When the Results Aren’t What You Expected: A Labyrinth Walk

The first time I heard of a labyrinth walk, the idea peaked my curiosity. I filed it away in the part of my brain where I keep a small collection of things I want to experience someday–like photographing a hummingbird or growing a blowsy, lush rose bush with blooms the color of sunset.

I’ve yet to have luck with either the hummingbird or the roses, but my husband and I stumbled upon a labyrinth a few months ago while hiking on a weekend getaway. It sat tucked in the woods and wound around and around–a maze of brown and gray stone. The Lotus Labyrinth, so named for the inlaid lotus at both the entrance and exit, was set in a clearing, and surrounded by trees.

I pulled my husband towards the entrance, and we slowly wound our way towards the pile of stones in the center to the sound of the wind making music of dried leaves. Small signposts explained that upon entering, we should take note of any heaviness or emotional weight we carried. On reaching the center, we were to release the things that weighed us down, as if laying them down on an altar. Then, as we wound our way to the exit, with slow measured steps, we would symbolically leave behind the thoughts, fears, or false beliefs we had carried in.

My husband sped through the rest and sat down on a nearby boulder to wait for me. I took my time circling around and around, stopping to pray in the center, then circling back out again until my feet found the final lotus. I took a deep breath and surveyed my feelings. I felt exactly the same as when I entered the labyrinth. I had arrived carrying the weight of a few things, and I had carried them right back out again.

I didn’t experience a spiritual epiphany or feel God’s presence in any discernible way. My soul didn’t feel lighter, and my concerns followed me from entrance to exit to the hike home again.

My labyrinth walk comes to mind every so often, and I’ve asked myself if it was worth doing if I didn’t experience the peace it promised. It’s a small thing–inconsequential, really. But it brings to mind all of the small physical acts that I hope will bear fruit in the long term, despite their small beginnings.

The hug I give to my stiff and reluctant teenager. The quiet moments of prayer with no obvious answers. The folding of clothes that end up crumpled again. The pose of a warrior on the yoga mat with a persistent wobble. The chop and stir preparation for a meal gone in minutes. The phone call to an elected official who refuses to listen. The typing of words destined for deletion.

When the results hold no promise, these become small acts of obedience and resistance. We resist the urge to allow life to happen to us. Instead, we press on and create our lives out of these small acts strung together with purpose. We obey the needs of our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, and we acknowledge there will be disappointments. The act itself is rarely pointless, rather it points to something bigger.

If I walk a labyrinth again, I will enter it knowing that the action speaks more than the end results.

When You Don’t Want to do the Dishes

“A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.”” ~Tish Harrison Warren in Liturgy of the Ordinary

I sigh when it comes time to pull something edible together for dinner–my recipes spin on an endless repeat. I huff over the chopping, the stirring, the clatter of dishes on the table. I exhale forcibly when the meal vanishes into empty stomachs after only ten minutes of spooning and plate-scraping. My sighs deepen when the kids stack dirty dishes in crooked towers next to the sink, while my hands prune in hot, sudsy water for the next thirty minutes.

My husband senses my dragon breathing may set things alight in the kitchen, and he offers to wash the dishes from his place on the sofa. I reject the offer because he worked twelve hours in the office and suffered a hellish commute in both directions. This is my J-O-B, I tell him. This is what I do “for a living”. My words leak sarcasm. He sighs then too, knowing this is a broken record I play when I feel particularly frustrated. He returns to his prone position in the living room, and I mumble under my breath while the water scalds and my evening’s work swirls and disappears.

This scene repeats itself  in various house-keeping, kid-raising situations in my home. The sighing, the offer of help, the rejection, the complaining. I’m not proud of it. I know my choice to stay home is a privilege–a choice many women would love to make. But, I still dream of the day when home management becomes a side gig, and my writing career takes center stage. There is a hole wormed out in the deepest parts of me that aches to be filled with something more “important” than the endless stream of household chores.

