On Overflow

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It feels silly, but I have to be honest. I’ve had the draft of this blog post open on my laptop for over a month. The blank page stares at me square in the eyes every time I open my computer, reminding me that I have work to do. But I can’t. I haven’t…even though I’ve been wanting to write something, anything, for a while.

A month ago, I had a conversation with a friend who recently landed a full-time job as a Creative Director here in the city. Before the job, she was drawing and painting in her free time. Now, not so much. She says she feels burned out; that she’s using up all of her creative juices Monday through Friday and doesn’t have the energy or inspiration to let her creativity overflow into her off-hours art.

I’ve been thinking about overflow (and burnout) for a while. But I’ve stopped here. I’ve known the title of this post since I began the draft, but I haven’t had anything to say about overflow because frankly, I’ve been running on empty. I can’t fake this until I make it.

As I began to take inventory of my life, I noticed a pattern – I’d made meaningful progress sleeping well, exercising regularly, eating healthy, and planning fun adventures to look forward to, but I was still exhausted. Utterly exhausted. My efforts to sculpt the “healthy life” haven’t been enough to cultivate real rest. Why? How could it be? Although I’m not at Oscar anymore, I’ve still found a way to overbook my social calendar. I love adventures with friends, enjoy building my side recruiting hustle, and want to do my job well – but sometimes (translation: all the time) I exceed my capacity and end up feeling drained. I realized a clear signpost of my burnout when I had begun to think of scheduled time with friends as an obligation, something to push through and to try to enjoy as best as possible, not as a joy. Two weeks ago I told my counselor that I was “so glad” to get a miserable virus that knocked me out of commission for several weeks. I had to stay home to get well, and I was thankful for it. That was the final straw.

It’s taken almost 27 years for me to learn that I’m not an extrovert. I love being with people, but I also love alone time.  Growing up, my mom would call it “SRB time.” She still does. I recharge best by myself, with a book, a bike, a long walk, a bouquet to arrange – you get it.

Why does all of this matter?

It matters because I’m finally learning that overflow and sabbath rest are intrinsically connected. You see, I thought that if I measured out my time in the perfect combination of rest, work, exercise, and fun and disciplined myself to stick to that plan, then I’d magically become this whole and healthy person. What I didn’t realize was that creating a balanced life meant I need to realize something outside of the perfect Instagram formula: the way God made me. The Psalmist says, “for he knows us, he remembers that we are but dust.” As an introvert in a bustling city, I too often forget how draining this place can be for someone like me. I don’t give myself the room to recharge and enjoy – what the Sabbath is all about. But I must. Remembering my frame – that I was created for God’s good pleasure as an introvert – is giving me the freedom to pull back from all of these good things, even if progress means an initial baby step backwards (I write this post with a fever from my bed, evidence of pushing too hard).

The Sabbath was made for humans. We all need it. But we need the rest that is right for us and we need to protect that rest. We’re all different.  The perfect equation of  sleep, work, commuting, exercise, and rest for one person, may not be the perfect equation for you. Arranging fresh flowers is one of the most life-giving things on the planet to me, but it may not be for you.  When I give my soul uncontrived rest, I take the oxygen mask and put it over my face first. Once it’s secured, I can turn to help someone else out of my overflow. I must protect my Sabbath rest to have the capacity to be whole, and to let that love and freedom overflow to others too. I must remember that I am but dust.

On Disappointment

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The past weeks have been dimmed by a cloud of disappointment. Great and grand hopes and dreams have not been dashed to the ground – in a strange way it seems like those would be easier to bounce back from – but rather by a myriad of small things. Mom always called the soft edges of this phenomena death by a thousand cuts, those ‘oh no’s!’, ‘I wish they would have,’ or ‘I was looking forward to,’ moments that will never come to be. Moments where you realize that reality, after all, will not meet the shape or size of your expectations.

