Recently, we cleaned out the garage and moved boxes up to the attic. I was tasked with sorting through them. I got sidetracked with a box of photo albums from the old days when we actually got pictures developed instead of just scrolling through Instagram. I thumbed through yellowed photos pasted into faux leather albums, remembering.
I’m often nostalgic for the past. I’ll think back to the times when life seemed more full of possibilities and less full of lived experiences. I’ll remember what used to be — before kids or marriage or sickness, before the mundane weariness of days where I am neither a world changer nor crisscrossing the globe as I’d once hoped. I didn’t accomplish half the things I dreamed of when I was the girl in the picture, tanned and smiling into the sunshine, unaware of what the next thirty years would hold.
Instead, I am a wife and a mother — someone who defrosts chicken for dinner and pays the mortgage. Someone who lathers on sunscreen because instead of that tanned girl in the picture, she now has wrinkles and age spots and skin cancer to consider. Someone who adds ground beef and paper towels to the grocery list and wakes up every day to do it all again.
Or I am a woman who pines for the future. Everything will be different once school starts so we have routine, once school is out for summer so I can rest, once I finish this to-do list, once I have more money or time or sleep, once I get well.
Some days, I have nothing but sorrow for what used to be or what might have been or what could be, if only.
Where is the balance between holy discontent and the desire to live a fuller, more robust faith? The kind of itchy passion that stirs things up and leaves us hungry and desiring more beauty, more wonder, more of Christ in our everyday? And the siren song that woos us with promises that our life would be so much fuller if only things weren’t so ordinary, so hard, so unspectacularly not what we had hoped for?
Sometimes I get stuck in the flux of that timeline, and I lose my place entirely. I wish I were as certain about things as I was in my twenties when everything seemed black and white and I dealt with the blows life dealt with a surety that the right faith and the proper theology could deflect. If I followed the rules, I’d pass go and collect $200. But I landed in the wrong spots again and again. I don’t really wish to play that game again because those were the years when I was so sure of myself, of my mind, of my own strength and abilities, of my turn to win, and so very unsure of God.
I was going to change the world, but really it’s me that needs changing.
I’m confronted by the discontented soul of now. I want to unhinge the call to be content from my everyday and latch it onto better times, either to come or long past.
I don’t want the uncertainty of unanswerable things, of perseverance, of faithfulness to a present-day where I must abide — often with no solutions, often with no answers.
We wish for mountain-moving faith when instead we are an immovable stone, unwilling to be broken — because tumors grow, mouths go hungry, wailing children get ripped from their mother’s arms and replay in sound bites on the news, marriages fall apart, prodigals don’t return. Right now is hard.
But we prayed, Lord! And what do we do with faith when the answer doesn’t come back down the line from heaven with a resounding “As you have asked, it will be done”?
My faith’s been small, the kind that sits in the backseat not making a scene, the kind of faith that doesn’t want to be presumptuous. But these years, I’ve prayed with grasping hands and learned that the faith God builds happens now.
And that may be one of the hardest things of all. Because our obedience will always be more important than our effectiveness, and yet that’s not what we crave. It’s certainly not what I had hoped for all those years ago when I asked God to take my life and make it His. And yet, our lives being His requires that relentless release — not my will but Yours.
My day-to-day opportunity is to bear witness to God — right where I’m at, no matter what’s happening. Full stop.
All I have is now. What has God tasked me with for today? What thanks can I give? What beauty can I behold? What grace can I share? What prayers can I pray? What injustice can I right? What forgiveness must I ask? What bitterness must I confess? What joy can I feel? What sorrow can I cast on Him? What faithfulness rests in my now with laundry to be done, bills to pay, and floors to mop? What is God’s strength when my kids have needs more than I can meet? How do I abide?
I’m letting go of “if only” and clinging to “What now, Lord?”
This article was originally written by Alia Joy for (in)courage in August 2019.