Birthday Fear (Creative Commons courtesy of Rob Stanley)

I’ve just turned 35 and I’m scared

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.