Monthly Archives: September 2015
Ok, let’s talk about feeling frantic. I think there are a few different kinds of frantic: Momentary. Seasonal. Perpetual.
Sometimes we’re momentarily frantic because of overstimulation or public speaking or feeling misunderstood and therefore defensive or getting triggered or running late to an important appointment or trying to herd the
cats children out the door for any given reason.
Sometimes we’re seasonally frantic — we’re going through or have gone through a season of frantic that will ultimately pass — because of a looming deadline on a big project, a remodel, a huge transition, or an overly-ambitious schedule.
And there is this other frantic, this perpetual state of frantic, that is what we might call anxiety.
I have experienced every one of the above genres of frantic. You would not necessarily know that from looking at the outside of me. That’s the thing with frantic. Sometimes it’s spilling out of our every orifice — obvious to all those around us how buzzy and nervy we’re feeling. And sometimes it’s this constant, low-lying simmer. Both of which are tiring, shame-inducing, and difficult to do life while managing.
It’s easy to begin peppering ourselves with such questions as:
What is wrong with me?
Why can’t I just get it together?
When will I feel “normal”?
Why am I so _________________ ?
Am I going crazy?
Why can’t I think?
Why can’t I deal with ________________ ?
Why is everyone talking so loud?
Maybe your brain feels like mush. Or your body feels old and trudgy. Maybe you can’t find the word you’re looking for as quickly as you’d like. Or you can’t listen to music because it feels like a noisy assault. Maybe you’re having trouble getting tasks done, or even knowing where to start. All these things happen to me when my nervous system has been hyper-aroused. The frantic feelings leave a falling-out on my brain and body.
Like yesterday afternoon . . . when the Internet repair guy was at our house while the handyman was fixing the kitchen door with a loud electric drill and my phone was ringing and I was trying to make dinner, and all the kids were screaming outside because Elle had just gone #2 in the garden. I’m literally sweating typing this. My nervous system is not set up for this kind of onslaught.
Much of Breathing Room is about the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental fatigue that happens when we’ve lived in that “hyper” state for too long, and then the ways in which we begin to recover if we will have the courage to let go of the Frantic Effort to Appear Recovered. Slowly. And then, of course, how we have to begin again (see chapter 4). And again.
Someone I really trust told me this recently: When we go into that frantic place, we typically start thinking immediately in either/or dichotomies. We go into fundamental black and white thinking. I either have to get divorced or live in a miserable marriage. I am either a succeeding mom or I am a failing mom. I will either leave my day job and pursue my passion or I will forget my passion altogether. I will either sell out to the masses or I will work in a cabin in the woods in total anonymity without ever letting my work out to see the light of day. Do you see? There is no “third way” in this kind of thinking. There is only either . . . or. And the magical “third way” is often where the mysterious presence of God and our soul resides. The solution is rarely, if ever, in the either/or. The solution is in the unfolding of the third way.
But the frantic brain is a black and white brain. No wonder we begin to experience fear, shame, paralysis in this state. We are being offered two options, both of which suck. And so we freeze. We frantically freeze. WHICH IS EXHAUSTING. WHICH IS SO DISCOURAGING, especially if we’ve been doing the work to get well.
I talk in this chapter about the impulse to launch into the urgent when usually what we need to do is ignore this impulse altogether and not respond to what the frantic brain is telling us to do.
I don’t know if you are momentarily, seasonally, or perpetually feeling frantic. I do know that you are loved, beautiful, deserving of steady hands and a centered soul. I do know that you are worthy, you are a Created miracle, you are so much more than the state of you mental health. AND, I know that help is out there for the taking. FOR. THE. LITERAL. TAKING. So, please get yourself support, help, reinforcements, meds, care, expert attention. Please get yourself a Breathing Buddy, like we talked about last week. Please get yourself some space in your life to breathe, some breathing room, if you will. Please treat yourself with the utmost care, as you would your dearest friend.
There are plenty of great resources out there on mental health. In fact, Glennon Melton wrote a beautiful piece just this very morning called “The Erasing” that is a brave explanation of where she is in her own journey of anxiety and depression. I highly recommend stopping by her site and drafting off a bit of her love and beauty.
I think if I were doing it over again, I might take a slightly more compassionate angle on this chapter title and call it, “Embracing Frantic” or “Welcoming Frantic” or maybe even “Accepting Frantic” . . . not because I believe it’s helpful or healthy to be frantic but, the reality is, sometimes we are. And learning to be compassionate with ourselves when we’re in that state, is one of the only ways through.
