Sunday, June 11, 2017

Longing and Dreaming, a Lesson for this Sensitive Soul

You are not mistaken... the calendar and the weather channel have made it very clear that summer is upon us. Please bear with this rather delayed reaction:

Some say that winter is the hardest season of the year. I’m not going to lie. It’s difficult to trudge through the dark and the dreary. But for me, Spring is often the hardest.

I wrote in the fall and winter about leaning in, embracing the weight of my circumstances and tilting intentionally towards God’s grace. But as the days began to get a little warmer and the rains fell more freely, I forgot to lean in. Even before naming this mental and spiritual discipline, I can recall the worst seasons being those without that intentional shift in my perspective.

And so, this Spring I found myself seeping into a certain kind of numbness; a usable vessel, remaining still, gathering dust on the shelf. I read a lot of books and articles that inspired and provoked me, but I couldn’t seem to transfer those static words into life-giving reflections—either privately penned or worthy of sharing. This conundrum did cause me to reflect, however, just in a different way. Why was it that I could write in angsty times and even periods that felt like the depths of despair (to quote the incomparable Anne), but this numbness would cause my thoughts to clam up?

After some time, this realization came to the surface: I have a sensitive soul. It’s taken me a long time to articulate this, not because it’s something I fought against, but because I didn’t know what to call this heightened alertness to the “off”, the chaotic, and the empty. It is exhausting work, being so sensitive. Most days I’d rather not be. And that’s when numbness sets in the deepest.

But cutting myself off from the sensitivity of pain, fear, and loneliness also means thwarting grace. Not capital-G Grace, because that is ever-flowing from the Throne. But the grace needed to even see the big-G grace, the beautiful simple moments that make up each day, and the intricately woven thread of all the days put together. Thwarting grace means the sunsets aren’t as bright, the blossoms aren’t as full, the music isn’t as sweet.

And I don’t want that version of life. I’m the person who finds joy in the shadows cast because the sun is brighter still, the flowers with a million intricacies, and the solid reverence of a harmonized tune. God made these things to bring me joy. And that is what they should do. Further still, my joy in them is one of the many ways I can bring Him glory.

It’s when I let the weight of my circumstances cloud my perceptions and actions, that they are cloudy indeed. How do I reconcile this painful perceptiveness of circumstances that have me yearning for more? And why does yearning have to hurt so much?

The well-quoted C.S. Lewis put it this way: "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that we were made for another world." Such a pity that I have dreams waiting to be fulfilled on this side of heaven. And that's saying a lot, as someone who has been called a horrible dreamer. It's not even a topic I seek out very often. Yet when a friend recommended Suann Camfield's The Sound of a Million Dreams, I reserved a copy at the library right away.

God has the most amazing way of bringing the right book at the right time. And I’ve learned not to question it, especially in the numb times. So on Memorial Day, with the sun shining through my front windows, I sat down with this little book and read it cover to cover. Then two days later, I read it again, this time taking six pages of notes. Needless to say, it left an impression. In discussing the themes of dreams and longing, I found that Camfield was actually speaking my “language.” At many times, I was sure she was reading over my shoulder or at least siphoning off thoughts from my own mind.

What’s more, in between all this, I witnessed the tangible promise of a full arch rainbow. After months sitting useless on the shelf, that’s all it took for my perspective to tumble into focus. Standing at the lake shore, watching the last vestiges of color seep into the atmosphere, three things came to mind: God’s design is true, God’s promises are true, and God’s timing is true. Now, I knew these things to be true before I saw that huge arch of a rainbow, but apparently I’d forgotten. It is so easy to forget. With a million and a half other thoughts shooting through my mind, it takes great discipline to safe-guard Truth.  To put it another way, taking my thoughts captive and making them obedient to Christ can sometimes be as hard as herding squirrels.

But what does this have to do with dreams?

