A few years ago I dramatically pruned the shrubbery in my backyard. For two days I went at it with the loppers, chopping off clumps of foliage, clipping dead twigs, sculpting and reshaping the remaining branches. When I was done, the landscape was transformed.
Noah, our resident Tree Lover, was not pleased – he disdainfully called me Paul Bunyan for weeks afterward – but I loved it. I could see more of the sky and the neighbor’s house across the street. Light streamed into spots that had previously been dank and dark. Though it was still the same size it had always been, the backyard suddenly felt much more spacious – open, airy and inviting.
Still, for about a week after the dramatic pruning, every time I glanced out the sunroom windows into the backyard, I did a double take. The landscape was so different, so unfamiliar – I hardly recognized it. Even though I loved the openness and was glad I’d pruned the shrubbery, my new backyard took some getting used to; I had to reacquaint myself with it.
A few weeks ago, my friend Kimberly read my blog post about whitewashing the reality of poverty and Voxed me with an idea. It was a good, strong piece, she said, and she suggested I might want to rework it a bit and pitch it to Christianity Today. It was a timely topic, she noted – something she thought would resonate with a broader audience.
I immediately set to work researching other online articles on global poverty and mission work, reviewing Christianity Today’s submissions guidelines and considering how I would reshape the post into an article that might resonate with CT’s audience.
In the middle of that process, though, I became aware of the slightest bit of a pit in my stomach, which in turn prompted me to ask myself a question: Do I actually want to revise this blog post and pitch it as an article to Christianity Today? Do I want to do this work?
At first, in spite of the stomach pit (note to future self: the pit tells the truth!), the answer was not readily apparent, and so I held out the question – Do I want to do this work? – and examined it further. I turned the question around and around and gave myself the space for my true desire to make itself known. I allowed myself to figure out how I actually felt about pursuing this opportunity.
In the end, I realized I did not want to revise my blog post into an article to pitch to Christianity Today. I realized it was, in fact, the very last thing I wanted to do.
Turns out, striving is still my default mode. After a lifetime of pushing to make progress and striving for measurable results, it’s easy, almost mindless, for me to fall into my old habits and rhythms. Striving is familiar terrain for me (and just to be clear: striving to achieve a goal or make progress is not inherently a bad thing; in fact, it can be a very good, very positive thing. But it’s not the thing I want to do right now). On the other hand, this new place I’m now navigating – this place of writing solely for creative pleasure, of writing toward no particular outcome – is still largely unknown and unfamiliar, which makes it equal parts exhilarating and unnerving.
I am discovering that it takes intentionality to learn to live and thrive in a new landscape. I’m learning to slow down rather than steamroll ahead, to look inward at my own needs and desires rather than capitulate to what I think I should do or what I assume is expected of me. I’m learning to ask myself probing questions and then allow the time and space to listen for and hear the answers that come from my soul.
I’ve done some dramatic pruning in my life over these past several months, and while it’s been a fruitful, space-making, life-giving process, and I generally like the results, it’s also taken some getting used to. I am, in many ways, getting reacquainted with myself. I am still navigating this new landscape of me.