, spiritual as well) heroes. Speaking of the Inklings, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the way my blog got its wings was when it was noticed by Jared Wilson, ringleader of what was then The Thinklings, a group blog, which though all male, I considered kindred spirits. They were the first ones to spread "the conversation" to my fledgling blog. (mind you, when I use that phrase, it has nothing to do with anything "emergent")
After 2+ years of blogging daily (or more), I had a solid readership, but the nagging feeling (conviction) that I needed to change my priorities finally got through to me with the news that I was pregnant with my third (and last) child. I had sensed that I should quit blogging when I was about to have my second child, a year before, but when an amazing and generous couple who read my blog gifted me with my first apple computer (which totally converted me) - a macbook (after I joked that I would blog during my labor if I only had a laptop) - I felt that I couldn't throw in the towel just yet, that with this second baby perhaps I'd finally master time management.
That was not to be. And instead of writing from inspiration, it had become an obligation to perform fueled by my desire for acceptance/affirmation/admiration as well as a more pure motive of wanting to encourage and connect with others. But there I had trouble as well - I was too transparent and vulnerable. I didn't "overshare" by today's blogging standards, but it was too much for my personality type (we INFJs are extremely private) and there were other factors at the time (see I've learned to censor myself) that made keeping certain deep things offline even more important (hint: never work out stuff on the internet that you haven't worked out with people in real life first).
The other problem was that because of being a crusader for truth, I was attracted to controversy, or it to me, but whatever the case, it got ugly. The stuff I alluded to in the aforementioned paragraph got mingled in with the online drama, which caused me major distress...and did I mention I was also in my first trimester of pregnancy? That brings me back to the biggest reason I had to quit blogging: my family. I had three year-old and one year-old daughters, with a son on the way. I wanted my attention to be focused on them - after all, they were the reason I was staying home. I also wanted to guard their privacy. And of course there was my husband, too. My online life definitely detracted from my real life - I simply couldn't spread myself so thin, especially being the slow, methodical, non multi-tasking person that I am. I won't even mention how my daily hours online affected the housework...
So that is why I quietly exited my public writing life seven years ago, feeling both relief and grief, but believing I would one day return to my writing (since I have always known - well, since high school - that it's a calling/vocation) when the kids were all in school and I would have my mornings free. That was supposed to have happened this last fall, but three years after I quit blogging, we unexpectedly became a homeschooling family, and I knew things would never unfold the way I had planned, but I also didn't (and don't) regret being on this path...and adventure really...that God has marked out for us. I also know how much it will enrich my writing.
Somewhere in there, I started blogging again (what can I say, I couldn't stay away), but not with my real name and not with any consistency. Thus I had no readership until a couple of years ago when I adopted the Literary Mom pseudonym. I was already a regular Facebook customer (see, even quitting my day blog couldn't keep me offline...sigh...), so setting up a writerly page really couldn't be helped. Thus, instead of blogging, I was blurting out thoughts and curating information for others (i.e. amassing lots of interesting links that came into my massive news feed caused by an untold number of page likes). That continues to this day, though I have "unplugged" from Facebook for weeks and months at a time (fasting it from it for Advent or Lent usually) to sort of reset myself. The internet is paradoxically a perpetual source of angst and delight for me as a person and a writer. I have a love-hate relationship with it and its social media offspring.
This past Lent, I gave up white flour and sugar and alcohol (except on feast days of course), and found myself blogging a little more frequently, which was what I set out to do, albeit half-heartedly. It felt surprisingly right and good. That got me thinking about how long it had been since I had left the God blogosphere; I realized it was exactly seven years. Through the working out of various circumstances (including a reconciliation I consider miraculous) in recent months, I had felt a gentle nudging to come out of hiding, so to speak, but also a sense of trepidation. Nothing had changed for me to be able to suddenly devote myself to my writing - my kids aren't little, but they're still young - and homeschooling is very consuming. So I really wasn't sure what the point in using my real name now would be, yet I also started to feel bothered about my picture being a face behind a book. While it had been apt for a season, I sensed that keeping it (and continuing to not use my real name) began to reflect a kind of cowardice that didn't apply to me. In fact, overcoming fear continues to be a major theme in my life.
So the seven year timing (I'm big on patterns and symbols and rhythms), feeling free to be myself, and rediscovering the joy of writing all gave me the inspiration to throw off the anonymity that bound me and cautiously start a new chapter in my blogging life, going forward with the lessons learned from my previous one, as well as what I have learned during these past seven years of relative reclusivity.
Here are some of my blogging resolutions:
I will not market myself or network or have giveaways (not really my personality anyway).
I will not blog out of compulsion or obligation or on any kind of timetable.
I will steer clear of controversial subjects, especially pertaining to other bloggers and their views.
I will write to express what matters, not just to me, but to others, and most of all, to God.
I will keep my family my first priority and not let blogging distract me or steal time from them.
I will be careful about what I share, guarding my family's privacy and not getting too personal.
If I am ever unsure, I will pray about what to say. I will not impulsively blog.