On Sunday afternoon I cried walking down Atlantic Avenue. I had reached my relational capacity over the weekend and could not wait to be home to relegate myself from society and the world. The week had taken too much out of me and I needed a safe refuge. All I could think about was hopping into my bed and tucking myself between the freshly laundered sheets to sleep. The moment I noticed a troupe of winter boots outside my home I felt my heart fall to the ground. I burst into tears and called my parents once I realized that the thing I needed would not happen. My fingers began to tingle in response to the distress. It was dramatic.  The last thing I felt like I could do was make small talk with relative strangers, so I went on a walk to calm down and wait out the swarm of people buzzing in the apartment.

I’ve been tasting a strange cocktail of disappointment and joy these weeks.  I’ve found myself enjoying life in a more deep and profound way. I’m pursuing things I love that give me life out of freedom, and not despite guilt. Yet, these great experiences and adventures have exacerbated my profound longing for deep friendship.  In the Problem of Pain, CS Lewis writes about this pain saying, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

A few years ago I would have been ashamed by my longings, these expectations (dare I say, needs) cloaked in high level aspirations; especially when they went unmet. As Lewis said above, it’s easier to admit to a stubbed toe than to admit that yes, you did actually want that thing after-all.  I’m OK tackling life by myself, but I am human. I want to be known, loved, and taken care of and I want to know, love, and take care of others too. Life becomes exhausting without a mutual, shoulder-to-shoulder give-and-take. I crave deep friendship and care in my current context here in New York City.

Throughout the joy and disappointment of the last weeks, in a paradox as natural as the Gospel, these longings have been sustaining my heart and pointing it where it needs to be: towards the furious love of God. I’d rather experience the frustration, delight, and pain of the past weeks, the highs and lows together and not one without the other; or worse, neither.

My longings won’t be completely satisfied in this world. No matter how beautiful, perfect, joyful, or terrible things may be, I know vindication of my longings will come someday.  In The Everlasting Man, Chesterton wrote “Indeed the Lord of Compassion seems to pity people for living rather than for dying.” Lord of Compassion, give me grace to sustain the disappointments and the joys of life and truly live.

On the Shape of Rest

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Shalom. Rest. Delight.

As I look back at my loosely defined 2017 resolution to “rest more,” I’m encouraged to see that it’s already taken shape in my life over the last three weeks. “Rest more” has become the still small voice of grace speaking truth to my overactive mind. Each morning, this voice reminds me that I am free to live apart from the expectations that I place on myself: that it’s OK not to be the perfect employee and arrive at the office by 8am — instead, I have the liberty to read Scripture and write before diving into my commute. This grace frees me from condemning myself for lying in bed well past 9am on a Saturday instead of hitting the gym at 7 like I had planned. It’s given me the grace to read a book at home because I’m exhausted instead of shopping for groceries or running out for long-put off errands. It’s helped me be OK to come home from the office early and cancel my evening plans because I’m sick and need to sleep and get well. This season of grace is helping me learn to be wise. It’s teaching me understand my limits and put boundaries around the things that I need, instead of striving to accomplish the things I think I need to do. I’m learning that rest doesn’t equate to sloth and that leisure does not necessitate idleness. In fact, I’m building my capacity to be present with others and to love them out of the bounty of delight and not from the emptiness of obligation.

Though I’m in the wake of a new job transition, this season of rest is helping me learn how to live on a full tank rather than running on frantic fumes all the time.

How are you letting yourself experience grace?

On Resolutions and Rest

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As the final hours of the day usher in the new year, I can’t help but think about the defining features of 2016.

This year, I did something different. I decided to invert the New Years tradition of making resolutions. Rather than restricting x, y, or z from my life, I decided I wanted to find something that would open up my life and give me a catalyst for a new sense of freedom (I’m overly responsible, so a little push goes a long way). After the doozy of 2015 and the emotional paralysis I worked through during the beginning of the year, my resolution became “drink more.”

I didn’t give myself a license for license or drunkenness, but instead, pushed on a tender place in my own heart. I’d often been self righteous, clinging to the reality that I am wise and responsible. It’s true, I am stupid responsible (it’s my top strengthsfinder), but that pride – especially when it came to alcohol – became a crutch for too many things: a fear of spending money, a fear of irresponsibility, fear of not knowing what to order, and of self-righteousness a la “How come you can’t be responsible when you drink?”

The exhortation to drink more became an opportunity: when a colleague or friend asked to grab a drink, I had the impetus to do it. No excuses, no cop-outs. And I learned quickly that the price of a glass of wine is infinitely less than the value of the enjoyment, time and conversation it affords. For, as Eliot says in Choruses,”What life have you, if you have not life together?” It’s been a delightful, full, and humbling year.

This week I’ve been thinking about what I want to put on in 2017 and I can’t get the ideas of liturgy or rest out of my mind.  If what you love most most defines your life, then I need to reorder my loves. And I need to break from the inane pace of the city and my obsession with my job to do this. I want 2017 to be defined by “resting more.” I want to cease striving and be OK with taking the first and last minutes of the day to read a book, write some thoughts down, or orient my heart in the right way rather than rushing to get to the office before 8am or checking my email before I fall asleep.

I want my life in 2017 to be defined by an intentional pursuit of the things that will shape my heart in the right way. At a high level, this means loving what is most lovely, pursuing what is good, holding fast to what is true, and rightly honoring what is beautiful. Phew, it’s easy to say, but in practice, I’m sure it’s going to be a grand endeavor. I don’t know exactly what liturgy-lived-out should look like in my day-to-day just yet, but I think it means creating space for rest and the opportunity for reorientation, reflection, and repentance.

It’s not likely that each day will culminate in a grandiose climax where all things suddenly come together before an adversary is defeated. Rather, I have a feeling it will look a monotonous slog; a long obedience in the same direction. That is what Nietzsche said made life worth living. Though a mad man, he’s on to something. In Come to Think of It, GK Chesterton speaks about keeping the sabbath routine, “now the one thing that is essential to man is rhythm; and not merely a rhythm in his own life, but to some extent in the living world around him.”  I think it’s OK to extend this statement beyond the sabbath and onto everyday of the week. This year I want to give myself the freedom to recognize the limits of my humanity and my essential need for a rhythm, a liturgy, to guide my heart and life towards the right things; the things that will feed my soul.

Here’s to 2017, that it would bring with it a new, intentional rhythm of rest.

On the Romance of Adventure

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IMG_1163.jpg2016 has been a year of felt adventure – unexpected pain and inconvenience – defining and shaping the course of my life. Sorrow mixed with winter’s snow began to convince me that I may never taste happiness again, but to my astonishment, the agony in my heart began to melt away with the onset of spring. As I pressed into my anguish, what I thought should be a season of bitterness turned instead into a year of rich recovery; brim full with immensity of life.  The roots of my soul received redemptive rain reviving the dry, shriveled shell of the human that I had become, and by summer I was ablaze with joy.

Tonight I’ve been reflecting on the delight and hardship that I’ve walked through this year and the following passage from Heretics that I quoted back in April keeps coming to mind:

The thing which keeps life romantic and full of fiery possibilities is the existence of these great plain limitations which force all of us to meet the things we do not like or do not expect. It is vain for the supercilious moderns to talk of being in uncongenial surroundings. To be in a romance is to be in uncongenial surroundings. To be born into this earth is to be born into uncongenial surroundings, hence to be born into a romance.  – GKC, Heretics

This year has been more romantic than I could have imagined: I’ve had to do more things that I’ve disliked without money, a fallback plan, or an easy escape. It’s been a dreadfully hard year. In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis says that”…we must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time…But why now?…It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us.”

I may not be looking at the canyon from the other side just yet, but persevering through this year has helped me come alive. I’ve begun to remember who I am and rediscover the things I love. I’ve begun to build my life around a new rhythm, one that understands my limitness, yet glories in it, because it gives me the grace to be a finite human in a turning world. I’m not supposed to be able to do it all or have everything together. And I’ve grown ever-more confident that He wants to do and is doing great things – not only in my life but all over this beautiful, languished world.

