Last week was my birthday. I turned 35.
Three years ago I knew I would be celebrating this birthday in a new home. I remember working out dates in my mind, realising how old I would be when Dave finished vicar training and we’d move to begin work in a church. I remember the impatience of having to wait a whole three years before actually starting a ministry we’d talked and prayed about for so long, but I also remember fear. Fear that we would move, I would turn another year older and we would still be childless.
Well we’ve moved, I’ve had my birthday and it’s still just the two of us, but it’s not as scary as I thought it would be. It’s not what I imagined, or planned, but we’re here and we’re okay.
So in honour of being forced to face one of my fears, I’ve decided to write about what else scares me and right now I’m scared that I don’t have a purpose.
At the moment I don’t have a job. I left my last job two years ago, the toll of multiple pregnancy losses destroying my ability to work. I’m now in a new city, it’s been a year since my last miscarriage, the emotional and physical wounds no longer as sensitive to the touch, but I’ve no idea what to do with myself. I’m trying to be open to anything, to let the God who loves me define my worthiness rather than an impressive job title but it’s really not that easy. I also want to be open to serve the church, I know my husband is the one with the dog collar but we made the decision to work for the church together, I’ve just no idea what that should look like either.
The thing is, I didn’t expect my life to turn out this way and I’m finding it hard to find my place. I’m not just struggling with regular purpose issues, it feels as though I’m battling purpose at it’s source, in the dark place, before it even emerges from the earth. I’m faced with blank canvases and white pages and the challenge to rewrite a story I thought had already been written or at least had an outline.
I am scared of not knowing what to do with my days, and of what the free time I have in my day says about me. There are times when I feel as though my life would have more value if I were a mother. I wake up and it’s just me I have to care for, yes, I have a husband but he’s fairly self-sufficient now. When meeting people I try to answer questions about what I do, or what I hope to do, I respond with confidence, but my heart wants to tell them, this wasn’t the plan, this wasn’t my first choice.
I thought I’d already fought the battle that saw having a child as the answer, but I’m starting to realise that the desire for motherhood runs deeper than any number of counselling sessions or nights out or prayers for healing. There are still days when I feel it would be easier to just point at the baby in my arms when asked what I ‘do’. I know that many mums long for more chances to express themselves outside of caring for their child, and that the struggle to find purpose is still very present. However, when you’re living a life that looks nothing like you hoped, you can’t help but grieve the purposes or roles you always thought you’d have.
A few weeks ago we were invited to spend an evening at Liverpool Cathedral with the new curates and their spouses. I love this building. The cathedral makes an impression on you before you’re anywhere near the front door. Approaching the cathedral your eyes are drawn upwards, unable to absorb the whole building because of its size. When inside, your eyes are once again carried up by the cathedral’s arches, to a space that is higher than even your imagination is able to take you. Armed with an audio guide and an hour to explore I began my tour of the cathedral, starting with some words from the cathedral’s architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott;
“Don’t look at my arches, look at my spaces.”
Our small group wandered around the empty cathedral in the early evening light, our necks stretched back, eyes upwards, bodies unsteadied as our sight climbed the heights of the arches. I stood in the middle of the central space head tilted back, eyes struggling to reach the ceiling and thought about Scott’s words. I tried to look at the space and not the structure.
Although the space was too big for me to even begin to absorb, I embraced Scott’s words. The red sandstone arches are beautiful but it’s the space that stays with you, that lifts your soul and makes your heart beat faster. It’s the space that makes you dizzy when your eyes try to stretch to the ceiling. It’s the space that makes this building special.
When I think about my search for purpose and the undefined space in front of me – the free time,the quiet evenings and the silent nights, I don’t see freedom, I see restriction, boundaries, road blocks, preventing me from travelling down the path to purpose I’d always dreamt of, the one so many of my friends have effortlessly taken. Oh how I long for the open space in front of me to move my soul and make my heart beat faster like the vastness of the space inside Liverpool cathedral. I know I need to stop looking at the structure around me and stop being afraid of the space its created but I’m finding it really hard and I think part of the reason why is because I’m stuck inside. You see I think this challenge to find purpose goes beyond just enjoying the space in front of me. I believe in a God who cannot be contained, so why am I still in the building?
The problem isn’t that I’m contained or restricted by the arches that frame my life, it’s that I’m unable to look beyond them. No children, no job, not sure what to do. I feel like Eve in the garden, spending my days fixated on the fruit I can’t eat, rather than looking at the beauty surrounding me and up to the God who created it for me.
In my search for purpose I am realising that I need to think about who I am rather than who I am not. I’ve realised that my fear of having no purpose runs from a deeper darker place where I have defined myself by my deficit and which leaves me feeling unworthy, as though I have nothing to contribute. I’m discovering that my sense of purpose and of worthiness need to come from the same place, the love of God. Relying on God’s love can sound cheesy, even lightweight, but it’s hard; it is incredibly difficult in our world to be a woman in her thirties with no children, no job title, and yet receive that love, to really believe you are worthy. But that is my challenge, for it is only the love of God that can help me fight my fear of worthlessness.
