This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.
It’s embarrassing that an errant relationship has come to define so much about me, but here we are...
My life can be bifurcated into two distinct periods. Before The Person and After The Person.
Before, everything unfolded like a novel, just the right amount of intrigue and drama, just the right amount of resolve, just the right amount of seeing the path laid out ahead of me before moving on to the next chapter. That included this Person. We met and fell in love, just like the book said we would, it was destiny, it was complicated, it was tough, but see: just the right amount of drama, and eventually it was all going to have just the right amount of resolve and we were going to very clearly see just the right amount of the path ahead of us then move on in to the next chapter. Until we didn’t. Until she left. Following a year long bloody and botched schism, all of a sudden there were no more pages in the book.
I became rudderless. In a tailspin that had the unintended consequence of knocking me off all of the paths I was following, not just with this Person, but my Life path, Career path, Home path. Community path. There were no more constants.
The beginning of the After The Person epoch shall be known as The Lost Time. The Lost Time found me in a car, driving, going anywhere, Austin for a few months, Los Angeles for a few months, Florida, Maryland, I was giving it all a try. But also I wasn’t. I wanted the work to be done for me. I wanted to land somewhere, and this magical place comes prepackaged with lots of friends and purpose and no more waking up in the middle of the night gnashing my teeth while indignantly talking out loud to myself about how this Person could abandon me.
And then there's the God path. God WAS there, silently tagging along. If you’ve ever played Mario Kart you know there's a little creature that follows you around floating in a cloud with a fishing rod, and whenever you wreck your kart so horribly as to be beyond the point of getting back on the road yourself, this creature floats over, picks you up by the fishing rod and rights you on the track to drive another day.
This was how God felt. I knew He was there, I knew He would pick me up if it got so bad, but until then I would ignore Him.
Eventually (fortunately) there’s no more money and the charity of your friends has worn thin, and you realize nothing but time can make the pain go away. So you stop. I ended up back in Los Angeles, a city that is so challenging in every conceivable way, you don't have time to worry about your Person. But I had a new problem. I bailed on my path. I was now in a thick rain forest of unknowability, hacking away at it with a machete. Goodbye sidewalk.
Cutting to the one thousand word chase, my particular rain forest was about 7 years thick with little clearings and temporarily stimulating ancient ruins scattered throughout.
And the rain forest is scary. You've lost your place. Your purpose. Your contribution. For me, and my tenants of Christian spirituality, that's a bad feeling, being in service of nothing. I'm the wayward Dad that swears every weekend is the weekend I'm finally going to take my little girl to the carnival, then the carnival leaves town, and for some reason I keep swearing I'm going to take her anyway -- it's a mess.
Each year that passes, each day really, is another day you aren’t going to get back. That’s it. It's gone (unless, I guess, reincarnation is a real thing, but even then...). The good thing about being purposeless is you can never forget it. Yes time slips away (especially in California...sure, sure, no seasons, all that sunshine, I get it, but to me its like one long Groundhog Day) yet that little tug of emptiness is always there, nagging at you.
Eventually the nagging turns into panic and the panic presents you with an ultimatum, because no matter your stamina you cannot panic forever. You must make a choice. Jump or Jump. You’re standing over the abyss on one side and...a different abyss on the other.
You tell your panic to shut up, you need to think. You sit and you imagine the rest of your life unfolding, but not in the path-like way from back when you were stupid and happy -- a moving airport walkway giving you a tour through your life. This is an emotional unfolding, you picture a series of feelings you’d like to have, and wild images in your mind that you’d like to breathe into reality. And this is horrifying because there is no carrot on a string this time, it’s you, and you're in control.
Then you remember, silly you, you're out here living like you don't have a cloud floating creature with a fishing line that catches you EVERY single time. No matter how far behind in the race you are. This guy is not some hitch-hiker that you allow to float around your go-kart race. He's your partner, and oddly, everyone else's partner as well. With no interest in winning or losing, so much as keeping you in the race.
Alright, snap out of your Mario Kart fantasy you weirdo, you're standing over an abyss with some choices to make!
At the end of the course of your life, when your consciousness is fused with the higher power, I think the thing you're going to want to bring with you from this finite part here on earth is not, did you follow the path that was laid out in front of you, but did you dig down deep inside yourself, really reach into the depths, and pull up all of you into your life, spilling it out onto the grounds and to your friends and to people you’ve never met, putting into the world your little contribution of truth.
So you think about that and you jump. And I jump. And as I’m falling, as I'm currently falling typing this, it feels a lot like flying. And maybe, unlike the path mentality, this life isn't leading to one nice and tidy destination, but a wide-open expanse that has to be viewed from above to be made sense of.
And how small-minded it is to think of God as a creature in a game who only operates with you after you are ruined. God is that too, of course, but also the abyss and the panic and the air around me as I’m falling/flying and the choices, and the purposelessness. When you’re following the path, life is simple and things work. But when you break out of the line there's a terrifying wisdom, a new spectrum of color, a truer self, a purpose and a divinity you could not know otherwise.
- Give yourself permission to freefall.
- Feel the wind of uncertainty whipping past your face.
- Wig out. And doubt and be angry.
- Don’t be afraid, God has that fishing rod at the ready.
- Allow the crazy journey to work its magic. It will change your life in ways and give you a perspective that maybe at first you didn't know you wanted but eventually you'll never again wish for the era of stupid and happy.
- You will want to minimize the negative space created by Lost Time. This is tricky, because feeling too guilty about the Lost Time can fire up a vicious cycle of more Lost Time, but feeling too good about the Lost Time can kill the momentum that’s going to lead you to your colorful new outlook. The quick answer is do something, anything. It all counts. Everything is a poem if you consider everything a poem.
- When in doubt, remember, no matter what, you have a beautiful circulatory system.
Corbitt Howard is the creator of Campfireball, an immersive storytelling experience. Recently he mailed a single potato chip. He is still waiting to hear if it arrived unbroken. Follow along @campfireballer on Instagram.