I like checking things off lists. Dishes? Check. Returning emails? Check. Meeting goals? Check. There’s a cleanliness to a completed task, a finished goal, a project brought to fruition.
But I’m realizing that the most important things in my life can’t be checked off. Because there isn’t a point where they’re done, or finished. They aren’t on or off, like switches. They’re journeys, processes, muddled and grey.
Take homeschooling. I have one child on a journey towards reading. We mostly just read a lot, but have also gotten more formal curriculum (BOB books, “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Steps”). They have been helpful, as far as they go. The latter helped me see how one might learn to read in a very precise way.
The only thing is, learning isn’t always that precise.
I paged through the 100-lesson format, and realized that even if we move all the way through the book, even if my child learns all the phonemes, all the phonics, all the sight words, she will still only be able to read a small subset of the glorious library of wonder that awaits her. It’s more akin to the first push on a swing–she’ll have to carry herself farther than any curriculum will ever be able take her. Reading isn’t a switch we’ll turn on in a day, or 100 days. Our reading journey will be going on for years. Heck, by some measures, I’m still learning how to read: reading thoughtfully, with attention, and with an eye to judging and joyfully evaluating the material.
Or take birth. I remember being ever more flustered with my first pregnancy as I moved towards my “due date”, because I realized just how arbitrary that due date was. A particular day appointed as the date my baby might come out? It seemed as useful as predicting a due “hour” or a due “minute”. Sure, you might get in the ballpark, but then again, you might not. What panicked me, as my date approached, was a) having every one ask me how many days were left and b) realizing I really wanted a date, too, to depend on, to make the journey seem more safe and controllable. I didn’t like people asking, because I desperately wanted to know, too, and knew I wasn’t getting the answer.
Or, speaking of being in process, take discipline. I’m teaching my kids to be kind, diligent, generous, helpful. And struggling mightily to be those things myself.
So many parts of my life don’t fit in this neat binary modern world we inhabit these days: learning, growing in marriage or in faith. Potty training, learning to swim, being a write. I’m not a great mother or a terrible one; I’m somewhere in the muddled middle. I’m neither a successful writer or an unsuccessful one, I’m just doing the work.
Or take politics, being an American, justice, race: these do not have clear edges or easy binary options.
Our phones, our lights, our cars turn off and on and behave in predictable ways, but pretty much nothing else does.
Today, I’m trying to say yes to being in process, to being a learner, not a master. To embracing both-and, rather than either-or. I’m trying to let go of control, easy answers, and categories. To value the pursuit, and not just the finish.
Image credit: Paul Cross