I told someone recently — we were talking about some of these frantic feelings — that it’s like your body is made up of a million raw nerve endings and every stimuli in the universe registers. “Exactly,” she said. WHICH IS SO EXHAUSTING. This nervy feeling makes it hard to not start pressing and striving and pushing past our center. But this is what’s so important . . . to not jump into action out of that frantic place, out of that either/or thinking, out of that urgent nervy buzzy reactive must-solve-it-all-now space.
So, just as I ended the chapter in the book, I want to end this post. What are today’s urgent matters? Holding our children. Turning toward our partner. Revolutionary self-care. Focusing on our own work and not someone else’s, breathing, getting the help we need. Saying a prayer for a friend in need. Taking one small step toward the third way, which is often hope.
With so much love,
What has helped you deal with frantic feelings?
What resonated with you from this chapter or from this post?
If I were to add anything to this chapter, it would be this: FIND SOMEONE. Find someone who will listen to you, love you, cheer you on. Find someone who will guide you, believe in you, remind you of who you are. Find someone who will sit with your crazy, sit with your creativity, sit with your questions. Find someone who is not afraid of your strength, your beauty, your power.
If you have to pay that person, so be it. Maybe even all the better. That way they have no investment in your image, nothing to lose. Oh, and, they’re forced to sit and listen to you.
If you have to assemble a group, well then. Maybe some other people are looking for someone with whom they can share their real lives, too. You could get together and cook or write or walk . . . and you could let the truth spill out of the seams.
If that person is already in your life, then make a point to see them . . . soon. Often. Place a call. Send a text.
Find someone you can share your real life with. In other words, find someone who can not only tolerate your humanity, but can celebrate it, love you in it, accept it. Find someone who isn’t interested in the slickest version of you but is, instead, interested in the most human version of you. The real you.
Find someone who can handle your secrets, handle your shame, handle your insecurities. Find someone who can love you better than you can love yourself . . . and let them teach you how to be more empathetic toward yourself, more unconditionally loving, more understanding, more comforting.
Find someone who is safe enough that you can risk letting him or her in.
Today, I talked to someone who I love. She told me about buddy breathing in scuba diving, how someone comes up next to you and shares their tank if there’s something wrong with yours. Man, I love that. I wish that story was in this chapter. A breathing buddy. How perfect is that? Don’t we all need a breathing buddy pretty much always?
As we learn to trust the breathing buddies in our lives, we become people who are able to show others our humanity, which gives them something to attach to. When we only show people our slickness, they tend to just slide right off. But if we can tolerate exposing who we really are, all our textures, then we give people something to connect to. This is the work of becoming more comfortable in our own skin, and it’s a game changer, I believe.
My next book, Brazen (which will be out in the Spring) talks all about hiding, and also the great alchemy of emerging. I think “Sharing Real Life” is one important step in our refusal to hide. Some of us are still believing that hiding has its perks, its payoffs, and that’s probably because we have yet to experience what it’s like to share who we really are and be loved, right there in the middle of our magic and our mess.
So, I guess that brings me back to: Find. Someone. Make it your personal mission to find someone who has so confronted their own mess and their own magic that they are ready and able to wrap their arms around yours.
What did you take away from this chapter?
I love being around people who are creating. I love witnessing self-expression (see all previous mentions of Project Runway). I love how there is no scarcity in creativity. It just keeps giving and giving and multiplying and inspiring and quadrupling and compounding.
I think it was Benner who wrote that the closer we get to God the more unique we each look, which has not always been the thrust of “religion” so much, has it? Conformity is comforting on some level, I guess. Conformity and control are bedfellows. This is why Benner’s line is so divine. The more we grow and become, spiritually, the more we look like ourselves, not like everyone else. The more we spend time with Christ, the more our True Self emerges. Let this be a sign unto you. If the institution you frequent is more invested in your conformity than your creativity, beware.
I see this as one of my main responsibilities as a parent. To help my kids find their voice. To not allow my own fears to push conformity on them, but to celebrate their unique ways of seeing the world. I want to teach them that they are reliable observers of the world. Their take matters. I want to celebrate their perspective, their way of saying and doing. I want them, having been in our family, to be more them than they ever would have been otherwise. I want to be a midwife for their particular brand of being.
