On my recent journey in life I have learned that what people think about you means nothing in comparison to what you believe about yourself. Essentially, my identity then depended on outward approval, which changes on a dime. So you dance and you please and you placate and you prove. You become a three-ring circus and in each ring you are an entirely different performing animal, anything anyone wants you to be.
The crucial journey, then, for me, has been from dependence on external expectations, down into my own self, deeper still into God’s view of me, His love for me that doesn’t change, that will not change, that defines and grounds everything.
When you are running your life on what others expect and demand, you are running on the fuel of anxiety, desire to prove, fear or rejection, shame, and deep inadequacy. When you decide to walk away from that fuel of every-day life for a while, there is, at first, nothing but confusion and silence. You are on the side of the road, empty tank, no idea what will propel you forward. It is disorienting, freeing, terrifying. For a while you just sit, contently, and contentment is the most foreign concept you know. But you learn it, shocking as it is, day by day, hour by hour. You sit in your own skin, being just your plain self. And, it’s okay. And it will change everything.
After a while, though, you realize you were not made only for contentment; that’s only half the puzzle. The other part is meaning, calling, love. And this is, for most people, a new conversation, almost like speaking a second language – faltering, tongue-twisting, exhilarating.
As I change the pace and live life instead of speed through life I am living in a slower way. It is simpler than the way I use to live. It is sweeter than I can ever remember life being. It feels more like a glass of water and less like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. Pride tells us we are strong enough to drink from the hydrant, and gluttony tells us it is needed and so so delicious.
But those old voices are liars. The glass of cold water is more lovely and sustaining then the fire hydrant will ever be. I’m now trusting the voices of peace and simplicity more than pride and gluttony. They are leading me in a new direction, and it is a direction that I am enjoying.
The more I listen to myself, my body, my feelings, and the less I listen to the “should” and “must” and “to-do” voices, the more I realize what my body and spirit have been whispering all along, but I couldn’t hear them over the chaos and noise of the life I had created. I was addicted to this chaos, but like any addiction, it was damaging to me.
If you are not like me – prone to frantic levels of activity, swirling chaos, fast-moving cycles of over-commitment and then resentment – then you might look at my life with something like wonder and a little confusion. “Why don’t you,” you might suggest, “just slow down?” I understand the question, but it is a little like asking people who are ruining their lives and health with an addiction to alcohol or drugs or both why they don’t just stop.
When I did stop and sat still and silent for a long while – I have to admit that the stillness felt sort of like walking on the ceiling – totally and utterly foreign. What makes sense to me: pushing. Lists. Responsibilities. Action, action, and more action. What’s changing my life: silence. Rest. Reflection. Taking time to enjoy life instead of just live life.
Why did I wait so long to reach this part of my journey in life. That’s a good question that I have often asked myself. I was highly invested in maintaining my reputation as a very capable and reliable person. I thought that how other people felt about me or thought about me could determine my happiness and contentment. I now know how deeply flawed that idea really is – even how silly it now seems. So, I have left the three-ring circus and am enjoying my glass of cool water as I sit staring at my flower garden and enjoy an evening by the fire in my back yard.