Why We Must Name
He sighed weariness and said, “It is what it is”
For 40 years my friend has raised cattle. He began humbly with two freshly weaned heifer calves. Over time he wisely and methodically expanded the operation. He acquired strategic pastures to rent, learned how to artificially inseminate his cows so genetic progress could be made faster, he even made the bold move to sell freezer beef directly to the consumer.
But things shifted in the past few years. Feeding cows twice a day became what it was - a chore - and was a significant obstacle to the cross country road trips to visit grandkids that left his eyes glinty with adventure and gratitude. After a few years of debating and analyzing, he made his decision to sell his cows.
I’m half his age, so it feels out of place for me to say, but I’m proud of his decision. Cattle have become grafted into him. And despite their unending demands on his time, finances, and energy, those curious creatures fill his soul. I know how quickly growing calves lift his spirits. I know how proud he is of broody, big ribbed cow #1404 and the fact that she is a product of five generations of outstanding cattle whose genetics have been crafted and poured over. And despite his significant investment and legitimate pride, he’s made the hard but right decision to walk away.
We stood together looking at his cows. He told me his plan for when and how we would sell them. That’s when he paused, sighed, and said,
“It is what it is.”
I’ve heard that phrase hundreds of times - from a cranky athlete answering post-game questions, from my own mouth, and multiple times from my friend as we talked about him selling his cattle. But this time the words were dissonant. The statement landed awkward and out of place, like a sentence in a new language with only a few words translated correctly. ‘It is what it is’ may be a fine reaction to a referee's questionable call in a meaningless game, but not for the threshold between one dream ending and another one beginning.
I know those words come from a humility steeped rich and quiet in his life. But they disserviced all he had built in the past and the hope that beckoned him forward. The moment didn’t need understated diminishment, it called for honest recognition.
Dan Allender says, “We only reclaim that which we name.”
I mulled over his words as I drove home. I grieved what he said and what I didn’t. There’s too much faithfulness in his work, too much generosity in his invitation to join him, too much sadness that it’s ending, and too much hope for the next chapter, not to be named and honored.
When we fail to honestly name our circumstances and emotions, we fail to identify the pain and beauty of our life. And if our God is both all-suffering and wonderfully good, then we also fail to identify his presence with us.
May we go this week boldly naming what is, so that we might reclaim God’s presence alongside.
Restoration Project Chief of Next Steps