In that hole, lies a deep tension between my everyday duties as a mom running a home, and my desire to do more with my life than run a chauffeur service. I want the work of my heart to matter more than the daily work of my hands, and therein lies the problem. I have swallowed the lie that one is more important than the other, the lie that I must choose between this or that, when instead I should embrace both/and.

My home life and my work life hold equal value in God’s economy, and both require me to steward the gifts God has given me. Acts of service, whether through folding piles of laundry or writing words of encouragement, sculpt and shape me into spiritual maturity. Both home-keeping and writing hold weight in the world because I am created to serve through both, and neither form of work is holier than the other.

I wish someone had told me this when I struggled as a nurse in my twenties, as a young mother of littles, and later as a writer. I wish I had realized that my work changing the diaper of my own child was as holy as changing the diaper of an elderly patient. My work raising our kids while my husband finished his graduate studies was as holy and necessary as the work I complete for my own master’s program. My work feeding and keeping bodies alive is as holy as writing words that feed and keep souls thriving.

I wish someone had told me that in the tension-filled hole, I will find the holy.

The New Monastic Christians have it right. We all want to do work that is meaningful, noteworthy, and life-changing for God’s kingdom. But the real revolution is learning to see that faithfulness to the small, daily acts of service are the building blocks, the DNA, of the larger work at hand–to join God in what he is already doing through our lives.

In my life, the most revolutionary thing I can do right now is find the holy while I wash the dirty dishes and when I write stories, while I listen to my kids talk about their day and when I sit in the quiet and read poetry. As I shift my view to one of inclusion rather than exclusion, I find more joy and contentment in my daily life. God reveals himself in the daily liturgy of laundry and in the crafting of lines.

…..

Have you felt caught in this tension too, seeing one form of work as better/holier/more life-changing than another? You’re not alone. What would it take to reframe the way you think of your everyday work?

Bread and Wine: A New Year’s Eve Tradition

*Photo courtesy of (in)courage

I fell asleep at 11:53pm with a Harry Potter book nestled into the pillows beside me, the spine still gripped in my hand. My husband snuck into the room and snapped a photo of me sleeping in my New Year’s Eve party wear—a sweatshirt, pajama pants, and tousled hair—then he shook me awake. To celebrate…

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Five Steps to Walking the Path of Peace this Christmas

With the holiday season in full swing, I find myself spending an absurd amount of mental energy on twinkle light to branch ratios and how to hide packages from prying eyes. I also find myself in a tug-of-war with my inner self, the self that longs for peace, and my outer self, the self that lives in the real world of holiday hustle.

As we move into Advent, a time of expectant waiting for the coming Christ, I find myself longing more and more for the arrival of the Prince of Peace. This is the name for Jesus that I want to embody this Christmas. It’s the name I want to hang like a banner over our home, over my family, over my heart.

In an effort to hang the banner of peace over my heart, I’m taking a few small steps of intention this season. I won’t add “Stop yelling at the kids” because we all know that’s a given. Join me on walking the path to peace?

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Five Steps to Walking the Path of Peace

Receive: Set aside time for silence.

Wake up a few minutes before the rest of house, wrap yourself in a blanket, switch on the twinkle lights, and sit with yourself in the quiet. I like to sit with my palms open and facing up, in a posture of receiving whatever God has for me this day. If morning isn’t your sweet spot, turn off the Christmas tunes and the third showing of Elf in the evening. We’re so quick to fill every inch of space with ourselves–our anxieties, our to-do list, our feelings. Find a few moments in your day that allow for your restless soul chatter to come to a still point, and allow it to wait expectantly. Christ is coming.

Reveal: Spend time in Scripture

Eugene Peterson says that reading scripture is a way of “listening to God revealing God”, rather than a means of fact gathering or processing information. Approaching scripture from a posture of listening for God’s revelation of himself has the power to transform our understanding of the Bible. Rather than collecting stories, facts, and rules, we read with an ear to the ground, waiting for the thump and vibration of God’s footprints here on earth. This too is waiting. This too brings us to the still point of peace.

