Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening, like a tree which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!
Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters To A Young Poet
Seventeen years old, I was falling asleep over a steaming plate of spaghetti in the dining room of Adamekhütte, perched high on the north side of the Dachstein Mountains in central Austria. It had been a long day, beginning at Tauernhof Bible School in Schladming, a thousand meters below, and taking us up a barren grey ravine. We reached the top around lunchtime, just as a thunderstorm gathered its damp charcoal wrinkles above us. We’d waited there, at the top of the pass, for the rest of the group to arrive, huddled against rocks to avoid the storm, getting cold and wet and wishing we could get moving to warm up.
That evening, safely dry and lodged in the alpine hut, we came down in wool socks and hats for dinner and our evening lesson with the school’s director, Hans Peter Royer. He had been teaching on Ecclesiastes, and this evening was due to cover chapter three, the “season for everything” chapter. His focus shifted quickly away from comfortable abstractions and onto us, his students.
“Today,” he said, his words measured and precise and Austrian-accented, “Many of you did not want to wait at the top. You were cold, and you wanted to go, because you were cold. But what you did not know was that this was the time to be cold. There’s a time for everything. And that was the time to be cold. You could go quickly and get warm, but then you would miss all there was to learn in the cold. Don’t wish to be warm, when it is the time to be cold.”
It’s this Zen-like wisdom that echoes back to me today, as I sit on the floor and poke through plastic bins of baby clothes. I’m looking for three long-sleeved onesies that I know are here, somewhere. They were Luci’s, and though they’re still a little big for my newborn daughter, adding them into the rotation of four long-sleeved shirts that we currently own will save me lots of laundry. We’re going through the clothes these days, you see. That’s what newborns do, I’m remembering.
And indeed this bin of clothes is all about remembering. I think about when Luci, now a giant almost-three-year-old, was small enough to wear these things, the days and months and places attached to each little outfit. For a fleeting moment, a phrase flickers across the scene: “It goes so fast.”
I laugh, because this is precisely the phrase that annoys me most right now. It is usually crooned wistfully, with honeyed nostalgia, by those who’ve forgotten what it’s like to change three diapers and two outfits (including your own) in ten minutes, or that middle-of-the-night feeling that you’re the only person awake in the world right now. It goes so fast, they say, and I believe them, sort of, but only because I remember Luci being a baby like it was yesterday, and it wasn’t yesterday. It was a while ago now, and it has gone fast.
But day to day, this is the time to be slow. This is the time for staring amazed at an infant, wondering if her cheeks look rounder than yesterday, or if she could possibly have grown an inch overnight. This is the time when my toddler seems to get a cold every other week, foiling our plans to be out and about in the world, so that our big adventure involves playing in the yard, running through the damp leaves on the sidewalk. This is the time of segmented days: a few hours in the morning, a nap, a few hours in the afternoon, Dad comes home, dinner and bedtime. This is a the time to grow, slowly, day after quiet day.
And I think back to that lesson in Austria, half a life ago. To the teenagers who just wanted to be warm, and the teacher who reminded them that God doesn’t waste any experiences, if we dare to live them fully at their proper pace. Back then, I would have skipped over college if I could have, all four years of it, so eager was I to get to the teaching career I’d dreamed of since I was a child.
But as I’ve learned in other seasons, life isn’t a show on Netflix, where episodes can be sped up, rewound, or skipped over entirely. There were my first years of teaching, the some of the most exhausting of my life, a season of loneliness and confusion, during which I learned to cling to Christ, to the barest threads of calling to remain where I was when I wanted to go. There was a long season of being single when I wished I was not, a time that drew me closer to God and rooted me deeply in the communities in which I found myself in Seattle and Germany.
Young motherhood is a slow season, and it’s tempting to wish it would fly by the way people say it does. I catch myself daydreaming about the milestones, about children who can walk and talk, the distant future when diapers aren’t a part of our lives, or the glorious, unknown day when my older daughter will eat a vegetable. It’s easy to imagine the convenience lurking just around the next developmental corner.
But this side of the corner is good, too. This is the time to be slow, revealing facets of Christ to know better and parts of myself I’ve yet to discover. There is learning ahead, slow but steady. Learning that this season of slow can be as full of significance and meaning as any other. Learning uncurl my grasp on busyness and the productive-seeming identity it bestows. Learning to be content when my to-do list is short and simple, and to take it in stride when even that little list doesn’t get done. Learning to put down the chores and the phone to read a story, to watch a baby yawn, and to sit on the porch on an October morning, as a little girl runs through the leaves.