An unexpected path to clarity

Written by Bethany Martell

My little boy is a little over one year old. Most of the time, he is good natured and happy. But try to pin him down and force anything on him (especially, heaven forbid, boots!) and the back arches, the head flies back, and the world abruptly comes to an end. 

Ever since the Prairie summer heat turned into blasts of wind, outside time has required splash pants or a snow suit, and of course, boots. Protest ensues every time.

Yet recently, he has started to realize that objects serve a purpose. Brooms sweep, diapers go in the pail, and Chester the cat prefers to be petted gently rather than swatted. As he’s started to engage with things as they’re meant to function, his capacity for patience has increased because he now understands

This week, he noticed my husband and my boots. He tried to put his foot in them, and when he wasn’t able to, he stuck his hand in and carried them around the house. It is a process after all.

Today, as I braced myself for outside time, I put my own boots on first. My son went over to his boots and picked them up. When we slid them on, he stomped his feet down flat on the ground, and burst out laughing—thrilled to have understood and been a part of this great big thing that we’re all a part of. Oh the joy!

I can’t help but reflect on my own understanding, and lack thereof. There are times where everything has felt like a hazy blur. Where the function and purpose of things has been just beyond my grasp, and where, try as I might, I haven’t quite put my finger on it. 

During one such season in my life, I’d take my daily walk, mumbling, “Lord, you know,” and not a whole lot else. Our Lord knows suffering to its core, for who has suffered more than Him? He also stands outside time, aware of the things we can’t see, understanding what came before and what is to come. His knowing when we don’t know is the most comfort we could imagine receiving.

Lack of direction in a career path, difficult relational dynamics, crippling illness, disability, and uncertainty can all hold us hostage at various points. The list surely goes on. Life is not short of grey areas, and finding our way through them and into certainty takes persistence, trust, and hope. 

Realistically, sometimes we never make it to certainty, at least not earthside. Maybe we aren’t throwing a frustrated fit like my little boy (bless him for expressing the emotion we so often stifle) but these seasons of ambiguity can lead to anxiety, depression, and lack of confidence. Standing at the crossroads can feel paralyzing and keep us from fully engaging with our contexts and from moving forward, even in small ways.

In another life, I was practising piano multiple hours each day, learning music that was too advanced for me, at least in the beginning. Upon first reading they would seem straightforward, but the more I played the more I found myself in a muddle of fingering, phrasing, expression, and articulation. 

To get to the heart of the piece required this struggle into the unknown, unsure if I could truly reach the other side of answering to all that it had to say—to be a vessel to carry its vision forward to a new audience in a new way. There were times I would leave a piece of music and come back to it a few months later. In a surprising way, this break afforded me a deeper, keener sense of the music, and gave me that extra push to feel I had finally mastered it, at least in my own way. Somehow, stopping practice ended up being the most productive thing I could do.

Why God sometimes chooses to allow us to unproductively muddle through for so long is a mystery, and yet a needed mystery.

In a way this desert of ambiguity seems almost an inevitable and necessary way toward clarity and confirmation. Until we reach the point where we realize maybe it is not such an unproductive stage after all. 

Abraham saw the ram only when Isaac was already on the altar. Joseph was elevated and his dreams were answered after being imprisoned. Moses saw the burning bush only after forty years in the desert. David was crowned after his time as a fugitive, not right after his anointing. Even Jesus had a wilderness period, as did Paul. Peter did too (certainly existentially, after his denial). John was on Patmos when he received the Revelation of and from Jesus…and so it continues.

Such biblical examples may redirect our surprise at these seasons of awkward waiting to a more appropriate expectation. Can we embrace them as a necessary pruning season? They add layers of depth to our character and prepare us to deeply appreciate what we might not otherwise have had the capacity to understand had they come to us more easily.

Recently, my husband and I stumbled into a moment of clarity on a topic we had mulled over for years. It was a situation where the questions became answers, and we looked at each other with deep peace and assurance of no longer what, but when. And just like my little boy stomping his feet down flat on the ground, I cracked a smile, grateful to be part of this great big thing. Oh the joy!

Bethany Martell works for TeachBeyond. After growing up overseas, she now calls the prairies of Manitoba home, where she lives with her husband and one-year old son.