No Limits; No Good

367205401_1def732bd4_z

Without thinking too much about it, I press my finger against the glass face of my iPhone and hold it. Eventually, as I expected, the icons on my screen begin to dance and wiggle. I touch the X on the corner of three apps, and just like that, Angry Birds and the two Bubble games I downloaded on Christmas Day are gone.

“Deleting Angry Birds will also delete all of its data,” my iPhone warns. I can’t imagine how it wouldn’t, so I hit “delete” one last time and it’s gone. Secretly, I wonder if the app is still somehow in my iTunes account. Worst case scenario: I download it again and work on new high scores.

Really? I ask myself, surprised that I am so quickly scheming to restore distraction.

Because that’s really what I’ve just deleted. Not an app, not an addicting little game, not a way to connect with friends. I’ve deleted one more thing that vies for my attention, one more thing to strain my eyes toward and refuse to quit even though I’m tired and need some sleep.

I hit the Home button to exit my Game folder. I wonder why I even have a game folder if I am so committed to less distraction. But then I shut off the phone. And it’s done.

It’s New Year’s Day, and this is step one to living out my word for 2014.

:::

For the past year, I’ve been transitioning from a long-term single life in the city to a new marriage, a new family, a new small town. Though I knew the transition would be difficult, I didn’t anticipate all the ways it would be difficult, or the time it would take to feel comfortable in my new life.

I also didn’t anticipate all the ways I would be tempted to try to hold on to my old life while embracing the new. Sure, I moved all my stuff to my husband’s house and set up a home office where I work and write at least part of most days. We attend church in my new town when our sons are with us every other weekend, and my name was added to the accounts at the bank on the town square.

But I left part of my heart in the city: I continued to own a home there, I still work there, twice a month we drive to church there. My favorite restaurant, my best friends, my cultural entertainment, a large part of my work were firmly centered some place else than here.

In other words, though a change has happened in my life, I wasn’t actually transitioning from old to new. I have been trying to have it all. And it’s not working.

Anatole France, in his novel, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, wrote, “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”

Now, it’s time to die to my old life.

:::

It’s my new name that I sign to one document after another, indicating that the house I bought on my own a little more than seven years ago will now belong to someone else.

I will be thinking and remembering and mourning over that little house on 79th Street for years to come. Just last night, I tossed and turned in my sleep as I dreamed about moving my belongings out of the house as the new owner was already settling in. Of course, that’s all done. I’ve handed over keys and garage door openers and owners manuals days ago. And before that, every last possession was removed, every last memory was packed into the van, hauled off to Goodwill, or stacked out at the curb for the garbage man to remove.

But the key to dying to my old life was somehow integrally tied to selling those 1,200 square feet encased in stone and hovering over the earth on wood and cinder blocks and a crawl space I never explored. I found love there; I discerned my calling there; I nearly died there. Inside the walls I painted with my own hand on brush, I experienced unimaginable pain and indescribable joy.

The pain and joy will always be mine, but the walls, the ceilings, the fence out back, and the raised bed gardens, those were holding me back.

Once we received the offer and the negotiations were nearly final, something happened in me, something important. A tie was cut, a breath exhaled, an embrace released, and I knew that I could say goodbye to an old life.

I knew it was time to embrace the new life I have already been living.

:::

My dad was the one who told me that I should inform the title company handling our closing about my new name. Not that it would cause any problems, he had said. They just need to know. He was right.

One of the forms I signed that day was a warranty deed, giving the new owner the title to my old house. In that form, I had to agree that “Charity M. Singleton and Charity Singleton Craig are one and the same person.”

I smile now thinking about the reality of that statement. It’s not just legalese. It’s ontological truth. I will die to an old life; I will live a new life. Parts of me will be put to death and other parts will be brought to life. But the essential me, the me I was created to be and am daily being recreated to be, continues on. Old life, new life. A seed falling to the earth and dying. The stem and leaf rising from the earth. The Spirit hovering, the Father speaking, the Son holding everything together.

:::

Since I first began to understand what I am being called to in this new year, I’ve been listening for a word to encapsulate it. I often choose a word or phrase for the year: 2011 gave me “empty;” 2012 was “stay in this.” I didn’t choose a word for 2013, but in looking back, I think it was “change.”

For 2014, though, I wanted something that would express this transformation that needs to happen in me – that IS happening in me. I thought of “focus,” as it’s true that there are too many distractions in my life. I thought of “single-minded” because it’s true that I have been holding on to two lives, and I am called to only one.

But looking at the whole of my life, I realize that there’s more to this issue than just the transition between old and new. The problem is that I am trying to have it all, everything I want. And really, life doesn’t work that way. I need to decide what is most important, what I am most willing to invest my time and energy and life in, and then I need to limit all the rest.

That word right there, “limit,” that’s the word that best captures this whole big project going on in my heart and my life. Selling the house started it, but there are many more tweaks and changes and shifts that need to happen. I’ve made a few of them; others scare me. Many I haven’t even conceived of.

From limiting the number of apps on my iPhone, to limiting my ties to my old life in the city, to limiting the ways I spend my time so I can love my family better and use my gifts better: this is how 2014 is starting out.

And I suspect when 2014 ends, I still be trying to figure out how to limit the desires I have to do it all, and instead, find the very few things I am truly called to, the very “me” that I am daily being created to be.

