Control and Grief

My little plans are crumbs scattered on the ground. This is all I have learned about living here, plodding along, and finding God. My well-laid plans are no longer my foundation.
— Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason

I always bring back a souvenir from most trips we take, a fun little reminder throughout our house of the places we’ve been and the memories that go with it. After our trip to Dallas, I had a particular souvenir to commemorate our trip in mind that I had to order. They were back in stock within the 12 hours we had gotten home, and I was able to have that new little mug on its way here by that week Thursday. I was thrilled.

We were excited and anticipating for other reasons too. We had fallen in love on our last trip, not with the city necessarily, but with the people, the church that we had the privilege to visit and potentially, even land at and move to. We both had such a peace, but myself an odd lingering feeling it wouldn’t happen that we both chalked up to my persistent imposter syndrome. We shrugged it off, cried on the plane back together, and sat in the unknown for two more days before finding out the news. It was a no.

We mourned (we are still mourning) hard. The questions never stopped coming that we knew either couldn’t really be answered, or just simply wouldn’t be: why would we make it this far to hear this? Why would He do this in this way? Is He trying to teach us a specific lesson, and if so, what is it so I can learn it and never go through that again? We both rationally knew that we needed to keep our eyes lifted up, our hearts in the right place so that this circumstance, this dream job, wouldn’t continue to find its way into my life as an idol. We still had to lament.

I’ve always had this idol of control lingering in almost everything I do. You can call it type-A, you can even label me as that typical enneagram 3: success, achievement, busy bee. I plan ahead, both my husband and I are constantly dreaming, doing ridiculous things just to see if we can, and working as hard as we possibly can because if we work hard, obviously we’ll do great. The equations are simple for us: work hard, get the grades, be the very best, and the outcome will be a clear win. Planning is everything.

Control is a drug, and we’re all hooked, whether or not we believe in the prosperity gospel’s assurance that we can master the future with our words and attitudes.
— Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason

When my new beautiful mug shows up two days after our bad news, a pang of paradox in that it is beautiful and also reminds me of what could have been runs through both James and I like the sound of a gong in total silence. I pull it out of its packaging in front of my husband as he does dishes and we both feel it: shock. I don’t think we’ve had a trinket from a different place together that invoked the feeling and memories of loss and grief just yet.

I’ve been reading Kate Bowler’s new book, Everything Happens for a Reason: and Other Lies I've Loved, these past two days before bed. Her book made me both laugh and cry within the span of two pages, and has been a tremendously helpful read as the sufferers are all of us. What stuck with me was the reminder that my grasping for a reason in the midst of what utterly stinks is yet again, my idol and need for control running my life instead of holding the future loosely in the tension of what is truly here and now. Our inability to live in the paradoxes that we most often find ourselves in eats us from the inside out.

As I have wrestled my inability to make a clear path for what I thought looked like success post-graduation, I have forgotten that wrestling also means putting to death this golden calf, which has the shine of the american dream while I’ve tried to mask it with ministry and gospel-centeredness. My well intentioned goals, hopes, plans, and dreams have also been muddled with my discontentment here and now, my bitterness, resentment.

I think I believed that I was living in the center, but I rarely let me feet rest on solid ground, rooting me in the present. My eyes shifted to look for that thing just beyond, the next deadline, the next hurdle, the next plan… On long walks I forever roped Toban into my favorite topic: the next thing. How could we improve our lives? What should we do next? As we walked through the tall Carolina oaks on a fall trail dusted with Technicolor leaves, my mind hummed with possible futures. Always. If I were to invent a sin to describe what that was - for how I lived - I would not say it was simply that I didn’t stop to smell the roses. It was the sin of arrogance, of becoming impervious to life itself. I failed to love what was present and decided to love what was possible instead.
I must learn to live in ordinary time, but I don’t know how.
— Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason

As I enter into this Lent season in a season myself of mourning, dust to dust, I am convicted of the many ways that I have lived so entitled, demanding, and forgetful. It is not as if dreaming or planning is bad, but when they become better and best, obviously when those things are pulled out of my hands like sand running through my fingers, I am undone.

As we all enter into this Lent season, I am reminded that I am finite, human, squirming around in the arms of a Savior who has entered into this world as suffering servant, Who is not sitting around simply fixing all of my problems as I struggle through loss, fumbling through life, asking 9000 different questions everyday but is with me. With us. I can trust the One who was slain. To trust Him is enough.

He didn’t give me a bridge over troubled waters, but He kept the promise that when I passed through the waters, He would be with me.
— Elisabeth Elliot