Happy new year, friends!
Over wine at Christmas, Stuart’s family and I went around the room and shared one bit of information about our line of work that isn’t well known.
His aunt, a psychologist, said something that stuck with my introspective heart: we all have an inner conflict going the majority of the time. The inner conflict being what you should do versus what you want to do.
This idea of the inner conflict, for me, brought to mind the very first episode of Friends.
In the beginning of the episode you see Rachel, sitting between Monica and Ross on the infamous orange sofa, sipping on her decaf, sweet n low coffee and describing her fixation on a gravy boat the moments before her wedding. She suddenly realised she was more turned on by it than she was by Barry.
And thus, Rachel’s inner conflict was born: do I marry a man I am not in love with or hightail it out of here? From here, the iconic scene is born. Rachel stumbling into Central Perk, clad in her late 80s Ariel-esque, fresh off the maritime wedding boat gown, searching frantically for Monica.
As the series unfolds you begin to understand why Rachel really left Barry at the altar. She’s thinking: do I fulfill my family’s expectations of me to marry a doctor and a become a suburban housewife or venture into the city to rekindle old friendships and pursue something that will truly fulfill me?
The truth is, we all have those gravy boat moments. The gravy boat symbolizes the recognition of the inner struggle: why am I doing this, really?
The first gravy boat I ever encountered came in the form of a question.
Stuart had proposed, but that isn’t the question I am referring to. My head hadn’t wrapped around the idea, clearly, as I was still idly flicking through a University’s website one of the evenings following his proposal, looking at their courses. Knowing I couldn’t stay in London to study, I had to prepare for my next semester.
Suddenly, Stuart says to me, “You’re not really thinking about going back, are you? What about being apart?”
It dawned on me I would have to go back to life as normal if I chose to continue my degree. We would continue spending months at a time apart from each other. I would be submitting myself to the same isolating situation as before.
To paint the picture: I would spend nights in my dorm alone watching Netflix and eating peanut butter. The highlights of my last on-campus semester included going to my painting class and heading over to the vending machine to grab a Diet Pepsi in between Skype dates with Stuart. Transferring universities would likely present a similar situation in a different location.
While continuing through their website, deep down I was now acutely conscious of how in denial I was. I was afraid of going back to that very situation I just described to you: away from Stuart, waiting on our next Skype date. But I was disguising my fear with the band aid of a new backdrop to my misery.
The final nail in the coffin of my four year degree didn’t occur until months later. I was in the middle of the campus with my Mom. We were visiting the student counselor and signing up for my courses that day.
I turn to her in the middle of the sidewalk, lift my hands in the air and say, “I don’t know what to do!”
On the one hand, I’m studying something I’m not particularly passionate about. I was doing exceptional in my courses but it was killing my original passion: writing, creative freedom, possibility. I hadn’t allowed myself space to breathe outside of my perfect GPA for the entire two years I was in school.
On the other hand, I wanted to marry Stuart and be with him: no distance, no borders. My heart burned with the conflict. Could I really do this? Is this the right thing to do? Am I actually capable of making a life decision like this at 20? We were going to marry regardless, but the real question was do I continue for another miserable two years without being by his side or bite the bullet and do what needs to be done?
I don’t remember what she said but trust my Mom to say something eternally optimistic but altogether vague along the lines of, “You’ll figure it out, kiddo.”
In many ways I related to the Rachel in Friends.
Rachel was unfulfilled in her situation, struggling to find her way in the midst of life’s expectations and her own personal desires. She wasn’t aware of what she truly wanted out of life; suddenly, the gravy boat brought to light her true feelings about the situation she was submitting herself to.
In the same way, I had that ‘aha’ gravy boat moment when I realized life is not clean cut. There will be no pinnacle moment where you can say ‘I’m done striving now’; when you achieve one thing, you want another. When you do this, you now want to do that. You will never be fulfilled by your own desires.
I’m sure you know exactly what I am talking about. We make idols out of everything.
Instead, let us start practicing trusting out Creator. Living out our calling to be Christ-like in every aspect. And trusting that He has a plan far better than we could comprehend, not just for our own lives but the lives of others.
Our role isn’t to achieve in our own sight or to tickle and satisfy our wanton wants.
There’s a reason John Piper says, “The world does not need cool Christians who are culturally saturated. It needs exiles with the scent of heaven and the aroma of Christ.”
Cool Christians fall to the way of the world, are double minded, and want their ears tickled. A genuine, Christ loving disciple is an exile here on earth; our mission is to live and love as Christ, to share the Good News, and to be set apart from the ways of the world and fleshy desires.
I wish it were easy, but if it were, would I rely on Him?
I made an idol out of a degree I didn’t have a purpose for. And the loss of it was a sore spot that impacted my self esteem for a long time. I was disappointed in myself.
But, I now know I can die to those expectations. I can die to my disappointment, my onslaught of inner dialogue that tells me I am a failure. I can die to my sin.
Give yourself permission: die to your own expectations, the expectations of others, and lay your sorrows and disappointments at the Cross. Die to your sin, die to yourself, let the love of Christ cradle your wounded heart.
It sounds scary. But it’s liberating.
Take heart knowing our Abba understands our hearts desires, where they have come from and what our intentions with them are. Trust He wants to give them to us granted they are what is best for us.
But, first, we have to lay them at His feet and trust that He will clear the branches, cover the pitfalls, and guide our steps in the way if His answer is “yes.”
But if his answer is “no,” we are called to trust He has something better in store, something better than your heart could conceive. The trouble is not putting our expectations into our own worldly and culturally saturated, boxed in way of thinking or believing.
Without the love of Christ guarding our hearts, we are caught ogling gravy boats and tripping over inner conflicts every which way we turn.
Without the love of a Christ, we are caught bouncing back and forth between the world’s expectations and our wanton desires. We’re stuck focusing inward on our pursuits and our expectations rather than how these things affects others. We’re caught caring for our egos rather than our relationships.
You might believe it is harder to trust Him than to find your own way.
But the Lord isn’t tickling your ears when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30.
We aren’t made for the world. We are made for Christ.
We are meant to be humble, child-like, and submissive to our Father in a world that tells us to strive for ‘success’ and be the god of our own lives.
How do we behave in our world that tells us to be big when Christ tells us to be small?
2 Corinthians 12 brings a sense of comfort and clarify for me, ‘For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and Godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God…’
We have permission to walk simply, with Godly sincerity. We can walk with Christ as our companion, understanding that we won’t get it right in our own wisdom.
This is why God is with us, our Emmanuel, our ever present help.
We don’t have to over complicate our calling in Christ. Rest easy, walk simply. Die to expectations of what the world says our lives should look like.
We are weary and burdened in our pursuits to be anything, everything, always trying to live for everyone but Christ. We are forsaking Christ’s call to learn from his ways; he was humble, he was meek, he was obedient to His father. Did Christ worry about where even his next meal was coming from?
There is rest in forsaking the struggle to be anything but like Christ.
Emily P Freeman in her book Simply Tuesday shares the idea of ‘wearing the world like a loose garment.’ Freeman adds to this idea inspired by Heather King, ‘A loose garment leaves room to breathe, holds lightly to expectation, doesn’t show all the curves.’
I thought this was beautiful.
Let us live simply, wearing the world loosely so that it may not constrict our souls or make us irritable with its tight, itchy fabric of expectations and accusations.
Wear the world like a loose garment, my friend. Hold tight to Christ in love and let the world lay limp around you like an oversized t shirt, giving the Holy Spirit room to breathe. Guard your heart from the world by swimming in your baggy clothing. Lay your worries and disappointments at the cross because it is what we’re made to do.