I fell hard on the ice last week. Real hard. It happened in an instant: I was getting babies out of their car seats to go watch a preschool Christmas concert and in no time at all I was on the ground of the parking lot with a one-year-old cocooned to my chest, unaware of the fall at all. But if my instinctual reaction was to protect Jordi, something else had to give, and since no hands were available to break my fall it was just a tailbone and solid ice. The pain quickly shot up my back and down my right leg, but an entourage of parents and grandparents ready to see their four-year-olds under the spotlight were all sympathetically “ohhh” and “ouchhh”-ing from a few feet away, so I had to act like this was no big deal. But it was. I smiled my way through the concert and then finally let myself feel how much it hurt when we got home, and as I laid on my back unable to roll up to my tailbone at all, I realized that this was basically a perfect metaphor for what life can feel like: I fell, it hurt, and I cannot carry all of this anymore.
My heart has always battled bouts of this urge to quit. Always. I ran for student council president in eight grade and lost and then never, ever tried again, even though I always wanted to. But trying again and losing was basically the worst thing my fourteen-year-old mind could imagine happening so it was never worth the risk. It took me six solid years of writing before I ever called myself a writer, because for most of those six years I operated on a fast-moving pendulum of “I want to write forever!” to “I should quit, no one like these words anyway,” and the poles of those feelings could knock back and forth on the daily.
Because here is the thing: trying feels vulnerable, and what if you try and fail? The people pleaser in me feels the slightest bit of shame at even the thought.
And last week, perhaps more than I have ever felt the urge to quit, I really wanted to. I was at the end of what I could handle, the joy I should have in the faces of my babies felt more like a grudge, the words I put to paper felt meaningless, and my body physically craved a sleep so deep that I could just have a break from thinking about all that is in front of me right now.
The narrative reel of my mind spun on storylines like:
Years of therapy produces no real results for autistic child.
Strong-willed teenage daughter rebels from parents.
Mom writes about trusting God in hard circumstances but cannot actually trust him when life is the hardest.
The theme was clear: what if I try so hard at all of these things God has given me, and ultimately, I fail?
When that question creeps in, I resort to doing what I have done so many times before: I decided I simply cannot try so hard, because that gives my heart an illusion of being a little bit more protected.
But here is what I know: that is the wrong narrative to begin with, and that is fear. Because God has given us work to do. It’s hard work, sometimes it is downright painful work, but it is good work. It’s parenting for the long haul and accepting that even when we steward these little hearts to the best of our ability, we are merely planting and only God makes things grow; it is repairing what the world would absolutely deem a hopeless marriage even when you would be justified in walking away from it; it is doing what you know God has given you to do: writing, creating, serving, making music, caring and pouring in to someone even when it feels like none of it matters. Remember that the world uses a very different metrics system than Jesus, and if it is this work that we want to quit, these good endeavors that God can truly get all the glory for, I think it is really the Holy Spirit pushing at the seams of our heart saying, “Pay attention to me, because if you’re trying to do this on your own you will want to quit.”
(And sometimes that nudge is less gentle and you actually fall on your arse, which is apparently what my heart needed to pay attention.)
Life is not so pretty and clean-cut that I can pretend a well-written sentiment will be enough to get me through the hardest things. I know myself well enough to be certain that I will want to quit again, because there will be long seasons that do not produce fruit and there will be efforts met with no applause and there will always be fear competing with faith.
And there will always, always be Jesus.
The target of our lives is not moving. It is sure, and it is steady, because our aim is the glory of God. It is not elusive, and it is not just beyond what I can manage. It’s there. My job is simply to reorient my steps to that end, and not to the gains I hope for in this world because those are the things that are moving. Following Jesus has always been modeled by laying down our lives and our gains for something better, for Him.
Perhaps my favorite prayer in all of scripture comes from the plea of a desperate father, crying out to Jesus and saying, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Those words might be all we can find, but when we want to quit, they are also all that we need.
Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief! Help me Jesus, to not want the kind of faith that believes you are only good if our circumstances change, but to believe that you are good because you never change.