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