The question I most dread these days is this: “Why have you come to Paris?“
I have no idea.
I thought I knew why I was coming to Paris. It was to get away, to enjoy a hard-earned break. The last few years have been so bleak and unrelentingly repetitive that I felt I had earned the time to reset my inner-whatever and to jump-start a life that had slowed to a crawl. I had lists of people for whom I wanted to write, lists of galleries and exhibitions I wanted to see, lists of buildings and cathedrals to gawk at, lists and lists and more lists …
… which I have deleted.
I’m in the season of life when everything is supposed to come together in a perfectly choreographed clang-the-gong coda, a time when the past pays off with great literary reviews and new contracts, a time when relationships fully blossom and deeply fulfill … a time when life is incredibly satisfying. That’s how the last half of middle-age is supposed to be. Right?
If so, I’m a total failure. In the last few months, I have lost my footing. I’m alone and lonely. Unsuccessful. Marginally productive. For most of my life I had clear goals and ambitions, but now I’m aimlessly struggling. I’m ashamed of myself and don’t like to meet people because I can’t even explain why I’m in Paris. I don’t like to look in a mirror.
By now, I should be writing Nobel-prize winning tomes effortlessly. I should be ensconced in a deeply satisfying relationship with a honorable man. I should be enjoying worthwhile fellowship with other believers, hearing God’s directive voice clearly, doing His will obediently, and willingly submitting to whatever He has planned for my life.
What’s wrong with me?
Until this morning, I didn’t notice a tiny plaster cherub stuck on the wall of my overly decorated apartment. Whoever did the interior design likes filigree, romantic paintings, beige and white, chandeliers dripping with glass and tastefully arranged clutter. In contrast, my “aesthetic” is spartan. I like empty surfaces, a few good pieces of art well-positioned on walls, a handful of sculptural objects, and unadorned blank spaces that force my eye to wonder and wander over the architectural lines that define the form of the building.
Michelangelo, on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, painted frescos of angels looking downward. As these angels stared at the people below, they were busily staining to hold up things, to keep stuff from falling out of the sky. Their little wings endlessly fluttered in this labour.
I am quite certain that the beating of their wings produces a slight breeze in the building … a veritable buzz.
So, do I have plans for my time in Paris?
No. I gave them up. I “surrendered” all plans to Him and now have nothing. This, I believe, is God’s will. Still, to be here alone, wanting to serve Him, without connection to the past or future, without friends or acquaintances, and without an overriding purpose is rather scary to me. When I awaken in the mornings, I ask God what He wants me to do that day — I’m living day to day like this. Often, I hear nothing in response. Divine crickets! So, I do as I wish, which today meant staying indoors.
I wrote today. Studied. Prayed. That’s what I felt led to do. I’m clinging to the foundational belief that God is good and will work things out for my good in the end, not just because one biblical verse says this, but because His character demands it.
Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Ps 143
I do know that I’m staring at this laptop in my wee apartment, struggling to trust Him in the dreary Paris afternoons, when grey clouds never lift … it’s been raining almost every day. I want to believe that He will guide me to the somethings and someones I’m here to do and serve. This is the challenge of faith.
The painful question I am asking myself is this: Will I still love and trust God if none of my dreams materialize, if my plans come to naught, if the only reason to get up is to live through another day? Will I love and serve God if life has no more meaning and significance than the passage of time?
This is an angst-producing question, for me. The idea that God could be telling me through circumstances that my life is essentially over, that what was will never be again, that I have nothing to look forward to on this side of heaven … this terrifies me. I want a big life. But, for reasons I don’t understand, the past few years have been small. And now, in this beautiful city, life is shrinking even more.
In part, I’m reacting against my mother to whom I was never close. As a child, I concluded at a very early age that my mother wasn’t really alive. She was like a seashell, I used to think: hard on the outside, empty on the inside. Her hollowing continued until she died. She never took advantage of the love, travel, interesting places and opportunities, or the ample good fortune that seemed to follow her, but became smaller, ever smaller. Even her body shriveled.
In the garage, neatly packaged, are at least twenty boxes of her art. A couple years ago, my father asked me to unpack these boxes so he could put her art on the walls of the house. Dutifully, I began to open the boxes. To my horror, every one of them was filled with gessoed, blank canvases. There was no art. None at all. My mother had packed these boxes to look as if they contained paintings so my father wouldn’t know she wasn’t doing anything but thinking about painting; or maybe thinking about something else … or not thinking at all.
The raw, dystopic symbolism of blank gessoed canvases hidden as completed paintings deeply revolted me. I reeled from this discovery. I have never told my father what I found, by the way, because it would hurt him needlessly.
I told the story of my mother so you could understand how unnerving it is to float around Paris without goals. But yes, I think this is God’s will.
God may be teaching me to trust Him more fully. Blindfolded as I am, I have no choice but to take His divine hand and go wherever He leads me. I feel led to pray for revival. I feel led to study and write. I think God is pushing me to the side to teach me something I will need to know in the future. Solitude often precedes assignment, I’ve been telling myself, hoping and praying it is true!
I don’t know if France ever experienced the revivals that rocked England and Scotland and don’t have access to a library to research. If you know, please write me. The Presbyterian church in Scotland was deeply influenced by revival — at one point, almost a third of Scottish citizens were attending evangelical churches. Could this happen in France?
Sure, if God wills it. Lets pray for revival. Again and again.