I like the idea of my 19 month old daughter helping me in the kitchen. I like the idea of little hands gripping the spoon with me and learning how to bake. I like the idea of a baby standing on a chair to see what is being mixed in the bowl.
But the reality is so different than that image of a clean counter and chubby cherub that I have in my head. And when I’m honest with myself, I know deep down, the reality of cooking with a toddler isn’t worse than what I’ve imagined. It is just messier and more real. It is what the process of learning truly looks like. There is flour on the counter and a baby’s forehead. There are a few chocolate chips that got diverted to someone’s mouth instead of in the batter. There are a few moments of discipline when tastes were taken without asking.
It is messy and a process and we are learning.
I’m someone who likes a plan. I like to know where I’m going and to prepare.
If I’m going to be gone all day, I want to have a lunch plan to prevent hanger. And if there’s no lunch plan, I’d like a few granola bars in my purse just in case.
If I’m attending a meeting, I want to know what is expected of me and what’s on the agenda. I like to bring my notes to be ready to contribute.
If I’m interviewing, I want to do my research and have a good idea what kind of person they are looking for. If I think I’m it, I want to be prepared to tell them why.
If I’m dealing with a problem, I want to explore different options and pick the best one and start dealing with it.
I like having a plan.
It was in a counseling session when I learned something about myself and how I deal with conflict.
My counselor leaned in close and told me that conflict wasn’t my problem.
I remember thinking, “How strange-isn’t that everyone’s problem? How is that not my problem?”
She went on. “Your problem isn’t whether or not you will deal with conflict. You want to grow and are committed to working through things when you know there’s a problem. Your problem is that you don’t always know there is a problem.”
I felt like she’d described me as a soldier, wildly swinging my sword in the air at imaginary enemies. Sure, I’d show up to fight, but I had no idea who I should be fighting or if there was even a battle. I sounded like a crazy person and felt like an idiot.
I think she might have sensed that I was feeling a well of hopeless tears starting to spring up, or maybe she was just ready to tell me the rest. Either way, she continued.
“You have to talk about it. Even if you don’t know what’s wrong, you need to start talking about it. That’s how you’ll find out what the problem is and how to deal with it.”
This was the news I didn’t want. I wanted to hear I was great at dealing with conflict, and keep on keeping on. To hear that the only way out is through a messy unknown conversation was frustrating to say the least.
The girl who loves a plan has to deal with conflict without one.
The other night, I had a slight sense that something was off between my husband and myself. I honestly couldn’t tell if it was me or him or both. I didn’t know what I wanted to say or how to start a conversation. But I remembered what the counselor had said. I remembered that my problem was not knowing what was wrong. I remembered that I have to talk about it to figure out what the problem is.
So I asked a question.
It wasn’t the perfect question, but it got things started. It took a while and there were many tears on my part. But we talked. And as we talked, we named some things that had come up and had passed unchecked for a few days, just simmering below the surface: a lack of intentionality, things we could have done better, another check-in on our parenting. It was everything I needed and nothing that I wanted. It was messy and a process and we are learning.
I’m reading 40 Days of Decrease. It is an unusual, much needed look at Lent and decrease. The author’s heart to be like Jesus is woven throughout every page of the book: “Jesus lived a truly uncluttered life and died a focused, eternally fruitful death. How I long to follow His example.” Instead of the typical fare of giving up food or social media, Alicia Britt Chole challenges the reader to give up other things instead, one for every day of Lent. The fasting she speaks of includes giving up stinginess, avoidance, spectatorship, tidy faith, isolation and formulas to unclutter our souls. On Day Eighteen we are called to fast appearances. These words cut me to my core, “Our reality does not frustrate Jesus. Our hypocrisy does.” (88)
As I let these words sink in, I realize this is why I hate the mess of learning and starting a conversation without knowing where it will go. My reality frustrates me. I prefer the illusion that I’m someone who is put together. I prefer the appearance that I have a plan and know how to work through difficult things. I prefer looking like someone who can communicate clearly, instead of bumbling over my words while I try to figure out why I’m crying.
But the truth is that Jesus doesn’t mind the flour on my forehead. Jesus isn’t upset with me when I get batter around my mouth and need to be wiped up. He doesn’t mind the process or my tears as I’m working through things. He offers so much grace for the process. He knows I’m not finished and plans to stick around until completion.
I love these words from Day Twenty One, the call to fast Premature Resolution:
“Process can be a troublesome thing. It disrupts us and disorients us and we would much rather skip to the end. But to live true, we must allow process to run its course. Question it, weep through it, agonize over it…but, for the sake of our souls, we dare not truncate process because time alone makes its work soul-deep.
Today, fast premature resolution. Resist tidying up when you are in the muddy middle of the process of obedience-in-the-making. Befriend undone. Name the trouble. Like Jesus, talk to yourself and Your Father God. Ask Him if alternative routes exist again and again and again…until you push through resistance, pass around resentment, press past resignation, and emerge into willful (even if tearful) partnership with God.” (106)
Today I’m thanking Jesus for not knowing what’s wrong without talking about it. I’m thanking him for the process. It frustrates me to death and my eyes and heart tend to ache all day from what it costs me to enter into the mess. But I’m thankful. I have a pretty good guess that I’d be a better pretender and so much less alive if I knew what my problems were without the mess of the process. But I think of what Eugene Peterson says in his excellent article Transparent Lives, “Christian spirituality is not a life project for becoming a better person.” It isn’t supposed to be neat and tidy. It isn’t as simple as making a plan and executing.
It is messy and a process and we are learning.
*As Lent starts next week on February 10 (and even if it didn’t), I highly recommend 40 Days of Decrease. I was already a fan of Alicia Britt Chole after reading her beautiful book Anonymous (you can read my review here, if you’re interested.) She writes about being invited into “holy weakness” with the Lord through some personal hardship and invites the reader to join her in following Jesus through the desert. I’ll admit that Lent has never been part of my church tradition. I didn’t grow up practicing Lent. But her book especially, has shed light on the spiritual importance of decrease; and not merely decrease for decrease’s sake. Decrease, when the destination is love, “will purify our souls.” There is a reading and reflection for each day and a little space to journal, all of which I found both helpful and insightful. “40 Days of Decrease seeks to reintroduce Lent as a wise mentor that encourages us to reframe unanswered questions, darker seasons, and spiritual disillusionment as the shedding of earthly illusions and the gaining of God’s reality.” (introduction, xviii) 5/5 for me.
Book Look Bloggers and Thomas Nelson Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of “40 Days of Decrease,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255