Isn’t it inspiring to be around someone who is finding their voice, using their voice. Isn’t inspiring to witness true, original creativity. To be with someone who is really unconventional, not for the sake of being belligerent in any way, not purely for the sake of eccentricity (though eccentricity can be exciting), but for the sole purpose that something must come out of her. Something is dying to be birthed through her hands and her eyes and her way of seeing. And so she gives way to it.
At 8:00 this morning, I sat three cars deep at a green light. Everyone was dead still. No one moved. Do you know why? Because an ambulance, sirens and lights blaring, was coming up behind us. Everyone froze so the ambulance could snake between us, into the oncoming lane, and through the intersection. We yielded.
The etymology of yield is “giving way to a physical force” (from the 1600s) and also “to pay, serve, worship, sacrifice” (15th century). The whole scene struck me. We were giving reverence to the situation. It wasn’t just about urgency, though it was about urgency, too. It was about due respect. It was a sacrificial (we all had to wait) giving way.
Some of you will not have any context for this post. It won’t register deep down. But some will feel it in their bones because they have a longing for self-expression that is dormant or denied, either of which is heavy.
I can’t quit these words from Elizabeth Gilbert: “Any talent that we have but do not use becomes a burden.” Isn’t that the truth. When we don’t yield to that thing that wants to be born through us, we get heavy, sluggish, trudgy, sad, tired, irritable.
Some of us are at the intersection, and the great sirens of self-expression are going off behind us. Will we give way to the physical force of our own creative urgency? Will we yield to the thing that is coming for us?
I don’t care what it is: baking or building, painting or pottery, sewing or singing. Do the thing. DO. THE. THING.
Do not keep driving, mindlessly, through this intersection. Pay attention to what’s trying to get your attention. Stop, give way to this physical force coming up behind you, yield sacrificially. And then, with all the gumption you can summon, drive like a bat out of hell toward your talent.
I need it. What you have to offer this world. I need to hear it, taste it, read it, see it on Instagram. I need your offering. I need to fill up on it. It catapults me toward mine. It increases the flow in all of us. Your creativity and self-expression and freedom of flow show me how it’s done. So even if you can’t give yourself the permission to do it for yourself yet, do it for me. Do it for the little darling who is staring up at you.
Let your gorgeousness off the leash.
(And then post a picture of it on Instagram so I can swoon.)
I love you and I believe in you,
I was in Texas this past weekend, speaking at a women’s retreat for Collective Church. One of my favorite things in all the world is a room full of women, and this was a truly special group. We laughed. We cried. We ate together. We talked essential oils. We hugged. I imagine heaven will be a lot like this.
By the way, does anyone in Texas have pores? I could not believe the skin on some of these women. Literally airbrushed by God. I came home assured I do not look a day under 57.
Anyway, one of the things the coordinator asked me to talk about was prayer, and she specifically asked me if I’d like to share some of my thoughts on prayer from chapter 5 of Breathing Room, “Borrowing Prayers.”
This was cool because I had never done a talk on that chapter before or on the topic of prayer, for that matter, and so it was timely to speak on Chapter 5 just as I was writing a post for our blog book club here.
Cool intersection of life events.
In many ways, I’m just now starting to “get” prayer or, at least, how prayer works for me. I went through an entire season where I had to unlearn all the ways in which I thought prayer was supposed to happen and function in my life and begin all over again. Now, prayer is much simpler, much more integrated, and much much more honest.
I have had to really practice the idea that prayer is much more about being human than being holy, and I’ve actually come to believe that pretty much all of life is learning to embrace our humanity instead of exude our holy.
This starts with the truth. Our truth. Sitting still long enough to figure out what is actually going on inside us and then sharing that with God. Sitting still long enough to let him love us. Sitting still long enough to listen. Sitting still long enough to _______________________ (I’m sure you could fill in this blank a few dozen times over).
I still believe some of our most endearing and cherished lines of prayer can be borrowed, simple. Like, “Jesus take the wheel,” as I mention in the chapter. Still one of my all time favorites.
If I were to add anything to this chapter, I would add the following: Sit still and listen. Hush. Shhhhhhhhhh. Be still enough to let your soul bubble up from beneath and then offer those soul-contents to God. In their rawest, most naked form. And then ask God if there’s anything he wants to say to you about what you’ve shared with him.
