Last weekend I read through all my journal entries from the past year (a task that was equal parts cringe-y and illuminating), and I was shocked to see I’d written in mid-May that I was ready to begin my next creative project (though I admitted I didn’t yet know what that “creative project” would be). It had felt, then, like I was on the cusp of something new. I was eager to plan, to begin putting steps in place toward execution. I was ready for the next thing.
It’s clear to me now, six months later: I wasn’t even close to ready.
Although I wrote a whole blog post about “right now being my next thing” – and those words were true – at the same time, the productive, striving and achievement-oriented part of me assumed quitting one thing would inevitably open the way to another creative opportunity. And so, for several months now, I have been impatiently asking, “What’s next, God?”
Last weekend when I read through my journal entries from the past year, I did so with a yellow highlighter in hand. I was looking for hints, trail markers pointing to where the path might be leading. I circled a couple of passages and notes, but in the end, I didn’t find what I was looking for. No clear arrows, no flashing neon signs.
What I saw instead as I read through days and weeks and months of musings was the slow, almost imperceptible work of God. I saw the tiny seeds of transformation that had been planted and tended in the ordinary and quiet. It seems stepping out of book writing has indeed created space for something else, but that something else is not another opportunity to do or create or produce, but rather, to enter into.
“Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you.” (Galatians 3:11-12, Msg.).
When I read Paul’s words recently, I realized how much I prefer “doing things for” over “entering into.” Doing things plucks my Type A, productive, achiever strings. I like a plan to execute, steps to tick off and, most importantly, something to show in the end for my efforts.
“Entering into,” on the other hand, while not entirely passive per se, is an act of relinquishment. When we enter into, we surrender control, releasing our desires, our ambitions, ourselves into what God is doing and has been doing all along.
It’s a little bit like the difference between vigorously swimming the crawl stroke upstream and strapping on an orange life vest, lying back with arms extended and toes pointed skyward and letting the current take you where it may.
Swimming the crawl stroke has its place, to be sure. Planning and accomplishing goals is part of healthy living. But I do think Paul is encouraging the Galatians (and us) to be patient with the process – or as philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it: to “trust in the slow work of God.”
“We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient to being on our way to something unknown, something new,” de Chardin acknowledged. “And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a long time.”
These are hard words. These are words we might not easily accept and embrace. The intermediate stages of anything can be awkward and uncomfortable, and the middle always seems to last forever (remember middle school?). Most days, I am not down with floating in my orange life jacket. Most days, uncertainty is the worst, and instability is for the birds.
But I also know there is so much truth in de Chardin’s words.
It wasn’t obvious to me until I read back through a year’s worth of journal entries, but now I clearly see: this whole past year has been a practice of entering into what God is already doing – not only what he is doing in me, but also what he is doing in my place, in my communities, in the people I know and love and in those around me who are strangers.
I’m not sure when the “next thing” will present itself. Frankly, I’m not at all sure there is a “next thing.” Maybe it’s all one long walk through the intermediate stages. Maybe here, in the middle, is the actual sweet spot and entering into this is what we are called to do.