The weekend of October 1-3 was beach retreat. It involved hopping into a car for a 5 hour long drive down from Charlottesville, VA to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. The lead up to that weekend had been A LOT. I had been gone for the two weekends before – one weekend home in NYC, and the next away at a different retreat that I wrote about in my last post. While I knew that the weekend was going to be fun and filled with all sorts of beauty, I didn’t expect much spiritually.
The past beach retreats had been fun but they had also just not met my expectations, and granted, my expectations were high. I thought I would go to the beach for 1 weekend and walk away a whole new person and while I enjoyed those weekends, I never did feel this extraordinary change. I just felt like I had a good weekend.
Because my expectations were lower for this weekend, when things went wrong, I wasn’t as frustrated. But it got me thinking – in what ways do we hear this lie that we should always expect an extraordinary change?
Related Post: Change, Consistency, and the 1% rule
It’s easy to see to peer into the picture perfect view of other people’s lives on social media, not realizing that it takes more time than we all acknowledge for change to occur. I was listening to That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs, as I do, and she was talking to Danny Gokey and he mentioned how two years had passed before he got what he wanted. Annie emphasized that oftentimes we hear stories about several years passing until the change that we want comes in, but no one ever labors over the fact that several years is a long time. There is a day by day struggle of not seeing the change you desire in front of you.
Whether it’s the apps that train us for instant gratification and appliances like the microwave making things go faster (even though we’re all impatient about the microwave), we expect change to come in suddenly. And as I sat down for two hours in silence, walking on the beach and praying and asking questions, and the feeling of peace never came, I had to walk away knowing that the trying was enough.
Related Post: sharing stories at a 24 hour retreat
Sometimes faith feels like the Sisyphus myth, where you roll a boulder up a mountain only to have the force of gravity pulling you down. And it seeps into other areas too. Feeling like I’m always making new friends instead of having deeper relationships. Frustration at being bad at math. Trying to push my parents to be a little less strict and a little more flexible.
Back to the beach.
I watched the sunrise on Saturday morning and Sunday morning. It was the same sky and yet it had altered so radically in 24 hours. There was beauty in that moment but there was also pain. I had not been altered so radically. But rather than grieve the change that never happened, I think I mourn the pressure. The pressure to have metamorphosed, the pressure to shift in an instant with no regard for the process of transformation.
9 hours before, a small group of us had gathered and we had been singing — and the sky was dark and littered with stars. There were moments that we didn’t have words for, the tension between the stars and the dark sky, wanting to linger in this moment and knowing that it wouldn’t last forever. And that such moments are imperfect, they never live up to our expectations. In the sunrise, I forgot the dark sky.
In some sense, I’m living in a dark sky. It’s not what I hoped for (is it ever?), but there are still stars that peek through, reminding me of a glory that’s to come. I feel stagnant here, falling into the lie that I always need to be changing to have worth or know beauty. I need to accept my stagnation. At the very least, in my faith life. That sometimes growth is out of my control. That I can’t will friendships into being on my own. They take work from two parties.
In the stagnation, something is happening here that doesn’t always meet the eye. It’s only in looking back, contrasting the growth with the period of stagnancy that the purpose of stagnation begins to make sense. But I’m not quite there yet.
Related Post: Fighting for faith on a winding path
What I do know is that I’m not alone. If there’s been a pattern to my conversations with friends, both close and distant, it’s that the dryness is there. For all sorts of reasons. There are questions and there is silence and there is lack of desire and there are aches and wounds. I feel incredibly lucky to be given the gift to hear someone else’s struggle and to peel back the layers a little to understand why.
I’ve got to learn to be okay if I’m not always growing. To accept that stagnation is a part of life, the part that I don’t quite understand. I have to sit in the not-knowing and not growing, and trust that something is happening beneath the surface, even if my eyes can’t see.
This morning, the haze covered the mountains outside of my window and when I left to go to the study center, the mountains once again came into view. I want the beauty of a 24 hour radical change, but what glory awaits me on the other side of the haze slowly revealing the mountains to the naked eye? I don’t know. All I know is that I can either try to force a change in my life or accept what is here now and be fully present. I choose to accept the stagnation, even if it isn’t where I want to be.