Lighting a candle can help. A faux fur throw is a must (if the AC is on). Coffee is assumed. A pretty journal or a legal pad could be helpful. Set a scene for your soul and then inhabit it. See what happens.
And if this is a literal impossibility in your life right now, then borrow words that seem to resonate until you can sit down and offer your own. Nothing, and I mean nothing, we have to say surprises God or disappoints him. So we might as well be honest.
All of this will help us cut the BS and get to the good stuff: how we’re really feeling, what we really need, what we’re really scared of, what we’re really hoping for.
Otherwise, what exactly is the point? We do not need a relationship with God based on our posturing. He will love us anyway, lavishly, but the pretending will get in the way of us being able to really absorb that love.
Oh, and a word about integration. Prayer is not reserved for a certain time, moment, environment. Prayer can be ceaseless, which has come to really mean something to me. Keeping an ongoing dialogue with God, who is present in my day, present in my moment. “God, I’m anxious. Help me breathe.” “Thank you, God, for this moment.” “I am grateful for your love.” and so on . . . these words offered up in a single moment help me remember he’s with me, loving me, watching me, walking with me.
What has helped you pray?
What is your history with prayer?
What resonates with you from this chapter?
Love and unlearning,
If you’ve missed any of the book club and would like to go back and catch up, here’s a list of the previous posts in this series:
Well, this chapter is very close to my heart and has perhaps been one of the most often referred to chapters of the entire book. The chapter title “beginning again” comes from that perfect line from Saint Benedict, “Always we begin again.”
I have loved the “beginning again” phrase so much that I even borrowed it as the tagline for my blog because it’s pretty much the best advice I’ve ever heard, words to live by if you ask me. Beginning again is about offering ourselves the grace we have never been able to give ourselves. Realizing, maybe for the first time, that compassion will get us so much farther than condemnation.
There are so many areas of life where we need a new day, a fresh start, another chance. With our loved ones, of course. When we do life in close proximity to children and partners and family members, we often have to ask for another try. We mess up. We say something we shouldn’t have like. We go to crazy town. We take the wrong tact. We go at it hostilely. We hit someone right where it hurts, and we know it.
We often need to begin again in our pursuits—creative pursuits, vocational pursuits, professional pursuits, health pursuits—too. Sunday night I led a writing group meet up, and I’m still thinking about the group, still energized by these people who are quietly taking risks, honing their craft, finding their voice, getting stuck, reaching out, beginning again. All of this in obscurity; all of this because they believe something needs to be put out into the world through their hands. To me, this is no small thing.
I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, “Magic Lessons” (which I highly recommend) last week and in one of the episodes she said, “Any talent that we have but do not use becomes a burden.” How many of us have carried that burden — of something unspoken that is burning a hole in our soul just waiting to be expressed?
Maybe we’ve tried, dabbled a bit, and then we’ve gotten stuck or sidelined or confused or tired. Maybe we fell into the trap of believing everyone else was more prepared, more talented, more able . . . and that belief has silenced us.
Maybe we’ve let barriers creep up and creep into our work. Barriers like fear or worry over what others will think. And we’ve let those barriers bench us.
What would it be like for you to begin again? What would it be like for me to begin again?
I don’t always know what to do next, which direction to go, where to put my energy. Sometimes I can overcomplicate things, and the best thing I can do is simply begin again. Do the next thing, take one small step, and trust that my one step is met with a thousand steps of God’s grace.
Today, as I reflect on chapter 4 of Breathing Room, I’m reminded that life is full of fear, paralysis, worry. We can’t avoid negative feelings. But we can decide to begin again. We can decide to open ourselves back up to possibility. We can decide to let God in the tiniest bit . . . into the paralyzing places in our work, parenting, marriage, home.
Few things are more powerful than beginning again. The brain vultures would have us believe that once we’ve messed up, then we’ve ruined any chance of recovery. This is a lie to trap us in the darkness. There is always a new grace being offered to us. Always. The trick is to learn to offer it to ourselves.
“Can I offer myself what God has already offered me: another chance? And another? And another? Can I let go of my own fear long enough to let some air into the room? Can I loosen the noose of self-contempt and receive the grace of starting over? Can I see that moving forward, however imperfectly, is so much braver than staying stuck?”
What does beginning again mean to you today?
If you are just joining our Breathing Room Book Club, you can catch the previous posts here: Prelude, Chapter 1, Chapter 2. Also, if you want the posts delivered right to your email when I put them up, you can subscribe to my blog on the righthand sidebar. And, finally, thank you SO much to those of you who took the time to write comments on the previous posts. I love reading them and have gone back and responded to all those I hadn’t yet read. So, keep commenting! It makes for a great discussion and adds to the book club experience! Not to mention the fact that I love hearing from all you precious souls.
Today, we’re talking about Chapter 3, “Eating Your Shadow,” which was a totally new concept for me when I wrote the book. In this chapter, I mention two women: Beth and Elaine. These two women were guides to me when we returned from Bahrain back to San Diego in 2013. Right about that time was when I began to realize I was carrying more than I could handle. I couldn’t just muster and push past my own fatigue and anxiety any more. In other words, I was a little bit of a mess. And these two women, here in San Diego, helped me navigate the gauntlet of re-entry, the trauma of living hyper-vigilant overseas, and the general tangle that was bound up in my body and soul when we returned.
This all probably sounds kind of over-dramatic. I don’t know. I think back on that time as being a time when I have never felt more bone tired. Soul tired. And I was afraid . . . because I had strung together a few years where I just didn’t have the energy to push anymore. And that’s when Elaine (who is one of life’s rare souls) said something like, “what if you just let yourself crash?” and “what if you just disappointed some people?” . . . and I basically got hives on the spot when she said those things because no one wants to be lame. No one wants to be the person who is affected.
In the end, though, that’s what I needed to “eat.” I was talking with Beth, who is my spiritual director and also (I swear) some sort of angel with dreads, and she echoed Elaine’s words. She basically said, yeah, you have to stop running away from all these things you’re afraid of being and instead heap them into your mouth. Ingest everything about yourself you’ve rejected. Ugggghhhhhhhhh.
It’s hard for me to articulate how entirely uncomfortable all this talk made me. How I still believed, deep down, that I could handle everything, that I didn’t need to crash (even as I was), that weakness was unacceptable, that I would never really have to disappoint anyone. I still buy into the lie that I can keep ahead of these things about myself I don’t love. And it’s a ruse.
I guess that’s why we landed on “letting go” in the subtitle of Breathing Room. You know, we went round and round and round on the subtitle, trying to find the exact right words to articulate what was really going on in this book. And I think we got it right, because this book is mostly about all the things I had to let go of if I wanted to be alive and awake in my own life. All the things I still have to let go of every day. And one of the biggest things I’m constantly having to release and surrender is this aspirational version of myself and my life that is a total fantasy. I think the fantasy will lead me to the breathing room, but it never does, ironically.
The breathing room is found when I stop and turn around and face those parts of me I don’t want to accept and ingest them, with compassion, back into my being. I. Hate. This. I hate accepting the fact that I am a person who has mental health challenges. I hate accepting the fact that I am a person who needs help. I hate accepting the fact that I am a person who gets mad, sad, frustrated, listless, tired. I hate accepting the fact that I am a person who can’t keep up sometimes, who gets frantic, who gets manic.
Just because I wrote a book about doing all this does not mean it comes easily or naturally to me. In fact, I often say that I wrote this book because I needed to read it. And I still need to read it. Every day. I need to be reminded that crashes are OK, disappointing people is OK, imperfections are interesting, anxiety can actually serve as the friction that creates art. I need to stop and turn toward all the things about me that are inconvenient, all the ways in which I’m intolerant of myself, and put my arms around those limping parts of me.
“The pressure’s off when we can ingest — with compassion and acceptance — our God-image and our dirt-self, our brilliance and our brokenness. I am both exceptional and unexceptional, common and uncommon, remarkable and unremarkable” (page 44).
I end this chapter by saying it’s one of life’s biggest reliefs when we can actually calm down enough to just let go of these aspirational, perfected versions of ourselves and embrace what is. Of course we want to grow, become, transform . . . but perhaps those things can’t happen until we stand still and face whatever we’re afraid of. In other words, we’ve got to be willing to venture into the Meat Market of our own souls with all it’s discomfort, entrails, and weird smells.
What does that mean for me today, you ask? (Because, after all, this book is not just a series of concepts. It’s a series of practices.)
Well, I think about that gorgeous line from The Nester (aka Myquillyn Smith), who I adore. She says it like this, “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.” She’s talking about home, specifically, but I think she’s probably not-so-secretly talking about life too. I thinks she’s talking about me, too. I don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. Neither do you.
