I’ve been waiting for some time for the moment when it felt right…to write again. After writing about the loss of a friend, Ben Larson, in the Haiti earthquake in 2010, something seemed amiss whenever I would approach writing for my own sake. Each idea just never seemed interesting enough or important enough to share.
Then, a few days after the earthquake here in Japan, my friend Ann asked to hear my thoughts, reminding me that writing is a cathartic exercise. I wasn’t ready to write at that time, and not knowing exactly what ‘cathartic’ even meant, I looked it up.
Catharsis is “the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, such as tragedy or music .” In an obviously contradictory sense, life has moved very quickly but also painfully slowly over the past few weeks. Since the earthquake, I haven’t had or made the time to allow myself the ability to experience catharsis of any kind. It’s been a seemingly endless series of decisions and responses, leaving me only able to react and not to process or reflect.
This morning, I met with the men’s group from Tokyo Union Church. This simple time with church percolator coffee and scraps of food from each of our refrigerators (pretty good actually) turned out to be a watershed moment for my own ability to begin to process the events of the past few weeks of our life in Japan.
Simply stepping out of a reactionary state-of-being and into a more reflective state allowed each of us to engage one another in meaningful conversation about the deep meaning underlying our recent experiences.
The key take-away for me this morning was a focus on the power of disequilibrium. This is a concept that defines success or failure in my profession, even if it goes by other names. In education speak, disequilibrium for the learner has been referred to as the “Zone of Proximal Development” (Vygotsky). Essentially, students learn the most not when things are too easy or too hard, but when they are “just right.” You can literally see the discomfort and challenge on their face until BOOM, something clicks, the lightbulb turns on, and they “get it.” Think of Goldilocks’ porridge or dissonance in music. Or limbo, sitting on the fence…the list goes on.
To me, disequilibrium is essentially that uncomfortable feeling you get when you can’t quite resolve something one way or the other. For example, when I recently applied for a promotion at work, the ensuing four weeks of waiting for the outcome were frustrating, uncomfortable, and even infuriating at times. However, it was through that frustration that I learned the most about myself. I was advised by a good friend to embrace the uncertainty as something positive and even to stretch it out for as long as possible. By the time the decision came around, the result mattered much less than it did when I first applied. Essentially, the result didn’t matter either way. I had allowed myself to embrace the discomfort associated with not knowing where God might be taking me and to accept that it was out of my control. That was a powerful experience in humility, trust, and grace.
Now, with Rachael in Minnesota, and me in Japan, I am living in an even deeper chasm of disequilibrium. To be honest, it’s been awful for the past few days. My wife is someone I admire, love, and respect more than just about anyone on this planet, and being without her has been much more difficult to handle than I ever expected it might be. The joy and perspective she brings to my life makes every day more beautiful and more meaningful. I deeply miss her and will continue to until I return to the US for the summer. Add to that many other major areas of uncertainty regarding physical health, emotional stability, employment options, financial possibilities, and even questioning the very ground we stand on…this makes the wait for that job promotion a few months ago seem like child’s play.
With the guys this morning, I was reminded again of my need to embrace the uncertainty inherent in our life as a true blessing. My first reaction of feeling sorry for myself and doubting God’s plans for my life as somehow less wise than my obviously superior plans is an honest reaction, but also a spiritually immature one.
It is only when I live and breathe the uncertainty that I will truly learn, grow, and follow God’s will for my life.
Christians believe that Jesus first died in order to rise again. It is this experience of death, in our case a spiritual one rather than a physical one, that allows for growth. The beauty of marriage is when our own desires give way to the desires of our partners. This constant state of give and take will continue to be difficult for decades to come, but it is exactly how Rachael and I will grow together in our love for one another, our love for our growing family, and our love for all those with whom Christ brings us in contact.
I do not understand why bad things happen to good people, especially tens of thousands of people in northern Japan. I do not understand why my personal and professional goals are not going to work out as planned. I only understand that God works most effectively when I am humble enough to listen. I understand that music sounds better when I shut up for a few minutes and turn up the volume. I understand that my wife’s food tastes infinitely better when I don’t shovel it into my face faster than I can swallow.
Savoring uncertainty is difficult, but it is ultimately life-changing and a worthwhile and powerful experience. Contrary to how many of us Christians might approach it, faith is not knowing exactly what we believe with certainty. Faith is accepting uncertainty and allowing yourself to be be put in situations you never thought you could handle. It is seeing life through God’s eyes and knowing that we have very little control over it.
At this point, my life is a blank slate. I acknowledge that everything I have built and planned can be taken away in an instant. Rather than fearing this lack of control, though, I will embrace it. I will follow more and plan less. I will listen more and speak less. God willing, I will accept opportunities to serve God, my family, and the people of Japan even when it’s inconvenient. Through this, I pray that the hope and love of Christ are made brighter, more abundant, and more clear.