He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it, if I let him.  Lewis continues, “if we let Him – for we can prevent Him, if we choose – He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but this is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.”

What could be more of an adventure than this?

On the right time

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What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
-TS Eliot

Tonight this difficult yet unfathomably rich season of life comes to a close. Tomorrow my new roommate moves into the apartment.

For the first time in almost eleven months I will not live alone. This marks the end of a time of want and waiting, all-the-while tasting (though reluctantly) the unexpected provision and unwavering hope that only God can provide. I’ve spent eleven months terrified for the most part – asking God to open his hand and take care of me. And he has. The floodgates have opened and I’ve drunk deeply of his goodness. But even amidst miraculous moments of provision, I’ve not trusted him because sometimes his provision doesn’t look like provision. At times it’s looked like foolishness or an almost-empty bank account, yet he’s been gracious enough with me to continuously take away the things (like a roommate) I did not need until the right time; until now.  He gave me almost a year to pause, to be still, to heal, to grow and to get back up on my feet again. Even when I could not see his hand, he’s cared for me as he’s cared for the sparrows in Matthew 6, never failing to provide for my needs.

Tonight marks the bittersweet welcome of a new season – the shape and flavor I won’t know anything about until tomorrow afternoon.

I’ve worked hard all weekend to create space for Marie. Tonight I rest. Tonight I lay in humble gratitude remembering and celebrating the reality that God has provided for all my needs according to his riches in glory by Christ. Tonight I rest knowing full well that as I enter into this next season he has not and will not forget about me.

 

On Want and Ambition

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Do you ever feel that daily actions are symptoms of things that lie close to your heart? For example, maybe at the heart of incessant performance lies a fear of not being good enough at x, y, or z. Or maybe your inability to stay home on a work night is the outworking of self-obligation to see those people you promised to hang out with, but actually don’t want to.

I think most of my actions (at least historically) are the symptoms of fear or the attempt to cover that fear up. I’m good at tucking things far away into the recesses of my heart, so when I try to answer simple questions or sort through thoughts, my mind becomes like the image above — blurry and out of focus.

Tonight I sat down with my boss to talk about something I’ve been ignoring for a while:  my apartment. Although my home is beautiful and I love it, I’m paying more than an arm and a leg for it  – so much that it’s actually not sustainable. I’ve been here for nine months by myself and still can’t wrap my mind around what I should do with it. I grabbed a blue dry erase marker, walked over to the whiteboard, and started putting together a pro’s and cons’ list to explicate the mess I am in.  We bantered back and forth about options, ideas, and solutions. Moments later, he astutely looked at the list then looked me in the eyes and said, “Sarah Ruth, these lists look similar. Do you know what you need to ask yourself? ‘What do you want?’ “

My eyes filled with tears.

Face flushed red, I tried to hold back the rising swell. Aggh. I hate crying anytime, but especially at work!

What did I want? Those four words terrified me to the core.

Six months ago, the most helpful thing a person could ask me was “what do you need?” Now that those needs have begun to be met, the most challenging and helpful thing someone can ask today in all its many contexts and glory is “What do you want?”

I always conflated doing what I wanted to do with being selfish or irresponsible. As a grown up, doing what I want to do still terrifies me, but now in two ways. First, because it still feels selfish and irresponsible, and second, because I have the potential to be disappointed.

In the third chapter of Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes about the Suicide of Thought. He says that one huge problem in the modern world is not the lack of virtue, it is that the virtues still exist but without their proper proportion and restriction. Virtues take concrete shape in our lives. In the olden days, humility meant that a man doubted himself but revered the truth. In our modern world, Chesterton says that man has unlimited confidence in himself and doubts whether there really is any truth.

I am guilty of living without confidence in the Truth. And in this, humility has transformed into its inversion: pride.

