I find myself emotionally tangled up in these weeks as we approach the beginning of a new school year. The mailing for incoming sixth graders arrived yesterday for with a letter of greeting from the principal, with the new school calendar, with a cryptic timetable for the rotating eight-day class schedule, with a list of phone numbers and email addresses indicating whom I should contact with which question I might need to ask. I am needled with silent panic at the immensity of detail, which presumably I am to master and communicate to Audrey. It’s an orientation packet, for goodness’ sake, but I read it like I’ve been drafted into the military, am being shipped off to Afghanistan, and will be headed to prison should I miss my flight.
I remember the dream that I had last week. I am trying to make it to Audrey’s clarinet recital. But I’m late. I’m met with obstacles, can’t get there no matter how much I hurry, no matter which direction I take. The final straw is when I back into a scaffold from which two workers are hanging drywall and mixing joint compound. The compound powder spills all over me, covering me in a thin white film. I scrub, I scrape, I rub my skin raw, but I cannot remove this white powder. And I cannot hope to stand in front of a crowd covered like this. I will now miss the recital entirely.
I have spent the better part of the last week thinking about this dream. It’s often been that God has used dreams to speak to me. Perhaps it’s because they pull back the curtain of my consciousness, let fears and doubts surface that I have sufficiently tamped down in my waking hours. Dreams tell me something about my inner turmoil, and God uses these dreams as a kind of searchlight of the soul.
In this dream, I see my demons.
Responsibility – or getting to the recital.
Shame – or the white powder.
Responsibility and shame, the yin and yang of calling. Responsibilities are the weight God gives us to bear, but we are not meant to bear this weight alone. Indeed, they are always too impossibly heavy for our skeletons of human bone, and they are mean to draw us towards deeper dependence on Christ. But if you’re like me, you add to your pack extra stones of worry, which weigh heavy with the fear of failing. If you’re like me, your responsibilities are too heavily tied to your identity. Meeting them – or failing them – will be the exacting measure of who you are and how much you’re worth.
Which is of course why you are knotted tight when the school orientation packet arrives in the mail.
Which is of course why shame sidles right alongside the notion of responsibility. My dream tells me what I know to be most true about myself. I cannot carry the weight of perfect execution in all of my responsibilities. I have failed, I am failing. The white powder is not to be scraped away.
That it’s not my skin that really matters in this whole equation. Your life is now hidden with Christ in God. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. He has declared these things about you, about me, not because we have been worthy but because there has been an exchange.
He has met my responsibilities. He has carried my shame.
And this is what I need to carry in my pack of calling. Only this yoke so unbelievably effortless. Only this burden so miraculously light. Can I remember this when it comes time for deciding how I might spend the thirty free hours this fall when all the children are in school full-time? Can I remember that it is not perfection He requires, not perfect management of my responsibilities, but faithfulness, which in truth, His grace alone inspires and insures?
“In the end, this is the most hopeful thing any of us can say about spiritual transformation [and, I might add, calling]: I cannot transform myself. [I cannot meet the responsibilities of my calling.] What I can do is create the conditions in which spiritual transformation can take place [in which faithfulness to calling can be expressed], by developing and maintaining a rhythm of spiritual practices that keep me open and available to God.”
– Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms