Courage, Dear Heart: How to Keep Walking When You’re Waiting

Yep, that's Reese Witherspoon in the movie Wild.
Yep, that’s Reese Witherspoon in the movie Wild.

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly impatient, or even anxious, person. Sure, I get crazy in traffic sometimes, but for the most part, I’m able to wait. Sometimes, when I’m waiting to hear news, I just put it out of my mind until I hear. This is a helpful tool, but one I’ve not been able to employ this past season. We moved to Colorado last summer, and in early February—right when the weather was the worst, when it was cold and dark and icy and all I could think about was moving back to California—a dream job opportunity back in L.A. opened up. Of course I applied, and I waited almost two full months to even hear whether they wanted to move me on in the process after receiving my resume.

So for two months, visions of moving back to L.A. filled my head, and I also kind of pressed pause on getting involved in anything here in Denver. We decided to hold off on volunteering at our church, or applying to that mentoring program with an 18-month commitment. When our closest friends here told us they’re moving to San Francisco, I took the news in a stride, thinking hopefully, we won’t be here to miss them anyway.

I got to the second round in the application process, but now it’s been a full three months of mental limbo, of hashing and rehashing different future scenarios, endless conversations about the pros and cons of Colorado vs. California (biking, less people, cheaper vs. better weather, our families and friends, great food). It’s a lot for anyone to handle. I’ve begun to function from a baseline of anxiety, which as you can imagine makes me very pleasant to be around. I feel scattered, and I feel angry a lot.

The anger is strange—is it coming from the feeling of powerlessness as I wait, wait, wait? Or, possibly, is it coming from this niggling thought that, no matter what happens, it won’t be the best case scenario? It will probably be the worst case, my pessimistic little heart predicts.

I keep thinking about this Rumi poem I love, that begins with the lines, “Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to; Don’t try to see through the distances. That’s not for human beings.” This is my struggle. I want to stop walking. I want to sit down, lay down, take a nap until I know what’s going to happen and where all this is going to land. I’ve strained the eyes of my heart trying to peer into a future that is yet to be determined.

How do we keep walking when there’s no place to get to? I think that might be a question a lot of us in our late twenties or early thirties ask. Once we’ve lost the fantastic momentum of growing up, moving through school, college, grad school, finding a job, finding a spouse, maybe finding another job, then we experience that great law of inertia—“an object in motion stays in motion” as I’ve heard my sister the science teacher say many a time. If a car is traveling at 60 miles an hour and hits a wall, the person in the car will continue moving at 60 miles an hour, until stopped by the windshield, or the wall. We hurtle through our lives for the first two decades plus, and then we end up married to that spouse we found, working in that job we found, and that high-speed vehicle called growing up stops, yet we keep moving. We want to keep walking to another destination, and then we hit the wall we built of our lives.

Then it’s hard not to slow down in our day to day, to slow down our efficiency, our charity, our learning, because we think, What’s the point? But Rumi says, keep walking. Keep walking, even when there’s no place to get to. Get out of bed, get to work, do your thing, meet your friend for coffee, make a plan for a weekend trip, volunteer your time. Keep walking, even when you can’t see through the foggy distance of the future, even when you’re not sure if you’re about to walk into paradise or straight off a cliff.

Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? We never know. We never know when the windfall will come our way, or when tragedy will strike. Life can feel so very capricious; the gods must be pleased, the gods must be angry. I find myself believing much more in the whims of the universe than the plans of a loving God, and I have a feeling that has much to do with my anger and anxiety as I wait, wait, wait. I chose a word for 2015 on New Year’s, and that word was Peace. I’ve thought of that a few times when I’ve been too wound up with anxiety to pray. Peace? Peace! Ha. Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” You can’t look for peace here in the world. So how do we receive God’s peace, peace like a river? Rumi’s poem continues, “Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move. Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.”

I love this image; the idea of waking up empty and frightened, but making the conscious choice to not give in to the fear, to the emptiness, by busying myself, but instead giving myself over to beauty and contemplation. That is a picture of peace. Peace in motion. Moving, but not the way fear makes us move, not with herky jerky motions, lurching around with a heavy heart; but soft, graceful steps, movement that is full of wonder, of surrender—peace like a river emptying itself into the sea. This kind of movement is an act of worship. Rumi finishes the poem: “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

What beauty do I love that I need to be doing? I love the beauty of Jesus, the beauty of the picture of God he came to give us—one who is so loving he’s willing to empty himself and make himself weak for us. One who weeps over his creation, who defends the weak and lonely and left out. But do I do that beauty? Do I play that song with my life, with my thoughts? No. I’m huddled in the corner of the study, fearful and with an entirely different picture of God in my mind: one who can’t be trusted, who may or may not take care of me, who leaves me to fend for myself.

These things are not true, but neither is the idea that God will always make a way for me, make things go well for me. That is also a lie. This world is this world; full of nastiness and pain and natural disasters and miscarriages. It is also full of beauty and luck and sunrises and health. God makes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the evil and the good; he lets all their crops grow. He also lets the evil and the good experience the worst the world has to offer. So, then, in that case, what does it mean to trust God, to have peace? Does it mean I trust him to be with me, no matter what happens? That I trust him to make it right at the end of days? That I trust him to wipe the tears from my eyes once this life is over?

“He’s good, but he’s not safe.” That’s how C.S. Lewis sums it up in his Christ-character, Aslan the lion, in the Chronicles of Narnia. And, perhaps, that’s what helps me wrap my head around all this the most, since I spent so much time in Narnia as a child and a teen. Maybe it’s worth it to go through the terrifying Dark Island where nightmares come true if you get to hear Aslan whisper in your ear, “Courage, dear heart.”

Courage, dear heart. Don’t try to see through distances. Keep walking. I’m with you in your waiting, and I’m with you on the other side of whatever you’re waiting for.

**In case you’re wondering, nope, didn’t get the “dream job” in L.A. Alas, alack.


One thought on “Courage, Dear Heart: How to Keep Walking When You’re Waiting

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  1. I think that’s a good metaphor about the things being in motion. We go through our early life with all these wonderful changes, and then one day it halts. Then we find ourselves doing the same thing over and over again. And all we can do is hope we can do the same thing until we are retired.


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