What do you do when you feel that life is spiraling out of control (or rather, when you are)? For most of my life, whenever I’ve faced tough times, I’ve simply resolved to try harder, to push myself through the difficulties, to do everything possible to regain control and forge ahead. I’ve done this with things big and small, from work challenges to book club reading assignments.
I’ve also treated Lent this way. I’ve set myself goals—things to give up, things to do, etc.—and no matter how unrealistic, I’ve pushed myself through them with a combination of self-chastisement and cheerleading, too often losing sight of the reason for the sacrifices and service, in pursuit of the accomplishment.
But eventually, I learned to stop beating myself up. I learned that some things are simply not worth finishing (like some books—a tough decision for me, actually) or worth doing “perfectly” (I’ve spent the last 20 years telling myself “the perfect is the enemy of the good” whenever I feel caught in unreasonable expectations).
And I’ve dialed back on my Lenten activities. But this year, I thought that challenging myself to write weekly was reasonable. It would keep me reflecting on the scriptures and using my God-given talents. And I truly wanted to do it—it shouldn’t involve sacrifice or even get out of control.
But the last two weeks have found me spiraling out of control for too many reasons. I’ve been sleeping poorly due to back pain. I’ve been squabbling with my husband over small issues that grew larger and larger since he didn’t seem to understand my concerns (although I probably hadn’t communicated them as clearly as I could). I’ve been grieving once again the loss of my old church home. I made the mistake of watching some of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings. And I paid too much attention to the news of the war in Ukraine.
All this left me exhausted and very angry at everything and everybody. I considered writing what would have turned into an angry tirade about people who kept putting God in a box and using that box to hurt other people (after all, two weeks ago, the reading from Isaiah proclaimed, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” and the Supreme Court hearings gave me some specific grievances in that line).
Before I realized it, a week had passed, but the exhaustion and anger had not. Then I added in some worry since my husband was going in for surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon. It was outpatient surgery, but he would have to stay off his leg for at least four weeks. And in normal life, Jim can barely sit still for 15 minutes. I was anxious about both the surgery and the demands of his recovery.
With my emotions exploding in lots of unhealthy ways, it was not a time to write. But I had fallen back into old patterns and I told myself that I had to do it. If nothing else, I could write a book review of Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son to respond to last week’s Gospel reading.
Eventually, however, I heard the message of Psalm 46:10:
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
I listened. I gave myself permission to step away from as much as I could so that I could relearn how to breathe and settle my emotions. I took naps. I read a few mysteries (they always help me to relax). I limited my exposure to the news. I rejoiced when my husband’s surgery revealed less damage and a recovery that would allow him to use his injured leg (and therefore not hold him—or me—captive). I did some quilting (again, a meditative activity for me).
Today I finished a baby quilt long overdue. I am still not sleeping well, but I’m exercising regularly and I feel better overall. So l am allowing myself to return to this small bit of writing. Usually, I’d agonize over the writing, share it with trusted readers before posting, deliberate for a long while over appropriate illustrations. In four or five days (or longer), I’d finally post it for others to read.
But this time, what you see is what I managed to finish after less than two hours. Because I’ve learned two lessons over the past two weeks. When life gets to be too much, don’t grit my teeth and push forward despite the pain. Instead, step away. Relax, refresh, find a center of peace. And when the time is right, start again on something that brings joy, even if it is not perfect or perhaps even finished.
That is enough. And that’s okay.