An Invitation to Desire
I didn’t quite intend to start writing more regularly here on Sayable during this sabbatical. In fact, my intention was simply to write if the muse visited and to not think of it otherwise. But it seems the muse has come around a bit more since the avoidance of my email, social media, phone, and all the various conversations that couple being present to those entities. This should surprise no one. I read a piece this week on the inefficiency of the efficiency culture and found the naming of it all helpful. I didn’t enter this sabbatical in despair about technology, but I knew it would come for me soon enough if I didn’t take a break.
Everyone I do talk to asks me, “How is your sabbatical going?” to which I usually say something short like, “Great!” and that’s pretty much it. I’m resisting the urge to produce a measurable or quantifiable outcome from this time, proof that I did the work or the work did me. Most days I’m simply paying attention to whatever invitation God offers to me in the moment and then showing up to that invitation. I am learning to not reward my work with play or numb my desires until they’re ravenously hungry, but to let desire and play and joy be the steed upon which I explore the terrain of this time. Some of you may gasp at the hedonism of that statement, but I suspect most of us in the midlife of our faith-journey understand its necessity and I also suspect that those who gasp do so because underneath it all they need to feed the God-given gift of desire too.
March has come in, as she does, all liony and loud, dumping another six or eight inches of snow on newly shoveled paths and making the house sing with blinding sunshine. I love the brightness but I’m counting on the lamb-like end of March as the outdoor projects mount (a garden bed I want to ready for planting later in the spring, an overhaul of our garage that has never functioned for us, the finishing of our front porch, etc.). Instead I try to appreciate these lingering temperatures and finish all the indoor projects still to be done, like painting our downstairs wardrobe Scandinavian Pink (Will she regret it? I don’t know, we’ll have to see.).
As I anticipate the work ahead, I am asking myself, “What makes the difference between work that is anticipated and work that isn’t?” Anticipation can’t be the only thing that sets them apart, right? Why do I look forward to pulling every single item out of our garage, building shelves, hanging hooks, and putting it all back in again, but I don’t look forward to painting our stairway steps and trim? The first is clearly more work, more labor, more money and the second is less of all three.
I think there is something about outcomes that are a bit essential to our work and its anticipation or lack of. I know that painting our stairway is going to mean we have to carry Harper up and down it until it seals properly and even then, it’s a high traffic space that will chip and dirty quickly. It may be a different color after I paint it, but it will still be the same space with the same issues. Whereas the garage will feel entirely new (In my head at least. Realistically, there’s only so much difference lipstick on a pig makes, no matter how rosy.) when we finish its cleanup. And the garden bed we lay will be entirely new, as will the porch it borders.
Ah, I realize, it is the sense of newness that sets the work apart. The creation of something that was never there before. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground,” and I wonder if that is because a garden, even with all its tasks, is essentially a place of creativity—making it whatever we want it to be—while the playground of heaven is the place where everything good already exists? We image God on earth by playing, by creating and recreating, making and remaking, all of it a dress rehearsal for the ultimate delight to come.
This is what I mean about letting desire and joy and play invite me into whatever God has next for me in this time, and it’s a quality I hope I can carry with me after.
For reasons I don’t need to share here, I learned to despise play as a child and the memories that come directly to mind around play are not pleasant ones. And then my early twenties, while my peers were spreading their wings and enjoying all that life suddenly offered them, were wrought with grief over my brother’s death, my parent’s divorce, my siblings’ custody battles, poverty, court appearances, and more. While my friends navigated college and dating and wilderness expeditions, I put my nose to the ground in a very serious way, worked twelve different jobs—some of them three at a time, put myself through a four year degree in three years, and still ended my twenties almost penniless. I did not ever learn that play and delight and desire could be a good thing because I didn’t have the margin to let it be a good thing.
Play is a bit of a luxury, but desire is given to everyone. I wish I had known that I had the option to explore those desires as I grew up instead of viewing all desire as either sinful or inaccessible to me, only for my more privileged peers with stable families and solid provision. I wonder what I would have discovered if I had rejected some expectations on me and moved toward the good gifts God was holding out to me? I wonder what newness might have been found if I’d followed those gifts?
I feel I am learning some of these things too late, now into my forties. But I also know that we all learn something when it feels too late. A friend of mine is learning to be quiet and another friend is learning to be restrained and another friend is learning to trust. We all come into the world into a story that is already unfolding. We don’t ask to join that story, we simply take our place in it, dress the part of our character, act the script we’re given, and it’s a different one for all of us.
This is mine. Yours is different. The question for us all is the same though: What goodness is God inviting me into today?