I am currently living the life that I once mocked. A friend and I sometimes reminisce about a day when a particularly ornery chaplain at our college spoke to a group of campus advocates outlining all the ways in which the individuality and idealism we so prized would melt away until our lives became indistinguishably conventional and banal. He gave some unoriginal prophecy regarding a minivan which, as a person who transports three exceedingly safe but gigantic carseats, I- of course-now drive. With the great pride of youth we laughed at how ridiculous and out-of-touch his predictions were, dismissing them as the talk of a an embittered old man. I mean, didn’t he know us? We were those that would literally travel to the end of the earth to live out our beliefs! We gave up showers and ate food on its way to the trash heap and got hauled away in handcuffs for the strength of our convictions! We turned away from his talk steeling ourselves stronger, swearing that his anti-benediction would never come to be. But somewhere deep inside I think there was fear. What if he was right? What if it did come to pass as he had foretold? And maybe even worse, what if the course of our lives could be so easily predicted?
The thing is, I’m still that same girl inside; the one who walked earnestly arm-in-arm with her friend to cross that line to protest injustice, get rounded-up and detained in a holding area and yet manage to pass some flirtatious glances towards the handsomely uniformed young men who processed us. But somehow, the life that curmudgeonly chaplain predicted has enshrouded the life that I aspired to have. My values and dreams haven’t changed that much but the reality of life as an adult with commitments to my children and husband has become wrapped around my aspirations like a heavy cloak. And even though it feels wrong to admit it, sometimes I think this shroud is suffocating the part of myself that I like the most. The Me that I wanted to be struggles for breath, muscling fitfully to gulp for air. But in a time of my life when there are at least four other people clinging to me, there’s not enough oxygen left in the room for both parts- Me, the one who is responsible to sustain the life of a family, and Me, the one with aspirations for other things as well.
Sometimes I get the distinct impression I am living someone else’s life, driving minivan between my suburban home and neatly sweet pre-school classrooms and boilerplate big box stores. In my mind it had been four wheel drive vehicles bumping over untamed terrain, my children reading under exotic varieties of trees, me gathering tonight’s dinner from an open air market and all of us engaged as a family in some humanitarian pursuit. As the years pass, I panic. Every year this conventional life prevails is one more year that I don’t get to live my “real life” and a year closer to the grave. And so I find myself curled in a ball under the hot stream of the shower, snot and tears pouring into the drain, asking God if He’s forgotten me.
I don’t to seem ungrateful for what I have been given, that spoiled kid at Christmas sobbing by the tree because even though she unwrapped so very many wonderful things she didn’t get the exact thing she asked for. But what if the tears have less to do with being ungrateful and more to do with the pain of wondering if Someone didn’t know her well enough to understand the deepest desires of her heart or because Someone didn’t care enough about her to want to give them to her or because maybe she wasn’t good enough to earn them?
I think where this gets especially confusing is that I thought the nobler thing, the more truly spiritual thing, was to desire NOT to lead a comfortable, suburban lifestyle. Doesn’t wanting to live radically for Jesus lead us to places other than this? There are those who would love to be where I am and yet God calls them to something way outside of their comfort zone. Meanwhile I’m here, ready and willing to do unconventional things and I end up feeling passed over, rejected even, when God doesn’t call me seem to be calling my name to do them. Furthermore, there seem to be some sort of the tire-shredding barriers in the way of me driving myself there.
But I have to remind myself again that God’s purpose probably has a whole lot less to do with the circumstances of my life than I’d like to believe. My sense of purpose has more to do with abiding in Him than abiding in Morocco or Montana or Montmartre. My identity shouldn’t depend so much on where I am living, but rather on who is living in me and how He is being revealed to the world around me, wherever I may find myself.
I refuse to believe it’s appropriate to outgrow our desire to pursue romance, adventure or beauty because God Himself woos us as his beloved, calls us to a true death-defeating adventure and creates beauty incomprehensible all around us. Rather, it would seem that instead of dismissing those innate desires, they are to be connected primarily to the pursuit of Him and His kingdom. So when we pray that His kingdom will come, let’s pray it’s not just to the places most remote and farthest flung but also to the places most drudgingly familiar and domestically routine.
Can something glorious be made evident in a suburban setting? Can beauty be manifested in a minivan? Can good purpose be found in a big box store? Though everything in me revolts to think of it, if I believe in a God through whom and in whom and for whom all things are created and can be made to work together for the good, then the answer is yes, of course. If the whole world is full of His glory, then shouldn’t I be able to find it and taste it and revel in it no matter where I am? And, in fact, isn’t the most extraordinary gift of all- to be used by Him to help reveal it wherever I happen to be?
So though every nerve in my body seems to be screaming for somewhere different than here, what I have to trust will ultimately satisfy me is to see and know God in whichever circumstance I am in. Really, God, I truly am thankful for the life you’ve given me. Let your kingdom and your purpose and your glory and your beauty be made evident in this place and in all that I am and have and do. But Father, I also remind you that you have created me with the particular eyes and ears and tastebuds and sensory receptors that I have. You put certain dreams and preferences and personality traits in me. If it could please you, would you let me experience some of those things for which I have always longed that appear so far from where I am? But whatever I do, please let it be done for your glory.