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The Unsolved Life: Fumbling and Failing on a Sabbatical

Mountain and Pond on Hike Near Wanaka NZ

Over the course of my sabbatical, I have found it hard to write “a full thought” on paper (or shall I say, on screen). For all of those amazing people who write books when they’re on sabbatical, I am not one of them! Here I am, a writer (amateur and unpublished, but I’d still consider myself one), and I cannot seem to write. Yay for me! It’s not like my brain is empty. Quite the opposite. There’s a whole lot of thinking going on upstairs in this brain of mine. Layer upon layer of thoughts are thinking themselves within me, but I can’t seem to turn them into anything eloquent and comprehensive — a cohesive whole. It’s more like a bunch of half thoughts piled upon half thoughts, in a swirl in my head. Hence, why I am often borrowing the wise words of countless other legendary human beings to share on my website, and wrapping a few humble little words of my own around them, and then taking credit for it being “MY” blog post. Haha. Sneaky me.

A couple weeks back, I had a thought-provoking conversation with my aunt in the car. I seemed to ask more questions than provide answers, which has been the trend in this sabbatical season. I really should write sometime about some of the things I’ve learned on this sabbatical. To give you a bit of a taster… one of the top things I have learned is how we think, beforehand, that a sabbatical will bring every question to a satisfying answer, every unresolved life issue to a permanent resolution, and that somehow the rough waters will turn into a calm pond of stillness, like you are paddling your ancient Indian birch-bark canoe through serene, gently-lapping waters, as a beautiful loon softly voices a call out from a distance….

…Um, NOPE.

Maybe you’ve taken a sabbatical yourself, and your life became a lovely, serene dwelling place of continual resolution of hammock-swinging relaxation, but this hasn’t been the case for me.

Maybe I’m just too intense or something for “sabbaticalizing” properly.

Maybe I’m a royal sabbatical-failure :)

I mean, who else hears God say, “STOP!” and “REST!” and it only increases the intensity of the internal battle to “GO!” and “GET BUSY!”?

Certainly, there must be some unwritten, unspoken rules for properly taking a sabbatical, and I didn’t get the memo!

I mean, on a sabbatical, am I to search for the answers? Or start asking better questions, instead?

On a sabbatical, am I to cease from all work and sit for months in silent contemplation? Or am I to just put my hands to a different kind of work, and find new joys in new things?

On a sabbatical, am I to dis-engage myself from people in an attempt to simplify? Or am I to engage in a deeper way and get more relationally involved with others?

These are the kinds of questions that have gone through my head during my time of “sabbaticalizing”. And these are the things I have wrestled with.

I have tried things out, I have experimented.

I have worked. I have played. I have cried. I have laughed my head off (has anyone seen my head?!) I have been deep and delicious (no wait, that’s a cake)… I’ve been deep and philosophical, and I have been a brain-dead dimwit. I have dis-engaged myself, I have invested myself. I have gone silent, and I have spoken up in a storm of conversation. I have bummed around and slept in late. I have worked hard, sweat a bunch and hiked up mountains. I have buried myself in books and Bibles, and I have disowned all written words as well. I have sung my heart out, danced up a storm to blaring music and spent countless hours online “surfing”. I have shut off all technology and noise and media and modern amenities and lived simply on a bare minimum.

I have tried every opposite extreme. And loved and hated it all at the same time.

Ah, how life is so untidy, imperfect, flawed and messy! Oh, how it never goes according to any of our pre-conceived notions and pre-planned expectations. LIFE HAS A LIFE OF ITS OWN, wouldn’t you say? To try and tame it and call it tidy would be an insult to its very core. Life is messy and wild, and isn’t that what we desire, deep down? Some wild adventure that rocks our safe, little world!

And isn’t life governed by Love? Love itself is an untameable fire that takes you places you said you would never go, causes you to give so much more of yourself than you ever thought possible and somehow transforms you ENTIRELY in the process! Could it be that unsolved mysteries and questions are a natural requirement to this wild adventure we call a Life of Love? Could it be that untold twists and turns along the way are not optional, but rather, a “must-have”?

What if the first thing that we were told when we popped out of the womb was:

“Welcome to planet earth, earthling. You are starting out here at Dot A. Your life will carry on in one long, straight line to the finish. There are no bends to the left or to the right; certainly no ups or downs. You will only walk forward. You will step in line, along the line. You will take no breaks, and yes, you’ll probably be bored, but at least you won’t have to deal with the torturous reality of questions, uncertainty, mystery and suspense. You will arrive safely at Dot B, right down there, straight in front of you, and then you will die. Enjoy!”

Oh my, I don’t think that any of us would sign up for a life like that! And yet we’re not quite sure we want to say yes to the alternative we call the reality of a Life of Love with all its mountains and valleys…

Anyway, I’m sharing all of this because of the conversation I had with my aunt in the car. As I gabbed on about my “unsolved life”, she directed my attention to the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, by sharing a quote of his (and yes, this MALE poet had the middle name ‘Maria’). I had heard it years ago, but somehow, hearing it again in this season really hit close to home:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

What a zinger of a quote. What a statement of real life. Real life contains so many VALID questions. This side of Heaven, maybe we are just learning how to live within the question, knowing that one day, the True Answer will finally come to SETTLE IN OUR HEARTS, and this will be the beginning of True Rest. Ah, how I long for that uncontaminated rest.

Until then,

we search

and we seek

and we long for the answer to the unsolved questions in our hearts and lives.

And maybe, just maybe, I’m not doing so badly, after all. Maybe I’m not the world’s worst Sabbaticalizer! Maybe I haven’t failed in this season, but rather, succeeded quite wonderfully, by learning a new level of patience (aka ‘long-suffering’) with living within the questions, and learning to enjoy life even with all the question marks that still remain.

Maybe I’m also starting to come to a sliver of understanding of Grace. A grace that comes from the Heart of Heaven, quietly settling into my own heart, like a gift with my name on it, given just for me. A grace that is giving me freedom to be the Fumbling-and-Failing-at-Sabbaticalizing-Alison. A grace that gives room for questions, and doesn’t have to have all the answers. A grace that opposes the Almighty-Know-it-All, and draws intimately close to the Humble-Fumbler. This Grace doesn’t condemn me for my questions, but celebrates the fact that I’m failing forward, with a heart set on holding the right Hand, instead of “getting every detail right” and “staying perfectly on track.” I mean, who wants to “stay on track” when you could roam mountains hand-in-hand with The Great Lover of Adventure himself, the Man Christ Jesus?

This could describe me as I venture into this new season with Jesus:

“She followed slowly, taking a long time,
As though there were some obstacles in the way;
And yet: as though, once it was overcome,
She would be beyond all walking, and would fly.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke

Maybe the fumbling and flailing arms that have characterized my sabbatical, will give birth to wings and I’ll begin to fly.

Perhaps. Perhaps.