This must be greater than that

January 2, 2020

Today, we were supposed to go to the Rose Parade. To get our kids up at 4:30 in the morning to drive to the train station to take an hour-plus train ride to stand in a massive throng of people to watch a two-hour parade to do the whole thing again in reverse to get back to load up our car to start our 15-hour drive home.

Today was also day 13 of our very own Christmas Vacation. For two weeks, we’ve been Cousin Eddie, but without the decency to bring our own housing. In those two weeks, my 5-year-old had the flu, slept in 5 different beds, saw 50ish friends and family members, and subsisted on little more than applesauce pouches, shredded cheese, candy canes, and Hawaiian rolls.

When we sat down to make our plan for New Years, I knew we shouldn’t go. We wouldn’t survive it. And I realized that this was one of several times this year that I opted out of something that checks all the boxes for me: somewhat significant, opportunity to make memories, with people I enjoy.

This is, historically, very off-brand for me. My personal brand is definitely about doing things — hard things, important things, all the things, all the time, for all the people, with flawless execution and only positive emotions.

For most of my 20s, every year on my birthday I made a list of things I wanted to do that year that was the same number as my age — so, for example, on my 24th birthday, I made a list of 24 things I wanted to do before I turned 25.

I did my last one when I turned 30. It felt forced, but of course I powered through because We Do Things Around Here. What I didn’t know then was that I had transitioned to a new stage of spiritual life. To use Janet Hagberg’s language, I was moving from the Productive Life to the Journey Inward.

Almost five years later, and now the call is to the Journey Outward — to surrender to God in wildly uncomfortable ways. The Productive Life was comfortable. The Journey Inward may not have always been comfortable but it still felt very natural. The Wall — what Hagberg describes as the time when your will faces God’s will, the time that stands between the Journey Inward and the Journey Outward — was disorienting and painful but mercifully temporary. But this feels like somewhere I’ll be for awhile. Settling in, inhabiting, being at rest in this discomfort. (Nuach seems to be a theme for me these days.)

I can’t say I’m doing well at this. Even now, when all is said and done and it was so clearly the right decision, I still feel the shame and failure inexorably gnawing at the peace and conviction.

But more than anything, I feel like — finally, maybe — I’m ready to acknowledge that my gift of limits must be greater than my fear of being disappointing. I’m praying that 2020 proves that to be true. And whatever your “this must be greater than that” is for this year, I’d love to be praying it for you too.