Your purpose is here. Such beautiful, heartfelt, wise and perceptive writing. Your gift is your writing and if you have the time and space to pursue this, then that is surely God’s gift to you. It may not be what you were expecting or what you want, and God knows your grief and disappointment. But you have this talent to say what others feel, and your words heal.
Thank you so much for your kind and generous words. I felt very vulnerable publishing this post but I knew this was a story I had to tell. Thank you for affirming me in this way xx
This is so beautiful. You have a huge talent for writing so maybe that could be something you ‘do’ more of?
It’s also really made me want to visit Liverpool cathedral.
I think you should definitely visit Liverpool cathedral, it’s an amazing building! Thanks so much for your encouragement, I am trying to write my story at the moment with the idea of seeing if it could become a book, it may just be something I have to do for myself but I hope it’s something I’ll be able to share with others.
You definitely have a gift for writing. Your words strike a chord with me though my problem through childlessness is related to being too busy and using my job as my purpose and fulfillment. In so doing I am also in a desert. I worry that I fill the desert spaces with stuff and activity then feel trapped in my busy-ness. In fact by doing this I am living in the desert without streams of life and am not even noticing the manna that He leaves for me every night. I can hear God whispering to me to just come and ‘sit’ by Him a while.
God uses the desert times to bring out impurities and make us increasingly reliant on Him rather than on empty worldly things. I find these helpful. Deut 8 v 2-3, Jer 29 v11. http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2010/april/journeychildlessness.html?start=1
This blog post is pertinent in the first page where the writer uses the analogy of covering her ears and singing lalalalalala…
Thank you so much Gwen for sharing this article, I always find it encouraging to be able to hear people’s stories that are similar to mine, it definitely helps you feel as though you’re not alone. I can identify with a lot of what was written and I can totally connect with the image of covering my ears and trying to ignore what was happening. I think it was through counselling and talking with friends that helped me to stop ignoring what was happening and start to process it, but it’s not easy and can be pretty messy at times. Thanks for your encouragement and for sharing some of your story as well xx
Dear Lizzie, Thank you for sharing your story. I agree with the other commenters on your talent. You are moving in the right direction. My life has similarities to yours and I have found these free daily meditations helpful: https://cac.org/richard-rohr/daily-meditations
Over the past few years I have had to relearn almost everything I thought I understood about my faith but through the grief and pan has come joy and peace. Praying God’s blessing for you x
Thank you so much for sharing about having to re-learn your faith. I’ve just stated reading a Richard Rohr book and I’m finding it really helpful so I will definitely check out his daily meditations. Thanks for your encouragement. Xx
lizzie my oh my. i think you are just so amazing for being so honest. It is really hard being ” not a mum” especially when it is not by your choice. Its funny the little things that someone can say or do or not do which can be so upsetting too. But you are an inspiration so take heart! i agree with the other bloggers -write your book! You could be the new Elizabeth Elliot without all the weird rules about dating! Also i would like to read the Bolivia chapters!!!! I have my diaries if you need to jog your memory!
Hey Katharine, thanks so much for being so encouraging. I can definitely identify with those little moments that really hurt, when people haven’t thought or don’t know about your story. I can’t believe you’ve still got your Bolivia diaries! That’s so great! I’m not sure if I’d be able to write like Elizabeth Elliot, I think my book may be slightly more irreverent than hers! 😉 Thanks for being so supportive. It’s so great to hear from you xx
There is no question about your amazing gift of writing, and The Lord will open doors of opportunity. He is the God “Who makes a way where there is no way.” Even after meeting you only once, I was so impressed with some of your other gifts – Humour, cheerful friendliness and warmth. You are going to be an AMAZING woman of God, looked up to and loved by your congregation, and a valuable asset to your man. We all came into the world for a reason, with a Designer plan, purpose and the potential to fulfill it. God bless you, love and prayers.
Thank you so much for your lovely message, and for being so encouraging, I feel very blessed! Thanks so much for your support for our little blog.lots of love xxxx
Hi Lizzie, my mum (Rose Uitterdijk) sent me a link to your blog because she has got so much from reading it. I think your last post is so powerful and I really value your honesty. So few people are able to let go of the crutches of life (whether out of choice or not) and face their own identity in front of their maker. That stillness is so scary, but I think our materialistic culture is crying out for this ‘space’. I have different life circumstances to you (although I am a curates wife!), but that feeling of being without purpose resonates with me. I think God is calling certain people to wrestle with purpose, however hard that may be, for the sake of others. There’s a message in it people need to hear. I’ve written a bit about purpose on my blog if you want to have a read. I’m not coming from a place of having any answers, but of struggling with this daily. My blog is nakedchurchblog.WordPress.com, particularly the posts ‘Busyness’ and ‘Fish’.
