This post is a continuation of two earlier posts, which I'll link to along the way. What follows represents my continuing thoughts on silence and how I found my true self once I gave up everything familiar and comfortable.
Telling "your story" is popular these days. And though I have certain hang-ups the the pop-idea of "story" I do believe when you and I reflect upon our story, when we reflect on the path we've traveled and the way God has guided our steps, we find tremendous revelations. Our stories matter in that they let us see our victories and missteps, and wisdom compels us to learn from both.
So, what follows is such a reflection. I hope you'll come along and reflect with me, and even share your own reflections in the comments.
More Than what you see
I didn’t just show up here, in Oxford. This trip was years in the making. Before we decided, “Yes, we’re doing this. We’re moving to England,” Chris and I sat in our bedroom while Zion, our newborn, slept. We read together. We reminisced together.
“Can you believe we’ve lived here almost six years?” she said.
“I can’t. It’s flashed by.”
“It has. But this house, it’s home. Lyric, Brielle and now Zion—this is their home. This is where we brought them after the hospital.”
“Yes,” I said, “It’s become home, but it doesn’t feel like home. Remember how we even came to live here? Remember before that, living in that little apartment—the mice?”
“Oh, do not remind me.”
“Remember Dr. Young and what he said about college. That was the beginning of it all. His gift to us, his challenge to me: 'I want you to finish your degree, Tim.'"
Do you remember?
What was life like, before; before it all; before the busy invaded and you turned into, well, you; this you, now; the loud and frazzled you; the loud and frazzled me?
Many things shift when you transition from single to married, from no kids to three kids. And quite honestly, I think those transitions taught me how to live contented. I wanted to be a writer, a researcher, a poet. But my love for my girls shifted my heart. Those longings remained there, but contentment ruled. I think I could have continued as a landscaper and loved life.
But even in a contented state we can become stagnant. We can allow the schedules and demands to shift us. The pursuit of "making a living" can dictate more than obedience to God. And even though I had entered the world of publishing and writing, I had fallen into the pursuit of "other" things instead of pursuit of the Other: Christ.
The journey to Oxford became a new kind of wandering; wandering out of vain pursuits and into pursuing the heart of God and the silence that accompanied such a pursuit.
Interpreting the Signs
No, I didn’t just show up in Oxford with my three daughters and wife smiling pretty and waltzing into a doctoral program. I started somewhere, we all did. And yes, if I'm honest, I've dreamt of something like what I'm involved in now. But it took years of wandering, years of selfish pursuit, and years of learning how to trust God.
If you sit down with paper and pen and sketch out the last ten years, where does it point you? Can you see road signs along the way; those little markers that connect to this and that and finally to the epiphany that leads to the revelation that sounds like, “I think we should move to England?”
What if you go back further than ten?
What if you go all the way back and watch and listen to the you in your mind’s-eye-movie-theater?
As Chris and I sat and talked, I began to sketch out the last 15 years. I sketched as I looked toward England. I sketched to see where God was pointing. Had I missed a road sign along the way?
Tomorrow I'll sketch out the wanderer-me, the young and impetuous me. As a vagabond wanderer, something was at work within me. Something drove me toward the open road.
The longing I experienced then, I see now as a longing for Christ himself even though at that point I did not realize it. I was like the pilgrim John in C.S. Lewis's The Pilgrim's Regress who longed for a certain vision of beauty he encountered as a boy. As he searched for the source of that beauty he veered from the path and settled for what Lewis calls false infinites, those things we think will satisfy our deepest longing but only serve our sensual nature.
What path are you on? Where do your longings originate; from the abiding relationship of you and Christ or the selfish pursuits of a frazzled self?
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.