When You Have to Return from Narnia

About 91% of Jesus’ life was unseen, undocumented. His 3 year ministry is where we tend to focus, on the miracles, the parables, and of course, the greatest thing of all, the giving of His life in exchange for ours, the earth quaking, the temple veil torn, death embarrassed by limp muscles incapable of holding Him a minute longer than he would allow.

“Epic” and “awesome” are watered down words today, but they can both be used in their truest sense to describe the events of those 3 years, snowballing in momentum and culminating in the answer to humanity’s desperate question. It is in the epic and the awesome that we find the exclamation point at the end of the sentence He came to write, but we can’t forget this:  91% of Jesus’ life, the 30 years before the 3, was paced by the rhythms of the mundane, His movements not made holy by their visibility, but by the fact that it was Him acting. 

And for most of us, our lives are and will be much the same. We’ll have moments of visibility, chances to do “big” things, but regardless of the job we hold, the country we live in, or the platform we have, probably at least 91% is spent in the mundane: hitting snooze for the third time before a day filled with spreadsheets, e-mails, grocery shopping and getting ready to do it all over again.

I’ve been told many times that I’m “brave” for traveling alone, for striking out in a country that isn’t my own and diving head first into all the challenges and misadventures that come my way. And I have no doubt that He purposed me there for those times.

But bravery…I don’t think it’s that simple. 

Nearing the end of my senior year of college, I’d been waiting an eternity to hear whether I’d gotten the grant to Russia, 9 long months from application to final answer. 

And when I opened that long-awaited e-mail, a queasy shock shot through me. Alternate. I hadn’t gotten it. I was an alternate. 

In my mind, there was no way I could get bumped up to grantee. After all, who in their right mind would give up a chance to live by themselves for a year in the land of Stalin and Siberia?! [Sarcasm sign ;-)]

How I reacted revealed the state of my heart. I wasn’t just disappointed, I was devastated. I had staked all my hope for the future on getting a ticket to teach abroad, because of calling, yes, but also because life in that country I loved had always been full of adrenaline and newness and emotion.

Heart motives are so often a tangled mess of pure and impure, and one of those tangled threads was that Russia had always been an escape from a life in the U.S. where the mundane depressed me and I never felt like I quite fit in. In Russia, I felt like my truest self: these people, they were just as emotional and romantic as me, this language, it was so beautiful and ordered and intricate that I wanted to bathe in it, and in all the challenges, I was no longer Lucy Pevensie, but Queen Lucy the Valiant in this Narnia I had stepped into. 

Bravery, not so much. 

Later in the week, I got a new e-mail. Someone had declined the grant, and Russia was calling my name. I was saved, or so I thought. 

These people, they were just as emotional and romantic as me, this language, it was so beautiful and ordered and intricate that I wanted to bathe in it, and in these challenges, I was no longer Lucy Pevensie, but Queen Lucy the Valiant in this Narnia I had stepped into. 

This time though, my sixth in Russia, He gave me the reality check I needed. This time, I was there long enough for the adrenaline to actually wear off, and it was then that I began to learn the simple truth: life is life anywhere, and the mundane is not to be feared. I wrote

“Three months ago, I would have told you that freedom is synonymous with wandering, and that roots are synonymous with chains. I would have told you, if I really trusted you, that maybe this running away to Russia wasn’t as brave as it seemed, since I thought that steady was synonymous with stale and lifeless, and boring was synonymous with depression. That life, real, conscious, colorful life was synonymous with running into an adventure that could swallow me into purpose, where each day could be a story, quantifiably exciting, to be snatched and put in a snow globe, waiting to be shaken up and retold.”

I thought….that life, real, conscious, colorful life was synonymous with running into an adventure that could swallow me into purpose, where each day could be a story, quantifiably exciting, to be snatched and put in a snow globe, waiting to be shaken up and retold.”

And it was true, I was addicted to the misadventures I often found myself in, and I had the skewed view that my life wouldn’t count for Christ if it was quiet and steady and “average,” if a typical day didn’t include a harrowing act of bravery for Him. But it was here that He began to teach me that the biggest act of bravery for a temperament like mine is to be faithful in the mundane. Because when all I can see is the routine on the horizon, my tendency is to start to daydream, to disengage from the flesh and blood people in my life who need to see Christ in me and hear him through me in the meeting at work, at the checkout line, on a walk through Burnt Hills. 

