Archives, Biography, Wheaton

No Glass Ceiling

No Glass Ceiling, an audio blog with Carla Waterman

A spiritual desert affords the undistracted time and space to recognize and confront temptation, whether from cultural messages, our own vulnerabilities, or in the enemy of our souls.  

But the desert provides another opportunity: it is a fiery place where our desires can be purified. 

Jesus never intended us to renounce desire.  Our human desires are a part of our image-of-Godness, they are part of our spiritual being.  We desire approval. We want to excel at something.  We desire treasure, and want authority over something.  Made relational beings, we desire community in some form, and it is natural to want to know something well. 

P.T. Forsythe once called desire the “atomic energy” of the soul.  Desire gets us out of bed in the morning, and is the primary human cooperator in living “up and out.”  Both our longing and our fulfillment of desire is part of our essential being.  If we do not desire, we perish; even if we still exist, we have ceased to live. 

The silence and solitude of a desert place helps us get in touch with our human desires.  What do we really want, once all the voices stop shouting and all the distractions have ceased humming.  What do we believe makes our life meaningful? And what comes next when we discover, like Lewis, that our desires “are “not too strong, but too weak?” 

For the first thirty-five years of my life my goal was to excel.  My excelling had both a driven and a competitive edge to it.  When I was in first grade I would race to be the first one done with the assignment.  “Ma’am, your daughter needs to slow down.  Her penmanship is sloppy, and she makes foolish mistakes.”   I spent my adolescence in piano competitions and concerts.  And I completed my Ph.D. on my son’s first birthday. (He was a good sleeper.  Otherwise I may not have finished that one.)

But at thirty-five, I got my first taste of desert-ness when I realized that all the time I had spent excelling I had been avoiding any real encounter with God over my vocation.  I realized I actually thought I was better at becoming me than he could make me. 

I only woke up when my head hit a glass ceiling.  In his mercy, God let me have my head, until the morning I realized that I was in my mid-thirties and had accomplished everything I had set out to do.  And I was stressed, bored, and on empty. 

My first desert conversations with the Lord really were about “what do I do now?”  What have you made me for?  Do you have any better ideas than I do for how to spend the next thirty-five years of my life?

As it turns out, God had and has many ideas about how I am to spend my life.  But my desire to excel has been regularly pressed into the desert furnace.  The first dross to go was my driven pace, then my ruminations on comparison to others. 

One of the most painful dross purifiers was realizing that I had ridden too long on a presumption that, being quick at learning, I wouldn’t have to dig down and work hard to excel at what he was putting before me.  And, in recent months, I have been in a fire that disengages excellence from titles, promotions, and salaries. 

What’s left, you may ask?  “I will show you a still more excellent way…”

Not heavenly languages, Carla.  Not becoming a martyr. The greatest excellence is to love: bearing, believing, hoping, enduring. 

This is a ceiling I will never hit.  I will be desiring to rise to this challenge to love for the rest of my life…and that makes excellence exciting, indeed.

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