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I had the privilege of meeting Leeana Tankersley in April at the
Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College. We share a publisher
in Zondervan, and Leeana was there to sign copies of her debut memoir,
Found Art: Discovering Beauty in Foreign Places. It’s a beautiful,
literate, funny, and painfully honest story about a year she spent in Bahrain, right after getting married. Her
husband, Steve, was a Navy SEAL, and the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan were just getting underway.
At Calvin, when we were leaving the conference one night to return to our
respective hotels after a Zondervan party, Leeana discovered that the
battery had died on her rental car. Jump-starting a car is pretty much
the one semi-mechanical thing I know how to do, and in true manly
fashion, I saved the day. Leeana owed me, so I asked her to write a
Voices of Doubt guest post.
I’m glad I did. But it’s so good, now I feel like I owe her back. Here’s Leeana Tankersley:
I reread The Awakening recently. Such a haunting story. Edna Pontillier, privileged by every standard, decides she’d rather end her life on her own terms than live by someone else’s. Barely able to tolerate her doting-yet-detached husband and two young children, Edna longs for a life she can’t have.
In an ultimate act of defiance, she strips down naked and walks out into the ocean–leaving behind her husband, her two young children, her creative dabblings, the lover she has taken up with–and she never comes back.
My husband, Steve, always gets a little nervous when I pull out this book. It’s like, “Babe, can we try and stay away from the stories about the women who drown themselves because they can’t stand their husband and children? Pleeeeeease?“
I’ve always felt something for Edna. A recognition, an empathy, a melancholic sisterhood. I’ve always identified with her longing, that most exposing of human conditions.
Since becoming a mother myself, I’ve attached to the story even more. Motherhood has been harrowing for me so far. Twenty months into it, I’ve got a set of nearly perfect boy/girl twins, a deeply foul-mouthed internal monologue, and sub-par personal hygiene. My living room floor is the constant confluence of abounding joy and mind-numbing terror, so I get why a woman might need a little space.
I was driving earlier this week and saw a fresh twenty-something walking down the street. She had on enviable boots and her hair was pulled back into a messy-on-purpose chignon and she carried a venti Starbucks and an I’ve-got-things-together sort of handbag. She wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous or anything. She was just clean, newly washed, and I was the farthest thing from such ease. I started crying right there at the red light, watching her float down the street while I felt like nothing more than a big barnacle.
These are critical moments for me, the kind of moments when I will either torment myself with self-loathing and despair, or I will allow God to be near me. The toxic voices in my head beat me down, rehearsing all the reasons why I should drive West and walk right out into the water. “Why can’t you be more?” or “The good women can handle life, why can’t you?” or “It’s hard to believe you’ve become such a wreck.”
I deeply fear my own inadequacies, the pain I feel when I hit up against my human limits every day. I despise feeling wrung out and wasted and left longing. I hate that I can’t be more, that I can’t perform better.
Where is God in the ugly toxicity of my inner thoughts? Where is God when the rackets start raging against me? Where is God while I do time on the living room floor, crazed and unshowered? Where is God when, day after day, I am confronted with my own persistent ache? For belonging. For love. For worth. To become something or someone that matters in this world. For peace. For less striving and proving and managing. For the toxic voices to be silenced once and for all. For stillness and yoga-breath and sanctuary. For direction. For energy. For freedom.
Edna’s story touches on the longing I often avoid, often numb, often suppress. Not the, “man I’d love to own a little farmhouse someday and grow herbs in pots and wear those tall rubber wellies they’re showing in the Urban Outfitters catalog this fall” kind of longing. (You know, for example.)
What we’re talking about here is the longing that pools in the deeper waters. The place where my most exposed self resides, wrought with conflictions and contradictions and . . . yes…naked yearning. The place where I am literally crying out for salvation. The place that scares me because it is so unpredictable and unrefined and uncontrolled. The place that embarrasses me with its snot-dripping neediness and tearful angst.
On the Edna days, I surrender to all the wrong voices and give in to my own death. Not necessarily death by drowning, but death by drowning-out. When I choose the drowning-out, I am choosing to walk away from my need for God.
This is the moment when I begin to doubt, for the millionth time, that any of my believing matters anyway.
What if I trust and believe and pray and none of it makes a difference? What if God has better things to do than sit on the floor with me and my kids? What if I let him into the true state of affairs and he isn’t able to (or doesn’t care to) help me?
And just like that, this faith that I’ve been nurturing and nourishing for over three decades feels impotent.
Cue the swirling waters.
On the same day that I saw the girl gliding down the street, I began crying again. This time, I cried right in front of my daughter, Lane. I let myself go toward the longing, and I let myself feel it instead of numb it. I let myself ease toward the raw need.
Lane looked at me silently, and (I swear) knowingly. She brought me three stuffed animals from her pink bookcase and she crawled up into my arms. We held each other for some time, and right there on the floor of her bedroom, I felt as if Christ himself had his arms wrapped around my neck.
In fact, I don’t doubt it.
Previous posts in the “Voices of Doubt” series…
• Robert Cargill: The Skeptic in the Sanctuary
• Dana Ellis: Haunted by Questions
• Rachel Held Evans on Works-Based Salvation
• Winn Collier: Doubt Better
• Tyler Clark on Losing Fear, Losing Faith
• Rob Stennett on the Genesis of Doubt
• Adam Ellis on Hoping That It’s True
• Nicole Wick on Breaking Up with God
• Anna Broadway on Doubt and Marriage