By Leigh Sain
Spring has sprung here in the south. And after 900 cold, wet winter days with no outside play time for my wild boys, I am a bit in love this new season. Mostly because it has brought freedom to open the front door and let the wildings take their leaping ninja-fighting selves outside.
For five minutes life is a bit calmer, and then I notice an odd thing happening with my littlest guy. He is spending these glorious new spring days crying. Constantly. Right out in the middle of our cul-de-sac. Right in the middle of this bustling boy mecca filled with seven boys ranging in age from 12 to 5. My little one stands and screams and swipes at his tear-stained face declaring loudly that everything is NOT FAIR! Not fair because this band of boys has separated into itself into “the little kids” and “the big kids.” His brothers are big kids and he is not.
“I want to see the brothers play!” he wails, as his little Power Ranger-costumed friends watch anxiously from the driveway. I suggest that he join them, because they have swords and masks and wouldn’t that be cool? But he can’t answer me. He can’t decide. He just keeps running back and forth around the circle while each group tries to call him or to shoo him. He is unsettled, angry and loud.
Suddenly it seems to be what everyone wants to know: What will you do with yourself now that all your boys are in school?
And as I watch him race about, something in me seems to know it well, that inability to settle, that restless wandering.
Funny, how often God gives me glimpses of myself through that glass front door. I can clearly see the problem. This little guy has finally been given the freedom to play outside, to do anything, go anywhere. The thing he was begging for during the cold rainy days of winter has been handed freely to him. But instead of embracing it, he’s losing it. He’s just wandering and crying and lamenting that playtime is over now, and it is unfair because he never got to do anything! The uncertainty and the circles have claimed all his time. Now the sun is sinking low behind the pines, declaring an end to these untethered hours. And it did not go the way it should have.
Yes, I get it, really I do. Because you see, I too am learning how freedom is such an odd thing. With my boys getting older, I am being handed new pieces of time that are my own. Twelve years of being a stay at home mom have left me with very few moments to contemplate what’s next. But suddenly it seems to be what everyone wants to know: What will you do with yourself now that all your boys are in school? Will you go back to teaching? Hey, maybe you could head this committee next year or perhaps you could take charge of this event since you have more time? These questioners are well-meaning, but inadvertently I find myself in an unsettled season of decision making. What does God want me to do next? Where is he leading me? And why can’t I find the words to answer these questions?
Maybe you’ve had to make decisions too? Little ones, big ones, ones for yourself, ones for your kids? So you know how there is this relentless pull to get it just right. To use the freedom you have been given well and make good choices. Because isn’t this just what you wanted? To choose for yourself which way you should go?
And it can be hard to know how to move when you are blessed with the gift of choice. The trajectories life lays out in front of you can all start to look good. And don’t we all just want to choose correctly? Follow the right lead and step out in faith towards the work God has prepared for us. But what if I pick the wrong path? What if I choose one way and the other way was actually better? What if God actually intended for me to do something else? What if … You can start to come unwound in the choosing. And I wonder why God made it like this. Why doesn’t he just tell us outright how it should go?
The sweaty little one continues to proclaim that he will not come in for supper until he gets to play. And I marvel at how much I want to make it easier for him. How much I want to convey the wise decision; the fun that could be had if only he would just settle with the Power Rangers and give up chasing the long-legged crowd. But there’s this: He must learn to do it on his own. It must be his, this choosing.
And God knows that to be true about us, too. He knows that in the wavering, in the times of our lives where pathways seem unclear, where freedom gives us choices. He knows that our choosing to follow Him anyway — it must come from our own hearts or it is not real at all.
I begin to see it. The thing that is stealing my peace. And maybe yours too? The wavering. The chasing. All the wanting of more, and seeking the perfect solution.The tantrums eventually calm and later that night, the same boy smells of soap and toothpaste as he tucks the length of his five-year-old self into my lap. And we read. The story he picks is from the children’s Bible, it is of Elijah, the prophet and the Israelites. He asks a thousand questions about the mountains, and why are the boys wearing dresses? And it catches me off guard, how I come undone when I read the words that Elijah hurls at God’s chosen people on the top of Mt. Carmel. “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him. If Baal is God follow him!” (1Kings 18:21) But why do you waver?
I begin to see it. The thing that is stealing my peace. And maybe yours too? The wavering. The chasing. All the wanting of more, and seeking the perfect solution. I am those Israelites, chasing after my worthless idols. I am my little guy running from place to place trying to find the one thing that will satisfy me the most. And it won’t work, this chasing. Because my worth, your worth, will never be found in the way we make the right choice.
This pajama clad damp-headed boy, he gazes up at me and grins. “I think tomorrow I will just be a little kid,” he says confidently out of nowhere. Like maybe he gets it, too. Still curled into my lap. The quiet decision is made.
I smile slowly, though, because I know a thing or two about decisions. I know that it will not be so easy tomorrow. When the lines are drawn in the cul-de-sac again and the action is swirling on around him; he will falter, he will cry, he will not know. He will have to come back and sit again to be reminded how it should go. And maybe that’s it.
Because I don’t know. I just don’t. I can see that these decisions about what comes next are not simply “two roads diverged in the woods” kinds of decisions, where I can step forward and never look back. How I use this time I have been given, how I answer all of these requests flying at me each day affects more roads than just my own. So, I waver, I wonder, I circle my space and wring my hands. Yes? No? Maybe? I take halting steps. But maybe it isn’t so much about where I am stepping as it is about where I am sitting.
Maybe the question I need to be asking myself is this: where am I going to sit when the choices need making? Whose face will I look at before I take a step? Where will I put my eyes? Jesus, he suffered, he died and he rose again that I might have this freedom, freedom to draw in close to my Maker. And it is all that matters.
Elijah’s words keep ringing in my ears. “If the Lord is God follow him …” Yes. But how?
In the dark of bedtime prayers with little hands tucked into mine, God whispers truth to my wayward soul. “Sit with me awhile and it will all make more sense. Come back and sit with me before you go racing about with all your choosing. Follow me, by drawing near to me, constantly. Make circles each day that continually turn your eyes back to me. Then when you don’t know what to do, you will know me and that will make all the difference.”
“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart. And I will be found by you, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:13-14