there’s nothing like spending time with family and your closest IRL friends to shine a light on the murky depths in your heart. there’s nothing like rest, of sitting down with no screens in sight, of walking on a foggy beach, running in the pale oregon sun, listening/reading/soaking in the good stuff, the words that will lodge tight and remind you of truths you knew as a child but somehow shoved to the side.
everyone has already said it, but i will reiterate: it’s hard to be truthful on the internet. the levels of complexity here are fierce. i desire authenticity, and privacy. i want to share the deep parts of my life while never betraying the confidences of my neighbors and context and location. i want to process, i want to empower, i want to stir all the pots and but mostly i want to tie up everything in a neat little bow.
this is not how life is, however. so, here i am to say:
lately, it has been hard to drive. this is how i know my anxiety is getting to a place where it is maybe out-of-control, when the thought of driving paralyzes me, when i make excuses and walk or bike or (when frostbite is a real and pressing concern) have others drive me or simply stay at home. i am white-knuckled behind the wheel, the fear always a river running through it, illogical and senseless and frustrating. i am pulling, pulling, pulling on my bootstraps, and this is just one of many areas where daily pep talks are needed just to get myself out the door. the other day i charted a map in my mind of how my dislike of driving has turned to annoyance, then loathing, and now dread. in the chart in my mind, the fears just went up, up, up. i realized, in that moment, that if i continue on this path, there will come a day–perhaps next month, perhaps next year, or even the next decade, when i will be physically incapable of driving.
writing that down is hard, as i want my life to be all about going and obeying God, not fearfully staying in my apartment because it is the only place where i feel i have control, where i can keep everybody safe. and i am quick to point out that i am still doing a lot, i am still going out and saving the world, i am still busy and productive and i have all my little rags of righteousness clutched in my hand. but the question remains: how long can i hold on?
my anxiety, like many i suppose, is partly due to me and it is partly due to a battle being waged that i don’t quite have the eyes to see. oppressions take many forms, both systematic and spiritual, and you can’t seem to fight one without fighting the other. and for me, much of my fighting seems to stem from two competing thoughts swimming around in my brain, two slippery eels which propel me forward into places both good and bad alike, and they are these:
1. that i am invaluable to the world, that without me the work of the kingdom will stop, all of these beautiful people will be lost, that it is all contingent on me and my small determined shoulders, the entire weight of the world.
2. that unless i do all the things, God won’t ever love me.
and i really, really need him to love me.
it’s hard to hate the lies, to root them our of your life for good, when they have taken you to where you need to go. i tell other people “don’t do anything out of guilt” and yet guilt is the backbone for much of my life, what i wouldn’t wish for others i gladly accept for myself. there are so many things i love about my life, adore even, and then there are other aspects–the nagging thought that i could always do more, more, more, the sense of worthlessness if the tangibles are taken away, the hysterical sense that nobody is doing enough–that i could surely do without.
i was mentioning this to a counselor not too long back, rolling out my litany of questions i have about my life, should i be doing more or less, tossing out that word that we in the business so often misuse–what is sustainable? i told this counselor about one of my dreams, moving into the high rises where i teach, taking it to the next level. there are many reasons why moving into this place would be amazing, beneficial, and life-giving. there are many reasons why it would also cause my anxiety to skyrocket, how it would grind down me and my little family, how many things about our life would get harder. but doesn’t that make it the best option?
the counselor nodded her head, listened. and then she said something that shocked me.
you could move in there, she said, that is a choice you could make. and you would be a beautiful flame, a fire burning bright for God. and like the brightest flames, you would not last for very long.
but, she said, tapping into my truest, basest desire:
you would be very beautiful while you were burning out.
the desire to be beautiful is deep within me, which has led me to places that are somewhat close to being extinguished. and i wrestle with this too, because currently in my life i am in a place of smoldering, a sputtering candle, tossed and turned by the winds of the world and the darkness in my own soul. but i think you already know where i am going with this, that it is these half-burnt out flames that Jesus most likes to use.
where my bruised reeds at? he says, looking for the walking wounded, the bent-over men and women, the smoldering wicks. where are my people who don’t even know up from down anymore, who can no more suss out what is sustainable than they can solve the problems of the world? where are my people at, he says, the ones who are beating back addictions, dysfunctions, lies that slink in and out around our ears? those are my people, he says, the ones i will not break. they are the ones i will not snuff out.
i used to think there were only two options for life: burning bright into the dying of the light, or sitting quietly to the side, snuffed out by the cares of life. now i am seeing all the middle places, the flickering candles, the fragile ones, the ones keeping vigil, praying, fasting, singing songs of truth, teaching, believing, creating.
but of course everything about Jesus is so upside-down, so the third way, eschewing the false dichotomies we create in order to love or loathe ourselves. he chooses the half-burnt out, the emptied, the white-knuckled. because it is for us, the ones who have tried so very hard to get both God and the whole damn world to love us based on merit, to whom the burden of following a radical servant-king seems light in comparison.
i don’t know how to end this right, i still want to say i am healed, i am loved, and everything is fine. but the truth is that right now i feel caught in a middle of a brush fire, all of my precious sacrifices going up in flames. and there, on the horizon, on the char-streaked hills, i see a glimpse of my future, being formed even now. i see a flickering candle, instead of a flame. i see a bruised reed, instead of a sunflower. and i see mercy, mercy, mercy, growing in the hardest heart.