At the age of 36 I have finally stepped into the kind of full-on adulthood that feels like holding a horse over your head. Or maybe a battleship. Responsibilities in stacks to the ceiling, expectations coming from all directions, too much vision and too many ideas/solutions/next steps for my own good...* There is always more work to do than hours in the day, always someone dissatisfied with their piece of your pie, always pictures on Facebook provoking you to discontent. Add to that making Halloween costumes and mowing the lawn and making cookies for the school thing and replacing you driver's license and paying your speeding ticket and making appointments for the doctor and dentist and vet. Also, why are mangoes so hard to cut?
All of this is normal and common for well-adjusted grown-ups. I find I am somewhat fragile and ill-equipped for the load. I can blame my mental health or my artist's temperament, but maybe this is just how it is for all human adults, all of us fragile in our own way, always carrying our lives like a load of laundry, shirts and pants and socks spilling behind us, us bumping into the furniture because we can't see our way for the pile.
Some of my friends have hit this stage in life, questioned all their choices, and hit the eject button.
My husband and I sometimes fantasize about going to jail.
We told this to friends recently, and they gave us a most confused look. We said, "In jail you just do what people tell you to. Someone makes you food. Someone does your laundry. Some makes sure you get time to exercise. You have no responsibilities. Just be good, keep your head down, read your Bible in your cell..." After a little discussion we took it back; Okay, we don't actually want to go to jail. We probably just want to be middle schoolers again...
Does that resonate? Do you ever want to be a middle schooler? Or maybe just one of your lazy friends without kids who acts like a middle schooler.
I don't actually want to be a middle schooler, though some days I'm tempted. I really like the work I get to do. I love my kids and my husband. I like seeing plants growing from seeds I planted. I appreciate the chance to serve and partner, learn and lead. I care about making the world better. I want an ordered world, less chaos, more peace, and I'm honored to help make it happen. Being an adult is beautiful and challenging and an adventure.
It's just also heavy and messy and hard. And sometimes it feels too hard.
This morning, sitting down at a restaurant I frequent, I answered a call about yet another thing to put on my list, another thing to shove into the stack. I hung up tired, defeated. And then my waitress appeared with chips, salsa, and my drink. I hadn't ordered it, but she saw me come in, remembered my loyalty to Diet Coke, and brought it to me, without me even having to ask.
Maybe this makes no sense to you, but seeing her walk my way with that Diet Coke in her hand, smile on her kind face... I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I wanted to take her hands in mine and say, "Thank you for taking care of me."
That's what we want, isn't it? We just want to be taken care of. We want someone to make us a drink after a long day. We want someone to remember what we like and provide it without us even having to ask.
Finally, someone with something for me, someone who doesn't want anything from me.
I have friends who've left churches. Plenty of them actually. Friends who decided they didn't belong there. They didn't feel cared for. Almost all of them have been in their thirties. My guess is they've been hit by the tsunami of adulthood, and they're wondering why going to this church hasn't made it better. I know I've felt that. When my lifestyle threatens to sink my boat, I too wonder where everyone is. Why am I doing this alone? I hear sermons on love and belonging and community, and how we're all family, and I cross my arms across my chest and say, "Yeah right."
I get it.
But I can't help wondering if what we all want is more than what any person (or community of people) can possibly provide. Because...
1. Everyone is drowning. Those people you're looking at wondering why they don't help you-- they're looking right back at you wondering why you're not helping them. This fallen world is busted, and it expects more of people than anyone can deliver. Everyone, everyone, everyone needs help.
2. What we want is not just help. It's to be known. We want our community to anticipate our needs like my waitress with the Diet Coke. We want people to really see us. But do you know why my waitress knew to bring that Diet Coke? Because I'd asked her for it twenty times before. Because she and I had spent time together, and I'd clearly communicated my "needs" to her. You can't expect people to know you without you first sharing your heart and investing your time.
3. People ARE helping you. If you're a part of a church, people are teaching your kids, they're preparing sermons, they're serving you communion, they're offering you chances to study the Bible. Some of the people I know who're most critical of their churches are people into whom elders or deacons have sunk hundreds of hours of mentoring. Some of them have been financially carried through difficult seasons. But there's always some new need. And all of us are quick to forget the last time we got help if this time we didn't.
4. People, like you, mess up. Sometimes you're right. Sometimes a person or a group of people really, truly let you down. Sometimes you invested time, you shared your needs, you even helped them out when they needed you most, and now, when you need them, when you feel overwhelmed, when you need to belong, they're not there for you. That's not a reason to try and do it alone. Most of the time it's not even a reason to find a new group of people. It's an opportunity to remember people are people, and they sometimes mess up. So, instead of hitting the eject button, stick around, offer forgiveness, have a hard conversation. I get that all of that is just more to do, more conflict to endure, more hassle. But starting over somewhere else is work and hassle too. More work and more hassle. Clean slates aren't always good. Sometimes what you're wiping off the slate is just two steps away from the answer.
I wrote this post for me. Because I am always wanting to hit the eject button on everything--on relationships, on my job, on things I signed up for in moments of passion and not much sense. And my wise husband and all-wise God are always there to hear me out and then push me back into the fray.
I don't know how to fix the tsunami. Of course we can schedule well, follow our priorities, rest, lean on God and find help in the body of Christ. But I suspect that, to some degree, a life well-lived is a life ever in tension, a life a little over-stretched, a living sacrifice. There's a reason God says things like "Don't grow weary in doing good," or that Jesus uses the images of yoke and cross carrying to describe the Christian life. It's supposed to be hard. You're going to get tired.
And. The best place for tsunami weathering is the church. Jesus says we'll wear a yoke, but He also says it'll be easy and light. The way of Christ protects us from some of the most unmanageable consequences and heartaches this world has to offer. The community of Christ equips us to bear the inevitable burdens together, enabling not a burden free life, but rather the camaraderie of soldiers in the bunker or survivors in the lifeboat, burdened, yes, but burdened together.
The promise of the church isn't an easy life. It's the promise of a lighter and less lonely one.
*Plus the influence required to implement them and thus the burden of knowing any lack of action is on me as much as anyone else--when I was a young women I could complain about how the world was. Now, with growing power and talent, I have no such luxury.