It's really strange to never arrive.
Taking stock of my life as we all tend to do from time to time, I wonder at this incomplete feeling. I wonder for how long I will live with it. In some ways, no, in many, on discovering the gospel and particular verses, I came to see that this ache that is sometimes too much to bear and often strangely enough hardly discernible at all, is fitting. Now it's here, last week it was not so much.
Psalm 119:19a describes "I am a stranger on earth"and in Hebrews 11 they "admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth" (verse 13). Peter also describes his Christian readers as "aliens and strangers in the world."
What I have discovered of late, moreover, is that this feeling is often exacerbated by those we imagine 'get us.' In other words, there is the dangerous temptation of being led to think that when you finally connect with a bunch of people who feel rather like you do about God and the world, life and how to live it, this feeling will subside a little.
You will arrive.
You do not.
Moreover, I am learning some very tough lessons from 'the wounding I receive in the house of my friends.' I know I have dwelt before on this topic - it might be that I will just stay here for a little while. It could be that I will look back on this blog-post in a few weeks and wonder what I was doing, thinking all this stuff. This is always the danger. When it's better, you look back and judge yourself low at that point or over-sensitive and wonder why and how you could have gone to that place.
In some ways recording it helps reveal it so that when you go there again, you have strategies, you have stories, you have a history to recover - it passed, it faded, it did get better, it will get better again.
I do not definitively know what triggers the feeling - but I am beginning to work it out - it is these things:
a mismatch between expectations and reality
a longing whose fulfilment is only just out of reach
a vision frustrated which will not stop gnawing
words internally articulated that can never be said
a longing for a transformation that creeps in by the centimetre
I know what completion feels like because I have experienced it. I am so far from it in this particular episode of my life that sometimes it feels excruciating. I expected to find a little more of it - I was perhaps even wondering if it was unfolding but today and maybe just today it has vanished out of sight.
There was completion when I was 21, and a man on a dance floor, somewhere in Loughborough, asked me to dance. As I said 'no,' I saw my future married life unfold in front of my eyes. I wouldn't dance with him because I was in a relationship and I promised at that moment to never be distracted again.
I experienced completion a year or so after my second daughter was born. Eyes no longer strayed to rest on pregnant bumps and snuggled, baby-carrier lumps. I knew my family was finished and that I would not want to have any more children.
I have experienced it, nearly... in times of worship. There is a communitas, a togetherness, a connection that occurs so manifestly both with the people around you and the God you worship that it hovers within touching distance, it can be tasted.
In this life that I am leading, though, I have days when I feel painfully bereft, I am so unfinished, incomplete and unfulfilled. I think I remember this though - it all seems connected to church life. I remember aching a little after holiday club - working out eventually that being in the presence of God and with other Christians worshipping felt so fulfilling that turning that volume down again, taking the pan off the boil and changing the thermostat to something more cool was leaving a vacuum, a painful gap, a dangerous omission. When the week was finished and the people left, I ached.
I remember it when labouring towards ordination, hearing Paul's words about 'groaning inwardly as we wait,' but it didn't go - it hasn't gone. I was not delivered.
...so what do I do?
I have not got a clue...I continue to wait, press on, persevere, cling, breathe, hang ...