I looked over both my shoulders for the some other person. You want me to answer that?!?
We were on a school trip to Crissy Field, peeling oranges and watching ribbons of fog and sky blue wind around the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. Between the bright sun and the lingering morning haze, we can hardly see the city on the horizon. All the nearby buildings have this soft, gauzy glow.
“Is Life really like that?” she repeated, referring to aforementioned plans for her someday, 25 year-old self.
High school is extra painful for the Curious, Intuitive, Compassionate, and Ambitious. Nothing in that world quite works the way it should for them, even when it seems like everyone else is happy in it. Five minutes ago, these girls had been talking about Prom—hair, dresses, dates, dinner.
A slight sense of defeat tipped the conversation philosophical: What is the good life? When will we get there?
It turns out Prom and Ontology are a handsome couple. Prom dates are icons of success, identity, and fulfillment. Who you take and how happy you are to do it says a lot about who you are and how well you’re doing—whether or not it should.
Prom is around the corner.
We’re talking about “being 25” instead of rehearsing a John Hughes moment because at an all-girls school, solving the problems of grown-up life is more gratifying than revisiting the lack of worthy guys.
I took my best pass at a response:
“I don’t know if ‘life is really like that’. No one can tell you what your experience will be. Don’t ever let anyone try.
Second, you don’t get to fast-forward through the process. You can’t outsmart it. At 25, you won’t have Prom, but you’ll still be working out who you are, what you must do, and what makes you happy. I am still doing that at 33.
There’s no age threshold between you and a clear, shining world where everything fits. There will always be more to discover, always a little work to do, always a little mystery.
If you’re lucky, you’ll still be working on all that when you’re 55.
And that’s the good news.”
A sophomore chimes in, “But when do I get to feel like I know my way around this planet? When will I know what I’m doing?”
Exasperated, one of my favorite freshman burst, “I just don’t want to miss anything in Life! I want to feel like I am doing all the things!”
I am trying not to laugh as we keep talking about LIFE, as if it were some giant thing that is wholly separate from the lunch we’re having on the grass.
Their faith in me is sweet, but probably misplaced. I don’t have answers for them. In fact, I’m seeing every day how few answers to anything I actually have—how little I know.
My student girls expect to get from me, their caretaker-teacher what I’ve always felt entitled to from God:
Direct answers, clear guidance, known and certain tasks. They want confirmation of their expectations and affirmation that they’re doing this LIFE “right.” They want the freedom to dream with the future comfortable and assured. They want specificity.
Of course I can’t give them that. I’m not sure it’s available, but even if it were, that’s something they’d have to figure out on their own.
I know we have to figure it out ourselves—or I should say, I’ve heard that said—yet I have still felt robbed and excluded when I didn’t get all that from God.
I thought it came with the perks of being a Christian.
I think I have spent the better part of my Christian life with my faith misplaced.
What I had faith in before was a system that promised to help me grasp God by not only setting my feet on the “right track”, but also giving me the right language, concepts, and tools to hook into the “real thing.” I had a lot of faith in correct thinking about God and myself.
A lot of that is gone now. I neither have the words and concepts that work for me anymore, nor the faith in the certainty they offered.
Perhaps I’m never in more danger of stumbling than when I think I know where I’m going.
If I’m going to hang on to my Faith, I have to come to terms with it as I experience it now—dark and hazy, sometimes scary and often coming at an unbearable cost.
What do I do when the language of Faith no longer offers a handle on my lived experience, in such a way that I wonder how it ever did?
Until I read Barbara Brown Taylor, there was part of me that thought I experienced this because something was broken— because something was wrong and my prayers, if I made them, were misfiring.
But she points out,
This darkness and cloud is always between you and God, no matter what you do, and it prevents you from seeing clearly by the light of understanding in your reason and from experiencing Him in the sweetness of love in your affection. …Those of us who wish to draw near to God should not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy, for this is a sign that we are approaching the opaque splendor of God. …Moses went anyway. He took a dose of the divine darkness and lived to tell about it, though God would remain a tremendous mystery to him for the rest of his life. The God of Moses is holy, offering no seat belts or other safety features to those who wish to climb the mountain and enter the dark cloud of Divine presence.”
If I had known this is where that leads, I want to think I would have upended my life—a stable job I loved, nearby family, literal sunshine all the time—with much less bravado.
Just as much as I’m working without a signed contract and in the fog, I am now working without the divine parent who makes all my choices for me, without the One who gives me the job of guessing my pre-determined path correctly with reason, prayer, and intuition.
I have to literally do whatever it takes to pay my own bills. But really that’s about accepting responsibility for setting my own course, for tending to my loneliness, and for using what little day-to-day Faith I can muster to trust that I am loved and belong to a good God.