It’s not my ambition that needs to be humbled, it’s my reason. I reason my way out of doing and dreaming anything. “The old humility” says Chesterton, “was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”

My reason has given ample opportunity to fear, so much that for the most part I’ve stopped working towards ambition all together. I’ve almost been too afraid of striking out to walk out to home plate in the first place. I’ve let my fear and pride guide me into a safe, predictable life that I can control without the fear of disappointment.

What do I want?

If I’m honest, my requests are simple but several:

  • I want to live in a place I can afford, where I won’t have to move for a while.
  • I also want a home that is peaceful, allows for mental space, cooking, and hospitality.
  • I want to sell the furniture and things I’ve been given that I do not want but feel obligated to keep.
  • I want to feel the freedom to move without the overwhelming anxiety that I have “too much stuff” to actually move.
  • I want to save money and not be on a bootstraps budget that keeps me from a semi-normal life in the city.
  • etc, etc, etc.

I’m convicted that I need to open the door of my heart and mind to truth and ambition; and let its small crack of light bring color and shape to my desires and bring my dreams back into focus.

Take the very hardest thing in your life, the place of difficulty – outward or inward – and expect God to triumph glorious in that very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom. – Lilias Trotter

On the difficulty of rest

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The tingling of sunburn on my shoulders couldn’t have felt more delightful as I drove home from the beach this morning.

I’ve been in Florida for a day and a half and the sun’s already reminded my translucent city complexion that deep (deep, deep) down inside, I am a Florida girl. Despite what family and friends might think, I’ve at least proved to myself that I’m an adult: I’ve played it safe and have put on sunscreen for the second and third times in my life. I’ve noticed, thanks to the rosy pink creeping across my body, that even SPF 50 wears off after a while in the water and sun.

It’s been about seven months since I’ve been in Florida. It’s lovely visiting family and enjoying the beach (trying to bake the pale New Yorker out of me). But the pace of life here is so slow. There aren’t a million things to accomplish like there are in the city. This afternoon I noticed myself beginning to get frustrated by my lack of productivity – I’ve only been to the beach and spent time with family since I’ve arrived. At the beach, to make the best use of my time, I feel compelled to read an intellectually challenging book, exercise, or hunt for shark’s teeth.  At my parent’s house it’s even worse. I’ve noticed I find myself absentmindedly grabbing my phone and answering a work email or two (or three or more…), re-organizing my suitcase, cleaning something up, coming up with plans to see an old friend, or writing a response to a letter that has been sitting in my backpack for months.

Do I think I’m too important to let work go on without me? Maybe. Do I actually derive my happiness and value based on what I produce? Probably. Can I enjoy this time off and rest and relax without feeling guilty for not being at the office or not being ‘productive’? I don’t know, but I want to. I don’t think God is impressed with my efforts or performance. I think instead He’s whispering to me, “Cease striving and know that I am God.”

My prayer for this week is to take a deep breath, enjoy this time off away from the city, and to heed Eliot’s wise words:

“Teach us to care and not to care.
Teach us to sit still.”

As Eliot said at the beginning of that poemI no longer strive to strive for such things. I want this to be true for me.  This week I choose rest over performance. I choose to be Chesterton’s healthy man who lies in bed without a rag of guilt or excuse, to drink coffee and talk with mom all morning, to go on walks with Poppie, to cook with Gammie, to watch the Borne trilogy with Dad – to do what I hope to do in every area of life: to cultivate intentional, meaningful moments that paint life with joy.

 

Life: A Thing From the Inside

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When I was a little kid I’d say with full conviction that I wanted to become a singer or scientist or archaeologist when I grew up. As a middle schooler I was determined to become a lawyer or soccer player. In high school I’d tell you I was going to be a talking head on a TV station. But by college I had no clue what I wanted to be, even when “grown up” life loomed like a monster just around the corner. In fact, I was so clueless that I took the first job offered to me after graduation and started six days later. Quickly, I realized that media buying was not the occupation for me. What in the world was I going to do with my life?

