I had been planning my last blog post of 2016 for a long time. It would be a thoughtful look at how my “Year of Brave” had turned out. Obviously the focus would be on how I had courageously tackled every obstacle, but I was humble enough to realize I should include some setbacks as well. (I hope you’re reading the sarcasm that’s dripping off every word of that sentence in my head.)
I decided I would include a few important points from this year where I struggled, and then explain how I learned from each one.
I was not-so-secretly hoping that I could actually coordinate each struggle with a corresponding victory, to really drive home the point: I am really good at this. Even when I wasn’t, I really was. Even when my bravery faltered, I learned something that made me better. I am lesson-learner, hear me roar.
And then I tried to make my very real life fit around those parameters – struggle, lesson, victory. Preferably squashed into a 16-point list.
I’m sure the point is obvious by now: it all fell apart.
When I struggled in that one class during my last semester of undergrad, I didn’t actually learn the value of perseverance. If anything, I learned that you actually can wait until the night before to write your Senior Seminar thesis paper. (Wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s not impossible.)
When I felt the unique hurt of the end of a couple important relationships, I didn’t learn anything about friendship or love or loss. It just hurt.
When my dearest friend was in a horrible car accident, I didn’t learn to trust God more (as my Facebook status promptly proclaimed). It was just horrible.
The farther from the mess and muck of a situation you get, the easier it is to draw loose lines around it and declare it to be actually a really pretty shape. Up close, it’s just a mess.
When half-way through my first semester of seminary, I faced a couple difficulties that dirtied up my nice “this is the best thing I’ve ever done!” narrative, I wondered how to fit the bumps in the road into the story.
Is this allowed to not always be good? But even more importantly, am I allowed to learn nothing from this, at least not yet? Because while I’m willing to admit that things will get hard and awful things happen every day, there needs to be a lesson. As long as the obstacle or pain or difficulty works itself neatly into the story, we can work with some plot twists.
But sometimes there isn’t a story. Sometimes the plot twists don’t contain vital lessons or introduce important characters, sometimes they just leave you a little car sick.
And while that sounds like really terrible news, it’s actually worthy of a nice long sigh of relief. Because I am zoomed in to the millisecond, looking for patterns at the dirt level. The 10,000 foot view will look different someday.
But usually, I want the 10,000 foot view before I’m even a single foot away from the crash site. When you zoom 10,000 feet above a single foot, everything just looks like specks, if you can even see anything at all. Seeing any real meaning in the 10,000 foot view takes years to focus, slowly morphing and adjusting and taking shape over time. But I want it now. I want to tie neat bows on the hurt and draw pretty outlines around the mess, outlining the clear climax and central conflict, with a nice easy slide back down into a resolution.
I don’t want to read books with plots as neat as I expect my real life to be.
I’m still planning on making some New Year’s Resolutions and maybe even a One Word for 2017, but I also want to let the mess be mess this year. I want to learn as much as I can from heartbreak and difficulty, because I have faith that my God is rescuing and redeeming all things. But I also want to stop trying so hard to make everything fit. Sometimes it just doesn’t. And sometimes I’m drawing the wrong outline and don’t know yet what shape the story will actually take. I don’t want to miss out on the real lessons and the real story because I’m too busy backseat-driving, stubbornly deciding to chart the course before I’ve seen all the twists and turns ahead.
My hope isn’t in lessons learned any more than it’s in my bravery, my determination, or my successes.
The incredible thing about my Redeemer is that He is always teaching me, always growing me, always leading me – even when I don’t know what the lesson is, where the story is going, or what the eventual picture will look like. There is freedom in knowing that He is the one writing the story, painting the picture, charting the course – and it is not my job to figure out what He’s doing, it’s just to follow Him.
Sometimes a mess is just a mess in this broken and fallen world. And sometimes He redeems things in really dramatic and beautiful ways. Truly trusting Him is about more than “learning lessons,” it’s about believing that He is good and sovereign, regardless of the circumstances.