I think about that great directive from the prophet Jeremiah that I included in this chapter: “Stop wearing out your shoes.” Today, practicing Chapter 3 looks like standing still and repeating this centering Scripture I’ve been thinking about for some time now:
“And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us, confirming the work that we do. Oh yes. Affirm the work that we do!” (Psalm 90:17, MSG)
It’s easy for me to get frantic. Today, I’m turning toward that wired-up, over-caffinated part of myself and saying, You’re OK. Shhhh. It’s OK. Sit down and take a rest. You’re so pretty. I’ll bring you a faux fur blanket and some duct tape for your mouth, precious love. You’re so darling. And you’re not in charge.
Standing still, ingesting all that we are with the compassion, living from trust instead of try, as we let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest upon us.
What stands out to you in this chapter? What do you need to practice today?
Here’s the latest installment of our book club . . . from my dining room to yours!
In early drafts of the manuscript, I titled this chapter “Talking Back to the Toxic Voices” and then in later drafts I changed “Toxic Voices” to “Brain Vultures” because that phrase said it all for me. Feeling like road kill; getting picked apart mercilessly. Often hitting us where it hurts the very most, where we’re most wounded and vulnerable.
So, instead of staying in the ring with myself, I’m learning to get in the ring with the lies — question them, push back against them, instead of letting them own me.
OK, your turn . . .
What’s your strategy for dealing with the toxic voices?
What are some of the messages the brain vultures try to get you to believe about yourself or others?
What resonates with you from this chapter/post?
Thanks so much for those of you who joined me on Tuesday for the discussion on the Prelude. If you didn’t catch it, no worries, you can go back and watch my video Intro as well as some musings on the Prelude here.
Now, on to Chapter 1, “Confessing to the Trees” . . .
If I were to add a subtitle to the first chapter of Breathing Room, I might call it something like: “What’s Not Working?”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately: the things in our lives — large or small — that just aren’t working. For example, a couple of weeks ago I posted about cleaning out the art drawers in our kitchen because they WERE. NOT. WORKING. Broken and melted crayons, markers with no lids, coloring books that hadn’t been used in two years . . . all jammed into drawers that would barely open and close because of their overabundance.
Daily interactions with this kind of insanity takes me down.
I had been carefully salvaging the contents of these drawers, organizing and reorganizing, and somehow I just kind of woke up and realized none of it was really working and I needed to start over with way less stuff and some freshened up supplies. I assumed this would cost $1700. Turns out, it only cost $30 (and the time it took to dump 3 full bags of literal trash).
And wouldn’t you know it was the most cathartic thing that has happened to me in a long time. So it got me thinking about other things in my life that “aren’t working” and I began to see that I’ve got slews of places in my life where I kinda need to face facts and lean in somehow or someway.
I have a lot of things in my life that look like this:
Darling little girl shoes that have a flower missing. Despite numerous attempts to repair, the flower just won’t stay on. I can’t bring myself to throw out the $8 jelly shoes, and yet there it is, staring me in the face everyday, a “what’s not working” moment I just can’t seem to deal with once and for all.
I read a post earlier this week about a woman who never really liked this big area rug she put in her master bedroom. Something about the bed and the rug wasn’t working for her, but she refused to admit to herself that she had made such an expensive mistake — buying a large, pricey rug that wasn’t actually working. Until . . . she had to move the rug out of her room for some painting and she walked back into her room and felt like she could breathe in there for the first time.
What does all this have to do with Breathing Room? Well, I guess I’m realizing — over and over and over again in life — that the breath, the space, comes when we lean into the truth instead of when we avoid it. Oh, how I hate this. And oh how true it is. Whether it’s an overcrowded garage or a marital dilemma, I don’t think much gets solved through denial.
This is the moral of Chapter 1.
The beginning of my journey to find breathing room happened when I faced the thing I didn’t want to face, kinda like the art drawer, only painfully more consequential. Instead of pretending on the outside and harboring very deep difficulty on the inside, I decided to stand toe-to-toe with the truth, which meant debunking a lot of myths I had about vulnerability and authenticity.