As I mentioned earlier, I am a terrible dreamer. I’m a have-a-plan kind of girl; dreaming often feels a little too wishy-washy and dramatic. Yet at the same time, I am someone who longs. And for a sensitive soul, this can be very dangerous. As I read Camfield’s book about dreams and longing, I was washed with a new perspective on each. I wish I could paraphrase what she had to say, but that wouldn’t do it justice, so I will quote it at length. Bear with me:

“We long for relationships we’ve never had, intimacy we’ve never known, joy, peace, contentment that escapes with the fickleness of a hopping toad. We long for wounds to stop bleeding, forgiveness to begin healing, and disease to relent. We long to create, to work, to matter, to love to know, to be known. We long for purpose. . . We long to live in such a ways that when memories illumine and fade in the hearts of others, they are savored with fondness, even if it’s only by those few souls who had the courage to dance alongside us through the muck and mundane. . .

This is the way it is with life, and this is the way it is with the Stirring [the phrase Camfield uses to describe the Spirit-filled nudging that prompt her dreams]. We often have no choice but to live with the longing in both the doing and the becoming, to accept the difficult truth that maybe we’re not living the life we’ve always imagined ourselves living or that we will never achieve all that we’ve aspired to accomplish or that there will always be a version of ourselves that we long to become that will, despite each good intention, be smothered by the dirt of our sin. . .

Perhaps the most delicate (and maddening) intricacy of longing and what sets it apart from our dreams, is that. . . longing propels us into the dark holes of our souls, shining light on those things that we yearn for so deeply but have little hope of ever coming to be. Saudade, the Portuguese call it. “A vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present” (from Aubrey Bell’s In Portugal). As we grapple with our longings, we face the stark reality that they very well may spend a lifetime lying with the crumbs on the floor. . .

Longing is anguish. And yet longing is beauty. Its paradox carries within it a mixture of pain and grace that causes the human race to thirst for that which is unquenchable, but also that which will someday drift from outside the reach of our fingers and slide to rest in the palms of our hands. Because the truth about longing is this: it rightfully reminds us that God pressed eternity into the fabric of humanity so that when yearning moans from the deepest recesses of who we are, we have no choice but to wet our lips with the sound of his name and beg for the only home that will ever satisfy all our needs. The unattainable nature of suadade postures us toward paradise like nothing else can. . .
And so longing must be confessed. And longing must be embraced. And longing, if it is not to suffocate us as we wrestle with the Stirring, must always be accompanied by faith, faith that there is a vast space that one day will relieve us from the aches of this earth. The unattainable will finally be made whole. For longing without faith is longing without hope—and that’s not the people we’ve become. . .

Our dreams and our longings often become so entangled we lose sight of how to pull them apart, to separate their strings and put each in its rightful place. A space exists between them in which we need to make peace. We need to make peace with our home.”

That last bit hit home. This is what life on this earth is made of, the disentangling of our dreams and our longings. We were not made for here; but here we are. Here is where God has placed us to seek His face, His beauty, and His grace. If we weren’t in a place where longing exists, we wouldn’t need a Savior.

And here I am: full of longing, full of my need for Christ, with dreams in my hear that I am often too afraid to voice. The lie I tell myself is that I can be free to dream when I am less afraid. Well, that is where faith and courage come in. Fear will always exist, I need to constantly ask God to out-balance my frightened heart with trust in Him and Holy Spirit-filled gumption. Oh how much easier said than done!

But back to the rainbow which spoke these three things: God’s design is true. God’s promises are true. God’s timing is true. When I get wrapped up in the tangles of dreams and longings, I need to remember that the goal of this mess is becoming the person God created me to be. Camfield gently reminds me of this fact: “If we believe God only ever cares about what we want to do when we grow up, we’ll forget that his primary purpose for us lies in the person we choose to become” (p. 54). If we believe that, we will never really fail. The fruit of our dreams will ultimately not be about the destination, but the process. And if we stop telling God what we can and aren’t able to do, He may surprise us still! His design is true. His promises are true. His timing is true.

I need more rainbow-filled-sky moments. More reminders. More pillars in the desert to point the way. Because there will always be times when it seems easier to seep into numbness than confront my flawed self and thwarted dreams. Camfield describes her own struggles with this and assures me that the Designer’s hand is indeed behind this reconciling of longing and dreams: “the becoming causes me to recognize my sin for what it is—part of me whose ashes will always struggle within—but it also forces me to listen, and by faith believe, that I still belong to the song of the redeemed” (p. 124).

I am still a far way off from being call a good dreamer. But I am slowly learning how to welcome their sound. And that makes all the difference. 

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