I will not compare myself to other bloggers or compete with them.
I will not feel compelled to respond to every comment. In fact, responding to comments will be the exception rather than the rule.
I was tempted to title this "My Recurring e-Harmony Nightmare" because that's what it feels like. At first it was humorous. Then amusing. Eventually annoying. And now agonizing. Just when I think it's gone for good, that I've worked through whatever issue it stems from, it returns. Again. And again.
It goes like this: I am 40 (before I was 40, it was my late thirties), I am single, I am depressed, I am feeling my biological clock tick. I feel scared and lonely and desperate. Just when I am going through this panic/dread, I have an epiphany: e-Harmony! But of course! Why didn't I think of that sooner?! I need to get online right now and meet the man of my dreams.
Sometimes it ends right there. Other times just as I'm planning to try it, I realize that I am married and have children...and I am very happy to suddenly remember that. The other night - it had been a while since my last e-Harmony dream - I actually didn't even get as far as e-Harmony, and there was a bit of twist, because this time it was all about wanting children, and being afraid I wouldn't be able to. It was a horrible feeling, so I was whimpering in my sleep, and my husband woke me up and comforted me. That was a better ending than usual, but I still can't figure out why I have this dream over and over, albeit sporadically. It's been happening for the last three or four years or maybe even longer. I would say I've dreamt it at least ten times, about once a quarter, sometimes in clusters, sometimes with long stretches in between.
My theories thus far:
1. During my decade long quest for my soulmate, searching for "the one" became part of my identity and purpose in life, so those roots are resurfacing (read more here).
2. When e-Harmony came out, shortly after I met my husband, I thought it was really cool, since it used Myers-Briggs personality typing to match people. Part of me was disappointed that I didn't get to try it - not because I didn't think my husband was the right guy for me, but because of my insatiable curiosity.
3. It's somehow representative of all my deepest fears - of unfulfilled longings, unmet expectations, abandonment, inadequacy, etc.
4. It's a sign for me to pray for my single friends and to encourage them to sign up for e-Harmony. I've actually done this. Both praying and nudging.
...Well, when I told my husband what my bad dream was, he had the best explanation yet:
It's so that I'll wake up thankful to God for my family.
So since I've failed to have a consistent Bible reading plan for...oh, a number of years...I had hoped to try afresh with the start of the church year, but it didn't happen until the advent of Lent (pun intended), at which point I began following the daily office of the Book of Common Prayer, which takes you through the Bible in two years in a sequential fashion - not in order or chronologically, but through three books of the Bible at a time with each day having a passage from the Old Testament, the Gospels, and an Epistle. It also has several psalms (think it takes you through them twice). Thematically, the readings are patterned after the seasons of the liturgical calendar. The idea is to read the Word morning, noon, and night, but I usually just do it in the mid-afternoon when my children are having quiet time in their rooms, and if I miss that, then right before I go to sleep, or if I miss that, then two days' worth at once (which is what's happened this week). I haven't yet worked in the psalms, but I'm hoping to read one in the morning and one at night.
Today I read in Deuteronomy and Hebrews about belief vs. unbelief (God's faithless and unfaithful chosen people) , and then Jesus' words in John 3 about baptism and spiritual rebirth...fast forward to tonight when I read The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (C.S. Lewis' favorite author) to my daughters, the chapter was all about belief /unbelief - including the truth that even seeing isn't always believing, and it used the imagery of baptism - the princess submersed in a a magical bath that cleanses and renews her, inducing a peaceful sleep. As we were discussing the Christian symbolism (really the first time it's been obvious and we're pretty deep into the book) of believing the gospel, dying to our sinful self, and becoming born again, which baptism represents, I suddenly realized it was all so evident to me because I had just read it in the Bible! Yet another divine serendipity...
I left the debut meeting of a new book club (six women from my church) wondering if Literary Mom is a misnomer. I'm really not all that widely read when it comes to fiction and other forms of creative writing. I love good literature but it's only recently (thanks to classically educating my children) that I've begun to read the classics. As for novels written in the last one hundred years (other than Lewis & Tolkien), I've only read what I was required to in school, so when the other women were bouncing book titles off each other, I was strangely brought back to middle school P.E. where the ball was passed to everyone but me. It didn't take long for them to figure out I wasn't athletic, and after a few rounds of literary back and forth (i.e. have you read xyz?), I was on the sidelines. Of course no one made me feel inferior (except maybe my own self), but it was cause for introspection.
What have I missed by not reading fiction written in the last 50 years? 20 years? Decade? I've read biographies, memoirs, and all sorts of non-fiction, though I admit mainly Christian books, but I do think (and I say this rather sheepishly) there are at least half as many good ones as bad ones out there (but that's sort of an evolving assessment). I've also read many spiritual classics, and I continue to be drawn those kind of books. I'm just now coming to a fuller appreciation of story, but I am skeptical of what modern writers who don't know Christ have to teach me through their imagination. I don't want to invest precious time in their words - honestly, I'd rather just see the movie...and even that has become rare. Instead, I have a strange affinity for serial TV shows. If I'm going for pure entertainment, I don't want to have to do any work, and I prefer the story not to end, so I can chill out with the characters I've come to know and love.
