I recently read Donald Miller’s new book, called Scary Close (forthcoming 2015), a memoir-style book about a guy who learns about risk-taking, vulnerability, and intimacy as he prepares to be married.
There’s a part, early in the book, when he’s standing on a dock by a pond, ready to jump in for a swim. He hesitates, though, and realizes he’s afraid to jump—not because he can’t swim, or hates swimming, or the water is cold. As he examines his own fear, he discovers that he hesitates because he is afraid of change. This becomes a metaphor for his fears about marriage. “I knew in my heart I’d be happier with her,” he writes of his fiancé. “I knew she’d take me places that were healthier, more fun, more challenging than I’d ever been. I thought also about how content and comfortable I was being single, how much control I had in my life, how I could go out and get applause anytime I wanted and then retreat to the green room of my life, eating Oreos and waiting for my next performance.”
I remember having those exact same feelings in the first month or so of dating Robert, who is now my husband. I fell for him fast, startling myself. I was 26, and had been single for five years. I was comfortable with my routines, with the self I presented to the public, with my own version of retreating to life’s green room and eating Oreos (read: watching endless reruns of Gilmore Girls while eating frozen yogurt). During that early dating season, I couldn’t even eat; I was so scared of the overwhelming feelings I had for Robert, so anxious about the inevitable cosmic shift in my life his presence had started.
Robert was aware of my hesitation. One night, sitting in my little red Geo Prism at the end of a date, he showed me an entry from Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love. The entry is called “Enter the New Country.” Nouwen writes:
“[You] are very much at home, although not truly at peace, in the old country. You know the ways of the old country, its joys and pains, its happy and sad moments. You have spent most of your days there. Even though you know that you have not found there what your heart most desires, you remain quite attached to it. It has become part of your very bones.
Now you have come to realize that you must leave it and enter the new country, where your Beloved dwells…You are being asked to trust that you will find what you need in the new country.
…The new country is where you are called to go, and the only way to go there is naked and vulnerable.”
I wept when Robert read that to me. I had become attached to my single life, and even to my familiar fears of vulnerability. The idea of someone knowing me as intimately as a husband knows a wife—it was terrifying, for all the usual reasons: What if he didn’t love me once he knew me? What if I was incapable of loving him the way he deserved?
Obviously, it worked out. I entered the new country, but with a suitcase full of my old country fears. It took me a long time to sort through those and throw them out, to really settle in the new country of marriage with Robert.
Reading the same entry now, what stands out to me is that the new country is described as “where your Beloved dwells.” I knew it then, too—Jesus was in that new country of intimacy, of a relationship with Robert, and he was calling me into it. He was calling me further up and further in to the human experience. He was calling me out of my fears. Saying “yes” to the new country was as much about saying “yes” to God’s Spirit as it was saying yes to Robert’s offer of love and affection.
And now I’m on the border again, wavering between the old country and the new, peering out over the wild lands of parenthood. I like my life with Robert and our little scruffy dog Asher Lev. I’m afraid to journey into a whole new way of doing life, this time as a mother. And yet, I’m starting to suspect that might be where my Beloved is dwelling, and calling me to cross over the threshold of my fears and into a new place, a place of great vulnerability and testing and, hopefully, joy.
A couple of years ago, I had a feeling that this process of preparing my heart for motherhood would be a long one. Each season, though, I get closer—and I’m sure my biological clock, for lack of a better term, has something to do with it. In his piece, Nouwen writes, “It seems that you keep crossing and recrossing the border. For a while you experience a real joy in the new country. But then you feel afraid and start longing again for all you left behind, so you go back to the old country. To your dismay, you discover the old country has lost its charm.”
Of course, I can’t actually cross into the country of parenthood without, well, becoming a parent. But in my imagination, I have crossed over several times. And lately, I’ve felt more joy in those imaginary excursions than fear. And it’s true—the old country of married-with-no-kids is losing its charm. Now I examine my motives—do I merely want some momentum in life, a “next thing” to look forward to? Am I just bored and lonely as we painstakingly build a life after moving to a new state? Is it simply peer pressure?
As much as I can, I want to sort out these feelings and fears, so I can enter the new country, the next phase of my life and adulthood, with nothing to carry but a heart full of hope.