“We often can’t see what God is doing in our lives, but God sees the whole picture and His plan for us clearly.”–Tony Dungy
I sat staring, alternating between views of my snowy backyard, a March surprise from Mother Nature, and the white screen. Minutes ticked by, but nothing happened. Next, I began pursuing my favorite devotional sites. Still, nothing there–at least nothing that inspired a writing idea. Finally, I gave in and looked at my list of writing ideas–the list of ideas that have not yet come to fruition, but still hold potential. All good candidates, but nothing was immediately striking my writer’s voice.
Typically, throughout the week, I will pause, and allow that still small voice to whisper an idea. It sounds corny, to see it written, but it is true. I’ve learned that by asking and trusting, an idea will ultimately arrive. However, there are times when it seems that my alignment is off with the Ultimate Creator, the invisible hand that pens my stories.
Even now, when I reread those words above, I feel heat rising to my cheeks. I can hear my inner-critic now reminding me that I am NOT an authority on faith, writing, or any combination of the two. Simply put, I am one person who believes in God, the Divine Source of all creation and inspiration, but it doesn’t make me an expert on anything. Therefore, who am I to type and share such bold statements? All I know is I simply write to understand; and today, Divine Providence was slowly unveiling a lesson for me to learn–only I was not seeing that when I first sat down to write this piece.
When working a jigsaw puzzle, I begin, like many, by first connecting the edge pieces to not only begin to see the shape of the ultimate goal, but also because it is typically an actionable and achievable first step. Putting together a puzzle can seem overwhelming when first looking at all of the mixed up pieces, especially if there are a large number of them and/or the pieces are tiny. In fact, initially, it may feel downright impossible to put all of those pieces of the puzzle together to form any sort of image, much less match the image on the puzzle box. Nonetheless, by beginning, by starting with what you can do–the outside frame–piece by piece, your sense of possibility increases.
Likewise, life comes in stages. Initially, it is a fairly linear process–one stage of development follows another. However, eventually, often at multiple points throughout adulthood, you encounter an in-between stage–points in life that are not linearly progressive, but rather feel like holding spots. Often, these holding patterns shift and evolve into new phases, but during the hold, life can feel uncertain and/or even stagnant. There are any variety of in-between stages, depending upon where you are in life and your unique life experiences.
Conceivable stages could include an in-between stage of marriage and divorce or the aftermath that follows. Another frequent holding pattern can sometimes occur in careers–the point at which you feel you are no longer upwardly moving or challenged. Of course, there is the classic empty-nest syndrome–when you try to establish new routines/responsibilities and even renavigate your relationship(s) with your partner and adult-children. Then, there can tragically be the in-between stage of long-term illness–either of self or care for another. There are numerous other examples, but the point is this: There are times in life where you can’t see the full picture–much less, predict the future. The “next-step” is, quite frankly, not known by anyone other than God–and even that signal can seem crossed, busy, or even disconnected.
These are often the moments that draw us closer to God through prayers for strength and/or answers; other situations can leave us feeling further removed from our faith due to doubt, fear, and uncertainty. While I am no expert on faith or psychology, I can’t help but believe both responses are very human and very understandable. What is the answer during these moments? This was my lesson to learn today as I wrote: take a step. Find your so-called edge-pieces and start working bit-by-bit.
During the week prior to writing this piece, I was speaking with 8th grade students about a project for which they were working for my Reading Language Arts class. Without going into too much detail, part of this project required that they choose four-plus pieces to write from four different categories of writing for which they were given a list. They were looking overwhelmed by the project one day; therefore, in order to move them forward, I encouraged them to commit to only one piece of writing for the day.
“Even if you don’t feel like it, pick what you perceive as an ‘easy’ piece and start.”
I knew, from my own recent 16-week training for a half-marathon, there were many days I, too, felt overwhelmed. I was either paralyzed by the number of weeks still left on the calendar for training/conditioning, or I was not-feeling up to the run for the day, especially as that mileage increased. However, the one thing I learned to be true from this round of training, is that mood follows action. I may not “feel” like running, but if I simply begin without thinking–if I take one small actionable step–the simple act of starting, begins the momentum for continued action. Continued action leads to another training session checked off the plan, and one step closer to the goal.
This is what I wanted those 8th graders to experience–the power of completing one small step. Complete one piece of writing one day; then, come back to class the next time, and complete another piece. One small success begets another small success, boosting confidence and the faith to tackle the next, more challenging step. Like the large jigsaw puzzle, they didn’t have to see the whole picture in the beginning; their plans could be subject to change, but they had to take that first actionable step. Then, step-by-step, the vision of their project could come into focus.
The writing of this piece, likewise, began with uncertainty–only the knowledge that I was supposed to write. I did not have a clear picture of how I would do it, or what nugget of understanding would be revealed in the end. I simply had to start typing; taking one small actionable step. Piece by piece, the edges of the lesson formed first. By faith, the rest began to gradually come together, until the entirety picture revealed itself to me.
Dear Reader, like many of you, I, too, am (and have) experienced several versions of those “in-between” time periods of adulthood. Without a clear picture of what the future holds, I am often unsure in which direction to step. Therefore, let us continue to step into each day, one moment at a time, trusting that if we whisper and wait, while filling in the edge pieces, the Ultimate Creator will likewise continue to pen our story.