The cursor blinks at me questioningly. My fingers rest on the keys waiting for some fleeting thought of inspiration to flow through them and randomly press this indecipherable arrangement of letters into meaning. I once imagined that I could harness some kind of power in organizing my thoughts and translating them onto a page. Some kind of satisfaction, at least. Perhaps I even thought I might shed some light on the darkness within – in emptying it all out, spreading it thin, trudging through the mess and attempting to arrange it all in a way that might make more sense to me. But at the end of the page the mess remains, behind or in front, and the cursor still blinks. There are no answers, no explanations that satisfy it; it always wants more.
It’s how I’ve come to view life, I think: A giant, blinking cursor, waiting for me to do something profound and meaningful, waiting for me to make something of it. To fill in the blank, so to speak. Sort it all out. Weighty expectation, that may have either been instilled by the world or self perpetuated from youth.
Meaning. Where is the meaning in all of this - this one life, one page, I have to write on?
When someone puts it like that I start to panic, quite honestly. Because for some reason I have always been acutely aware of the brevity and constraint of my own humanity. And suddenly I become like Alice’s rabbit, with a clock in my hand and the mantra, “Late! There’s not enough time!” or
“I’m missing it!” Though if you pressed me I couldn’t quite articulate just what it is I’ve missed exactly. I am only scrambling through Wonderland convinced that I’m missing the party. It’s urgency and aimlessness, bound together as one. I know I have something to do but I haven’t figured out what it is just yet. Someone I am supposed to be. But I’m certain I’m not her.
A blinking cursor that might as well be a looming question mark.
In my younger years I would look in the mirror and wonder if the magazines and media were right. Was there meaning for a woman in her beauty? Could I find some assurance of my value in this? If I put all of my energy into appearing lovely on the outside, would that satisfy? What if I were beautiful enough to turn every head in a room, or simply attract the man I longed to be with? If he were to find me physically beautiful, more beautiful than any other woman in the world, would that fulfill?
Perhaps for a moment, or even a year. Perhaps for several. But I would inevitably find myself left clinging to something that is more like a Velveteen Rabbit. It would unavoidably become like a child’s silk blankie - worn thin, like lines across a once smooth face or silvery strings of grey hair through a once rich brunette. And if physical beauty was all that drew him, it will not keep him.
As Marmee warns Jo in the classic story, Little Women:
“If you feel your value lies in being merely decorative,
I fear that someday you might find yourself believing that’s all that you really are.
Time erodes all such beauty,
but what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind:
Your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage.
These are the things I cherish so in you.”
So in urgency we warn the younger woman not to fall into this ‘beauty trap’, not to set any hope on the standard that fails us every time. Do not be deceived, we warn them. It is what you do that defines you. Who you are on the inside. What you achieve with that inner person of yours.
What are you doing?
Well, would you think less of me if in my rabbit-y way I am still left scurrying with an anxiously thumping foot and a spinning clock in hand? It’s in this trap that I have lingered the longest, and often return to whenever I am unsure. This blinking cursor is the biggest: What have you done that’s worthwhile? Worthy of a legacy? Worthy of remembrance?
A very wise man recently told me that even a legacy is fleeting and I shouldn’t put my stock in that either. "For one day your great-grandchildren may wander through a cemetery," he said, "and see their last name on a stone and wonder for a brief moment if the dust beneath the ground they stand on used to be a man or woman that was somehow related to them. And then they’ll walk on."
It all becomes dust – not just the outer appearances but the deeds as well. And I will be forgotten, perhaps completely, within a few short generations of man, which are like a breath in the span of eternity. Here and gone and forgotten in one exhale.
Some may feel deeply concerned at this thought, but somehow I feel deeply peaceful. It’s the same kind of peace I sense when I look up at a starry sky or a radiant sunrise and know for sure just how small I am. Because none of this universe’s function is dependent on me. (And I’m exceedingly thankful that it isn’t.) But there is meaning - every fiber of my being cries out for it, searching for it, and knowing it deeply. So if worth and meaning are not on the outside and not on the inside either, then they must be something of another substance altogether. Something – Someone – outside of myself.
My thumping foot at last takes a rest and the clock stops spinning in my tightly clenched hand. I am reminded now of Corrie Ten Boom’s mantra instead of Alice’s rabbit's:
“Hold everything in your hands lightly, lest God pry them open.”
Open hands. Relaxed fingers that aren’t clawing for something to hold on to, something to be, something to achieve. Some kind of purpose to call my own. Give it all to your Heavenly Father. This is beauty. Incorruptible beauty, Scripture tells us, because our hands aren’t open to a universe established from chaos. They are open and submitted to a God of purpose and order who means to use that single exhale of ours for His glory.
“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; repr., New York: Harper Collins, 1980), 227.
Suddenly in the meaninglessness, the urgency and aimlessness, there is purpose, a purpose that did not initiate within, but from without. And if those great-grandchildren who are wandering through the cemetery a hundred years from now know Christ then they have received the greatest Thing there is of worth in this world. It does not matter if I am remembered or if I did all the right things. Even great things. He is the legacy that does not decay. He is the meaning. And better still – it is only by His power that this will be accomplished.
Ah. Rest. That’s what rest feels like.
Out of this soul deep rest comes assurance of my place in the story. While I had been clamoring for something so small, He was weaving something imperceptibly large and unimaginably beautiful, full of more meaning than I could muster with all of my being and all of the time granted to me.
I come to the end of the page and discover that my fingertips didn’t fill it in with words or the aimless prattling of keystrokes. He had been the One writing the story all along. The blinking cursor was answered, but not by me. Like King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, I come to the end of an anxious rabbit’s journey of searching every alleyway and briar bush for meaning, every narrow path through the woods for purpose and worth, and after finding nothing at the end of these roads I look up to the Source of it all.
And I open my hands.