Renew: See God’s handiwork in nature

I think we all know the power of a good walk around the block, but I want to experience more than the wonder of my neighbor’s crooked wreaths and leaf piles. A reading of Psalm 8 is good place to start, so is the starlit fabric of the night sky, the small copse of trees in the backyard, a local pine scented garden center, a hike beside a reflective stream. The Psalmist David writes of nature’s ability to stir him to faith and thanksgiving. I find it not only stirs these healthy emotions, but it also hushes the ones that pull at the fine threads of peace.

Re-connect: Surrender through worship

“The heart of worship is surrender, ” writes Rick Warren, and while I absolutely agree, I also absolutely struggle to find listen-able Christian music. Enter Christmas. I’m currently listening to Josh Garrel’s new album The Light Came Down, as well as a stunning selection of Christmas tunes recommended by Kendra at The Lazy Genius (sign up for her email list. It doesn’t disappoint.), and they are watering my parched, worship-hungry soul. Surrender is allowing God to be fully himself, outside of the boxes we’ve constructed for him. It is resting in his sovereignty, and in his plan for the salvation of this world in the form of a flesh and blood child.

Root yourself: Seek out community 

This sounds counter-intuitive, especially for the introverts among us (raises hand), however peace walks hand in hand with belonging. Loneliness does not lead to peace. Rootedness, a deep knowing that there is space for you in this world, calms the restless heart. Lean hard into your places of belonging during this season, they will be a balm to the wounds and bruises we accumulate throughout the year. Walk with a friend, enjoy a quiet conversation, cozy up with your spouse on the sofa, snuggle the kids a little longer, visit your mama, attend the candlelight service at church. Forget the gatherings that stir up insecurities, and instead gather with those who make you feel most yourself, who also walk the path of peace.

When You Wish You Started Sooner

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One after the other, when asked what they would do differently for the next assignment, each student said, “I’d get started sooner and stop procrastinating.”  I listened from a seat in the corner of the classroom, and their lament struck a chord with me. They were all of eighteen years old, and even with our age gap, like me, they wrestled with a fear of mismanagement. Their fear manifested in sweaty palms the night before class, and questionable essays constructed between pizza slices and texting. My fear manifested in sleepless nights and rambling journal entries wondering if I’d mismanaged the past two decades of my adult life.

I used to imagine what my life would look like if I’d started “living” it sooner. If I’d moved away from home sooner, embraced my writing sooner, known and understood my own soul–sooner. The list trails behind me like a thick cloak–one I’ve worn for far too long. The problem with this fictional reality is that it appears like an underdeveloped photograph. Only part of the picture is revealed, while the rest remains blurry. I can’t see how an impossible future would take shape because every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Every confident step towards an imagined path, requires that I step away from the reality of another.

In my twenties, I was living my life as authentically as I knew how. There is no need for shame or regret or a cloak of if-onlys dragging behind me on the wandering path it took me to arrive in my forties. What I once saw as a putting-off or procrastination, was simply growing up. Embracing new experiences, making every-size decisions, falling, failing, losing my way, trying again.

There is always an alternate path shimmering like a mirage in our imagined future. But it is the path of reality, the one worn with our footprints, crowded with the faces we love, lined with the rooted growth of the seeds sown year after year that appears in sharp focus. Our mistakes may litter the path, but our triumphs and great loves and moments of illumination do too.

If you find yourself wishing you’d started something sooner–family life, pursuit of your vocation, self-care, loving others well, faith-building–it’s never too late to start. Looking back and wishing for the imagined past, will not improve your present or give you a fresh and prophetic vision for your future. Cast off the cloak of if-onlys. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you. It’s the road ahead with its infinite possibilities that matters.