By Ashley Hales

A Spacious Life: An Excerpt

We’re so pleased to share an excerpt from the beginning of Ashley Hales’ new book, A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limits. Ashley has a vision for a life lived with purpose, joy, and rest in the spaces to which God has called us. If you find yourself intrigued by the journey she describes here, check out her book at InterVarsity Press.

from Chapter 1: “The Supermarket of Life”

My husband and I lived three glorious years in Edinburgh, Scotland — full of waning northerly light, ancient streets and castles, milky tea, hours spent among old books, and the sense that a full life was finally underway. We were poised between worlds — between the country we were from and the country in which we lived, between college and the fulfilling careers we imagined, newly married but not yet settled down or with children. We’d spend Friday nights bantering with other international grad school students; we watched American TV on DVD; we hosted twenty-five people for an American Thanksgiving and jumped into the rhythms of our parish in the Church of Scotland. Though our meals were often simple, our choices few, it felt like the good life — or at least the beginning of the good life.

There would be time for proper jobs — my husband was training for the pastorate, and I was getting my PhD — and I imagined life a beautiful symphony of ideas. Maybe we’d start a church in Edinburgh, or maybe somewhere else. Maybe I’d get hired to do a postdoctoral fellowship in Europe. Children might come and we’d slot them into a world of poetry, travel, and the life-changing significance of gospel ministry. All was possible. 

Yet, when we found ourselves back in Pasadena for work (on the same block we’d lived on three years prior), then a few months later found ourselves expecting our first child, the possibilities narrowed — our lives looked nothing like my rosy-colored, outwardly stretching ideal.

I imagined we could fit our children into the life we had, as if I could file them into one of those black metal tiered inboxes, so that all my early goals — travel, adventure, intellectual pursuits, time to sit in quiet with a cup of tea or to ponder a painting — would not be disturbed. My file-folder life would expand but essentially remain untouched.

What I didn’t know, at least not then in a deep-in-your-bones sort of way, was that these limitations on my time, body, and affections were actually an invitation. Instead, I fought them.

For years I fought God about the gap between my imagined life and my given one. My crash course in acknowledging my limits was parenthood. But it seems that God uses many things — a failed job, an angst you can’t shake in middle age, a move, a rift in a friendship — to show us our limits. It’s easy to take a nostalgic look backward: surely I’d left the good life back in a world of dreams around Edinburgh Castle. Now I was stuck in a hazy world of infant spit-up, a dissertation to finish writing, and no clear sense of God’s calling.

Where had the good life gone? Where had I gone? Sometimes I railed at God about why the options had dried up, but more often I just ignored him. I’d go to church but not read my Bible; my perfunctory prayers were more out of duty than interest in God’s response. I felt constrained, boxed into a new role. I was tethered to people, to a place, to new responsibilities, to a child who needed feeding every three hours. This surely didn’t feel like freedom.

It felt like a very small circle in which to move. I wanted big circles, grand vistas, and a life that went up and to the right. I wish someone had told me to begin to pay careful attention to my limits — that there was a spacious life in there too. That God could be found in the small mustard seed and grain of wheat as well as the sublime sunset or lengthy quiet time. Or maybe they did—and perhaps this is the journey out of youth and into adulthood that we each take — but the only way I could conceive of transformation was with careers and titles, passports and ideas.


Photo by Gaelle Marcel on StockSnap.

About the Author

Ashley Hales (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is a writer, speaker, and host of the Finding Holy podcast. She is the author of A Spacious Life and Finding Holy in the Suburbs and her writing has been featured in Christianity Today, Books and Culture, and The Gospel Coalition. Ashley is married to a pastor and the mother to four children.

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