Why do I always want to know the right answer, right away? Maybe the engineer side of me wants to fix the problem and prevent further trouble, minimizing the damage. Or the writer side of me assumes I can see the big picture and describe the full meaning.
I used to believe conflict occurred because God wanted to teach me something specific, and the sooner I learned the lesson the quicker the conflict would end. I saw that as a spiritual principle, whether about school work, or relationship troubles, or sickness, or whatever. I don’t know whether I was taught that, or if I made it up myself.
I don’t believe it now, at least not in the same way. Conflict, and the lessons I learn, are usually months if not decades apart. This became clear to me as I worked on my personal timeline in preparation for the Storyline Conference. I realized I’m only just now finding meaning in events that happened twenty or thirty years ago.
So the night before I left for the conference, I finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It’s an account of her solo hike on a large portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.
She began the hike mourning for her mother who died at 47, her own failed marriage, and her descent into serial sex and drug use. But like most long-distance hikers, her reasons for hiking changed the further she went. Finally, the movement itself is what changed her; the daily monotony of covering the miles spoke to her heart.
She was a newby when she started. She had never been hiking or backpacking and knew nothing about gear or survival in the wild. (At least she was aware of her ignorance. Worse would be a beginner who thought they knew how to do it.) She wrote, “Every part of my body hurt. Except my heart.”
One thing about the book that personally spoke to me was how she accepted her inability to articulate the meaning of her trip. Making a mental flash forward to four years (married) and nine years (kids) after finishing her hike, she wrote, “I couldn’t yet know … how it would be only then that the meaning of my hike would unfold inside of me, the secret I’d always told myself revealed.”
“It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I’d done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was.”
Cheryl Strayed addressed one of the lessons I’m trying absorb nowadays: to wait for the answer. Often, that means to wait for a long time. I’m learning to slow down and don’t get in such a hurry to solve the puzzle or know the answer. For lasting change, I believe we have to linger in the moment.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe God wants us to know him and know his purpose in our life, but it was arrogant of me to think I could quickly figure out God’s purpose in the middle of my conflicts. More often, I was lucky to survive, much less be spiritually insightful.
So I need to slow down, and stop being in such a hurry to understand my story. I’m learning to linger in the moment, accept the changes without knowing why they happened, and trust that God will show me the answer when he is ready. Or when I’m ready, or old enough, or wise enough, to handle the answer. This cannot be passive lingering, however, but constant conversation with God.
Well, speaking of conflict and trouble, last Monday I crashed while riding my bike. Specifically, I was turning a fast right-hand corner when my back tire went flat, causing my wheel to skid out from under me. It happened so fast I didn’t even know I was in trouble until my right hip bounced off the pavement. Instantly, I was down. I hit the asphalt hard enough to knock the wind out of my lungs and make my ribs sore.
My first comment to myself was, “I’m 56 years old; I shouldn’t be doing this to myself.”
But now that its three days later and I can move round and sit up without getting dizzy, I tell myself, “I’m grateful I can still go hard enough at 56 to hurt myself. It means I haven’t given up.”
Yet, I can’t help but wonder: what should I learn from that crash (other than to stop immediately upon getting a flat)?
I don’t know, yet. And I’m comfortable with that sort of conclusion. My engineer self, and my writer self, wants to find meaning right away, but I’ll just have to linger a bit longer and listen to God.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32