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Not yet but yearning

My recent retreat was given to pondering why I avoid certain life-giving behaviours. I’m not going to enumerate them all but here is a big one: What stops me from writing?

 

I started a list of possible answers that got more real as I kept scribbling. The last one was It’s just too much work.

 

Some version of me (that has ended up in charge rather frequently these days) seems to prefer the grey half-life of reading other people’s ideas or busying myself with many tasks to the aliveness of real work and straight-on life. More times than I care to admit, I experience an almost instinctual recoil from a task like writing that requires self-reflection and engages my whole self. Whenever that small internal cri de coeur suggests this could be a time to write, there is a large voice that says It’s too much work. (And the more I listen to that second declaration, the quieter the first one gets.)

 

So hell yes, it’s too much work. Even starting is a struggle.

 

But say I start. I write a mediocre couple of paragraphs not worth keeping and, more importantly to my pride, not worth having anyone else read. What then? I’ve just done that a dozen times in the last hour and a half, by the way. How do I justify the use of this time when my output is “worth” next to nil? Why keep writing if I’m never going to set the world on fire, never going to clearly articulate that speechless speech of the heart?

 

Somehow this brings me to a recent conversation. A friend brought up the fact that she had made the decision not to watch the news on TV for awhile. She was reading about what was happening in the world regularly so she could pray and be present to it. But the tone of the newscasts was so unrelentingly dire that she found she wasn’t sleeping. She gave the issue her conscious attention and decided to quit watching TV for now.

 

I was moved by this simple confession. It’s a profoundly humble thing to say, I can’t do this right now. Not now, not yet. She was not trying to avoid responsibility or stick her head in the sand. She had simply recognized that she was past her capacity. It is hard work to be this truthful—to take the time to become conscious and clear about something that troubles you, to acknowledge your limitations without blame or shame.

 

But most of all, I was moved by the not yet of her answer.

 

Just as psychologists have charted the course of normal human psychological development, mystics have charted stages of spiritual development. There are multiple maps to this territory, but they share a common theme: regardless of the spiritual path, if we are willing to move beyond our comfort zone, our “being” will increase. We will develop a deepened capacity to hold the world in our hearts, to be comfortable with difference, to witness suffering, to act selflessly. But this movement out of comfort involves a lot of humility and saying I can’t, yet. If we’re lucky, growth comes with age (I think of the sweetness of my dad at the end of his life, when being with him was like sitting next to a ripe fruit tree). Sometimes—well, for most of us—growth has to be prodded along, and indeed, sometimes we just reach the edge of what we can do.

 

I can’t do this, when paired with not yet, is a précis of humility and courage. I can’t do this acknowledges that I have limits and boundaries: I am imperfect. (Only my ego thinks I’m perfect, anyway. If I want truth, I ask George.) I can’t do this is a deeply compassionate way to see my limited self.

 

But not yet—that reminds me that I am stretching toward something more. It gives the yearning of my deep soul a voice. Not yet means that regardless of how stuck I might feel at this moment, I am still pointed toward wholeness. I’ve recognized my limits and I’m waiting for whatever may take me beyond them.

 

Best of all, not yet has no room for despair. Because not yet implies a future, my present incapacity may not be the last word.

 

So, you might ask, what does my friend’s honesty have to do with my writing (or lack thereof)? Well, it’s partly about being conscious—conscious of what I’m telling myself and conscious of the decisions I’m making. It’s partly about seeing the sweetness of my not very good attempts to write about things that are important to me. And it is in part the recognition of my willingness to let Love grow me towards whatever is—well, more Love.

 

So here’s to all of us who are trying to do something important and not doing it very well. Here’s to the humility of I can’t do this, and the boldness of its new best friend not yet. And here’s to living into the surprises ahead.

 

A postscript: As I sat down to write this, I thought I’d put on some background music. What came up from the iTunes file was Martyn Joseph’s luminous Let Yourself, riveting in its clarity. I could have just sent you the link and not written a damn thing—it’s that on point. But I’d made a commitment to myself, so you are getting both of us. I hope Martyn Joseph’s beautiful ballad is a joy for you.