Lying Fallow: How to rest in the sacred

colorful pots with soil in them

The plants in my home are dying. One by one, their demise is stretching out across the long winter days. I wish I could blame it on the shock of having no heat during a single-digit freeze. But several plants died before that, and three more are dropping leaves as if they are no longer related. My attempts to revitalize them, and dare I add, maybe even bloom, are not working. In the face of so many empty pots, I can’t help but wonder what is trying to get my attention.

I ponder the same thing on my morning commute when I find myself staring longingly across the snow-covered field of the neighborhood park district. Unfettered by the hundreds of geese and softball leagues that call it home in the summer, the wide expanse of white speaks to me. Its stillness, and that of the trees, quiets my mind long enough for me to touch this new ache inside. After three years of relentless transition, the thought of being still, of lying fallow and feeling restored, has never been more appealing.

Except that I have forgotten how to rest. And, replenish. My days slip by so quickly and my nights are often filled with work of one kind or another. Even those unexpected stretches of potential stillness—a quiet business season, the space between home repairs, a two-week bout with the flu—were more often than not riddled with anxiety despite the subtle invitation to slow down, listen more closely, and breathe deeper. I wanted to lean into them in that way, to trust that my needs would get met even if I stopped obsessing about the outcomes and took a nap. Or a long walk. But resting in the sacred has never come easy to me.

And, yet, when I look back over my life, the experiences that have taught me the most about trusting God were born out of transition and losing something unimaginable. I remember well the morning the call came from the doctor. I hadn’t expected it. I grabbed a pen off my kitchen table and scribbled down the test results he recited. His voice was measured; his words concise.

“Why is this happening?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he all but mumbled.

Tears streamed onto my notes, blurring the numbers and the post-menopausal hormone levels that had suddenly and irrevocably set me apart from women all over the world who could conceive. I was 37 years old, and my ovaries had stopped working. Premature ovarian failure is what the doctor called it. No one in the medical community knows why it happens, other than possibly genetics, as the same thing happened to my paternal grandmother in 1941 after my dad and uncle were born. But why it happens in the first place is still a mystery. And there is no cure.

Of all the things that day, I remember picking up grandmother’s picture and staring into her face. She sat perched in front of a painted waterfall. The old sepia tones blurred her youthful features, but I could tell she was happy. In one hand, she’d pulled up her long skirt. In the other, she held a cigarette, her wrist resting gently on her bare knee, her high heels kicking the air. I felt bound to her, to our common history, to a shared sense of defiance at what had been called our failures. I hadn’t always known what I wanted for my life, but I never wanted to be childless.

It took me a long time to walk with all that grief, and when I was through, I knew I would adopt. I knew I was a mom. But there were many days when I wasn’t so sure, when I wrestled with a new and deafening sense of mortality, when my fears told me that I had not used my gifts well, that I had missed my chance to have a family. Unable to see my way forward, I’d wrap myself in a childhood blanket and call an old friend. In between the sobs that wracked my body and the inexplicable grief that poured out of me, she always said the same thing: “Lean back, I got you.”

It was mercy at its finest. I am still learning to lean back, to trust that there is more happening than what my mind can see in any season in my life. The morning the call came, I had a sense that something beautiful would come from my infertility. And it did. It birthed my writing and my desire to be a spiritual director. It birthed my family (seven years later). It taught me what it means to walk reverently in the in-between—the space between knowing and not knowing the outcomes—and to trust in the faithfulness of God.

I don’t know what will come of this sudden ache to rest and be still, any more than I know how to squeeze in time to restore my sense of who I am called to be. But I am willing to try and lie fallow for a season (or two) and see what new wisdom stirs from within. And, maybe, just maybe, if I can lean back and trust, something new will bloom.

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