I’m driving home on a cool Autumn morning, having dropped my children off for their day at school. I’m trying to focus. Trying to sort out the best way to organise my day. The tasks are many; although perhaps not as many as they seem to be. My husband made an honest observation a few weeks ago that struck some quiet place within me; ‘I’ve noticed, Rach, that the things you have to do take up more mental real estate than they need to.’
Another way of saying, ‘You stress too much.’
It’s true, I admit it.
But how can I not? There are just so many things to be done; so many glaring, obvious demands (the 2000 plus emails in my inbox; an assortment of spam and necessary flux, intermingled for my convenience, the dirty dishes and work calls to be made, the children’s bedrooms which seem to be perpetually in a state of disarray no matter how much time I put into them; truly the black hole of our existence, where plates and bobby pins, pens and socks are swallowed in the abominable pit that is my children’s bedroom floors…) Amidst the tasks of adult life; the physical matter that makes our world run smoothly; food to eat, money to be made, bills to be paid, there are the invisible demands; the one’s that quietly wait in the corner of our life and so often come to us in the silent moments.
What is my life? What am I called to be doing? What is it all for?
I’m not alone in these inquiries and I have found that as I get older, they become more persistent, more anxious. I thought I would have got there by now. Where is ‘there’? You might ask…oh, I think you know it. You probably have your own ‘there’… That elusive place of accomplishment; that settled place of existence whereby we have completed our purpose in life or at least are comfortable snug in the middle of it’s unfolding.
I’m thirty-eight years old, a few months from thirty-nine. In a bit more than a year I’ll be forty, then fifty, then sixty or so it seems (older readers will laugh. Thirty-eight is still young, they will say); yet I feel so far from the expectations I held of myself; those quiet yet confident visions I had of my life before I truly started living it.
It was a given; an assurance; without a doubt I would be who I needed to be; I would achieve the dreams birthed in my heart; the ones that I knew without question were as hardwired as my DNA; the desire to explore, uncover truth, connect the dots of life and lead people to God. I was going to write and draw and heal sick animals. Speak from platforms and give people the ‘aha!’ moments of life; the ones that elevated their understanding of this present reality; the ones that opened their eyes to see that their lives were not a mistake or some cosmic accident. They were here for a purpose and that purpose was found in God.
I didn’t doubt. I would get there. It was too clear, too obvious a vision; I couldn’t have manufactured it. It had to be part of my wiring.
The years go by, and they are filled with many things; unexpected things, both glorious and exquisitely painful. The birth of our children, my husband’s bankruptcy and the loss of our home, friendships sweeter than wine; healing balm amidst the chafing; betrayals and difficult relationships that hurt more than they heal. The agonies of marital disruption; the closeness to another as skin touches skin and God’s glory is revealed between the sheets of our queen-sized bed. It’s all there; existing quietly amidst the daily ritual of the mundane. Look close and you may see it.
In my daily life I see men as trees walking. Some seem to be more alive than myself; most of them with noble intentions; all of them living this life in the same way that we each live; to the best of our ability and understanding. Righteous men. People who seek to do right by their families, their employers. Men and women who seek to leave their mark somewhere, whether it be in the development of their children’s hearts, financial freedom for their loved ones, touching the justice system so that evil is locked away and lost has the chance to be found, teachers who seek to write on the hearts of the next generation. Good men, good people; people who echo the mark of who they are; created beings made in the image of a creator God.
What was it that God did at the beginning of time?
Genesis 1 tells us in glorious and perplexing simplicity; In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.
What, that’s it?
We read on. He made them with the words of His mouth; bringing things into being by the dual work of His mind and His words. What He envisioned unfolding before Him; the cosmos’ with all its wonder and confusion; the trees and the honey bees, dirt and sand and finally the glory of His creation; man. Creatures of dust breathed with the breath of life. He set them in what He had made and said ‘Go. Create. Procreate. Help and Rule. Caretake. Be in this world that I have created.’
As Cs Lewis has stated, ‘No philosophical theory which I have yet come across is a radical improvement on the words of Genesis that, ‘In the beginning God made heaven and earth’’ And yet how this audacious claim has come under attack; A God, really? One who existed before time? Who created Him?, asks the rational mind, the critical mind, the mind that likes to understand all things.
Let’s not even get started on the seven-day creation story where all that was made was apparently made. It’s simple, to say the least. It is no wonder that Jesus said we needed to become as little children to receive the words of God. Clearly, anyone with a greater grasp of the sheer mechanics of the universe would no doubt wonder, scoff even, at this audacious God who claims He is. Just is.
And yet I cannot move past this story; this simple unfolding of Genesis 1. Like Lewis, I’m captivated by the simple wisdom of it all and I see in it the secret to life.
