When I was a kid, and I wasn’t dreaming of becoming a ballet dancer or the next Connie Chung, I wanted to become a missionary like one of the women who came to visit my Mission Friends group at our Baptist church. It seemed like such fun and in terms of pleasing this God I was learning about, couldn’t get much better than to go to Ethiopia or Kenya or wherever I was sent to feed poor kids oatmeal and tell them about Jesus. I was mesmerized every time a missionary came with stories and slideshows and even though we moved and life changed a lot after that, that desire to “be a missionary” stuck with me throughout my childhood. So when I grew up to marry a missionary kid, I think somewhere in my heart, I took it as a sign that we would do some sort of work together. However, because my husband and his family had been hurt by decisions made by profoundly misguided leaders in the name of God, I think any fervor that my husband might have had or me, as his wife, in pursuing careers as missionaries was greatly diminished.
Still, I had a strong sense that I wanted my work to matter to God and that the path to God’s approval and my divine significance in this world was narrow. I had to find that perfect career in order to really be a good kid. With this mindset as well as my genuine interests, I majored in psychology with the plan to do graduate work in school counseling or child psychology or some such related field. All that changed when I took two fiction writing class back to back in my junior year and I fell in love with writing stories. I don’t know that I intended to never go back and get a different degree but for now, I was determined to go for my new “dream” of becoming a writer and I started my MFA in writing from Bennington College two years after graduating from college.
My husband, Ole, was in medical school at the time and I think there was part of me that sort of allowed Ole to pursue the thing that would keep us eating while I had the freedom to go for something that was a little more frivolous. While I believed that I could make a difference with writing and that literature was in my bones – I grew up with a mother who took my twin brother and me to poetry readings from the time I was two, she says, though I can’t quite believe that we were actually two since I now have a two year old who is still too savage to sit through poems of all things – I often wondered if I was making the right choice, if God was ok with it.
To this day, I wonder. And yet, at times when I descend into despair about how my jobs as writer and mother of three are insignificant compared to my husband’s job of fixing kids’ bones or a woman’s job of working to fight human trafficking in India, when I wallow in guilt about having the luxury to stay home, to not work outside the home, to one day be a full time writer, I often hear this quite voice saying: Just write. And so I go back to the table. I quiet my own voice, I pray for the holy spirit to keep a see-through hand over my big mouth, and I write. In those moments I feel reasonably certain that God has sculpted me to be a writer, that he actually wants me to do this thing that at times seems so selfish.
But let’s say for argument’s sake that God did have this one magical career plan for my life and it is not writing, that I missed the boat back in college, I believe intellectually that my little row boat is attached to his ship and he will still be with me and work in my heart to bring some good stuff to this world through me – however he does that. Believing it emotionally, on a daily basis is harder. When I let my self-doubt and tendency to compare take over, I am paralyzed on all fronts. So nothing happens. No writing. No pursuing those quiet tugging ideas of service. And I resent my kids during those moments. I become ugly and grandiose inside. If only I had more time I could write my novel faster and it would change lives – forgetting that the main lives I’m meant to be concerned with are the little ones right in front of me.
But here’s the thing: When I will myself to shut up and pray, not only is my writing more productive, I am oddly energized by the hope that God becomes strong by my weakness. I am reminded of when Jesus was drawn into the desert where he was strengthened and made ready for his ministry. Now, of course this isn’t a perfect analogy, but I think God uses my recurring struggles, my idols, my tempting mind-sets to draw me closer to Him. I imagine that God scoops me up and says, silly girl. There you go again. And I guess he’ll have to do it again and again. That scooping. I will probably die being that woman believing in some corner of her heart that she is always missing the mark, an imposture wherever I am, the one who doesn’t do the real work but without that corner of condemnation, the rest of my heart would not be crying out for God’s significance. Right?
As I come to the end of my reflections, I wanted to share what Anne Lamott said about one of her weaknesses:
Jealousy always has been my cross, the weakness and woundedness in me that has most often caused me to feel ugly and unlovable, like the Bad Seed. I’ve had many years of recovery and therapy, years filled with intimate and devoted friendships, yet I still struggle. I know that when someone gets a big slice of pie, it doesn’t mean there’s less for me. In fact, I know that there isn’t even a pie, that there’s plenty to go around, enough food and love and air.
But I don’t believe it for a second.
I secretly believe there’s a pie. I will go to my grave brandishing my fork.”
Who knows if that little girl who sat in Mission Friends in Springfield, MO will make it to Kenya or Guatamala. I do know that when I finish this essay, I will get little Oliver out of his crib. I will walk to pick up Isabel from her bus stop, listen to stories from her day. Help her process why two girls in her class whisper and dismiss her efforts to be included and why a boy flips his teacher off. Later I will pick up Espen from Taekwondo at his school. I will help with homework. I will watch Espen do a Taekwondo move. He will not have much to say about school except that it was good or bad. I will play basketball or hide and seek. Later I will make dinner and tell the kids to stop bugging each other. I will give at least one bath and read Go, Dogs, Go and then Harry Potter before bedtime. Tonight I might watch a nature show with my husband and do Google searches on things I’ve been wondering about. I will NOT resist the temptation to get a square of chocolate. But at least for tonight I WILL resist the temptation to wonder what bigger things I could be doing.