I needed to catch a break. The last few weeks have been sprinkled with sick children, a dying car, and our kids' favorite cartoon vanishing from Netflix. Twice yesterday, I uttered to EA and to another friend, "I hate the world." I spent most of yesterday feeling like a hollow shell of a person.
This morning I went to substitute at an elementary school for a half day. 20 minutes in, as I was about to read a story about Johnny Appleseed, the teacher came back in the room. There had been a scheduling mistake. I could go back home and I would still get paid for my half day. I caught my break.
I was tempted to go home, crash on the couch, and watch a half dozen episodes of The Office. Or I could go to a coffeeshop, not order coffee, and write a blog about something. Those were my options. Turn off or produce something.
Then I looked up the stairs and saw the door to my office. I haven't spent much time in the Batcave recently. Practically, it's because the door creaks and I don't want to wake up our boys whose rooms are on the same floor. Realistically, it's because the room reminds me that I am out of school and only nominally employed.
But something about the silence called me. Yesterday had been filled with noise: a tired and sick preschooler, tantrums about Batman's disappearance from Netflix and toys not standing up straight, various cartoons, etc. I opened the creaky door and sat at my desk. I spent some time reading today's gospel passage for Holy Week. I read a brief devotional. I sketched down a few ideas for a freelance gig that is due in a few weeks.
I was about to head downstairs to watch TV and piddle around on the internet, when my mind darted back to those ideas that I just written down. I was trying to figure out how translate Solomon falling away from God via roughly a thousand wives and concubines into something more familiar to us today. I landed on distractions. Now I was about to go distract myself. So I decided, "Let's see how long we can ride this quietness out."
By the window are two large leather chairs that EA found at a Habitat for Humanity store. I grabbed a book, plopped in the chair with back against one of the arms and my blue sneakers dangling over the edge.
I looked out the window. It was a beautiful spring day. Blue sky. Trees blossoming. The hum of lawn mowers in the distance. And a chorus of birds chirping to one another. I really ought to learn the calls that birds make. Writers always seem to know which bird is making which sound. They say things like, "And then I heard the familiar ca-chee ca-chee of the Southeastern warbler." Liam, our youngest son, has just started saying "Tweet tweet?" whenever he hears the birds singing. In terms of birdcall identification, I am much closer to my two year old than a seasoned writer.
And then I just read. I hate to admit that I have not just read to read in a long time. I used to devour books one after the other. But seminary and being the parent of two young children drastically limits the amount of time I could read. Even after graduating, I just kind of let that stasis continue. All of which is sad, because reading, like running, is something that has always recharged me.
The other night, I was in a room downstairs where most of our books live. I was staring at the shelves hoping that the spine of some book would speak to this nagging realization that my love for reading was slipping away. My eyes came across Lauren F. Winner's Still. It was the subtitle that caught my attention: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.
In the preface, Winner writes: "[T]he baptism, the conversion, is just the beginning, and what follows is a middle, and the middle may be long, and it may have little to do with whatever it was that got you to the font. This is a book about entering the middle, about being in the middle of the spiritual life."
I have read Winner's other books and appreciated them greatly, but this one has sat our bookshelf unread for a couple of years. When I read the preface, I realized it was because I needed that book now. I feel squarely in the middle of my faith journey. I am in transition and thus feel spiritually and vocationally adrift. There would have been a time where I felt it too dramatic to categorize that as a crisis, but it is serious enough that I feel like it sometimes drags my heart around.
So I curled up with this book for a hour or so. There was no grand epiphany. The bird outside my window did not stop singing and begin offering words of wisdom. But I was still and drinking slowly from this book. I was able to think and reflect. Usually when I read things on the internet, I am being bombarded by information. It makes you feel like a receptacle for stuff. For a couple of hours this morning I felt more human.
I closed the book and took a deep breath. I was more at peace than I had been in several days. I knew this wouldn't last. I am going to be anxious again about what I am going to do with my life. I'll probably have to navigate a tantrum or rush over and keep our two year old from jumping off the couch. We still only have one car. But I caught a break this morning. I got an opportunity to be with God and be still. I'll take that.