Space + Place

The Ache of All the Lives We Do Not Live

April 27, 2016 9


It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed with the state of the world — the big, wide world out there and my own, small one inside. It’s easy for me to feel trapped by all the feels and all that needs doing. I wish I didn’t have to collapse into a puddle before telling myself that I can do hard things. One way I combat overwhelm is healthy doses of sunshine, something to hold in my hands, and hearing the laughter of my little children.

So after a few hours of cleaning out all the things, we took to our neighborhood paths. I held tightly to hands and to small gifts of flowers and leaves, to remind myself that I am seen and loved. I read some good words on my phone and listened to delighted squeals at the park. On our way home, to distract my children from the extra five minutes we still had until we could fill up hungry bellies with food, I spied an airplane high up in the sky and pointed it out.

We traced its path in the sky while we schlepped water bottles and my now-empty coffee cup and made our way home.  Smaller than my fingernail, I saw its path high above my very small route to and from the park, around the neighborhood, to sports practices and grocery stores, and I ached.

This could be a piece about the glory of the small, but it is not.


AshleyHales on the Ache of One, Small Life


I know in my marrow that there are adventures to be found in the small — just look at the pages Annie Dillard spends on the small, in-front-of-your-nose beauty in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Look at the messages of presence in laundry in Kathleen Norris’ Quotidian Mysteries. These are words I hold onto — the promise that there are worlds upon worlds in the blade of grass, in the laughter of my children, in the way that their curls caress their necks.

But there is also the ache of the airplane — of adventures not taken, or not yet taken. And it would behoove us as people of faith to not ignore the ache, to plaster over it with truisms, or pretty images, or saying again how the Kingdom is in our laundry piles. Because those are all true and yet, there is always the ache that things are not as they should be. I’m sitting on the hyphen between the ‘already’ and ‘not yet.’

I’ve said “no” to many things lately — to editing work, to potential book deals — and I’m in the itchy space of waiting. There are days where it feels like everyone is on that airplane and you’re stuck below, just tracing its path, its shape smaller than your own fingernail. Even when you know there is good and holy work to be done by putting one foot in front of the other in obedience to the contours of the mundane, it is hard work. It is small work that is not praised or pointed out, like the trails of jet smoke are.

Perhaps you too, are with me, right in the middle space, waiting. There is only the waiting and the ache of paths not taken, adventures that feel too long ago, and wondering when (or if) you’ll be up in the air.

But please know: it is a faithful spot to be in — to not console yourself with truth that you do not yet feel, however true it may be. This waiting is an open space, with palms supple and fingertips drawn out into the light. It is a humble space — you waiting to see if God will show up, will redeem, and most of all, if he will make himself intimately known.

For what are airplanes and journeys if they are empty, if there is no Presence there? They are perhaps more lonely than the small life of one foot in front of the other.

God’s presence is in fact all I long for — as much as I want to see the world, find stories in the stones, drink wine at the Cinque Terra, and spend a week with my husband in one of those thatched houses on a piece of turquoise water. It is only the presence of God that will make my small mean something in ripples that flow down generations, when the stone is long forgotten. 

Some may think that my insistence on a God is a nice, neat narrative to help me get through the day. But there is no other narrative that sees my sin and shame and calls it like it is, and yet loves me entirely, fully, and gives me robes of welcome and a seat at the table of the King. No other narrative. There is no other story that makes my life make sense — the small one and the adventuresome one and every one between, where there is only ache and the waiting.

So today, I wait for my story to make sense and uncurl my fists from trying to make myself its author. I’ll trace airplane paths in the sky and put one foot in front of the other. The sun will shine for another day. That, too, is grace. That, too, is presence.