Have your thoughts ever whispered hopefully to your heart: “Maybe this is really it–you’ve arrived!”? You can articulate your longings without feeling cheesy and your dreams no longer feel like fantasies?
Maybe it was a book, a quote, maybe a motivational talk. Perhaps you prayed, felt God close, and a certain promise became believable. Maybe it happened at a conference or at a retreat with other seekers and soothing words slipped into your heart, seeping into the chapped places of your soul, rehydrating the truth and coaxing it down from the ivory tower.
It is a lovely thing to be in the company of the empathetic, the like-minded who convince you that everything is possible if you only believe. Challenges are presented as easy yokes and light burdens. Some good head knowledge begins to migrate heartward.
You dare to hope that something has shifted, you feel motivated. This new perspective changes everything. It occurs to you that this transformation may be, well, noticeable to others (which, of course, is the first sign of trouble).
You return from your epiphany.
Returning to the regular life can feel like crossing a border–a reentry that requires standing in line, producing information, and paying up. Waiting on the other side are a myriad of protestors. There are the familiar arguments, fevers, and FAFSA forms; diapers and dishes, cooking and carpooling, the 9 to 5 and never ending laundry; or maybe just an empty nest or a meaningless routine.
What do you feel? What do you do?
Does it feel like one more cycle, charmingly distracting for a time, but disillusioning in the end? Do you try to hang on to the hopeful feeling, or cave to the temptation of cynicism?
Sometimes we’re good with a refresher–something to remind us to keep going. But when we’re looking for a breakthrough, for the inside out transformation that changes the way we view ourselves and our people, or maybe even the whole broken world (why not?), it can feel discouraging and disillusioning.
People laugh when my Beloved tells how women and men would return from their respective ministry retreats renewed and 100% committed to being the best (fill in the role) only to find that the people back home hadn’t received that memo.
“Pastor,” they would complain, exasperated, “I came back with the best intentions, but if you only knew, the problem is my (fill in the role)!”
It’s funny and we laugh. It’s also not funny and we despair.
What if we let the disappointments remind us that we are in a process and that these moments are forming us, opening us up to change and giving us glimpses of what it feels like to really believe, to be free?
What if our rebirth is more process than instant transformation?
Have you ever noticed a little belly bulge on an acquaintance and stopped yourself from asking, “are you pregnant?” (Because, of course, that could be quite embarrassing).
Maybe you’ve been asked that question yourself. An ever-prepared friend cautiously confided that she was expecting and swore me to secrecy until the second trimester because, “most miscarriages happen in those first three months and we don’t want to risk giving bad news on the heels of such an exciting announcement.”
It sounded like a good idea until I got pregnant myself (at age 33) and promptly told “everyone” the very next day (in agreement with my Beloved). There was this urgent desire to purchase maternity clothes… followed by the disappointing realization that I wouldn’t need them for another 3 months.
After 3 1/2 tortuous months, my belly protruded enough to welcome the question and provide the proof that I was, indeed, expecting. I all but hugged the unsuspecting first person who tentatively asked me, “are you pregnant?”
I do not exaggerate with the word tortuous. I felt miserable, and without obvious reason. No one could tell by looking at me why I moved like a sloth and burst into tears at the most inconvenient times (did I mention we’d just moved to another country where a good many people were forming their first impressions of me?).
Here’s the irony of it all:
During that critical trimester, when all the big stuff was happening and I was most at risk for losing that teeny tiny life inside, I felt my worst and received the least empathy. Except for my Beloved, no one was rushing to open doors for me or offering encouragement during the record breaking drops on that emotional roller coaster ride.
No one could tell, but so much was happening.
What if being reborn, growing into maturity, growing into our identity as new people created and recreated in the image of God, is like that?
What if there are trimesters, or stages to this process, and the beginning stage is hidden, and fragile, and especially difficult? You know there is a new life developing and your insides are full of stretch marks, but now one can tell on the outside.
And while you are trying to hang on to faith as whole new parts of you come to life, things can look messy on the outside (with nothing yet to show for it). It may feel too hard to ignore the protestors and preachers and to trust the process to God who’s promised to comfort you and asks “why are you afraid of them?” (Isaiah 51:12).
But even this is part of the process.
Why would rebirth be different from physical birth and the speed of growth in the natural world? Our struggle is only for a season. Let us not give up. Let us hang in there and reach full term.
Oh, and when we do emerge with all 10 fingers and 10 toes, slippery and waving our arms to the tune of that squeaky, but determined cry? May we enjoy the moment and remember that we’re back at the beginning of a still larger process (with its own set of challenges) still finding our place in that glorious metanarrative that will indeed, one day, finally end “happily ever after.”
About that conference or weekend or epiphany where you thought you finally had it all figured out only to discover you hadn’t yet arrived? Maybe those life giving moments are forming you and me and building our faith, teaching us what it feels like, experientially, to believe. And perhaps the ensuing disappointment may serve to keep us honest and committed to the process.
Here’s to us: finding comfort in the truth that God himself will finish what he started inside, finding the faith to believe that he is supporting us every stage of the way (Philippians 1:6).
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”