Shadows of Ambivalence—Standing Still

by Sep 25, 2016Cultivate4 comments

It doesn’t matter our age or season of life, a sense of being stopped, stuck, or standing still can hit us at anytime and hard. We’re not sure what to do with it. More questions than answers swirl through our days. A way forward seems caught in the shadows of ambivalence, confusion or restlessness.

When I experienced this kind of a season several years ago, I nodded in complete understanding when a coaching client described something similar and said, “I don’t stand still.” I so got that.

I really wanted to lean into my season of uncertainty expectant for what it might hold, open to what God was shaping. I didn’t realize this would involve slowing even to what would feel to me like a standstill. That part would take a while for me to notice and then to embrace.

What in your life feels uncertain or ambivalent?
What do you notice about your restlessness or longings?

As I pushed against what felt like an immovable wall of uncertainty, I began to sense God kneading and reshaping my perspective, and I longed to know his. “Lord,” I whispered, “what is your heart for me?”

“Come. Follow me,” he said.

I decided to learn what following him was really about, outside of what he had requested of his disciples and beyond what I had attempted so far. It wasn’t easy. I would start but then freeze right smack in the middle of the path when what was ahead in the following felt uncomfortable or unfamiliar. And yet I discovered that’s not such a bad place to hang out. When you pay attention to the uncomfortable or unfamiliar, you begin to ask new questions.

My favorite question had been What’s next?–along with many of its derivatives. I wanted to keep moving forward, use my gifts and passions, contribute and serve. I wanted to know I was headed in a good direction, even the “right” one. I wanted to see with certainty how and when.

Shifting my perspective to the one I was following meant discovering more of his heart. He showed me a new question: What’s now?

What have been the questions most stirring within you? God honors those while bringing new ones. What new questions might he be inviting you to ask?

What’s now. It was as if I had been stretching to see an entire tree all at the same time, including its roots and the reaches of its top branches. Then one twig, with its unique, unfurling bud, came into focus, and that was all that was important, all I was meant to see in that moment.

Corita Kent, an American nun, activist and artist of the 70s and 80s, created bold prints with singular poignant thoughts, some about moments. Two of her quotes, often repeated today, are: “Life is a succession of moments. To live each one is to succeed,” and, “Accept the moment as the friend it is.” Good words.

When we are too busy looking ahead, we miss seeing the gifts of the present moment.

When you bring your gaze from far off to close, what do you see right where you are living today? What are the gifts of this present moment for you?

I’m still moving through that deeply still and ambivalent season of my life, still learning to welcome God’s pacing for me. At times, remnants of the old feelings of uncertainty stir. I ask again, “What’s now?” and open my hands to accept his invitation to embrace the present just as it is. I am often reminded of his words from Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know . . .”

It is in the stillness of the moment, the stillness of a season, that we discover God, the I AM (OT, Hebrew), in all his fullness. And it’s in the quiet—or the swirling storm—of that discovery that we are changed forever. It is also then that we might begin to see a way forward through the shadows of our season.

Where are you today in your season of uncertainty? What is your heart cry?

Corita Kent Art Collection:


  1. Bethany

    I have long embraced the Jim Elliot “Wherever you are, be all there” mentality but embracing it is not always experiencing it. That takes moment by moment intentionality and is a discipline as much as a gift. Thanks for the reminder to reframe our seasons of uncertainty with “What now?” –which leads us to look UP instead of anxiously straining forward…

    • Jan Kern

      Great Elliot quote! It aptly describes being present in the moment, in the “what’s now.” And sigh–yes, it’s one thing to embrace something and another thing for it to get fully into our bones. Truly a work that only God can accomplish–a part of his transformation. Thank you for sharing, Bethany. You share from the heart and with depth, and I learn much from you.

  2. Joy Martin

    Jan, I love your “new question”… “What now?”. My husband has been having this same conversation with me…embrace the moment! Don’t keep dwelling on the fantasy of longing for “the good ole days”. Just enjoy the moment we are in right now. Love that quote by Corita Kent as well. Thank you for bringing this perspective to life yet again.

    • Jan Kern

      Oh yes, Joy–such common, human struggles and questions . . . and yet so uniquely experienced by each. And don’t we long to be somewhere else (past or future) other than where God has us in the moment. Prayers for your continuing conversations with your husband and the journey God is unfolding . . . in his beautiful timing.

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