Into open spaces… and then?

An image:

You’re running a race, the road clearly marked out.  There are thousands of other runners, and on each side of the road are grandstands full of people, cheering, shouting, jeering.  Your pulse quickens as the adrenaline courses through your veins.  On your right and left, you dart past and around fellow runners, hitting your stride, feeling good, managing your energies well.  You might not be the fastest runner, but you’re doing well, all things considered.

You round the final bend for the home stretch of the race.  This particular race culminates in a stadium.  Every expectation of yours is that you’ll head into the stadium, triumphantly crossing the finish line.  So you drop it in gear, running faster and harder.  Eyes ahead, focused, you push through the pain just to make it to the end.  Lungs burning, rubber legged, you run.

And then a horrible thing happens.  At exactly the moment when you thought you were going to cross the finish line, it all disappears.  The fellow runners, the stadium full of people, the finish line.  All gone in an instant.  And to make it worse, the road doesn’t stop.  Instead, it veers off into a dozen different directions, and there’s no sign telling you which way to go.  You stand there for a minute, sweating profusely, baffled, in a space that’s so wide open it scares the living daylights out of you.  No one told you it was like this.  You obviously would have ran differently.  What now?

I’ve been sharing this image with friends (and anyone who will listen) as a way of explaining exactly how I feel and where I am right now, at this moment.  I turned 32 this year.  Not old, and not exactly young either.  And I find myself in a place I never expected to be – short of breath, unsure of what’s next.

I’ve lived the “first third” of my life with a really profound sense of clarity.  A love for the church and a deep sense of call when I was a youth.  College, followed by the decision to attend seminary.  And seminary – my goodness, what heady times those were.  The exposure to ancient texts and historical theology and good, critical thinking about church and culture and what should be done about it all… I left seminary armed with what I thought were a lifetime’s worth of crystal clear ideas on how to make a difference.

And “making a difference”… that’s what it was all about.  My 20’s were a crusade.  Me and my friends… we were going to change everything.  And at the very least, we were going to be part of helping everything to change.  And so, with missionary zeal, I put into motion my best thoughts, best ideas, best concepts… and did it with the best of my energy.  I was certain I was moving inexorably towards some glorious consummation… a vindication of all the great ideas.

And then it happened.  The ideas proved moderately successful, even if they were incomplete.  And some things changed.  Not everything.  Not even most things.  But some things.  And some people cared about it.  The stadium, the finish line, the runners, the clear-cut goals… it all evaporated.

This year has been SUCH a weird year for me.  Lots of ups and downs, some neat moments of growth and breakthrough, but mostly lots of stripping and pruning… and questions… oh, the questions…

…and I think now I get what’s going on.  I’m realizing now that the story is a lot longer than I ever imagined.  And not just longer, but infinitely more complex.  The dogmatic certitude of my 20’s has been pulverized, hammered away by raw experience.  There are no silver bullets anymore, and my grandiose meta-synopses of “What’s going on with the church in North America” have been weighed in the scales and found wanting.  Yes – they’ve worked.  To a degree.  But there’s more going on than I can see, and it’s more multifarious than I ever imagined.  “What is twisted can’t be straightened; what is lacking can’t be counted” (Eccl 1).  Yes.  Yes.

What then?  That’s the question I find myself asking right now.  “What then?”  What happens when the dogmatic certitude evaporates, when the crusade vanishes, when you find yourself standing in an unbelievably open space, quietly and without fanfare?  What then?

Maybe this is just part of entering into the “second third” part of life – your 30’s and 40’s.  The missionary zeal doesn’t go away per se, but it gives way to deeper and longer reflection on where best to place your energies.  And in your humility (a hard-fought humility that comes only through experience) you begin to pronounce less, and listen and pray more.

Perhaps.  But perhaps, I’m thinking these days, perhaps it’s a gift to be embraced exactly for what it is.  The church is thriving, my family is healthy and growing, and I’m in possession of my “self” – my loves, talents, abilities, etc – in a way I’ve not been before.  Perhaps life is not best lived in the metaphors of races, competitions, and crusades… but in planting, waiting, growing, rooting.  

Perhaps the open space is detox for souls sickened with the poison draught of achievement.

If so, I’ll take it.

6 thoughts on “Into open spaces… and then?

  1. Amen and amen. In many ways, we (my wife and I) feel the same thing. At 31 and 35 with 3 children, we now look back at the vim and vigor of our 20’s with fondness. Yet, simultaneously, we now sense a transition bringing a newness and deepness to life that wasn’t there prior. 11 or so years of church planting – including our own “failed” plant – has brought about a quasi-clarity of what we believe, but still wondering and asking more and more questions.
    All that to say, I hear ya.

  2. My greatest achievement has been learning to love, forgive, accept, extend grace and mercy to myself…today. Not thinking about tomorrow, living my best life this very moment of my journey…with the privilege to bring a little bit of light and love and peace to my little slice of the world that seems to be so full of pain. I am merely one Andrew who has been fortunate to listen and learn from the depths of your struggle…I have experienced this light and love and peace from you and for that I am thankful. So for today Andrew may the peace of Christ envelope you. May you rest easy in todays journey. Peace.

  3. andrew-this is lesa, from tulsa- Rebecca just told me about your visit to tulsa and reminded me you were in denver – i moved to colorado, greeley actualy, about an hour away, in march this year. sold my house in tulsa and came to paint in the mountains, day job full time admin assist to ceo of a non-profit health in greeley, so .. your blog, we could talk, remember my journey? i am a few years ahead of you on the journey of life, 24yrs ahead actually, but still as intense as i was when i met Jesus about seeking truth in Him and around me – know much about the place you describe – if i am not too old, i would like to visit bloom maybe this sunday – but seriously, we should talk about some things i’ve learned about the freedom of suffering and this place you blog of – my journey is ongoing, building more – letting go – kind of in the moment total trust- in the kind of Love Jesus has for us, and His heart of compassion for the pain of life that surrounds us, people, He takes us to places with Him so we can sit in places with people who don’t know Him and feel the struggle they are engaged in and by grace, let them experience Him in their struggle, can’t teach what we don’t know and can’t know unless we go there-going there is HARD, but we have His promise, He wont leave us there or anywhere, without Him being right there with us, the dark places or unknown places is where that knowing grows-worth the journey for sure-
    are you teaching this sunday? as i said if i am not too old, i’d love to come visit, let me know:)
    side note:never forget, almost dead and forgotten in the hospital and you and ed walk by and for some reason he looks over and says lesa?what are you doing in here?i say dying, you guys pray, and it broke, that day-good stuff:)thanks! i am @ haukaas.lesa@gmail.com -maybe come visit you and mandi over a glass of wine, or you guys come out here, have lots of room for kids to play
    stay in touch, lesa haukaas

  4. Andrew – As always, I appreciate your incredible honesty and ability to put your thoughts to paper.

    The quote that stuck out to me the most was “And in your humility (a hard-fought humility that comes only through experience) you begin to pronounce less, and listen and pray more.”

    For those of us that are in similar places, it’s so refreshing to hear someone else name what they’re “actively” doing in these times.

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