Friday, March 12, 2010

When Striving Ceases

There's not a day that goes by any more without the stark contrast between old and new self. Perhaps more accurately, they should be described as the true self...and something less.

I have to admit: it is all surprising, even to me.

It's weird to go through what I own and see the defense in it. To see the striving and the many ways I've tried over the years to protect myself - from others, from myself, from my darkness, from God. Even in something so simple as the decor of my room. It used to be bright in color, blinding almost, with images all over the walls and junk piled high on top of dressers, bookshelves, even next to my bed. You couldn't walk two steps without finding something to pick up to distract yourself.

Maybe that's where I went wrong.

Don't misunderstand me. This brilliant distraction served its purpose for a time, when I was stuck in the pits of Hell fighting the issues of abuse and abandonment, struggling with worth, questioning God, and trying desperately to stop the voices that ruled my life by simply distracting myself from them. I said a few days ago that as I've been going through this purging process this week and clearing out the distractions, I've felt like I was clearing out a girl who neither trusted love nor knew beauty.

That could not be more true.

So I woke up early this morning and heard the ticking of the clock. Not just the big clock, which I've heard the ticking of since I was a small child, but two other clocks I'd never heard before. Just regular old hanging-on-the-wall, battery-powered clocks. I didn't know why they bothered me this morning, why they were so loud. Until I opened my eyes and looked around.

There are no distractions any more. Nothing to see but the stillness. It is very cool, but it's still unsettling...slightly. I'm still timid about where God is leading me and what He might be up to, but I cannot ignore His peace. My faith. The silence. It's really cool. The more it takes hold of me, the more I wonder what I was so afraid of for all these years. What was I running from? God? Why? I can't answer that.

Freedom is a very cool thing, and I can't believe how it transforms my life just to live in the simple things. To live surrounded by stillness, opportunities for reflection, nothing to distract my hands or my heart so that I'm no longer running from relationship with Him or from prayer. He knows my heart; our talks are only facilitated by the nakedness.

And I can't help but laugh at the easy way this has all happened. I can't help but think about dresser drawers overflowing with baggy pants and ratty T-shirts that now have room to grow a new wardrobe (I'm gonna have to hit the Goodwill soon, I think, because I own maybe TWO warm-weather shirts), video games to keep my fingers busy and stop me from thinking, stuffed animals scattered about for those moments when the feel of my own hands on my face could not stop the crying, and so much stuff hanging on the walls that it's no wonder my mind raced at night! I was surrounded by so much to keep me from thinking about darkness that I couldn't stop thinking about how much stuff I had and how much it weighed me down.

Those now-roomy dresser drawers, as small a thing as that is, make me feel entirely different. That is only intensified when I look in the mirror and see a smile, a sparkle in my eyes, or notice that I'm carrying myself differently, thinking differently, talking more softly.

I still have a long way to go, and I'm still trying to figure this all out. It's a hard transition to make after spending my whole life taking care of myself, working hard to get what I think I want, trying harder, pushing and pushing and pushing myself to the limits because that is the only way to be the kind of woman I thought I wanted to be.

It's just not true.

This process is not as difficult as I thought it would be. It's emotionally taxing. Spiritually freeing and demanding at the same time. But it doesn't work the way I tried to make it work for too many years. I don't have to get up in the morning and spend the first two hours of the day berating myself, scolding my old behaviors, or constantly reminding myself to watch my language, hold my head high, walk in love, live in freedom, or anything else that's beautiful.

I just have to stop.

I have to let the natural tendencies of my God-filled heart take over. It surprises me every day that it's not really forced at all. It is so simple, so natural a way of living that it really puts my fight into perspective. I thought this switch in lifestyle would make me tired; I am only tired because this freedom makes me realize how hard I've worked for too long. Every once in awhile, I hear and old thought creep up or an old pattern trying to take hold, and I'm able now to stop and realize that it is THOSE moments that require the energy, it is THOSE ways of living that require effort. They just aren't natural; they aren't my heart. (Sadly, I still follow through on some of them, but immediately realize that it's just not who I am, not who He has made me to be...and I am able to make that the last time.)

I don't beat myself up any more over the little things. Yeah, I slip up and try too hard and labor in the ways of old. I just have to laugh those off, apologize to my heart and to God, then move on and don't make that mistake again. I'm learning. and I'm growing. And it's cool.

All I had to give up was my striving. My "wisdom." My "plans." All it cost me was the lie.

The lie was this: that if I'm just good enough, work hard enough, try enough, pretend enough, put on a happy face, and push forward, everything will work out precisely as I want it to.

The truth is: I just gave myself a headache. And heartache. And intensified my loneliness.

No matter how hard I tried, I could never control my circumstances. No more than I could ever control the weather or what time the sun sets. Then I realized, life is not about controlling circumstances. It is about responding to them. And responding in anger at life's disobedience, at it not following my plan, and tightening my grip on every little detail wasn't doing anything but killing me. And killing relationships. And killing life.

Love and freedom provide the avenues for the appropriate, Godly response to circumstance. That is beauty.

Perhaps most surprising of all, even after surrounding myself with so much for so many years, my stark room holds more of my heart than I ever expected. I didn't have to give up who I was or the things that mattered most to me; instead, I find they are only more profound and prominent in the stillness.

That's why though most things have gone away, been placed into storage or out for the trash or ready for Goodwill, a few things remain:

Photos of Aeris and Damien, my loves, with a sincere hope and prayer for their foundation and their futures

A whimsical squirrel faithfully guarding my door with a curious welcome

Praying hands illuminated at night by the soft bulb in a floor lamp

Light in the darkness

Hope in my heart

Peace in my hands

Stillness in my mind

And a small statue of Jesus that has been on my dresser for over two decads, a Jesus who long ago ceased to be held to the cross by nails but is supported by gobs and gobs of hot glue at His feet.

This freedom is beautiful. I cannot wrap my mind around it, around why God would give me such a wonderful gift. I still have questions, still worry about my worth or need a few moments here and there to make sure I am responding in love and heart, but that's all part of the process.

A process that began only when striving ceased.

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