Love & Marriage: The Narrowing

Love & Marriage:  The Narrowing

My closest friends know that I have a rebellious streak. And in spite of being a teacher by trade (and a rule enforcer by default as a parent), I may also be a little bit of a rule breaker.  So it should come as no surprise that I don’t do well with restrictions or limits.

Before getting married, I traveled to over 10 countries for various amounts of time (living in two). I learned Chinese, got my masters and planned to get my PhD (my Plan B since marriage didn’t seem to be an option–why not be super educated?). My “verse” was:  

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes” (Is 54:2).

And then I fell in love.

The Narrowing began with dating long distance, but became a real heading in the story of our lives when we got married and realized we had so much less time for ourselves and for relationships outside of one another. We were crazy in-love and happy, but began to notice our broad road narrowing as it sloped towards the horizon.

I suddenly felt like a bird tethered to the foot of another bird, exhilarated by the heights, but struggling to negotiate the tension that comes in flying while attached to another being.

Two years later, we had a child and The Narrowing became even more evident. We could no longer spontaneously go out with friends or stay up late. Our time for each other became more precious and our time for others practically non-existent. Baby number two came two years after that and the term “spare time” now elicited much eye-rolling and muttering of “must be nice” under our breath.

When we were dating, I told Adam that my biggest fear was that I would be cooped up with an infant inside a tiny Chicago apartment in the dreary winter. Within a few years, that is exactly where I found myself. It is hard to maintain your rebellious streak when you are nursing a baby around the clock.

But lately I’ve been wondering if The Narrowing isn’t as much a restriction of freedom as a freedom from restrictions? What if I stopped seeing it as an end and began seeing it as a means to an end? What if I started accepting that God may want to prune branches so that new branches may grow?

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (Jn. 15:2). 

It is fall-become-winter time and my son has started asking me why all the trees are dead. They aren’t dead, I answer,
they’re just preparing for winter. They are shedding their excess leaves to conserve their energy during this season.

I am a winter tree, stripped down to bare branches. Teacher, missionary, world traveler, student, friend- who-will-be-there-at-a-moment’s-notice and adventurer are no longer terms I can honestly use to describe myself in three words or less. Now, I am wife, mommy, cook, boo boo kisser, question answerer, pretend game player and bodily fluid wiper.  But perhaps one day vibrant new leaves will replace the ones that were “lost.”

In fact, lately I have noticed that the loss of leaves in our yard is opening up new views of the serene lake across the street, the expansive blue sky and the mighty mountains hiding behind houses that I couldn’t see when the trees were full.  Perhaps the loss of some of what I used to use to define myself is also opening up new views of God, myself and others in this season of my life.  

Any artist knows and respects the eloquence of empty space in a work of art.  The elimination of my extra road is teaching me to walk this narrow path with more precision and intentionality. 

I am being given the gift of lessening. 

Patty Stallings, in her article Pleasant Boundary Lines, pointed out that Jesus Himself was “unknown, hidden and unseen for most of His adult life.” He intentionally limited Himself and allowed Himself to take on the nature of a servant (Phil. 2:7). And we are called to be like Him. 

In the comments, she responded to my mention of The Narrowing:

“Leslie, when I first read your term “The Narrowing” on your blog a couple weeks ago, I thought how fitting for moms of young children. And moms of grown children. And women as they age. And women who take care of aging parents. And… well, the list could go on and on, right? The image that comes to my mind is squeezing through a narrow passageway and you have to shed all the excess “stuff” you are dragging along to fit through the narrow place. And as you do, your hands are freed up to welcome the new and the good on the other side of the passageway.”

My hands are freed?

Maybe this narrow road He has me on is not a road of restriction, but of freedom because I am walking within His boundary lines of love. The Narrowing frees me to walk with greater purpose, emptier hands and a lighter load. 
 “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Ps. 16:5-6).

What about you?  I’d love to hear some of your experience with The Narrowing in the comments!

Linking up with Testimony Tuesday and Sarah Bessey’s Synchroblog prompt

20 Replies to “Love & Marriage: The Narrowing”

  1. Elisabeth Elliot said once that limitations don't hinder our ministry, they define it. We're in the season of caring for an elderly parent and have felt very much narrowed by the ramifications, which I chafe at sometimes, but I love the applications you've made to the opening of new vistas and the freeing for other things.

  2. Leslie, I love the opening and closing passages: in the enlarge the place of your tent there's a desire for more, and in the pleasant boundary lines there's an acceptance of "less" in which you've come to see the beauty of a different view (like the leaves fallen from the tree). My daughter was working on a college application last week and one of her five words to describe herself was adventurous. I so want her to live that out to the full and at the same time I'm aware of the times God has reigned in my capacity though narrowings like migraines and I'm wanting to grow in contentment with what He has for me when it feels like less.

  3. "I am being given the gift of lessening. " What a beautiful phrase. I don't often think of "less" as a gift – but it really is. I love the way you compared it to open view we get when the leaves fall from the trees. Less of one thing (leaves) gives more of another (the view). Both things are good.

  4. Ha! Yes, though I feel my mind has been narrowed a bit to three-year-old talk and wonder what happened to the vocabulary I had in college! But Amen to losing our baggage!

  5. Barbara, I'm glad that you were able to take something away from this even at a different stage of life. It is helpful for me to remember that this is not just something I will be learning in this season, but throughout my life as I draw closer to my Savior who willingly laid down His life for me.

  6. Jodie, I'm sure I would have described myself as "adventurous," too. That is still a part of me, it just looks very different now (in this stage of life, I feel "adventurous" if I get out of the house with my kids successfully without anyone–including myself–melting down!). And I know God blesses even just your desire for contentment in the midst of pain. Have you read much of Amy Carmichael? She ministered so much to others, though she was bed-ridden for many years.

  7. Oh sad! But I saw your comments on other posts–thank you so much for reading and encouraging–it meant so much to me yesterday to hear your thoughts and have your encouragement!

  8. Thank you, Michele. And I'm loving your poetry. Poetry is something I have dabbled with but really haven't felt like I'm any good at, so I really appreciate your beautiful word pictures. And, yes, I'm trying to believe that lessening truly is a "gift." I'm writing mainly to try and convince myself;-) He must increase, but I must decrease, right?

  9. Leslie, I am loving the continued processing and the growing and nurturing of wisdom in this season of Narrowing you are experiencing. Be blessed and encouraged by the Gardener's good work in you as He prunes and nourishes you in this season.

    And I am feeling pretty special to be quoted by YOU! 🙂

  10. Patty, thanks for giving me more to think about and especially for helping me to think through this season from a different perspective. One unfortunate consequence of The Narrowing is my narrow thinking doesn't allow me to always step away and look at my circumstances from far away, so I really appreciate someone's view from the outside looking in. Thanks for your wisdom and encouragement!

  11. I came over from Velvet Ashes. Thank you for this. I'm impressed at how well you can express yourself, even in the midst of The Narrowing. 🙂 I don't think I could put two thoughts together for about a decade.

    Right now, it seems that I'm starting into The Widening. My children are just starting to get old enough that I need to stretch out again. And, strangely, it's kind of scary. I'm working through a lot of thoughts and emotions these days.

  12. Phyllis, So it starts to widen again?! No matter what chapter of our story we are in, I think it's always scary and difficult to transition to the next chapter! I'm just hoping I learn to do it a little more gracefully than I have done it so far!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *