Last week, after I tucked my boys in bed Tuesday night, I clicked the “take quiz” button to start my Greek final and felt queasy when the details at the top told me there were 200 possible points and only 14 questions on the exam. The entire twenty weeks that we’ve sprinted through Greek I’ve been glad that I haven’t monitored my blood pressure when it was time to take the weekly quiz. Greek is fascinating. Studying it has changed my appreciation for the Bible. Moving this quickly through the work for a grade has been stressful.
In May, I read half the number of books I’ve read every other month this year. I also waded through the depths of my second quarter of Greek in seminary, spent at least half the day outside with the boys, bought a house in a different state, and sold our home here. I don’t set numerical reading goals and this is precisely the reason. Different times in life (or just the year) make different demands on my time. I refuse to feel behind over something I made up, like a reading goal. (You can also note that the last post here was what I read in April.)
A few months ago, I admitted to a friend that when I read N.T. Wright’s academic work, I’m only absorbing a small portion of it. It stretches my mind. It’s work that I can reread in a few years and there will be so much untouched, it will be like new. I read this type of work because it’s how I grow. Toni Morrison’s work referenced below is also like this. I’m skimming the surface and not mining the depths, but it’s enough for now. I’m gaining the nourishment I need to put down deeper reading roots.
It’s the same for my second-grader. He regularly reads sentences and paragraphs that are slightly beyond his competency. They make him uncomfortable. He’s a little afraid he can’t do it. But, with help, he does and his reading ability grows. If either of us stays inside our comfort zone, we don’t increase our capacities.
One of my goals for this year is to write publicly every week. Most often that is here, excepting the week I send out the monthly newsletter. I need both the encouragement to write consistently and the discipline of writing longer form pieces. Last week I hadn’t written much, mostly because I was discouraged. I feel discouraged about raising my kids. We’ve been at this for a while and it still feels like we are doing the same work. I feel discouraged about the conversations about women and the church because sometimes it seems like we’re still having the same conversations. I feel discouraged about my own sense of vocation because I can’t see a path forward. I’m still living these same days.
After some thought, I’ve realized that much of this discouragement is because I can’t see an end line. There’s no banner stretched out over the finish that I’m straining toward in any of these areas. The boys will weigh on my heart as long as I’m alive, even after my work of raising them is complete. There will always be those people who are happy to subjugate women and slap the name of Jesus on it. My own path forward may always feel like a mystery. I’m slowly practicing obedience and faithfulness in the everyday and not analyzing other metrics like success or notoriety or feelings.
Last week, I started reading Keep Going by Austin Kleon. In the introduction he says “the question is always the same: How to keep going?” To frame it that way helps me. This is what life is. Life is beautiful and difficult, joyful and terrible, boring and ecstatic. These days can be both excruciating and strengthening. But the call is always onward because I am actually going somewhere, even if it’s not a somewhere I was taught to look for.
This week the woman I’m discipling and I laughed hysterically over a story in Rich Villodas’ book, A Deeply Formed Life. He tells about a temp job that he had shortly after he became a Christ in which he prominently displayed Romans 3:23 on his computer screensaver and wore t-shirts with Bible verses on them in an attempt to evangelize his coworkers. Before quitting the job, he sent an email to the entire company explaining how they could go to heaven. He walked out feeling triumphant.
We laughed and laughed and then we shared stories of when we have been just as aggressive and obnoxious and thought we were doing God a favor. We considered the work we were doing as vital to the kingdom, even if it meant knocking on a stranger’s door and accosting them with a question about hell.
I must admit that my perspective on evangelism has changed drastically. (Here’s a short podcast by NT Wright you might like if you’re curious about less aggressive evangelism.) But I need to remember those embarrassing stories so that I will remember God’s endless patience.
Kentucky doesn’t understand spring so as the sun beat down hotter and hotter Wednesday morning, I moved the brush. I knelt on our patio, stroking stain into the wooden benches. While I moved the brush and chatted with my sons, I prayed. My best friend from college had an emergency c-section with her twins last Friday. They are tiny, the smallest under two pounds. That tiny baby was in critical condition.
One of my most distinct memories is sitting in a Fazoli’s in Lexington, Kentucky, pretending to eat while my own newborn was being prepped for transfer to a different hospital. It was a gorgeous spring day. The sun shone and across the parking lot was a large display of flowers and hanging baskets outside a nursery. The cheerfulness felt like an assault. The sunshine and the flowers didn’t change the fact that the hospital had told us there was nothing they could do for Micah. The attendant the night before had left it at that. The resident that morning had one more idea. I realized, looking out the window, that everyone else was going about their lives, enjoying being alive instead of feeling held hostage in a nightmare.
Two weeks ago, I did a shorter Instagram live where I talked about reading with discernment. How do we read an author we respect and disagree with some of what they say? How do we read people who have differing world views and come away with knowledge we need? I talked about those things in this video, but I’m always left considering the conversation later and I have two thoughts to add.
First, I take my questions about the faith to orthodox believers. They might not be in the same denomination or the same church circles, but I go to faithful believers who profess Jesus with my doubts and my questions. It might take a few tries to find some that are ok with doubts and questions, but I’ll stick around while I’m searching. Then I read deconstructionists to understand what they are experiencing and believe. To be honest, I think most of us have done some sort of deconstructing, even if we haven’t called it that; but there’s a different type who, after they tore apart their faith, never built anything back. Personally, I don’t look to them to answers.
Second, I also think it’s imperative that we have these conversations and that we equip people to deal with questions. For one thing, we can stop living in fear of everyone else if we are no longer scared of their ideas. For another, we cannot truly hide out from these ideas without living a cramped life. We send our college students off to school moaning about how they fall away from the faith, but did we teach them to dig in? To ask questions? To be unafraid of other people’s questions? Did we teach them to evaluate ideas and statement in light of the Bible? To wait in the tension of not knowing an answer? We cannot short-circuit this process and yet we often skip it entirely.