Hi Anya, thanks so much for your comment. I agree, I think purpose is something that many people struggle with and I’m not always sure that church helps. I’ve read your blog posts, so much of what you said resonated with me. Just over two years ago I was diagnosed with epilepsy then I had a year where I had three miscarriages, an operation and a trapped nerve. Being unable to ‘do’ things was a huge struggle and a real challenge as to how and where I find my purpose, but, like you said, this challenge was not resolved. I know I moved forward in my understanding of who I am in God and what that means, rather than a job title to provide that for me, but that challenge is still there, and I think it will still be a huge part of my journey. I think purpose is something we need to talk about and wrestle with more as Christians as I think there is sometimes a lot of shame attached to it. Thanks for sharing. Although we’re in different places I do feel we share a lot as fellow curate’s wives. May God bless you on your journey as you follow Him. xxx
My lovely Lizzie, as you know my life has not turned out how I planned it, today was one of those days when grief consumed me and I suddenly stopped and wondered how did I get here and how on earth do I carry on? But we all have a purpose and yours will become clear soon enough. You are needed,my advice is try something new, try lots of new things and the world becomes less scary. You have an opportunity many don’t, you’re not stuck in a job you hate earning shed loads of money but never seeing your family because you are always at work and are too frightened to leave because of financial commitments. Embrace it and it will embrace you. All my love xx
Thank beautiful lady, you’re such an inspiration to me. Thank you for standing by me and for always being such an encouragement. xxxx
When looking up into the seemingly endless heights of the cathedral, sometimes I feel myself losing my balance. Then the fear comes. If I fall I will feel pain, people will laugh, others will feel pity and concern which my pride makes me not want. In a moment I am fine and the fear recedes but the moment is gone. Till reading your post I have never understood that in the brief moment of fear I lose the sound of my own breathing. In. Pause. Out. Pause. It is in the pause that I am aware of His presence in me. The space between life and death where He always is, always was, always will be. Fear was placed into us by Our Father for a purpose and I suppose that for everyone that purpose is different. When the fear comes for you turn into it, feel it, let it have you for a while, let your skin crawl and your stomach nauseate, let yourself sweat and shiver, let the hopelessness take you for a few minutes, let the panic steal your breath. Then DON’T. Breathe. Listen to the sound of breath entering and exiting your body and feel for the “spaces”. As a man I cannot know the pain you describe so vividly herein, I have felt the fear. Use it. You will know what you are meant to do soon. I BELIEVE it.
Wow! Brian, thank you so much for your comment/poetry words that I think would be an encouragement to many. Thank you for the encouragement to be afraid of the fear, what a challenge but what a great challenge. I will remember these words as I move forward into the new year and continue to explore my purpose. Thank you again.
as you know your wonderful blog is new to me and I’m not only deeply touched but lost in admiration for your courage and honesty in what you have written. I cannot even begin to imagine your pain at how today’s culture of “success” and visible achievement has made you feel worthless. But it is not true, I’m sure your head tells you that everyone of us is worth Jesus’ life, but your heart can’t quite believe it .- I too am worthless in the “world’s” eyes because, – as someone said to me when I had to admit that my surname now was the same as the one I had at school! “So couldn’t you get married” – I’ve failed to catch a husband – and not even managed to meet the current expectation of having a “partner” – (nor am I a single mum!) – so a total female failure! add to which I’m a member of what the Church Times with condescending arrogance refers to as “the elderly” and need rescuing from my loneliness !
However – I do have a rich life, I’m incredibly blessed with friends, I can’t say that the major part of my life is taken up by one special interest or ministry, but people still seem to find me someone useful to phone up for help or a chat, and this gives me value.
Lizzie, from your reply to Anya it is clear that your body has taken quite a battering in the last two years. Add to that the stress moving to a new area, and a new life style, it could well be that – however frustrating it seems , this is a time for you to Rest, – to be still – to take time to recover from physical, mental and emotional demands. So try not to rush into things, take time to settle into this new phase of life – and God bless!
Margaret, thank you so much for your honesty and your encouragement. I feel so frustrated when society and sometimes even more so the church can make single or childless women feel worthless or less of a woman because of the lives they live. I am sorry that you have been made to feel this way, but so grateful that you are a living, breathing witness of the life that can be had in God and how you have used your life to serve Him and to minister to others – what a gift! I understand that living a life that didn’t turn out as expected can still cause pain, no matter how long it has been but I am grateful there are people nearby with whom to share that experience,who have that deeper understanding and I am thankful that you are one of them. Thank you for your kind words and yes, I have suffered a lot physically and I think you could be right, rest may just be part of my purpose! Thanks again xxx
Lizzie, thanks so much for your honest and moving writing – I love reading your blog posts. And congrats on your blog award! Thinking of and praying for you both in Liverpool. Lots of love xx
Thanks Lan, thanks for your encouragement and your prayers. We had a great time at the awards so being runners-up in our category was an added bonus! Lots of love xxxx