Reading the Book Instead of Writing the Book

Mrs. Van Horn’s second-grade class was the right place to dream.

I felt safe in her classroom, even though Craig Assenmacher, who sat behind me, told me it looked like I had a bird’s nest on my head after I got a risky haircut. (I received a bob and discovered I was nothing but curls at my roots).

Mrs. VanHorn defended me, and she made room for me.

When it came time for our second-grade architecture project (can second graders do architecture? — Mrs. Van Horn thought so), I began to envision a city like no other. As was true for most of my life back then, I lived in my imagination, saving the wee last bit of time for implementation. But sadly, what I imagined in my mind became impossible to construct in real life. So impossible that even now, 38 years later, the memory of that feeling still feels like one of the clearest childhood memories I carry.

As I began to build my city, the buildings leaned and tipped — my foam board foundation held a tangled mess of a place to live. This was a day before it was due.

On the morning it was due, my dad helped me to carry my project into Mrs. Van Horn’s classroom — my head held low, but not low enough that I didn’t notice the masterpieces created by my classmates. Miniature towns that looked like a Department 56 Dickens’ Village. Crisp lawns and clean white architecture — cities that invited the wonder of seven and eight-year-olds, imagining themselves shrinking to the size of their pinky so they could live and govern in these wonderlands.

No one else held actual second-grade craftsmanship in their hands (at least not that I can remember).

Perhaps this story remains fixed in my mind because my dad also would come to remember it. He painfully watched me fumble through creating a wonderfully-unsound architectural village — one that made perfect sense in my mind but didn’t quite translate onto a foam board. But he chose to let me do it my way, without interference, and later told me that he whispered (only partly in jest) to Mrs. VanHorn — a longtime friend of his — something to the effect of: “she put her whole heart into this. You give her less than a B and I know where you live.”

This story used to speak to me of my girlish imagination, often unmoored to reality. But lately, it’s returned to me with the resonance of a different kind of arc.

Whether we’re seven or 37, or 57, we imagine how life should unfold. Yet, so many of us soon find ourselves like my second-grade self at 730AM in my uniform plaids and knee highs, showing up to Mrs. VanHorn’s class with a foam board containing something far from what we had pictured in our minds.

The architecture of our lives has proven to be unsound.

So … what then?

The image of what we thought “should have been” rarely disappears quietly. Just as I can still picture what I imagined my project to be (no exaggeration), I daydream about the life I think I should be living today. I angle my story, my days, toward that story — that picture — that image in my mind of where I think I should be in my motherhood, my marriage, my writing, and my friendships.

I don’t realize it … until I can’t get away from the dissatisfaction I feel over where my life actually is and how my days are lived. I’ve worked so hard to avoid anything like that walk of shame into Mrs. VanHorn’s class, anything that will compare my project — my story — with another’s.

So many of us are tired, not because our circumstances are exceptionally tiresome (though they might be), but because we’re still trying to live into what we imagined they should already be — in our minds. We are ignoring that gravity sometimes means that buildings topple; life doesn’t often turn out how we construct it in our still-youthful imagination.

The days I spend letting my unexamined mind survey my messy desk (wishing it were more organized), the complicated hearts of my kids (wishing they were more orderly), the bumpy relationships in my home and outside of my home (wishing they were simply more fun) — are my most tired days.

My tiredness reveals: I’m (still) trying to write the book of my life rather than read it.

Jesus told me and you:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

As much as I expect the end to my tiredness to come from long days by the ocean or a trip to the mountains, God simply suggests I stop trying so hard to have my life look my way. The soul rest comes to the one who sets down their pen and stops trying to write the story … but instead envisions themselves as a reader.

There are things you are resisting, and I am resisting — spending so much energy fighting — but they are vital plot twists, and the light is dawning. We’re chasing dreams that may not be His dream for our lives. There are chapters we’re staying up late writing and waking early to compose that He doesn’t intend for the main plot.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:1-2)

Perhaps we’re writing in vain when the invitation is glorious: sit by the ocean of your life … and read. Watch. Observe. Take note. And participate in what won’t tire you but will settle you.

I finished The Count of Monte Cristo this winter. 900+ pages of story that enfolded me and enraptured me … it quickened my heart and made me think and calmed my insides during a very un-restful season.

And I wondered as I closed the book: is my invitation to read what You’ve already written, God, and read what You’re real-time writing in my life … instead of working so hard to write my own?