I love to think deeply and wrestle with all kinds of ideas. I have accomplished many things because of my ability. Reading over these blogs as I write (or other academic writing I do), I see how the thinking is sometimes confusing and I do wonder how all this matters. Thinking is also my shadow side. Overthinking, re-thinking, rehashing and even an abundance of ideas challenge me to be attentive to the moment. Overthinking, re-thinking, rehashing and even an abundance of ideas cause me to compare, doubt, defend, and be overly self-conscious. And somehow God speaks into the chaos.
In a newly released collection of Buechner’s writing, A Crazy Holy Grace, as Buechner’s words do, he offers another way to consider what I’ve been pondering. About the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25: 14-30, he reflects:
I don’t know how you read it, but I take the talents—one gets five, one gets two, one gets one—as whatever it is that life deals us.
We are all dealt a hand of race, gender, family, place and even pain that we are to be stewards of. That’s what Buechner is personally writing about, being a good steward of pain. He recounts his father’s suicide and how his mother, brother, and he stewarded that pain. For me at this time, oddly, it is difficult to be a steward of my accomplishments that result from all that thinking.
How do I take the hand I’ve been dealt, the deep thinking self and maybe even those resulting accomplishments and do something that builds up the kingdom of God? How am I a good steward of those accomplishments? Is that thinking too much of myself?
Buechner goes on,
God does not sow the field of our life. He does not make these things happen…he doesn’t move us around like chess pieces. He does not sow, but he expects that out of whatever the world in its madness does to us, we will somehow reap a harvest…he expects us to deal with these things in creative and redemptive and life opening sorts of ways.
Creative, redemptive and life opening sorts of way—that is key and might not mean the visionary off in the wild blue yonder (or internal yonder) kind of pondering I tend to do.
When I remember the time right after and even before I finished my Ph.D., I was focused on finding a job that validated my accomplishment. I thought that I needed a title from which to stand. I needed to put a “place,” an institution, behind my name. What or how that denoted worthiness, I am not sure. I keep bumping up against the emptiness of this kind of thinking, of centering my life on accomplishments. Why can’t the platform just be life? Is it possible to give up the I. I am trying to protect? Maybe I don’t have the guts to do…it.
I was reading an old journal yesterday that I came across while cleaning the bookshelf in my bedroom. Almost ten years ago, I grappled with many of the same issues that I live today. That was a year that challenged my accomplishments. I had written, If I think of the risks I took today, it was with hesitation… I feel amazingly okay with leaving [my job] but still so much uncertainty, yet hope, about what will come next. And then, on another day, I remembered Buechner’s words that the question is not whether things that happen are chance things or God things—because they are both at once. There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak.
These questions I wrote ten years ago productively challenge my stewardship of accomplishments. How do I NOT make my work or what I do the criterion for my sense of self? How do I define myself or do I need to? How do I have a strong sense of call that minimizes my consciousness of my accomplishments and myself? Can I let go of the things that make me feel useful and significant?
Oddly enough, I was reading another Kathleen Norris book 10 years ago (I just reread parts of Cloister Walk because she was here at my University) and I wrote: Last night as I was reading The Virgin of Bennington, Kathleen Norris said, ‘I realized that doing what I needed to do meant giving up what I thought I wanted.’ That has happened to me, too, both then and now.
Richard Rohr, in Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, says that the soul swims in a sea of abundance, grace, and freedom that cannot always be organized. I take comfort in that kind of chaos, that unknowing that is pervasive in my own attempts to keep my head above water like my ten years ago thinking and today’s wondering attest. I can no longer join in the kind of striving I once did. Of that, I am fairly certain. So is my life telling me that it is okay to go with my gut on this one and not push? How do I steward my accomplishments? Or is that still a concern?
The truth emerges that it is not just over thinking that is my shadow side but resting on the laurels of my thinking self. It is when I am counting on my outward credentials and accomplishments to make me whole, to save me. The life I desire is when I realize that these things that have made me feel secure or are protective boundaries have failed me. Looking forward, which I am already doing, and looking backward in my mind for explanations and consolations, cause me unrest.
Unrest is a good word, here—that kind of unrest that comes from overthinking.
I am not resting and attentive to God’s provision in this moment. I am trying to find reasons, even good ones, that accomplishments are not responsible for my life at its deepest and truest. How do I participate in living in my own unique soul that is deeper than my accomplishments? How do I trade, or risk, as the parable implies, without fear or concern —to live from a deeper place than my ego or intellect?
I don’t have any answers, yet. Maybe this requires living into rather than thinking or both.