Four years ago, I lived 20 minutes away from downtown New York City, where a new skyscraper had been built at the site of a national tragedy.
Two years ago, I lived 20 minutes from Littleton, Colorado, where a high school had erected a monument to honor the victims of a terrible school shooting.
The World Trade Center. Columbine High School. This list goes on. There is something about these tragedies, these endings of what once was, that pull us completely out of ourselves. From them, we have no other choice but to ask ourselves bigger questions.
I visited both memorial sites, and what I remember the most from those visits was the silence. It seemed to speak so clearly: “What now?” I remember wrestling with how this could have happened and how anyone could have moved forward from such devastating loss.
I’ve been praying a lot about endings and beginnings. We encounter them every day. Some are tragic, like the ones dominating our culture today — but others are just small changes, daily choices we must make that require us to start over.
No matter the ending, starting over feels like a healed arm fresh out of the cast. It’s freeing, but it also leaves us extremely vulnerable. Like a mother who finds out she is pregnant again after a miscarriage — or a man who has fallen in love again after his broken engagement — we want to rejoice in hope, but we seem to know better than to rejoice over something that may break again. So, instead, we retreat. We keep new beginnings at arm’s length, where we can see them. And we look for shelter and safety in things we know.
When I feel caught in the uncertainty between endings and beginnings, I retreat to my room in the Father’s house. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John that we each have a room that is uniquely our own (Jn 14:2).
Every time I pray with this verse, I see a white, Georgian house in England. (I don’t really know why it’s there, but it’s there. I think it has something to do with my Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Shakespearian heart.)
It’s my place. The room is filled with a joy and a peace that seem to fit perfectly into the free spaces of my heart. There are memories that I hold close displayed in pictures across the walls. Everything is light and beauty and well-ordered and safe.
I have found myself running to this room in prayer when my heart needed a home. And I always find Christ there, waiting for me. In this room I receive His peace, His protection and His promises.
But, to be honest, there are times I have gotten a little too comfortable in there. Because, unfortunately, having a room in the Father’s house does not mean that the storms of life won’t come. Death, heartache, disease: These things do have the ability to enter our rooms.
This past year, I experienced pain that I could not put into words. All I wanted to do was run and hide from everyone and everything. And I did. I hid for a long time. When I finally worked up the courage to run to my room in the Father’s house, I was shocked by what I saw: It was destroyed. Things ripped and torn apart, pictures frames broken on the ground, glass everywhere. This place of peace, protection and promise was completely unrecognizable to me.
I slowly walked into the room with Jesus by my side. This was my place. I looked at Him and said, “This hurts everything in me. And it’s going to take forever to clean up.”
Right as I spoke those words, the saints started filing into my room, and the gentle scrubbing of my heart began. Because, as it turns out, there is a way to pick up messy rooms. There is a way to learn from hard endings and to begin again with hope. And you don’t have to do it alone.
But, practically speaking, how do we start over? How do we begin as sophomores after the growing pains of freshman year? How do we start graduate school when all we know is how to barely make it out alive of undergraduate? How do we date again after the pain of rejection? How do we make the grade without anxiety taking over again? How do we see the beauty of new beginnings?
After a lot of prayer, I have five thoughts.
1. Be where you are.
It’s easy to want to rush past the beginning and get to the next exciting chapter. But we can’t rush growth. Just like we can’t rush trust or love.
The day after Harry Potter 7 came out, I did something no one should have ever done. I went into the bookstore, grabbed the book … and flipped to the last chapter.
Why? Maybe because I’m a terrible human being. But I was so invested in the lives of those characters that I wanted to make sure everything was going to be okay.
Sometimes we’d rather skip to the last chapter of a novel before reading the rest, to ensure it has a happy ending. We want to know with complete assurance that everything is going to work out BEFORE we begin. But the thing is, we can’t know. We won’t know.
Be where you are. Acknowledge your emotions, take in the facts and be present to what God is doing in your life today. He has the ending, so embrace the new beginning He has placed in front of you. Tolkien said, “Little by little one travels far.” I remind myself of this truth daily.
2. Let go of the desire for control.
There is so much peace that comes with understanding that we are not in control. Yes, we can control whether we make our beds, eat our vegetables, strive for virtue. But we can’t control how the story will play out. We can’t control death or disease or other people or matters of the heart.
The Lord has our lives and He is only good. He sees the whole picture. He knows the ways in which we will be left at a loss for words, and He already has a plan to restore what breaks. Let Him have control, and let us rest in our inability to begin again alone.
3. Allow yourself to be seen.
This one is surprisingly hard for a lot of people — because we are exceptional Instagram influencers and Facebook “friends.” We know exactly how to highlight what we want to be seen, and we know exactly how to hide what’s less than desirable.
But there is healing in letting yourself take a break from the filters.
We have to let the people close to us see the real, messy, beautiful parts of who and where we are. C.S. Lewis said that, while those who speak of their miseries usually hurt, those who stay silent hurt more.
4. Find opportunities to laugh.
This is more important than I thought it was. Sometimes we just need to laugh. Laughing grounds you in the now. It’s a tangible act that releases past pain and future fear, if only for a moment of hope. And those moments mean something.
I remember being invited to a murder mystery party during my season of picking up the pieces. I had no desire to attend because I wasn’t about happy people. But I knew the host had worked hard on the event, so I went.
I cannot describe to you how hard I laughed that night. I laughed so hard that I realized I was laughing. You know those moments when you can step outside yourself for a second and see the joy you’re experiencing? I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed. It felt so good.
So, I guess what I’m telling you is to find funny friends. Or maybe just find opportunities that bring you joy and lead you to hope.
5. Get PUMPED.
You’re at the beginning of another adventure! Another story! Another set of memories and moments to savor! Don’t let fear be your author; let the Lord hold the pen. Here is your chance to put into practice all that you have learned from the previous journey.
There is something so powerful about beginnings. They renew and restore.
They are the first day of classes.
They are the arms out of the casts.
They are the rooms that have finally been cleaned.
They are the garden before the fall.
They are glimpses of what God has in store for us.
They are hope.