“Remember when Eustace turned into a dragon? And then Aslan peeled his skin off? It hurt more than anything, but it was also one of the most wonderful feelings because he was so so ready to be a boy again. This season feels like shedding, peeling, scraping, washing. It feels like ‘Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.’ Salty, stinging, pounding waves cleansing and softening.
Sometimes it’s knobbly dragon skin left behind, sometimes a trail of wet leaves.
Either way, beauty seeps in, usually in birth, but often in death.”
I posted this on Instagram last October and, looking back, it’s the dominant impression of 2018. 2018 was a hard year. I ugly cried more in the last six months of 2018 than in the last 4 years combined. I’m not a habitual ugly crier.
2018 was the year that brought an end to the best year and a half of my life. It was the year that I dated and broke up with a good friend. It was the year that my first sibling got married and my sister and closest friend started dating. It was the year of major transition in the fabric and structure of my family. It was the year I started teaching—a new job where I knew just enough to make me terrified and aware of all the things I couldn’t do. It was the year that I lost my head just after I thought I’d finally found it. 2018 was a year of transition and grief and so much battering.
There was so much light and joy and celebration in 2018, but that’s not what I’m here to write about today. I’m focusing on the grief and battering because it’s that part of 2018 that is most precious to me.
In the transitions that this year brought, I lost my identity more than I ever have before. I suddenly realized that my “stable constants” had been shifting, and I was waking up to a new reality. I didn’t realize how much those things (relationships primarily, lifestyle too) served as the reference points for who I am. They were such a part of my worldview that I didn’t even realize how foundational they are. Yes, I’m switching tenses because they are still a massive part of my identity, but I’ve also been loosed from them in a way that I’ve never been before.
We weren’t made to exist in an empty space where the only two points are me and God.
There’s this scientific and philosophical wormhole you can go down where you realize everything is known only in terms of other things and relationships between things are essentially what makes things “real.” In other words, if only one thing existed, it would be impossible to know it existed. Indeed, the thing itself wouldn’t know of its own existence and you could even argue that it would be impossible for one thing and only one thing to exist. (yet another reason that the unity of the trinity is a mind-boggling, but an incredibly necessary mystery) In other words, existence could be described as relationship. We cannot exist in a vacuum, and I would argue that we weren’t even made to exist with God alone. God alone is enough for our existence, but he didn’t create us that way. He created abundance of existence out of the infinite depths of his own relationship with his three persons. (the biggest word we have to describe the why, how, and what of this is LOVE—but that’s a tangent we don’t have time for today, I’m already going on too long) We were made for relationship with God, but also relationship with that abundance that takes the shape, most importantly, as other image-bearers and as all else that is (creation, ideas, etc.).
The point is, it’s GOOD and normal that we use relationships as references points. It’s normal, natural, even healthy. But when those relationships become the fundamental reference point, you’re set up for a lot of pain, because they aren’t fundamental. Those relationships are auxiliary.
The mercy of God made us creatures in constant motion. Motion is one of the best ways to tell if you’re going the right direction. You move and your reference points move and you get perspective. Staying in one place makes the closest tree the biggest one. The redwoods far away are made invisible by the elm saplings in my face. Movement keeps us wondering; it keeps our awareness fixed on the infinite because in movement our finitude is so achingly apparent.
This year I ached and cried and shook from fright. This year I got drenched in my finitude like that ALS ice-bucket challenge.
And I’m so grateful.
I’m new and I’m old.
I’m dying and living.
I’m catching hold
Is letting go
And letting go
Is staying grounded
In Person Truth.