Growing Roots (A Series): Part VII

Rooting in Trust: The Gifts of Being Uncertain

Yep, there it all is. Trust and uncertainty. Our favorites, right?

I got started thinking about the relationship between these two things in church. Our minister made reference to the Jewish practice of writing God as G-d. I learned that this spelling is a way of signifying that the writer is talking about the god of Abraham (the ONE god for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, yes the same ONE for all three), signifying that entity while being clear that we can only be so specific in doing so. In the words of my minister this practice serves “to show we don’t really know what we are talking about.” I love this admission.

This designation, this way of acknowledging such a big mystery with three characters, speaks to an acceptance of uncertainty that I find refreshing and intriguing. And the impact for the faith that uses this spelling is instructive.

aisle-beach-celebration-169198Acknowledging that fundamental uncertainty about divinity has not prevented the Jewish people from developing a deep and abiding faith both as a group and as individuals as they so choose. That uncertainty has not prevented the Jewish people from referencing, describing, and writing about or praying to God as they so choose. Acknowledging the limits of what is known has not kept Jewish people from developing a shared cultural tradition of celebrations, rituals, food, and music with which to enrich their lives as they so choose.

Accepting this fundamental uncertainty about the exact nature of God has not prevented or hindered growth, love, richness and fullness in living.

My mother told me a long time ago that I “have never been a fan of uncertainty.” As I write that, it occurs to me how much more those words describe her than me, and how universal they seem to be in humanity. But to keep it personal, I admit that I have always felt more comfortable with a clear plan, routines, expected outcomes. These qualities all helped me as a teacher and parent, but haven’t always served me well in times of trouble and stress and during times of fundamental unpredictability (which I acknowledge are increasingly common as I am honest about it).

For years the added discomfort of “I don’t know what will happen” kept me committed to plans that I no longer felt good about, routines that didn’t serve me, and striving for outcomes that my heart wasn’t invested in. That fear of uncertainty kept me caged up.

It seems to me, as I think about this whole G-d thing, that there is an entirely different way to approach uncertainty. It seems to me now, as someone who has entirely thrown off her professional plans in favor of the substantial risks of soul-centered self-employment, and as the partner of someone who discarded a lucrative career in favor of seminary, that our avoidance of uncertainty is based entirely upon the possibility of a negative outcome and our desire to control the process – thinking that our control will eliminate negative outcomes.

I look to the lessons of my own parenting when it comes to this issue. I confess I tend to be on the controlling side of parenting in many ways. We limit junk food, video games and television in our home. I acknowledge that these limits have created some social gaps for my kids and I STILL think I’m in the right. With all of that said, and no parent reading this will be surprised by this, all of that control in no way guarantees how my children will behave, the choices they will make, or who they will become. The uncertainty and unpredictability in human interactions and growth can bring great disappointments, and they can also reveal joy and beauty beyond what we could have asked for.

What I’m seeing through all of this is a fundamental difference in being rooted in control and rooted in uncertainty – which, by the way, means being rooted in trust.

Being rooted in uncertainty implies some basic acceptance of the fact that we can’t ever be completely certain of, or totally control anything beyond how we feel inside. Uncertainty is the fundamental reality. It is our desire for control that makes it so uncomfortable.

back-view-backlit-city-847483What if, instead of believing our actions would result in a particular desired outcome, we chose what we do based on whether or not it feels good, the kind of good that makes us nod our heads when we choose it; The kind of good that, when we are listening, makes our bodies feel the way the have felt during the best of times. What if we used that criteria, of how we feel, and trusted that the way we feel is enough, that things will be what they will be, and we will handle the outcome?

Making choices that way is only possible when we accept uncertainty as a fundamental condition of reality and choose to trust that ultimately we will be well, or well enough. That rooting, that acceptance, opens us up to seeing beyond what we are hoping for, outside of the boundaries of what we have planned for ourselves and what our linear thinking and our logic dictate as the most likely outcome. Acceptance of uncertainty, and the choice to cultivate trust opens a rich and delicious world of choices that can make our lives so very whole, so very full, and so deeply connected to our needs, our gifts, and our desires.

What would happen for you if you just admitted that you don’t know what’s going to happen, and if you sat with that admission long enough for the fear to subside? I think I know what’s on the other side, and it feels like freedom.

Are You Skipping the Hard Parts?

I’ve mentioned a few times here that I have had a shaky relationship with the holidays in the past. This year, even as we approach the one year anniversary of my Dad’s death on December 23rd, has been fundamentally different.

In the past I resisted the hullabaloo of the holidays altogether – partly out of Grinchly attitudes and partly due to being a highly sensitive person in an increasingly loud and lit-up world. It turns out, now that I am reflecting on it, that my resistance to the Christmas hullaballoo (waiting to put the tree up, delaying Christmas music, holding off on the treats) was also a remnant of the Christianity of my childhood. Now, don’t get all skittish on me, this isn’t a piece about religion, so just hang in there. I’m going somewhere that applies to all of us, I promise.

In the Episcopal church of my childhood, the season of Advent was well-attended. Advent  is made up of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and is seen as a time of preparation, of expectation. Most folks would assume that meant getting ready for Christmas, but Advent demands something deeper, as is reflected by the hymns that were saved specifically for this time of year. Advent is a time of quiet, of inward reflection, of questioning, of facing the dark (externally and internally), and of preparing for something new. This changes the whole Christmas and holiday scenario quite a bit.

Living ConsciouslyThese weeks before Christmas can be reserved by anyone of any faith tradition as an opportunity to engage in the deep inner-work of creating new life, because that’s what this holiday season is about. Christian or not, we can all appreciate the notion that there is a time for acknowledging what is past, releasing what is broken, asking ourselves what will be required of us next, and then consider the possibility for change. We can claim the time, space, and quiet to examine the life that IS and then consciously create something new.

The rush to the sparkly parts of the season push us past the dark work of the soul that can be so difficult but so transformative. The rush to the physical preparation for the season and the intensely over-scheduled calendars leave no time for examination, for contemplation, for internal preparation. It is all about the wrapping paper. Just as we rush to the celebrations of the season (and the retailers push the start date earlier and earlier), so too do we try to rush to the trappings/accessories/feelings of a better life without doing the personal and contemplative work that actually promotes the change that is available to all of us.

The Holiday Frenzy Hides an Opportunity for GrowthSometimes the need for change requires action, don’t misunderstand me. I have several digital feeds that keep me on top of political actions I should take without the benefit of deep and lasting contemplation. But the work of the soul, the work of creating an internal and external world that we want to live in, the work of recreating ourselves and our lives? THAT requires more than a cheerful song and a sugar cookie, and in our hustle bustle world, the opportunity for that kind of work must be created by individuals who desire it.

How do we create those opportunities? We say no. We say no to being totally overbooked. We say no to filling all of the space with music and decorations. We say no to filling every minute of our day with the physical preparations for the season and reserve some time for the quiet work of self-examination and the self-inquiry that creates the space to create new life.

I’ve already put my tree up, as it is perhaps my very favorite part of the holiday season. The beauty of it makes me catch my breath. And it makes an excellent companion as I sit, in the darkness of December, and turn my thoughts to what is to come.

xo,

j