Working Through the Nothing

photo of person walking on deserted island
Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com

My brain loves extremes.

Some months are extremely slow and dark, while others are bright and rushing forward at lightning speed. Each season comes with benefits and challenges, and life has adapted to the ebb and flow of bipolar disorder.

Occasionally, a mysterious hush settles and I find myself in…. stability.

Whether it’s a natural shift in the cycle or a product of medication, I’ll never know. Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Untangling what parts of me are my true self, mental disorder, or the effects of meds is an unsolvable puzzle. So I must learn to be content with uncertainty, something only accomplished with the strength of the Lord’s help.

So it is now that I have settled into the peaceful lull of such stability. The calm is reflected in my work at church, allowing me to steadily handle the stress of a busy holiday season. But my creativity? This is where I feel something is lost.

I know we’re supposed to be defined by who we are the Lord, and that’s a subject to be explored deeply. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that “creative” is one of the first words that begin my description (though this is how He created me, so it’s for a good reason!). Without the ability to dream and write and paint and make colorful solutions to problems, I feel adrift in a sea of nothing.

My writing has slowed to a lazy halt. I feel like I have nothing to say, not even empty, valueless words. How can I call myself a writer when I’m not producing any work?

What do we do in these seasons where we feel empty-handed and unlike ourselves?

When the guilt of not fulfilling our God-created purpose hangs heavy like a dark cloud of our heads, whispering about what we should be doing and how we are neglecting something very important? How do we stop slipping farther away from our calling and return to the light of the Lord’s design for who we are and what we do?

First, we MUST stop defining who we are by what we do.

He who created us is ultimately who gets to call us by name. He has appointed us “beloved” and “child,” precious identities that remind us how dear we are to our Heavenly Father. Meanwhile, I believe He has more personal names for us, just as He renamed His disciple Simon as Peter (“The Rock”) and Jacob became Israel (because he struggled with God and man and overcame). The more time we spend with the Lord, the more we understand how He calls us. Then, what we do is defined by who we are.

Therefore, it’s imperative that we are in His presence as often as possible! How many times have we lamented feeling far from Him, all the while neglecting our prayer time and allowing our Bibles to become dusty on the coffee table? How can we live in the midst of our purpose if we are disconnected from our Source? The first step is to desperately seek Him. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. That’s a promise.

The push forward requires great effort, but do it anyway.

Writing this post has taken a great deal of time and thought. I doubt every word even as I currently type, delete, rephrase, and hesitantly move on to the next sentence. My mind seems vacant, experiencing a parched drought void of inspiration. Yet, I present my meager offering and pray that God will find it as useful as the widow’s mite. What seems small to us can have greater divine impact than we imagine. Every baby step finds us that much closer to living in His purpose.

Despair traps us in the lie that we are stuck. We may have paused or become restless in a season of restoration intended to prepare us for what is ahead. However, our story has not reached the end. Do not give up, perfectly-designed child of the Most High. There is no reason to panic when all seems lost- because you are still securely found. You have never been outside His reach, even when you were looking the other direction and missed seeing Him. We will not always abide in our stagnant seasons, but we must keep our eyes open for the treasures that are hidden here while we wait. God will not waste a minute, even when it appears we are standing still. Rest confidently, assured that your purpose is not lost or revoked.

As I fondly think of fruitful melancholy or productive hypomania, I will try to unearth the creativity tucked away in the corners of my mind and on the edges of my soul. Deliberately trusting that God is using the quiet season is difficult, yet it’s also breathing life into my spirit. He is the one who defines us and gives us purpose, and He is the one that works through us to fulfill His plans. The willingness to be available to Him is something we can definitely do at any time, and that is a beautiful offering that delights our Lord.

 

 

 

Running Right Past Glory

With a deep breath, I put one foot in front of the other and began to run.

Ok, so it was a moderate jog (but with lots of effort).

The music in my earbuds set the pace, and I was determined to achieve a mile in a reasonable amount of time. I made sure to keep my eyes focused up and out, not on the sidewalk below. Soon, my heart was beating and my lungs were thirsty for more oxygen. “Can’t stop, won’t stop,” I told myself.

Step by step, minute by minute, song after song on my playlist….. until the little Map My Run voice said I reached a mile in twelve minutes and two seconds! I celebrated by allowing myself to walk and catch my breath as I turned around and headed the mile back. With a mix of walking and jogging, I soon found myself where I began, ready for a drink of water and some breakfast.

Did I mention this was the view?

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Despite thirty minutes running along ocean cliffs, I barely glanced at the waves below. Dolphins could’ve been dancing through the glittering water, whales might have exhaled mist, and pelicans surely glided over the surface in expert formation….. and I was oblivious. I do vaguely recall the sweet smell of some sort of flower as I ventured face-first into a cloud of gnats. There was also some sort of bird calling near a bush on my return mile. I ran past a lighthouse and didn’t even look up into its weathered windows standing silent vigil over the channel as faithfully as if it were still in service.

I was surrounded by beauty and I missed it.

The tragedy is this is how most of us live daily, constantly absent from God’s glory around us.

When Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” I think He meant it in more than one way. Clearly, God’s plan for the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death and resurrection were about to happen. But perhaps God’s kingdom is more complex that mere salvation. Could it be that the kingdom of God includes His creation and His will? His kingdom in a new heaven and earth is to come, sure, but it’s also here and now, at hand. (Book recommendation for more on this: The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. It’s a bit dense, but very much worth your time.)

We are surrounded by the glory of God.

Just as I blindly ran through stunning creation with my eyes all but closed, we spend our days so focused on tasks and worries that it creates tunnel vision, blocking out the wonders and beauty. It’s in the sky and the wildflowers on the side of the freeway. It spills over from the love of a dog happy to see you when you walk in the door. The notes and rhythms of music coming from the radio are a gift. And every single person that crosses our path is a walking masterpiece, intricately and lovingly handmade by our Heavenly Father. Like moving a prism in light to reveal more rainbows, if we could see our neighbor through God’s eyes, every new angle would reveal another treasure. However, we run right past it all, focused on how hard our muscles are working and seeing only the mile marker ahead.

There is extreme danger in running through life with tunnel vision. It’s more than missing the surrounding delights.  We miss the urgent messages from God intended to reach our ears with necessary frequency:

“I am with you. I love you.”

 

When it feels like our prayers are unheard and that God is far away and unreachable, a little bit of terror creeps in, like a small child separated from a parent in a crowd.  I imagine God reaching over, removing the headphones from our ears, and softly reminding us that He’s right here. In those moments when He catches our attention, will we pause the playlist and listen, or turn it up so we don’t lose our goal-seeking pace?

The kingdom of God is at hand. The glory of the Lord is all around us. When we miss it, it isn’t because it isn’t there, but because we aren’t looking. We aren’t seeing. After sharing a parable with a crowd, Jesus spelled out its meaning to His disciples. He said that their eyes and ears were blessed because they saw and heard. He reminded them of Isaiah’s description of rebellious Israel, “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes” (Matthew 13:15a).

Let’s open our eyes, disciples, and witness the glorious kingdom of God.