I think if January held a scent, it would normally smell like fresh bed linen to me. The 1000 thread-count, sun-drenched and pressed kind. It’s one of my favourite times. My media feed has been flooded with excited folk creating their immediate annual futures. Adopting new words, resolving fresh intentions and setting new goals. Perhaps I’m reading them all hoping that they will somehow rub off on me because, at present, I’m not ‘feeling it’. I have a sniff, but the New Year breath that I know so well has not yet filled my lungs.
On reflection of this seemingly bar-humbug outlook, I’ve realised that it’s not all doom and gloom. I’m convinced that I’m feeling this way because last year, I learned a really valuable lesson.
Admittedly, I’m a slow learner and it probably whacked me in the face a few times but, in a nutshell, it was a revelation that despite my efforts to map out my life, I can never be certain of all things.
I didn’t know that my daughter would fracture her ankle in July or that my friend’s marriage would break down two days before Christmas. Those shades of grey come in the form of unexpected roadblocks. Roadblocks shake our notion of being in control and mess with our deepest securities.
The freedom in letting go of knowing
What I have come to accept is that although uncertainty is an uncomfortable tension, there is freedom in letting go of my need to know.
In ontological coaching terms, uncertainty is described as being the ‘mood of wonder’. That sounds pretty inviting. A place of observation, where you have removed yourself from being defined by that moment, to seeing, learning and being curious about that moment. So much easier to write about than to live out.
Approaching life as a learner kind of takes the kick out of things because it doesn’t allow you to hold onto hurt for too long. You’re not the expert; you’re the learner, and so all sense of entitlement is dissolved. Humility is your starting place. Grace is where you are headed.
I used to hold such high expectations of what the world should look like and how people should treat each other. All this is well and good until people or situations don’t live up to those expectations and then you’re left with disappointment. Sometimes heartache and (for me) always a sense of surprise. My husband often asks me why things surprise me so much. I think that it’s because I earmark life to look a certain way and I leave no room for the possibility that life might work out different to how I had planned. I also hold my expectations as certainties. For the record, that doesn’t work.
At The Big Table, we’ve been talking about creating space for things in our lives. Is it possible that I need to create space for uncertainty? Enough space for life to bend a little when things don’t go my way. Creating a life that is balanced with intention but is spacious enough for the Spirit to move freely.
Continue to hold expectations high but hold them loosely.
I cannot be certain of anything that comes from a broken world. Even those things that bring me joy and fulfilment.
We spend so much of our lives trying to ‘build in’ a level of certainty whose purpose is to merely shield us from our own fears. We cleverly dress up that need in our marriages. Our careers. Our retirement plans. Our health. Our friendships. Our community.
I don’t mean that a marriage is not worth cultivating and nurturing or that regular exercise is just masking a more sinister agenda. In all aspects of life, we can recognise the beautiful gifts that we are given and steward them well BUT the more we find ourselves idolising the facade of certainty within those things, the harder we fall when we realise that even they don’t hold an ‘ever after’.
As I look towards the next year, I want to be the kind of person who expects the best. Someone who plans and achieves. Someone who holds high expectations of myself and those around me to meet the need that comes with being human and being broken. But I also want to be someone who realises that I am not in control. There is enormous freedom in knowing who is. I also want to fix my eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of my faith.
I had a simple thought. What if faith just looked like me being certain of one thing: That God loves me.