This isn’t to say that the pull I feel to other parts of the world is not from Him; I believe it is. But at a time like this, when I find in myself a longing for rootedness but a simultaneous fear of it, I need to remember the 91%, the untold life of Jesus in the routine rhythms of a carpenter. I can’t mistake the mundane for wasted time, because a hidden heart submitted to God, waiting for directions from the Holy Spirit is as radical in His sight as jumping on a plane to the middle of nowhere. 

I’m not crazy about flashy proposals. For a number of reasons [I won’t give my 95 theses right now :-)], I can see myself getting angry if a man asked me to marry him at a baseball game or concert. Much more precious to me would be a proposal in the quiet, just between us, with no thought to spectators. Now, I can’t take this metaphor too far, because there are so many times when being audacious in public is exactly what we should do as Christ-followers. But when I think of how precious a private proposal would be to me, I can’t help but think that it reflects the heart of God when we do something for Him that no one else will ever see.

A hidden heart submitted to God, waiting for directions from the Holy Spirit is as radical in His sight as jumping on a plane to the middle of nowhere.

So for those of you in the midst of that 91%, take heart. Take heart that He will use you powerfully right where you are, in the daily rhythms of your job and family and community. Take heart that He sees the heart behind the actions, and that an unseen act done out of love for Him is precious in his sight. And take heart that your effectiveness in His kingdom is not measured by numbers and visibility, but by obedience and faith. 

Layers

The mystery of layers: it has haunted in that awkward place between thought and words since I became older than I ever imagined I could be, marinating in a mixture of memories and color.

The layers are becoming too thick to bear, scratchy as an old wool sweater. Year by year, the stories pile, nestle themselves on top of each other, enveloping me with heat.

Sometimes the layers make a kind of macrocosmic sense; the camera pans out, and my cord in the tapestry of God’s faithfulness is illuminated by a sunset cast in the right light or by a moment of starry clarity in a vivid, lonely contentment.

But lately, the layers climb higher and higher until I feel trapped in my own story and the stories that have built it; I grasp at photographs and memories of vivid, lonely contentment on a road that I loved and hated for 10 years, then 9 months.

Is there a limit to the stories we can bear? Is it possible for the memories to usurp the joy of the mundane, and if so, can they somehow still be held as dear without anchoring us to the past?

To repeat the same stories again and again shows how tightly I hold the experiences as markers of identity: getting stitched up by Konstantine the Dentist, escaping the kiss from the Russian soldier on the train, discovering Eden, falling in love with a place and people in a Narnia-like journey 12 years ago…I play these stories on repeat, identifying with the past, bathing in the past until I prune up, because maybe the future scares me a little more than I know.

Alyosha Karamazov once told a group of boys emerging into manhood that one of the most vital things they could do was to remember one good memory from childhood. I’ve always found this ending to The Brothers Karamazov to be anticlimactic, disappointing. But as the years write layers thicker and thicker and the road winds more unexpected than my child self could envision, I nod at Alyosha in understanding. When the future stands over you with a smirk, the past can be a warm hand to hold.

But with the looking back comes the human tendency to dis-member then re-member the past into one where He was not faithful. And if He was then, then His character has rapidly changed in light of the layers that I certainly did not choose.

Bluntness: when I don’t get my way, my heart is revealed as a muscle that pumps disbelief.

Question set number two: how can I re-member the memories that I so often dis-member? How can I love Him more than I love my own little story? How can I skydive trustfully into the future instead of pacing within the confines of a stale old temper tantrum?

The questions remain.

The answers are there, age old and simple, yet as hard to submit to as they were for Abraham, Sarah, Naomi, Job, David and the whole cloud of witnesses.

The answers are there, the Answer is there, waiting with open arms to be the constant I have sought in the files of my own identity. So in a conclusion of the heart, I say that I submit, but that I also know I will have to re-submit by hour, by minute. To unclench my fists and breathe in the next unexpected, beautiful layer.