How’s your summer going? Gone on any cool trips? Family reunions? Enjoyed wonderful company?
These are the primary summer behaviors and expectations, aren’t they? This summer, for me, has been a series of ups and downs and at this point, I’m just happy to be healthy and able to pay the bills. Morose, maybe, but true. I’m grateful.
Sometimes, I rationalize, there are other priorities than racing off to Europe or the Bahamas; or maybe I’m just wishing, in retrospect, that my husband and I had gone somewhere this summer.
Nope. We moved to Hilton Head Island in order to be on permanent vacation in preparation to retire. So we enjoy being here. We don’t enjoy flying much, either.
Which brings me to my point. There are times to go ‘slack’.
I’ve been on a vicious cycle of doing instead of being, rediscovering myself in semi-retirement, wondering if my life really matters and how else I can possibly validate it in the remaining time I have left. Leave a legacy.
Then I think – what the heck are my kids, chopped liver? Shouldn’t I be content to have borne and raised them to be somewhat faithful, responsible, enjoyable adults?
Well yeah, but…everybody does that, I tell myself.
I ‘reinvented’ myself as a novelist, and that has been one, long, continuous learning experience and an exercise in patience. There is so much ‘waiting’ in the business of writing that I’m twiddling my thumbs much of the time. This is dangerous, this space in between what feels like actual productivity and learning how to use the idle time to advantage.
This is when I launch into new stuff. Look for a new house, look for a new way to volunteer at church, look for new groups to join, new furniture to buy. All this activity leaves me confused and downright exhausted.
When I finally get tired of spinning around like a demented maniac, I settle down enough to ask God what the heck I should do and when and how and where, exactly. That’s when I feel Him smiling, looking at my discomfort and wondering why I crave productivity and validation, when I have all the validation I should ever need from Him.
It’s been a long, arduous journey to arrive at the point I can actually relax and enjoy life without one crisis after the other looming on the horizon, and part of me feels crisis is normal and life without valleys and stumbling blocks is boring. My daughter shared with me a presentation by Melissa Helser (www.jonathanhelser.com) that talked about embracing my humanity instead of becoming a demented maniac like I’ve been lately.
Melissa’s presentation boiled down to this: it’s okay to be human. There will be stressful times. A driver will pull out in front of me and I will probably spit out a cuss word, but this is a human response. Get over it. There will be times that I lose it with my grown kids or my husband. There will be times I say the wrong thing. We are human, not little holy deities running around. Even Jesus was fully human. Granted, He was both. Fully human and fully God. But I’m basically a bunch of human with a glimpse of holiness inside of me, and I fail a lot. It’s okay. It’s okay not to smile all the time. It’s okay to let tears fall, or anger melt me into little puddles of self-pity as long as I understand I shouldn’t stay there. Emotions make me human, but they shouldn’t dominate my life. It’s not okay to walk around condemning myself and seeking to produce, produce, produce when I don’t even enjoy and take care of what I have.
We are too tough on ourselves, I think. As a Christian, I am constantly fighting this or that battle; putting on my armor according to Ephesians 6 and raising a Holy Spirit sword to cut off the head of anything that threatens me or my family.
Looking at life as a constant battle is exhausting. And there’s no formula to make things turn out the way I want them. Bad things happen to everyone. The bad stuff passes. The good stuff comes. Prayer works, but not always in the way we want it to.
I am working through the concept of ‘slackening’. The example Melissa gives in her presentation, involves a workout band, one of those stretchy, elastic things. With every stressful event, minor or major, we grip the band with both hands and stretch tighter and tighter, until it’s so tight it could break and with it, our hold on self-control, joy or peace.
When I’m stretching that band so tightly my arms shake with the effort of it, I paste a smile on my face and bask in others’ approval of my efforts and feel validated. The more I take on, the more other people seem to like and compliment me. In their eyes, and maybe (pathetically) in mine, I’m a hero! Then the band snaps. I have to let go of the commitment, or I feel the sting of disapproval because I became involved in something that wasn’t right for me. All in the name of feeling productive. Valid.
I must learn to slacken the band. Not let go, exactly, just loosen my grip.
I must learn to let go of the things that stretch me so tight and cling to the things that feed my soul and bless others. Approval of man is a trap. It feels great, but running after it is addictive and often precedes a mighty fall from grace. Holding onto a futile career path, one more volunteer opportunity, the desire for brighter, shinier things might tighten the band so much that when it breaks, a heart could break right along with it. Maybe several.
Slacken. It’s my new approach to summer.