Here we are about halfway through Lent, and it feels like I have skipped right over to Good Friday and the darkness of the tomb. This has been a really, really tough few weeks. I won’t pretend to know how much of that I caused, how much God caused, how much was coincidence, and how much was a result of the changes I chose to make for Lent this year. There were a few doozies. And by far the most difficult Lenten discipline has been doing one thing. Just one thing. The idea came to me a week or so before Ash Wednesday, when I was thinking about what I needed to give up for Lent, what would really challenge me and help me make space in my life for God to fill. At the moment I had this thought, I was on the couch, “watching” The Daily Show, while I played Candy Crush, in between texts with my best friend, checking Facebook and email every time my phone buzzed with a notification alert.
It struck me that I was doing a lot at once, but I wasn’t doing any of it well. I couldn’t remember the last thing Jon Stewart had said before the commercial break, I was failing at level 88 yet again, and I wasn’t completely sure what Rachel and I had been texting about or whether any of those emails were important. I tried to bring to mind the last time I had done one thing – just one thing without doing something else at the same time. And I couldn’t remember. I’m always doing something and — watching TV and eating dinner, driving and listening to an audiobook, walking my dog and checking Facebook, having drinks with friends and texting with other friends. Even at work, where I do my best to focus on what I’m doing, I find myself listening to a patient and thinking about the next visit I need to make.
So for these forty days, I have been attempting to give up multi-tasking. I vastly underestimated the effect it would have. I think it is accomplishing exactly what I wanted it to, but I miscalculated just how painful that would be. As the saying goes, “The truth will make you free, but first it will make you miserable.” (That little bit of wisdom, by the way, is attributed to President James Garfield, Gloria Steinem, or Anne Lamott, depending on which internet source you trust.) I have been faced with some ugly truth about myself in this wilderness of my own making. Almost everything I do alone (which is most things in my life) I have been doing in silence – driving, cooking, eating, washing dishes, doing laundry, working in the yard – and I have heard what I was previously able to distract myself from by using TV or music or podcasts.
I am overwhelmed. My life has become unmanageable, and I think it has been for some time. It was only when I was left with nothing but the silence in which to explore it that the truth became clear. The baggage of previous romantic relationships, wounds from former friends, a stressful and awkward living situation, delayed consequences of my own very bad past decisions, the eucatastrophe of a better work schedule that in many ways has felt like starting a new job – all of this has been pulling at me slowly for the past few months, and I am only now realizing that it has been dragging me off the edge of a cliff. The realization of just how little I am in control was terrifying. I told my best friend that it feels like I have been hanging on by my fingernails for a long time. To my surprise, Sara Jane said, “So let go.”
How could she not understand? My desperate clinging to the edge is the only thing keeping me from falling! And falling is, needless to say, not good! I was shocked that my usually wise friend would give such counterintuitive advice. It bothered me all day. Later I was practicing another of my Lenten disciplines, praying with the help of pray-as-you-go.org, a fantastic daily podcast of music, scripture, and questions to help guide you into prayer. It has been feeding my soul these past few weeks, and I plan to continue to make it part of my daily spiritual practice long after Easter. As I listened to the music a few days ago, I was annoyed. The song was not really the type of thing I would normally listen to, and I found myself tuning it out, waiting for the scripture reader to begin. But then I heard the chorus:
“I’m so tired of it all. I need a place to fall, and nowhere else will do. My sanctuary is you.” Suddenly I was weeping. I felt it was a word from God, confirming what Sara Jane had told me. I need to learn to let go. I am not in control. I have to trust God enough to fall. So here I go, facing the truth that will make me miserable in hopes that it will later make me free. The truth is that I am suffering from depression and anxiety attacks, and it’s time to call them what they are and seek treatment. The truth is that I have been self-medicating by eating and drinking too much, and I need to learn healthier coping mechanisms. The truth is that I have pretended to be okay for too long, and I need to be honest with the people closest to me and with myself. This week I have taken some big, scary steps toward long-term self-care and toward being vulnerably real with God and a few trusted people in my life.
It is in large part because of the brave self-disclosure of others that I have found the courage to do these things, knowing that I am not alone. I am trying to be brave too, brave enough to admit that I can’t do this by myself and I won’t try to anymore. I have to learn what trusting God really means, beyond just saying I do. Maybe it means letting go, not knowing what will happen when I fall. Even if it is something like death, then my faith says that what comes after must be something like resurrection.