This is what we’ve got to work with

I haven’t made any new year resolutions this time around. I know the whole practice is naive but I usually do, and I have to say I did rather well with 2022’s—that’s what comes with setting the bar sufficiently low: take the stairs when possible, and have cream in your coffee more often (they came as a pair). 

While I haven’t set any resolutions, I did sit down this week and do that Christian thing where you ask God for a word for the year. Social media tells me that when other people do this, they get things like “golden paths,” “open doors,” or something similarly filled with possibility and promise. What did the Lord say to me? “This is what we’ve got to work with”. 

Oh. 

Um, thanks?

But actually, the more I sat with that, it did start to fill me with hope. 

Looking back over the last year, 2022 was something of an annus horribilis. Objectively that’s an exaggeration, but subjectively it was rough. I continually butted up against my limitations, became further acquainted with my shadow side, reached new levels of clarity about my weaknesses and that of my family systems. I repeatedly found that even though I could see how things could be better (in my terms at least), that my power to change things was constrained. I grappled with the reality that I cannot control so many things that I care about; no matter how hard I try, pray, work, or hold tight, I cannot make things happen—certainly not in the way I want them to—and I will never be “enough” for all the people, whatever that means. 

But this is what we have to work with. And that’s OK. 

When that phrase came to me as I sat on the beach in Kaikōura, enjoying some morning solitude before the extended family was up and the bach was bustling, the image that came with it was shaped by the space here.

But not so much the wide sea or the rocks that tell their own story, it is more the remnants of the outbuildings that pepper my father’s family home. The accumulation of sheds, wash-houses, and the old house, where everything speaks of years of life and work, but the paint has peeled and the shine has well and truly fallen off. It’s all a bit daggy here, and I love it. 

I saw an image of the craftsman standing before the workbench, surveying her tools and materials—well aware of their limitations but content with that.

The other image that came to mind illuminated what we were NOT talking about here — a kind of apophatic revelation (“not this”), through the snatched remembrance of some luxury car ad I’d seen recently. I forget the brand of car, but it was one of those which convey excellence: every component extensively designed and machined perfectly to create a sleek product and a superlative driving experience. That is not what God is making in me. 

The wood has knots and imperfections, but He’ll use that, bring out the grain and make something beautiful. What, I couldn’t quite say, but there was a deep sense of hopeful anticipation about the process of the making. 

There are no power tools here, it’s all the work of His hands.

There’s a temptation to live in denial of the weaknesses and limitations of our persons and our communities, to pretend that things are better than we really are. To give all our attention to polishing the outside of the container* because we’re afraid that what’s inside isn’t sufficiently good, beautiful, or true to be valued without the spin or promotion. But eventually we must gaze unflinchingly at what we really have and are. Where we cannot pretend to God anymore, and not even to ourselves. 

But here’s the gold: God’s gaze might expose us, but it does not reject us.

God takes us as we are, but in His love He won’t leave us as we are. 

God’s gaze emerges from a nonjudgmental presence that names things rightly, without attaching the value judgment. It always knew about our limitations, and was under no illusions about what we have to work with. And it is “we”, God and us, and us in community (Phil 2:12-13). The challenge for me, in particular (feeling more enneagram 1 in this confession than in every time I reorganise the dishwasher), is to extend that nonjudgmental gaze of my loving Father to myself and to others.

And so, I take hope and will claim that statement for my year. “This is what we have to work with”. Knotted maybe, daggy perhaps, limited certainly… and glorious no less. 

———————

These simple thoughts have been sitting unpublished for some time because I’ve been waiting for them to be, well, better. Today, the quiet morning minutes which I had hoped to give to polishing this piece were interrupted by the littlest one. For a moment I felt defeated, but then I realised:

Oh well, perhaps this is enough, after all this is what we have to work with. 

*In Falling Upward, Fr Richard Rohr describes how the shift between the two “halves of life” involves moving from preoccupation with building the container of one’s life, to attending to what one will actually fill it with. He writes, “The task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life and answer the first essential questions: ‘What makes me significant?’, ‘How can I support myself?’ and ‘Who will go with me?’ The task of the second half of life is, quite simply, to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver.” Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011), 1.

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3 thoughts on “This is what we’ve got to work with

  1. Richard Darby says:

    Love these genuine and honest “ simple thoughts “, Maja, the realisation of our limits, weakness and the way He sees us , values and loves us and “the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver.”
    Keep writing your thoughts they challenge, bless and give hope

    Like

  2. Helen Beamish says:

    Thanks for being vulnerable and authentic Maya. I can fully identify with the becoming process, and the “what we’ve got to work with” image! ‘Tis pure gold that God doe not reject us, eh… thanks for the reminder. Phil 1:6 is as much a reminder to me about myself – and the need for some self-compassion – as it is a statement reminding others that I’m still a work in progress… thanks for sending this as “enough for now” rather than polished further, and we wait longer for the wise reminder.

    Like

  3. Richie Waa says:

    This is what we have to work with…

    And it is what it is!!!

    Likening our entire selves to that of The garden. We are the whenua (soil of the land) we are the kakano (the eternal seed sown by, of and one with the Creator of all things). This is what makes us of our Maker.

    We are not all the other seeds, weeds and trees that are growing and producing fruit in the whenua of our hearts and our lives. That fruit reveals the trees as being not of and one with the nature of the All loving All mighty All forgiving All accepting Creator of all things. You can tell a tree by the fruit it bears.

    We all have boxes full of fruit that do not ooze the sweet juices of perfect and unconditional love and acceptance.

    However, this is what we have to work with!!!

    And it’s ok 👌🏾 it is what it is.

    Knowing ABOUT already being enough in our current condition is NOT the same as Being in our current condition and being enough exactly where and when we are right now as we tend and prune our gardens to produce fruit 10 50 100 fold.

    And we are all exactly where we need to be to have the opportunity to experience all the bible describes as the kingdom of heaven. It is surely at hand right now.

    the karanga of our Creator is calling all of us into the narrow space where there is only room for you and your Creator that requires us to do our best to trust and let go of all we have and know, to arrive kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) uncovered, bare and simultaneously covered in the unconditional love and acceptance who is our Creator.

    Hearing about that narrow space will never transform us and reveal who we already are (offspring and children of God Almighty) only willingly walking in there will burn up all the impossibilities that convince us we’ll never be the same/one/reconciled/ perfected as is our Creator is in heaven.

    Be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect- Ihu Karaiti.

    This is what we have to work with… and it’s just right!!!! Five fish and two loaves fed 5000 men not including women and children.

    Are we willing to give our Creator all we have so They can do the work that no person can do??? With man this is impossible but with God ALL things are possible!!!

    Like

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