We are made in the image of God; and we cannot settle until we enter into that place of understanding. It is the cry of all at some point in the living of their life; what am I here for? Why? And yet there it is; the fullness of it simply laid out in that children’s church chapter; ‘In the beginning, God…’
The Revelation contains the end of the story. And we, we live our lives on the pages in between. Glory and pain intricately woven in the fabric of daily life; monotony, discouragement, purposelessness and doubt emerge and it would not be natural if they did not. What is the point of this in-between? Between glory and destruction, followed by the recreation of all that was made, Why? Why are we made to live out this earth-bound life with all it’s glaring pains and injustices, futilities and maddening stupidity? What is the point of that gap; that small stroke between the beginning of something and the end of something; that dash on the tombstone, those chapters in between Genesis and Revelation, those gaps in my day as I drive home from school pickup?
In my more audacious moments, I take risks. I knock on the gates of the quiet-kept lives of people to whom I feel drawn. They may invite me in, they may turn me away as a canvasser. More painful are those ones who let me in then after time, gently but firmly led me to the gate.
To live is risk.
To love, even braver still.
To learn, may be the highest glory of a created being.
Learning doesn’t always take place in the classroom or the pew; the real learning takes place in living; life, lived alongside others banished to this half-broken world.
As I write, I am thinking of men. The ones who so often seem to be the most broken in this world; although this statement will no doubt open me to a barrage of criticism. As women, we are broken too, that is for sure; none of us scrape through this life without bearing wounds from the shards of a broken paradise. But men; men, the firstborn of creation; how they seem so resolute, so firm in their brokenness.
How unable so many of them seem to be able to lift their vision; to see the image in the Magic Eye reality. Amidst the spiritless and relentless rhythm of life, how hard it can be for them to see the breaks; the shifts in the pattern where something new, something wonderful may emerge. And perhaps this is part of their makeup, even, part of their curse; to work relentlessly with their hands in a world that yields little crop. I so admire the steadiness and single-mindedness of so many of the men in my world. The world would not be here were it not for their persistence. And yet, as a woman, how I long to shake them. To tell them that yes, there is still wonder in the universe, there is something terribly beautiful beneath the surface, waiting to crack open. That their engagement is a vital part of this glory being revealed.
Women. Helpmates. Seers of invisible things. The Glory of men, not without our own deep wounds and deep woundings that we inflict on men and women alike. Not better, but different. Not universal in our unique identities, but with so many crossovers of understanding; so many that only the fabric of creation story finds a place for each thread.
How often we long for our men to see. To see the hidden worlds that we do; the resignment in the eyes of our children when passed over by their fathers; the world they are forming in their mind through our dealings with them. How often it hurts to see; to see something ugly and painful being made in the space that was created for glory; for revelation, for workmanship, for connection.
So many of the women I know work so diligently in the trenches of their children’s understanding; digging, shaping and rerouting those connections of neurons that have made the wrong path; have learned the wrong thing, experiences and encounters that have lead the exploring and trusting mind to painful conclusions that do not give them wings, but instead pour concrete over their feet. Mama-bears they are, workers by candlelight building a garden for dawn.
How lost we become, when things began to stray; when the threads we are weaving seem to unravel at our own fingertips. Our sight grows blurry. We were not made to build alone.
In the garden of beginnings, where all was made good, there was one thing that was not:
‘And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”’ Genesis 2:18
Not more, not less. Not higher nor lower, but comparable.
How we need them as they need us. What better pairing could there be than details and long-term orientation, the building of visible worlds on the foundations of that which is invisible? What a beautiful and glorious union, this creation, this pairing of that which is different, but comparable.
Two sides to the same coin, as my husband so wisely said.
It doesn’t follow a cookie-cut pattern; not all women are alike, nor men the same. But comparable, now that is a phrase I can sit with, a concept that seems to hold all the loose ends.
And in it, I find some secret; some great mystery revealed in the unfolding of creation. Of co-creating.
At the beginning of time, there were three; the Word, the Spirit and God. All one, all separate, all dancing in rhythm to the song of creation. Each with a unique sphere of operation; congruent, whole, connected, perfect.
Each expressing, creating, seeing.
And in that seeing, saw all; the pain and the glory; the knowledge that mankind would fall, that all would be repeated; the wayward heart of man, cutting its way through the earth; a scar on creation. And yet still, created.
Still decided that creation was good. Still set forth the rhythm upon which the axis of the world hangs; the unfolding of time when all things will be reconciled.
We live in the gap.
How doomed, it all seems.
Perhaps you are living the good life. Perhaps you have established wealth, love, wisdom, success. May it be all it is intended to be; a signpost. Perhaps you are muddling in the rubble, like me, finding shards and coal and diamonds alike in your daily travels.
Perhaps something in you hungers for more, wonders if there is more.
The world needs you, pilgrim.
The world needs your honest inquiry.
Don’t cut yourself short. Follow the starting thought to its end conclusion. Don’t throw your hands up in the middle, nor come to a hasty conclusion that isn’t a conclusion at all.
What do your eyes see? Where is glory marking the way? Gold paint spatters that you may be too busy to see…You are a co-creator. What has he called you to make?
‘Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.’ Genesis 1:26-28