So when I do buckle down and read a work of fiction, I have to believe it will be relevant and redemptive...if not life altering. Who are these authors? What are they filling their minds with? The creators of worlds and peoples and situations...they all draw from their life experiences and beliefs and observations, which they make through the lens of where they come from and what they've been taught to see. Just because someone can tell a good story, does that mean the story is good? Should we be intimately influenced by so many voices? Do we even know how they are affecting and shaping us?
If you're a fellow INFJ (or even if you're not), are you always on a quest to find the perfect ______? Do you enjoy the thrill of the search more than actually finding whatever it is? Once you find it, are you on to looking for the next thing? For me right now it's road trips. We've never camped, so I'm hunting for the perfect spot for a weekend getaway - not too far from home, but not so close it's familiar; not too modern but not too primitive (showers); woods and also water; fishing for the husband and swimming for the kids; not lots of bugs or poison oak...and on it goes.
Before I was married, my quest was finding my "soulmate" - that kept me occupied for about a decade...not that I didn't look for other things in the meantime - research (introverted thinking) is the INFJ's tertiary/hobby function. Once I met my husband, the new "thing" became finding ways to celebrate special occasions - anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, vacations - I'm sure that, combined with the spiritual aspect, is what drew me to all things liturgical. I love the concept of making something new out of the old and of building traditions that are rejuvenated by creative interpretations.
What's interesting is that the brainstorming, the planning, and the anticipation often turn out to be more fulfilling than the thing itself. In the case of something permanent - like marriage and motherhood - thankfully that hasn't been true (though I have a strange recurring dream that I'm turning 40 - which I am shortly - and I'm still single, but just when I'm on the verge of hopelessness, I remember eHarmony - this dream is *very* annoying). With short-term quests, though, I sometimes spend more hours researching (and building up expectations) than actually doing whatever it is. I've read that actually most people enjoy the anticipation of a trip more than the trip itself.
INFJs, with our dominant introverted intuition always idealizing, our extroverted feeling making us want to be emotionally fulfilled while pleasing others, our preference for judging that drives us to perfectionism, planning, and getting everything settled, our introverted thinking function that analyzes everything to death...when all that goes into something that will be realized (lived out) with our inferior function of extroverted sensing - it can be somewhat of a letdown. I'm drawn to camping because it taps into that part of me that's not as developed - the hands-on sensory world - and in the best way, by enjoying God's creation. Still, all of my vicarious virtual camping is not going to translate to the perfect family getaway. I will struggle with setting up tents, getting dirty, lacking creature comforts, hearing the kids whining, quarreling with my husband over the best way to roast marshmellows (just kidding), fighting off mosquitoes, hauling stuff around, etc. Most of all, when it's over, I will feel the urge to look for something new to do, but really I'll be seeking something to think about, dream about, look forward to...
If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world. ~C.S. Lewis
I wrote this 12 years ago, but every summer it comes back to me, because it's still so true...
June 26, 2000
(if you have the REM song, it makes a nice soundtrack to this)
I am lying on my back, staring up into the great arms of the giant Oak stretched out across the dusky sky. Floating on this bed of water, it is as though I am flying without motion. Beneath me, I feel a light touch, an almost imperceptible grasp from head to toe. Invisible hands wrapped around my body, becoming one with it so that I am barely conscious of my physical self.
My mind, no longer barking out frenzied orders to the rest of me, readily relinquishes control to the unseen forces. My senses, too, are at rest--all except for my vision, and even that is obscured by the darkness that now covers the earth. Gazing into the blue-black expanse above me, I see the faint glow of stars illuminating the night one by one, their distant radiance whispering an other worldly existence. Against this ethereal backdrop, the branches of the Oak spread high and wide; they are strong and real and tangible. Yet this tree, like me, is reaching out for something more.
The perfect stillness purifies my thoughts, making them clearer and simpler. Like taking breathing for granted until you open a window in a stuffy room and take in the unexpected pleasure of delicious, fresh air. Or drinking out of a mountain stream and remembering what water is supposed to taste like. My mind, bathed in tranquility, returns to its oft forgotten childlike faith that trusts and hopes without reserve. I revel in the serenity of this place, imagining heavenly hands holding me up as I surrender my will to my Creator. The moment feels timeless to my soul, but my mind, too finite to comprehend the wonder, doubts. I feel the water begin to cover my face, fear sets in and I sink. I rise and fall again and again, relishing the minutes when I’m not bound by my human frailty.
I cannot stay in God’s calming presence forever but it is just long enough for me to have the strength to swim. As I labor to go across the pool, my arms and legs pumping furiously, my breathing rapidly increasing, I am aware that I am not doing most of the work. He is still carrying me as I travel back and forth, gently reminding me that it’s okay to stop and float.