As I got older I tried my hand at a few more things – at a magazine, in social media, for a non-profit, and finally, in the tech world – and slowly became brave enough to let my thoughts about pursing a dream job that I felt peer pressured into desiring give way to a new idea: I wanted my life to have a particular shape rather than to be defined by an occupation.  Granted, I hope to like whatever it is that I do, but I don’t see how having my dream job is the teleology of my life; only an added bonus if I’m so fortunate. (Side note: David Brooks touched on this here)

What shape did I and do I still want my life to take?

I want a life made alive by family, marked by hospitality, painted with the laughter and tears of dear friends both old and new, one that is fixed during times of famine and suffering, and ultimately centered on objectively good, true, and beautiful things. I crave things that are solid and real, the ‘stuff life’s made of.’  Namely, I desire a life that will tie me down to particular people and to a particular place.

In short, I want to exist in a family.

Today, my counselor told me the stories of a handful of women in their mid 40’s who had come to her in tears wishing that they could press the redo button on the previous decade or two of their lives.  At at the juncture of career and family, they chose to elevate their careers at the cost of having a family. In hindsight, they wish with all of their hearts that would have chosen the life centered on family instead.  Family’s now an elusive dream that at one time they thought would be limiting, rather than the source of life and joy – the thing that ultimately would give color and shape to their life. In Heretics, Chesterton writes at length about the family. He says,

“It is a good thing for a man to live in a family in the same sense that it is a beautiful and delightful thing for a man to be snowed up in a street. They all force him to realise that life is not a thing from outside, but a thing from inside. Above all, they all insist upon the fact that life, if it be a truly stimulating and fascinating life, is a thing which, of its nature, exists in spite of ourselves.”

Here I am, 25 going on 30, an old soul who is frustrated that the world (or at least NYC) has thrown the idea of someone my age – or anyone really – ‘settling’ into a family out with the bathwater. Having a family and existing within a family, is the most beautiful and least shameful thing in the world. It is a dream I’m constantly surrendering to God and has been one of the most painful parts of the past five months. I look forward to the coming days when, God-willing, family can be part of my story.

Until then, I’ll leave you with the wit and wisdom of my friend GK:

“But in order that life should be a story or romance to us, it is necessary that a great part of it, at any rate, should be settled for us without our permission. If we wish life to be a system, this may be a nuisance; but if we wish it to be a drama, it is an essential. It may often happen, no doubt, that a drama may be written by somebody else which we like very little. But we should like it still less if the author came before the curtain every hour or so, and forced on us the whole trouble of inventing the next act. A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything, there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. And the reason why the lives of the rich are at bottom so tame and uneventful is simply that they can choose the events. They are dull because they are omnipotent. They fail to feel adventures because they can make the adventures. The thing which keeps life romantic and full of fiery possibilities is the existence of these great plain limitations which force all of us to meet the things we do not like or do not expect. It is vain for the supercilious moderns to talk of being in uncongenial surroundings. To be in a romance is to be in uncongenial surroundings. To be born into this earth is to be born into uncongenial surroundings, hence to be born into a romance. Of all these great limitations and frameworks which fashion and create the poetry and variety of life, the family is the most definite and important. Hence it is misunderstood by the moderns, who imagine that romance would exist most perfectly in a complete state of what they call liberty. They think that if a man makes a gesture it would be a startling and romantic matter that the sun should fall from the sky. But the startling and romantic thing about the sun is that it does not fall from the sky. They are seeking under every shape and form a world where there are no limitations — that is, a world where there are no outlines; that is, a world where there are no shapes. There is nothing baser than that infinity. They say they wish to be, as strong as the universe, but they really wish the whole universe as weak as themselves.”