First, I think I subtly believed that my pain was an inconvenience to others and likely to God, too (myth #1). I think I also subtly believed that faithful people are incredibly stable, and it’s a sign of weakness to be in need (myth #2). And then, somewhere along the way I began to believe that I was the only person who was heartbroken about a couple things in life and that most everyone else was pretty much sailing through (myth #3) — until I heard Parker Palmer say those crazy words, “We’re all heartbroken.” (Whoa.) And I began to wonder if that were, perhaps, really true . . . because, the more I thought about it, it really actually seemed true.
It’s incredibly scary to let our worst fears in — to crash, to be in need, to entertain our heartbrokenness. It feels as though it will swallow us whole (I think I said that pretty much exactly in the chapter). I guess I see that those “worst fears” are with us anyway, playing out, oozing out in all these sideways ways, so even though we think we’re staying ahead of whatever it is that’s at our heels, chances are, we’re not entirely.
So, I did the most obvious thing to do, I went to the trees on the Northern California beach (where my soul resides, incidentally) and I confessed that I wished everyone would just leave me alone, because something in my life just wasn’t working. And I thought I might get struck by lightening right there on the beach for saying all that, for admitting how I was actually feeling.
It’s like I thought I would shock God or something. Like I thought he’d be immediately crazed with anxious worry over me or shaking his head in total disapproval. Why do we wait so long to tell the truth? Especially to God?
Being resilient isn’t ignoring reality. Being resilient is walking into reality and getting the support we need to navigate it. Not living in despair. Not living in denial. But living with the slightest desire to get well.
Some of you have sizable, un-solvable things going on in your drawers, closets, homes. There is no elixir. There is not magic. There is no read-a-blog-post-and-everything-changes. I know that. Believe me, I understand. I understand what it’s like to wake up every morning and be in the same battle. To learn and grow and become and breathe . . . and still have to battle.
I still believe in the power of the truth. I still believe the truth is some kind of serum to our souls. I still believe the truth has the power to set us free.
What’s not working, dear friend?
Your mental health, your schedule, your makeup drawer, your discipline strategy, your marriage, your backsplash, your too-tight pants, the way you’re treating your body, the way you’re allowing someone else to treat your body, your self-talk, your meal planning, your exercise routine, your life values, your career, your relationship with a friend that’s gone septic, your people pleasing, your hair products . . . ?
What’s not working? Some of these things you just need to throw out (likely, I’m not talking about your husband). Some things can’t be salvaged. But some things can be and need to be fought for, rebirthed. This is why we need friends and God. Our friends and God help us know how to take a tiny step toward the what’s-not-working thing and begin to deal with it, head on.
I’ve also found that as I take on the small, less consequential “what’s not working” areas of my home and heart — like an art drawer — I begin to build the muscles of confronting and resolving. For me anyway, this starts to spill over into bigger areas, and I begin to see that I have more and more capacity for that which had previously been unattended. I begin to be able to lean into the harder places, the more complicated and challenging “what’s not workings.”
Ignoring what’s not working isn’t working. At least not at my house. So I guess, if anything, this Chapter 1 is a call to go to a safe place, in the confessional of Carmel if you’re very lucky, and say what you’ve been afraid to say.
This is how we treat ourselves like we would a dear friend. This is how we find breathing room, ultimately. This is the brave fight of letting go. This is how we reach out for life. Validation instead of void.
And now a few questions for discussion . . .
What does it mean to treat yourself like you would a friend? Why is it so hard for us to validate our own struggles? Do you agree or disagree with what Parker Palmer said, that “we are all heartbroken”? And/or share anything else from this chapter that stands out to you.
Thanks for reading along, precious ones. I’ll be back next week with chapters 2 and 3.
Love and truth,
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A little video Introduction to the book club by Yours Truly:
So here we go with the Prelude . . .
I open the Prelude, and the book, with a passage from Psalm 18 (MSG) that talks about God reaching down to us while we are drowning in a void and standing us up on a wide-open field.
Very little of my internal world has ever felt like a “wide-open field.” I am in my head a lot, anxious, rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing. None of this makes for a spacious interior. And I have longed for the ease of that broad expanse.
So this verse has always been incredibly important to me, especially the line about “the void in which I was drowning” (as sometimes it can feel like we’re drowning, but we don’t really know why) and the line about the “wide-open field” (because so many of us are longing for space).
This is a passage to take to your patio or to your kitchen table or to the little nook in your room and write out, repeat, breathe in and out. I believe this is a passage for all of us, and God would want to visit you through these words, in the midst of these words.
