I used to want to be rescued, but now I want something else.
I have this idea that if I’ve washed the laundry, it shouldn’t need to be done again. Maybe ever? But then I come downstairs and discover half a dozen more baskets piled high with sheets and bath towels and kitchen towels and shirts and socks and underwear and pajamas and jeans.
Instead of thinking, how wonderful that we have clothes to wear, I think, what’s so terrible about being naked, really? I bet there’s a commune for that somewhere.
And it’s not only laundry, you know. Some days you’re walking along, minding your own business, and the ground falls right out from under you. Some days you end up dangling off a cliff you never saw coming. Some days there are pits of quicksand just waiting for you to step in.
Every life has stuff going on, in unique and exhausting combinations. Even when nothing is falling apart, there’s always stuff.
I think that’s why “fix it” is the default prayer for parents of small children, even when life is just normal-hard. It’s my default, anyway. Could we make things easier around here? What about one fewer diaper to change, would that be possible? How about less with the night waking, hmm?
Can’t someone just swoop in and fix this?
I don’t even sound as eloquent as “help.” I sound more like, “wah.”
Shauna Niequist calls this praying “to be rescued, not redeemed.”
When I read that description, it was like a gong ringing in my soul. And still I tried to rationalize my fix-it plan. Oh! Hmm. You know, ‘redeemed’ sounds like wisdom, but I’m still going to beg for rescue a little while longer, okay? Please? It might work.
It doesn’t really work.
The trouble with rescue is that it doesn’t usually come how we want or when we think we need it. And even if it did, rescue moves us backwards. Back out of the pit, back up off the cliff, back out of danger and discomfort, back to the way things were.
That might be why rescue hardly ever shows up how we expect. We can’t live our lives in reverse.
So what do we do when we find ourselves hanging on, dangling over the edge? My first thought is always still RESCUE. I tell myself I wasn’t rescued from the laundry because it wasn’t big enough. But a cliff! A cliff is BIG. So maybe I will be rescued from that.
Maybe that’s true, and maybe it isn’t, but maybe that’s not the point.
When we’re in a hard place, we can kick and scream. We can hang on, gasping and writhing and scrabbling at rocks until our hands bleed with the effort.
Or we can stop flailing for a second.
I’d like to say: We can let go, and we will learn we can fly!
But the truth is more like: Maybe we’re going to spend some time learning about this cliff.
Maybe there’s another, rockier path that we have to take. Maybe there’s a guide we didn’t want to listen to. Maybe we’re going to get back up to the top, but it’s going to require more strength than we knew we possessed.
Or maybe we let go and fall and see that we’re still alive. We learn that we can survive our bruises. It’s not pretty, but it may be true.
Or worst of all, maybe we just have to wait. Maybe there is no fix, or not yet. Maybe we’re growing. Maybe we’re enduring. Maybe change will come one inch at a time, instead of in a leaping bound.
We need something deeper than rescue in times like that, something more nourishing and lasting.
We need restoration.
When a house is restored, it doesn’t just have the broken stuff fixed. It is made new. It’s brought back to glory. It’s better than new, in fact, because it has endured when it could have crumbled.
That’s what we need. Restoration makes us new again. Restoration brings us to fullness, to wholeness, so we can move forward.
And then there’s redemption. To redeem is to trade something in for something else. Redemption takes all our miserable stuff and trades it for something good.
A redemptive perspective takes in our suffering and turns us toward purpose. Redemption trades our difficulty for wisdom or understanding or empathy or patience. Redemption teaches us that not-rescued is not the same thing as abandoned.
Redemption isn’t tidy. It doesn’t mean you have to believe you have been given THIS difficulty to learn THAT lesson, all tied up with a bow. It’s about acknowledging, hey, this painful thing is happening, and then asking, well, what meaning can I find in this, now that I’m here?
There’s nothing wrong with crying out for help. There’s nothing wrong with listening for answers. But sometimes those answers come in whispers of redemption, not shouts of rescue.
It takes courage to say: OKAY FINE. Okay, I will stop looking for the quick fix from the quicksand and the cliff edges and the laundry, too. Okay, I am here in a messy place. Okay, I give up on my expectation that things should be easier. Okay, I am not alone, even if I am not rescued. Okay, I will wait and see. One breath at a time.
Restoration, redemption, instead of rescue. Okay.
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P.S. – Read more from Shauna Niequist in Bittersweet. The quote above is from an essay called Learning to Swim.
I love her perspective throughout the book, and not only because there’s a loaf of chocolate bread on the cover.