:::

Friends, thank you for being part of my life and journey. Even as I die to my old life in order to live to the new life I have been given, thankfully, this doesn’t mean leaving behind our friendship and the memories and experiences we’ve shared. Our interactions may change, to be sure, but our relationships also have new potential. I am looking forward to all the ways we can continue to be part of each others lives in 2014 and beyond.

Photo by Ian Wilson, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.

identicon

Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.


  • Diana Trautwein ,

    Gosh, this is well done, Charity. The transitions you’ve had to make are huge and not at all easy. I believe – and I think you believe – that all the unsettledness, all the bittersweet, all the wrenching will be worth it, in the end. But I think some pain in the process is not only necessary but eventually, quite helpful. These painful moments remind you that your whole life, what went before and what is now, is rich and varied and filled with gifts. If you didn’t love that old life, you wouldn’t be feeling this pain. And anytime you love, that’s a good thing. So . . . many blessings as you lean into the limits of what is now. Thanks so much for this.

    • identicon

      Charity Singleton Craig ,

      Diana – From your keyboard straight to my heart – these words. Thanks for adding your wisdom into my life in so many ways.

    • Charity Singleton Craig » Happily Constrained ,

      […] word for 2014 is “limit.” Join me here for occasional posts about how I’m living that […]

      • Laura Brown ,

        It’s a season of contemplating ontological truth for me too. Our olds and news are different, but the necessity and disorientation are similar, I reckon.

        I admire how you’ve articulated this — neither raw nor overly vulnerable, but with honesty, thoughtfulness, and, ultimately, hope. (And, to borrow a word and concept from another page today, appropriate subordination.)

        • identicon

          Charity Singleton Craig ,

          Laura – I am so thankful for the way our paths have crossed in these past few months. I think a lot of our ontology connects in important ways! And that word you used, “hope,” that has been such a very important word for me the past few years. I think that’s one of the central themes of all my writing and my life.

        • Carolyn Counterman ,

          A very insightful post, Charity. Finally getting married at 37 put me in the position of having to make some very intense decisions about what to keep and what to give up. Seven years later God is asking me to give up all of it – everything I might have hoped for – for this plan He is working out. I can honestly say that if I had known what level of self-sacrifice He was asking for before I said, “I do,” I might have run the other way. I am wired as a selfish person, so self-sacrifice is hard, hard work for me – on the days that I am even willing. I don’t mean to belittle your experience, but maybe that is what I am doing. I keep thinking that I wish I could just sign a bunch of papers instead of ripping my heart out every day and handing it over to people who don’t take very good care of it. But I am so good at paperwork (being a social worker involves tons of paperwork), so that would not be any real sacrifice for me. I pray that I will follow your lead as you try to be gracious about all of these changes. Thank you for being a model for me.

          • identicon

            Charity Singleton Craig ,

            Carolyn – I really do understand your feeling that if you had known all you would have to give up before you said, “I do,” that you may have run the other way. I think that’s true of just about every big decision I’ve made. I feel committed to this one in a way I never have, though. And I am thankful that the commitment itself is a limit I have for my good, and my husband’s good, and the good of the boys.

            I wouldn’t say I’m a model. Just a fellow traveler. Let’s encourage each other in these things.

          • Megan Willome ,

            It feels like there is a part of my old life that I’m dying to. I’m struggling. I know I can’t ever go back, but I am going forward into a life I never thought I’d have to lead. (I know other people who could’ve written the exact same sentence, including, probably, you.)

            • identicon

              Charity Singleton Craig ,

              Megan – Yes, I have felt that longing, too, for parts of an old life I can never have again. But part of my struggle lately is that even the parts I thought I could have had changed and left me feeling very unsatisfied. It’s a painful process, this dying to an old life, isn’t it?

            • Jeanne Felty ,

              Very beautiful written. I as sorry I did not realize how hard this transition was and is for you. I remember how hard it was when my life changed so drastically, It was a huge transition and no one could do it for me, I had to do it and face it myself. You will be fine, sweetie, just trust in your heart and your God.

              • identicon

                Charity Singleton Craig ,

                Thanks, Jeanne. You are right; this transition is something I have to face and experience myself. No one can do it for me. I think it’s going to get easier as I face it head on. Saying “goodbye” to some things – however painful in the moment – also will help in the long run. Thanks for your encouragement.

              • HisFireFly ,

                “Old life, new life. A seed falling to the earth and dying. The stem and leaf rising from the earth. The Spirit hovering, the Father speaking, the Son holding everything together.”
                yes, yes, this!

                • identicon

                  Charity Singleton Craig ,

                  Thank you, Karin. I’m sure you are finding ways in which you must move toward a new reality, and limit the old things that vie for your attention. Thankfully, we never go alone.

                • Ann Kroeker ,

                  Does it help or hurt your transition to know that your dishes are actively used in the Kroeker kitchen? 🙂

                  Your essay beautifully chronicles the past year while looking ahead to the coming year, and I’m looking forward to how limits will open up creativity unexpectedly. Don’t they say that limits boost creativity? This may be one of your most productive years ever as you funnel your energy and ideas into a few particular goals.

                  • identicon

                    Charity Singleton Craig ,

                    Makes me very happy to imagine my dishes in the Kroeker kitchen. They create a new connection between old and new, something old living on in a new way.

                    I think there is definitely something true about limits boosting creativity. I know I can’t continue to try to do it all. Finding a narrow path for myself creatively is going to be extremely rewarding, if not sometimes painful.