I was leading a women’s retreat in Germany this past weekend. It was a wonderful time to say a joyful “hello” to beloved friends whom I had to say a tearful”goodbye” to years ago. And during this time, I learned a beautiful German phrase and concept that has deeply blessed me. About halfway through, I asked a friend how she felt it was going, and she answered, “It isn’t round yet.” What she meant was, the circle wasn’t closed. The start was good, and she could see the intended trajectory. But the story of our time together, of the material we were talking about, of what it might mean to her personally, was still open and not quite finished. It needed some closure to be able to hold it properly.
As I walk with Jesus through the life He has planned for me, I’m learning that He isn’t nearly as uncomfortable with un-roundness as I am. In fact, the discomfort of unfinished things seems to be a primary shaping tool He uses to lovingly heal and grow His children.
Of course, sometimes prayers get answered in the way we want. Lives move forward. Decisions get made and get made well. People grow and transition to whatever is next. Progress can be seen. Joy in the past, in the now and in the potential future is experienced. Things become round all the time, and will become ultimately so upon His return…all this is cause for great celebration.
But then…there are the dreams that are birthed with the best of intentions, and then get shattered just within grasp. Disappointment with God’s plans, unanswered questions, the unknown ‘why’ behind a painful ‘what’. Loss. Grief. Shame. Seasons of life, difficult relationships, wounded people…sometimes they can be like rocks in the middle of a river…instead of moving downstream with the rest of us, life just flows on around them. They are awkwardly stuck in an unfinished place for all to see…and people pass on by, wondering why they can’t move on like everyone else. At least that is how some un-roundness in my life has felt to me.
My experience with life in Europe has been an un-round thing for me for a while now. Coming to grips with the reality that we will not be able to return in the near future, watching that dream die and seeing that God’s plans for us are different than we thought…I’ve been wrestling with the almost universal mid-life experience of realizing that important external elements of my life are not what I would choose for myself. At the same time, I’ve been attempting to walk in the very individual experience of realizing that the most important, internal elements of my life are very much within my control. My character. My responses. My spiritual orientation – towards Him or away from Him. In the face of disappointment, will I become better or bitter? Will I create with what I’m given, or consume? Will I take responsibility for my own personal/heart growth, and choose a life that is spiritually and emotionally healthy for myself and others…or will I choose to continue the destructive patterns and life strategies that have hurt me and those I love for so long?
Even when we think we don’t have choice, we always have choice.
These are some of the tensions that have been stretching me for a few years now: opening my hands and letting go of good things, so that Jesus can fill them with better things. Learning how painful a chisel must be to marble, yet what a joy the resulting beauty must be. Embracing the truth that pain can be a fertilizer that grows the most beautiful things in my heart.
When we are stretched…we never go back to our original size. And now, after walking through a prolonged season of stretching that has lasted years… my trip back to Germany, where so much of my stretching began, has allowed me to see that I am bigger. My heart is bigger. The Jesus I know is bigger. How He works in my life is bigger. God has allowed me to come full circle, and I am grateful for the relief and release that comes from the closure of it.
At the end of our weekend retreat, my friend let me know that the themes of our weekend did eventually become round. (As a Bible teacher, that was so great to hear!) What a gift to me to realize that I did too.