Why we walk by faith and not by sight

…The modern habit of saying, ‘Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and it suits me’: the habit of saying this is mere weak-mindedness. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man, a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. -GK Chesterton, On Job

IMG_7922Confession: I’ve been a Christian for a decade and have read every book of the Bible except for the book of Job. To make amends for this (not that penance is required), I decided to read the book during this Lenten season and will conclude it this Holy Week. To be honest, it’s not been the easiest to read. I anticipated it would read like Isaiah or the Psalms –  lament, then joy, rescue, or some sort of resolution, but that’s not the case. There is an enormous crescendo at the end of the book to be sure,  but I’m not satisfied. Job presents his demands of God, but God doesn’t give him answers in the way that I want him to.  Yet, despite this, a lot of things about the book have stuck in my mind in profound ways.

Like Job, I want to know what something is, not just what it seems. I think this is a lot of what the book of Job is about: understanding rather than assuming. Job doesn’t understand why all these horrible things are happening to him – why he’s had to taste suffering and torment- and his friends can’t understand why the bad things are happening to him either; outside of the natural realm of consequence. Perhaps Job’s transgressed God, or has done something to anger Him that he shouldn’t have done in the first place. Their minds can’t understand how Job could not have provoked God’s wrath. Thankfully Job doesn’t give into this his friend’s way of thinking. And neither should we.

As per usual, Chesterton says it best:
“Job…wishes the universe to justify itself. Not because he wishes it to be caught out, but because he really wishes it to be justified. He demands an explanation from God…He does it in the spirit in which a wife might demand an explanation from her husband whom she really respected. He remonstrates with his Maker because he is proud of his Maker. He even speaks of the Almighty as his enemy, but he never doubts, at the back of his mind, that his enemy has some kind of a case which he does not understand…He is anxious to be convinced, that is, he thinks that God could convince him.”

So often, especially over these past four months, I’ve yelled at God, asked him why, and demanded He show himself and his ways to me. I’ve demanded God justify himself to me like Job pleaded of him first. I’ve lived a holy and honorable life – not pure or blameless, but I know it’s been beautiful and meaningful and something worth emulating. I’ve become a good person. So why have so many bad things happened? Why have my expectations and desires been allowed to be dashed into pieces, especially when what I had or chased were good things, even God-honoring things, things that could further what I perceived was His Kingdom?

Chesterton continues:
“The mechanical optimist [Job’s friends] endeavors to justify the universe avowedly upon the ground that it is a rational and consecutive pattern.” But God says to Job, in effect, “that if there is one fine thing about the world, as far as men are concerned, is that it cannot be explained…Instead of proving to Job that it is an explicable world, he insists that is a much stranger world than Job ever thought it was.

…Here in this book the question is really asked whether God invariably punishes vice with terrestrial punishment and rewards virtue with terrestrial prosperity…For when a people have begun to believe that prosperity is the reward of virtue their next calamity is obvious. If prosperity is regarded as the reward of virtue it will be regarded as the symptom of virtue. Men will leave off the heavy task of making good men successful. They will adopt the easier task of making our successful men good.

…Job is not told that his misfortunes were due to his sins or a part of any plan for his improvement. But in the prologue we see Job tormented not because he was the worst of men, but because he was the best…I need not suggest what a high and strange history awaited this paradox of the best of man in the worst of fortune. I need not say that in the freest and most philosophical sense there is in one Old Testament who is truly a type; or say what is prefigured in the wounds of Job.”

And like Job, our prosperity is not contingent on our virtue. Virtue is not hocus-pocus or an “if…then” conditional guarantee. If glory and prosperity is our focus and we think we can get there through our own actions and behavior, we’ll set ourselves up for unfathomable disappointment.  We can live the holiest of lives- being earnest in prayer, faithful to read the word, tireless to serve others, always looking after those whom cannot take care of themselves – and at the end of our striving our dreams of X, Y, or Z may or may not come true. More likely, living virtuously will mean that we will suffer gravely like Job; but it won’t be for want. We’re promised something cosmic: an eternal weight of glory.  Even more, if we belong to Christ we are Children of God, and if “children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17)

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
-CS Lewis, The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe