on willingness

Posted: January 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

Last year when I looked back across 2011 for its lessons, I found 5 major themes.  That was, I think, pretty typical for most years.  This past 24 hours as I’ve pondered what lessons 2012 taught me, I realized…all of it, each story, every last bit of 2012’s teaching for me fell under a single category.  Apparently God decided I needed a year of hyper-focus on this one!  The theme was:




Rather than drag you through twenty pages of single-spaced small font delineating the endless examples I can come up with, how about just three stories as highlights?

1.  Early in the year, a girl my daughter’s age (to whom I had been related by marriage) lost the war with suicide.  It seemed to me, and surely to most everyone else as well, to have come out of left field.  She wasn’t “the type”…so much so that for the first few hours after hearing the news, my mind just would not receive it.

I waited to hear that it was a mistake or a lie…that someone else died, but it wasn’t her.  She wouldn’t!

But she was really gone.  For months after that, I waited to hear that someone else had done this unspeakable thing to her.  She wouldn’t! 

But no such news came.  In the few weeks after her death, I was stucker than stuck on the question of “why.”  My mind wouldn’t stop asking it.  Something in me insisted that if I knew why, I could make peace with it.  That I HAD to know why.  That knowing why was a non-negotiable.  That insisting on knowing why was the way of safety.  Very early on (I think within the first 24 hours), God showed me pretty clearly in prayer that I wasn’t going to know why – that this question and its answer were not the point, were not available to me, were not my right.

But I wasn’t willing to hear that answer from Him at first.  How could “why” not be the point of the story?  How could knowing why not be somehow soothing?  How could it be, that I didn’t have a right to know why?  WHY?  WHY?  WHY?  It pulsed in me while I was awake and while I slept.  While I cried and while I played and while I worked and while I moved on with my life and while I prayed for her family, wondering how they could ever move on with theirs.  WHY?

Eventually I came to the place of letting go, after I felt like I had banged on the steel door of heaven, demanding an answer until my knuckles were bloody.  Eventually I became willing, first by telling God, “I am not willing to let go of this…please make me willing.”  Then picking up my unwillingness again, almost as soon as He had given me willingness.  Over and over and over again.  It was a cycle I’d call unproductive, except I don’t think it was.  I think sometimes we just have to chase it in a circle until we wear ourselves out, until we’re ready to let Him do what we cannot do.  Until we are truly willing.

When I was willing, He helped me really let go.  Why is not the point.  Why is not my right to know.  Knowing why would not make it any less awful.  We live in a broken and devastated world, growing more so with time.  The question “why?” is all too often a trick and a trap that keeps us from coming to the only One who can carry us through such unspeakable things.  My willingness went forth, and He sent back peace with it.

2.  In 2012 I pushed myself harder, re: physical fitness, than I ever have in my life.  I rode my bike 50 miles at a time on several different occasions.  The first quarter of such a ride is fun, light, exciting, full of anticipation.  The middle two quarters are a little more work, but still highly rewarding and I feel great about myself.  The last quarter is always a huge train wreck.  The saddle is making me want to cry.  My neck and shoulders won’t stop hunching, no matter how much I straighten them.  My hands are falling asleep repeatedly, no matter how much I flex my fingers or shake my hands.  My feet hurt like hell.  I’m sick of sweating.  My lips are drying and cracking, despite the fact that I’ve been drinking water aggressively the whole time.  The (setting) sun feels too bright and everyone on the path is annoying to me.  My mind is shrieking, “What have you done?!  Why did you go so far from home!  You need to stop and call a friend to drive you back!”   In that place, willingness is my only ally.  Just push the pedal.  And push the pedal.  And push the pedal.  Don’t look a mile down the road.  Deal with right here and now, push the pedal.  Breathe.  Stretch as needed.  But only pushing the pedal will get you there.  I learned to dread that last quarter of the ride, but it did not deter me from striking out repeatedly for 50 mile rides, because I had learned from running the awesome rewards of keeping on, when one most wants to stop.  Because of willingness, I can ride 50+ miles.  Because of willingness, I can run up Brady Street hill without stopping, even though stopping is all I can think of, most of the way up.  Because of willingness, my bike and I reach the top of Main Street hill without a pause, even though I have breathed so hard my throat is sore and I’m on the verge of throwing up.  Because of willingness, I finished the 7-mile Bix race even though my calves felt like giving out, halfway through.  Because of willingness, every day I connect a little more with my body, become more whole and integrated, becoming healthier, smaller, more comfortable in my own skin, more confident.  Just breathe.  Just push the pedal.  Just take another step.  Decide not to stop this breath, this step, this push.  That’s all willingness is…one more yes.  Willingness is EVERYTHING, when it comes to letting God teach me to love my body.

3.  I was sitting in worship, soaking up the music, pouring my heart out to God but also feeling (again) wounded and bereft in my singleness.  Right there in church, He spoke softly to me.  “You keep complaining to Me about being single, but you won’t ask Me for a mate.”  My raised arms came down, I came down off my tiptoes and sat hard in the chair.  “What if the next place I call you to is letting someone into the closest space in your heart?” He asked me gently.  “Not that safe place from which you so often minister…not that place where you can give without risking much pain.  What if I send you into the place where dying to yourself is an everyday event?  What if I ask you to open up so far that you could be devastated again?”

I was surprised at the panic that shot through me, at the wall that went up.  “I can’t have this conversation, Lord!  Let’s change the subject!”  I had thought I was ready for a relationship.  The terror and brokenness in me at His questions showed me quickly:  I wasn’t there yet.

But though He didn’t ask further questions, He stayed right there, quietly challenging me to stay there too.  Step one was willingness to not run, not bury the pain, not deny the fear, not distract myself, not pretend the question hadn’t been asked.  Willingness to sit with the panic and not bolt.  I found that willingness, holding onto it with the most tenuous possible grasp, and for a number of days we stayed there together, quiet, waiting for me to be ready for Him to move me on.  Waiting for willingness better than “don’t run away.”  When it came, when I was willing…He made it as easy as stepping on solid ground.  When it came, I was out running, and my asking Him for a mate came between steps, between breaths, no pain, no fear, no great showmanship.  It was as big as an earthquake and as quiet as a whisper and I knew for sure He didn’t provoke me to ask just as an intellectual exercise.  I knew…it’s coming.  He’s coming.  The one I asked for was on his way to me, though I didn’t yet know who he was.  Within a few months…here he came.

Funny thing:  who he was, was someone about whom God had already tested my willingness repeatedly.  I’d noticed him when I first moved to JPUSA, but had been willing, when the coordinators told me, “no relationships in the first year,” to be obedient to their directive.  I’d felt somewhat bereft when a mutual friend had shared that he was in a relationship, but willingness had let me choose to be happy for him.  I’d wanted to go insert myself in as a “comfort” when that relationship ended, but willingness had helped me to see that would be opportunistic and not love…and willingness let me choose love (in this case, standing back.)  God showed me all this and more in kind of a, “way to go, my daughter!” conversation, shortly after this someone and I began to finally pursue a relationship, a year and a half after the first time I had so strongly noticed him.  Willingness is why I’m at peace with living nearly 4 hours from him, with no idea when or how God is going to change that.  Willingness is why I don’t need to see the map of how this next part plays out.  He’s got it.  I trust Him, and my guy trusts Him, and the 3 of us will work it out, but He’s in charge and we are not.  End of story.

I’d love to go on and on, but I promised you just 3 stories.  Rereading my gratitude lists of 2012, I can remember endlessly more examples of the “willingness” theme God chose for my 2012.

If He was that determined to teach it to me, I think I’m best off learning it.  Here’s to carrying willingness with me, WHATEVER 2013 might bring with it!


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