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When my husband and I were first married we had a favorite breakfast place. We’d order the same thing to split every time: a hashbrown omelet and a giant cinnamon roll. We’d wait in line for as long as it took to get that breakfast and never leave a bite uneaten.
Fourteen years, a couple of homes, and three kids later, we returned to that diner of our early marriage and placed our once well-rehearsed order. We wanted to love every bite like we once did, but our experience didn’t match up with the meal we had carried in our minds. The cheese was processed, the omelet seemed to have shrunk, the potatoes lacked their crispy edges, and the cinnamon roll was dry. Maybe the quality of the restaurant had gone downhill or maybe our taste buds had evolved.
In the vein of contemplating how change happens — both in us and to us— I recently pulled up a blog post I wrote just five years ago about my inability to care about gardening. In this particular post, I wrote about the necessity of choosing what to invest my time and energy in, and how my yard wasn’t making the cut. I said that in order to teach well, parent well, and write well, I had to let some things, like the weeds in my garden, go.
While no master gardener, this summer you’ll find me with dirt under my fingernails. My kids, each five years older and infinitely more independent, now sleep in, go to jobs, leave for practice, and are generally better at occupying themselves. No one seems to mind if I spend a little extra time planting, watering, transplanting, and putzing. I can tune my airpods to a podcast or audiobook, head out to the garden, neglect other chores inside the house, and be better for it. I can choose differently.
Perhaps a gift of middle age, I could make a list of the “new leaves” I’ve turned over in the past few years: gardening, baking bread, and feeding the birds. In addition, there are several things I once thought were set in stone that were actually written in sand. I’ve exchanged my late night college writing sessions for an early morning alarm clock, the puppy I said I’d never have is six years old, my kids play on travel sports teams I swore off when they were toddlers, and the Nerf guns I said I’d never allow are already collecting dust in the basement.
As a questioning adolescent I was under the impression my identity would be solidified by adulthood. As an even younger child, I imagined God as a great puppeteer, looking down with a smug expression on his face, watching us make mistakes and make plans, the whole time knowing what the actual plot line would be. I thought it was my job to creep carefully enough along the right path that I’d stay within God’s will for my life.
Grateful for an increasing understanding of God, when I look back now I see I was never walking an arduous, narrow trail but instead immersed in an ocean of God’s love that I couldn’t swim my way out of if I tried.
Though the Bible is packed full of stories of people changing their minds, people who underwent major physical and spiritual transformations — Moses, Paul, Zaccheus, the woman at the well , Mary the mother of Jesus — modern-day Christians aren’t especially well known for being a pliable people, people willing to be more led by the Spirit than held tight by their prior convictions.
Granted, the examples I gave above — taking on new hobbies or changing my favorite breakfast restaurant — are low-stakes changes. The tender parts of myself I tend to hold onto most tightly, the ones I’m most resistant to change, are the ones that might require too much of me. Too much forgiveness, too much grace, too much vulnerability.
Often tied to shame and guilt, we can be deceived into believing our insecurities are safer when we hold them tight. Though the miraculous paradox is that it’s in the opening up, the unclenching of our hands, the release of our fear where freedom is found and space is created to grow something new. In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr writes, “Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable.”
Kent Haruf was one of my favorite writers. Perhaps best known for his Plainsong trilogy, I admired Haruf for his ability to make his quiet, unassuming characters speak volumes and for the way his setting, the fictitious small town of Holt, Colorado, became one of those characters. He was an author whose New York Times obituary described how each morning he went out to his prefabricated shed in his backyard, pulled a wool cap over his eyes, and typed a chapter on manual typewriter, a practice he called, “writing blind.”
In a final interview before his death, Haruf talked about how he was slowly learning, with just days to live, how to receive well wishes; he was learning how to accept kindness and compliments from both his fans and his family. “If somebody gives you something, and you don’t receive it, the gift is not completed in some way,” he said. “It’s like sending a letter that never gets delivered. I have tried to learn in these last months how to be receptive. That’s not my nature. My nature is to be self-effacing. But it’s not selfishness to accept a gift from somebody. It’s taken me a while to learn that.”
I wonder sometimes if our resistance to change is a bit like this, like a refusal to accept the gifts God is offering us. I wonder how we might stay more pliable, to be brave enough to release bitterness, hate, and judgmentalism in exchange for love, grace, and freedom. I wonder if sometimes laying our convictions down might give us space to pick up something better.