Most mornings I am up before the sun. The 5am hour greets me like a fresh snowfall, unscathed by the day’s sloshy boot prints. Knowing the day before dawn feels like knowing a glorious and well-kept secret about where all the magic and stillness of life hides out. I fumble around my kitchen, making coffee and blending it with a series of powders and oils and cinnamon, before landing in my blue loveseat that I position right in front of the study’s window. At first, moving my loveseat from its designated corner to a sort of creepy watch point out my third story window was by physical therapist’s orders to prop my legs up on the sill (“unless you would like your knees to deteriorate by the time you’re 30 you may not sit cross-legged for long amounts of time and blah blah bah”) but now it has become the best seat in the house to view a middle Tennessee sunrise.
I light a candle and wait until the moment when the parking lot streetlights stop reflecting my face back to me and the first rumors of morning start spreading across the tops of the trees that line the pool. It is undoubtedly a slow and modest orchestra—the black begins to give way to a deep blue, silhouetting the apartment complex across the way; the morning flights ascend west 10,000 feet overhead; the maintenance guy who comes in at 6 starts making his rounds and the streetlights shut off. It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, but it is a steady and faithful rhythm my heart has come to find a home in. Sometimes I journal, sometimes I read, sometimes I just watch and drink my coffee slow, but always I am held within the safe keeping of the early morning and I once again am reminded to breathe.
Faithful is the word I chose for 2018. I chose it because, “it is the poetic way to say discipline,” I often told people, and my goal was to become so disciplined I walked into Christmas with rock hard abs and a manuscript of a 90,000 word memoir and maybe a pub deal and $40,000 in savings, too (I’ll let you guess which of these things is most unrealistic). My thoughts about faithfulness really only applied to work--to the ways I could achieve success and prove to everyone that I wasn’t failing at this whole life thing.
Such a view of faithfulness has been warmly nurtured by living in a city that is fueled by ambition. I love asking people, “what’s the dream?” because nine times out of ten they know the answer without hesitation. They want to start a non-profit or build a coffee shop or play to arenas full of people screaming their words back to them. They have dreams about racial reconciliation or writing books or building ethically minded hotels. It is as equally inspiring as it is intimidating. I look at my own ambitions—as high in number and zeal as they are—and I feel inadequate. I want to prove to this city that is already filled to the brim with creativity and entrepreneurship and philanthropy that I have something to offer her. I want to prove to the people around me that I am serious about this whole writing thing. I want to prove to myself that I am not a quitter.
In walks the word faithful and I make plans to have a certain amount of writes and a certain amount of meetings and go to the gym a certain amount of times per week. I write down goals like “run a half-marathon” and “write 100 songs” and “complete 3 Whole 30s” because I think they will help strengthen my faithfulness muscle. And, in a lot of ways I have done a lot of what I set out to do this year. At the end of December I know I will look back on 2018 and see major strides forward in career and networking and, you better believe it, the shape of my abs, but somewhere along the way I realized that this is not the picture of faithfulness. Because all I picture when I think of the word faithful is that little blue loveseat sitting in front of a dark blue tinted sky.
“Lord, teach me to pray,” I request almost every morning, knowing that I am following the footsteps of Jesus’ own disciples who realized they were amateurs at best in the subject of prayer. Teach me surrender, teach me to worship, teach me to want your glory above my own. My prayers are feeble and half-hearted most of the time. I am sleepy and distracted and confused. I run into my own worry and my own fantasy more than I run into the arms of grace, but I continue to show up because, as a wise woman on one of my favorite podcasts once said, where else do I have to go? It is in this place where I am transformed, where I am tethered closer to merciful intimacy, and it is a quiet and mostly unnoteworthy kind of sanctification. It is the place I must come off the stage and take off the mask and unlearn how to perform. It is in this place where I have realized that faithfulness and discipline, at least as far as they are demonstrated in my life and the lives of those around me, are two entirely different things.
Discipline elicits images of pulling myself up by my bootstraps and proving I have been working hard by lifting the heaviest weights at the gym. It is all about what I can do. My goals, my future, my body. Faithfulness is showing up weak. It is showing up knowing that I only have two loaves and three fish and I need God to multiple them if I’m ever going to be made into something beautiful. Sometimes it applies to work because there are plenty of ways God asks me to show up to what I have been called to even when I don’t feel adequate, but mostly it is a confession of prayer that I cannot do it on my own, but I swear—come hell or high water or boredom or sleepiness or depression or joy or fear—I will show up on that blue loveseat morning after morning to watch as God once again injects the darkness with light.
In Robert Benson’s book Living Prayer he writes, “Anything profound or insightful is God’s gift to me; it is the process, the oblation, that is my gift to God, paltry as it may be at times.” In a world that asks you to be impressive and popular and pretty and skinny and perfectly Instagrammed, God only asks you to show up. And more profoundly, he asks you and I to show up in all of our weakness. He asks us to swim upstream of culture and be more faithful to rest and prayer and serving each other than we are to getting a set of abs (I’m preaching to myself here). I have learned a lot about faithfulness this year--faithfulness in prayer, faithfulness in serving, faithfulness in rest (this one is real hard for me)--and not a bit of it had to do with my own strength.
Let me end by saying that I believe in the act of discipline. Hard work is something I value and subscribe to. It is hard to be useful to the world around us if we are not willing to get our hands dirty. But in the same breath, discipline does little good when it is not partnered with faithfulness--when we don't take time to remember who it is who sustains us and what exactly gives our lives rhythm and meaning.
Find the early morning and your own blue love seat. Drink your coffee slow. Ask God to teach you how to pray. Sit in silence. Show up weak. It is here where your faithfulness muscle is really grown.