In the first half of 2017, I was restless. I’d left my job as a teacher the previous year to write full time and though I’d written countless words, nothing seemed to be going anywhere. My blog was still a regular thing, but the book I thought I had in me wasn’t taking shape. There was no narrative arc. You need one of those to make a good story.
My husband and I were empty nesters and though we were not unhappy, our lives seemed like they ran on parallel tracks. We aren’t the couple who golfs or runs or gardens together. He reads WWII history and I read spiritual memoir. He likes to bush hog and I like to retreat in monasteries. Once I stopped working full time and life slowed down a bit, I wondered if we were growing in different directions.
One child had finished college and was engaged to be married and the other finished law school and was about to move fifteen hours away. The dailyness of mothering was complete.
I’d spent my entire life in church and we had been involved in almost every facet during our child-rearing years. Now that those years were behind us, I didn’t know where I belonged or have a passion to engage in church in ways I had before.
I’d begun training in spiritual direction that spring, though I wasn’t quite sure why; it just seemed like the next step on a path—or maybe a distraction from trying to write a book. One of the outcomes of that experience was realizing I had a set of unmet expectations for my life, and though I had never acknowledged it, I was disappointed.
I’d tried to live in my marriage the way the church and the books said, but it didn’t look the way they said it would. I’d left a paying job I enjoyed to write; but after a year, there wasn’t a book. I’d faced my idol of productivity that winter, but I had little practice in how to keep living without performing and producing constantly. (I’m a 3 on the Enneagram!)
I had to confront a sense of entitlement. I’d thought of God like a vending machine. I put my efforts in, He delivers the product I expect. I had to confront a false self that was hindering my spiritual journey.
That summer was one of relinquishment. During a morning worship time in June, while at my spiritual direction training, we were given the opportunity to bury seeds in a clay pot of dirt. I took two and walked to the front of the room. I buried them in the dark soil, embodying a book and an image of a life at this age that did not look like the one I was actually living. I cried. A lot. For the rest of that summer. For almost a year.
One morning in the early fall, remembering the seeds I’d buried and praying questions about the future, I returned in my memory to one of my favorite places as a child. I often rode my bike to a graveyard overlooking the lake about a block from my childhood home. I heard a whisper in my heart . . .
Go to the graveyard, my beloved. Go to the graveyard. Do not be afraid. There are no ghosts there, only tears. It is a place of mourning, of burial. And yes, those are hard, mourning and burying. But go there, my beloved. Put your ego there. Put your false self there. Put your self-protection there. Put your control of your schedule there. Put what you think is right and good there. Put your past there. Put your expectations for yourself and other’s expectations of you there. Put approval there. Put “being nice” there. Bury it in the ground. Cry over it. Weep for the loss. Stay as long as you need, prostrate over that fresh ground, watering it with your tears.
Then stand and wait. Notice the wind that comes from over the water nearby. Notice the fragrance of the flowers. Notice that grass will one day grow over the furrowed ground where you are weeping your tears. Notice the silence, the solitude, the stillness.
I am here. I’ve always been here for you. You found me as a young girl when you came here on your bike. It was I who drew you. Love pulled you here, acquainted you with the stillness, with the suffering, with the memory that a graveyard evokes.
Today, you are in the graveyard. You are mourning and burying and grieving. Let it be. Just notice your surroundings. It is not yet time for resurrection. You must endure some pain, some darkness. You must do the grief work—the work of letting go. It is progressive—letting go. It is an ongoing opening of your hands and your arms.
Let go of how you thought it was. Let go of thinking you can have both control and freedom. Let go of thinking you can belong to opposing worlds. Let go of clinging to false self while true self is emerging. Let go of your ways of being in the world that were survival strategies from years gone by. You don’t need them anymore. You are under my wings.
It’s been a year and a half since I copied those words into my journal. At times I’ve found myself wanting to dig up the dark earth and pull out my seeds and do life my own way, but no life will ever sprout if I do that. So I wait with open hands, hands that have let go of grasping at how I think life should be, and I watch as ever so slowly tiny shoots of green began to break through.