I'm just thrilled to tell you that my friend Nancy is guest blogging today on Shauna Niequist's Bittersweet (part of a series I started here and here). She's a fabulous writer (published here in the Denver post, and on her own blog, Big Harmony). Nancy has developed that rare trick of being outspoken and thoughtful, and she's a kick-- both in print and in person. It's an honor to be able to introduce you.
Bittersweet: Knees or buns?
I enjoyed Shauna Niequist’s essays in “Bittersweet—Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way”, because they reminded me of the pain and joy of being a new wife and mother. I think this is a particularly difficult time in women’s lives if they choose this path in their twenties. Formerly an independent, care-free and out-to-change- the-world girl, a new mother easily becomes weighed down, beholden to the bully twins of guilt and worry. Suddenly, instead of taking the world by storm, the world seems to be taking her for a ride. She wonders: If I am no longer that confident young woman I used to be, who am I now?
I remember feeling exactly the same way. Looking back at this time in my life, I think the greatest horrifying surprise of young adulthood is the realization that life doesn’t owe you a thing. We have no guarantees. We control very little. It is by the grace of God that we are here in the first place and in His infinite mercy that we remain.
As Tom Petty wrote in the song, “American Girl”, we females, of the American middle- class at least, are raised on promises. Adulthood in America, particularly for young mothers, is a process of realizing that these “promises” of fairness and glorious self-fulfillment we were taught as children are, more oftentimes than not, fantasy. Easy answers don’t exist. Choices evaporate before our very eyes. In early adulthood, many of the soft landing places disappear. We have to learn the hard way.
God. It’s so painful.
I remember the pain. But, having survived that turbulent time, I have learned to trust in the one true promise: Emmanuel, God With Us, is always with us. Even in the chaos— the miscarriages, the divorces, the career failures—He never leaves us. This realization has given me a confidence I never had as a younger person. The confidence of youth is akin to the proverbial bull in a china shop. In middle age, it becomes Ferdinand, the bull from the children’s classic book, simply sniffing the flowers under a cork tree while the rest of the bulls wear themselves out competing and showing off. At this point, I am finally sure that my life, with all its imperfections, is unfolding the way it is meant to.
However, I still am not always confident in me. Her chapter, “Knees or Buns”, was a wake-up call. Shauna speaks of her young son and how, as the child rearing experts have recommended, she and her husband give him a choice of how to sit at the table. He may not stand. He must either be on his knees or buns. She likens this faux “choice” to her writing process. She may write at her desk or on her bed but she must be writing. She may not surf the web. Or pick up toys. Or plan that night’s dinner.
I love to write, too, but oftentimes spend more time on Facebook leaving comments than doing substantive work. I love having a relationship with God but can’t seem to pray regularly. Like a spiritual toddler, I want to stand at the proverbial table of life and just…do what I want to do, when I want to do it.
In my heart, I know that having too many choices leads to inaction and worse yet…a self-centered life. Although I know that Emmanuel is with me, that I trust Him, I still ignore Him. He is gently admonishing me every day, “Knees or buns, Nancy!”….but, I do not want to make eye contact. I look the other way and pretend He’s not there. I get all the way to the edge of doing something important in my life and I stop short.
Why? Perhaps, I fear failure. Or success. Worse yet, I probably just lack discipline. In middle age, I do not have the constant presence of two loving parents nudging me into compliance. I no longer have two small children distracting me from the truth. I have to nudge myself to listen to that still, small voice. And then, act.
Perhaps the trials of young adulthood prepare us to surrender our false expectations of ourselves and the world. As difficult as it is to let go of something we love, to sink to our knees in defeat before reality…I am finding that, in middle age, it can be just as arduous to get off my buns and become the person I have learned, the hard way, that I am meant to be.
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