So there’s that. The important backdrop of God rescuing us . . . and the reality that he often rescues us not in the ways we would have planned or preferred, but instead, according to his God alchemy, which is mysterious and even sometimes frustrating because it doesn’t follow our agenda.
As I reread the Prelude, three things stand out to me most, the things I am still learning, still needing to wake up each day and practice. These three things are a huge premise of the entire book, presuppositions I want us to consider before we go any farther.
(I share these three things with you because each of these I have had to learn the hard way. These things DO NOT come easy to me. They also make me kind of mad, at least annoyed. And so I’ve tried to push right past all these truths, and it hasn’t served me. Don’t think for ONE SECOND that I’ve got any of the below mastered in any way. No, ma’am.)
It never works to try to talk ourselves out of what we’re experiencing.
I’m not sure this is a popular sentiment among Christians. I think a lot of Christians fear that if you validate your own experiences and feelings then you will be acquiescing to them. I don’t subscribe to this thinking. I believe THE ONLY way we can begin to let go of the Hard and the struggle is to first stop and acknowledge what’s really going on. We don’t have to dwell on it all forever. We don’t have to live our lives in sackcloth and ashes. But if we don’t start with reality, then we’re stuck.
Here’s the other part of this: Sometimes reality sucks. And we don’t want to face it because it’s scary, overwhelming, and downright mean. But ignoring it will not do us any favors in the long run. So when I’m feeling swirly and churny, one of the things I try to do is sit with what I’m experiencing. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if I don’t want to go there. Even if it sucks. AND THEN, I ask God to visit me in that place of reality. I ask him to give me the courage to sit in it for 10 seconds. And I ask him to come sit in it with me. This is the stuff of strange miracles. That’s all I know. Oh, and that refusing to do this WILL NOT pay off. I’m sorry. It just won’t.
We are allowed to be both blessed and struggling.
When we don’t let these two experiences co-exist, we rob ourselves of the fullness of God and our own souls. Do not let the Brain Vultures, the voice of your childhood Sunday School teacher, or anyone else convince you that in order to be grateful for your life, you cannot also be struggling.
Life is both beautiful and challenging, gorgeously gifted to us and hard. We are both extraordinarily resilient and also vulnerable-in-our-humanity. I tend to be an either/or kind of thinker, which I’m coming to learn is actually fairly adolescent. Life is either this or that. I am either this or that. And it’s just not true. We are an amazing amalgamation of feelings, experiences, truths. So I try to hold space for all that. I try to remind myself that in the breadth and depth of God’s love, even seemingly conflicting experiences can coexist in one soul. And he’s not worried about it. He’s not intimidated by it. Most of all, he’s not disappointed in us for experiencing all the dimensions of our humanity. He experienced it too.
We let go by learning to embrace the texture that is life: BOTH hard AND good.
When we hit our critical line, we better pay attention.
Our critical line is that pesky little moment when all of life is telling us it’s time to stop and take a breath. It is NO FUN to have limits. It is NO FUN to be human sometimes. I resent it, actually, that I can’t push and push and push my way into life. But the last few years have taught me that I can’t. I have to learn, somehow, to make peace with my humanity. Ugghhhhh.
I guess this kind of goes back to #1, but when we acknowledge what we’re actually going through, we are then able to get the help we need. OK, and let me also admit that needing to get help sucks, too. It’s hard when life isn’t just singing right along, and we actually need a little assistance. It can feel like a failing to need some intervention, support, counsel. I wish I were perfect. I really do. Turns out, I’m not. And every once in awhile I benefit from a little help. Again, I don’t want to live my life in denial. That means, I have to pay attention to what’s actually going on and then take baby steps accordingly.
I also don’t want to live my life without joy. And if we don’t pay attention to this critical line business, our anxiety and worry and fear and fatigue can rob us of the good things. It’s OK to be sad, to be having a hard time, but we also need to restore our capacity to laugh. No, to giggle. Right? We need to be able to come back to the lightness of life, and if we’re stuck in the Hard and not getting ourselves the help we need, we stop giggling. And that’s just not OK.
I’d love to know what stands out to you in this chapter. What is a concept that seems important to you? How do these ideas intersect with your life right now?
You are precious and brave and I’m so grateful to be breathing through this book with you!!!
Love and candles,
* If you missed the details about this Book Club, you can read all about it here.
** Here is the Official Reader’s Guide for Breathing Room to use for personal reflection or group discussion.