The world outside the window fits the world inside me in this moment. What started as a light drizzle throughout the morning has become a downpour. Each week I enter this coffee shop while the stars still blanket the world, and I emerge after the sun has started to illuminate my table that acts as a writing desk for my weekly writing office hours. The sun should have emerged an hour ago, but the sky is grey and no light shines through. Folk music plays and the espresso machines whir; friendly chatter becomes the backdrop to my thoughts. Inside all is warm and dimly lit, creating an atmosphere of serenity. Outside the storm rages.
I’ve always prided myself on my strength. I come from a long line of strong women who worked hard, carried their families; women who did it all. I equated strength with quantity, with full and busy lives. So I followed suit. I launched myself into every endeavor with passion and gusto. When I travel, I seek to soak in every last moment, saying, “Who knows if I’ll ever be here again? I can sleep when it’s over.” I can do it all. I can have it all. That’s how I’ve lived for 35 years.
A decade ago my body started telling me that I couldn’t keep up the pace and the emotional strain of taking on everything with all of my being. My doctor finally named my chest pains and inability to catch my breath as what it was—anxiety.
Sometimes I have listened to my body, treated it well and found moments of relief; other times I pushed myself to the limit and pushed through the pain. I’ve begged God for relief. I’ve taken medication, diffused oils, stretched through downward dog and pushed my muscles to the limit in the gym. I’ve soaked in suds, played with my kids, escaped into books.
But I never stopped believing I could do all the things. I pretended I was slowing down when I turned down certain commitments. But I replaced those with new ones. I couldn’t let go of the addiction of activity, the rush of busyness. I said I wanted stillness but I didn’t really. When left alone with my thoughts, I was forced to face the realities I didn’t want to. Introspection became the thing I avoided with all of my doing.
I watch the gutters gush forth a full load, puddles spilling over like a tiny river that feet splash through on their way to the car. My heart fills like the gutters these days; it’s at capacity, overflowing. Sometimes it is with excitement at all the ways God is moving me, allowing me to be part of such beautiful work of transformation and redemption. Other times the load is too heavy and the weight too much to bear. This week felt like that. I reached my limits and exhaustion brought me low with a meltdown of tears and the need to just sleep and sleep.
In my heart I’ve known for years that I need stillness, and not just moments of no activity. Not brief glimpses of white space in a calendar with overlapping activities. Sabbath.
I soak in words about stillness and rest, make lofty goals to establish rhythms and seek out contemplation and silence. But I can’t grasp onto real rest with a heart still hanging onto works like an addict craving her drug. Activity isn’t the enemy. I know we’re called to good works and life won’t stop. There will always be more to do. The problem is I define myself by my activity; I’m afraid to be still.
“When perspective becomes slanted and days are disoriented; when emotions are out of sorts and your heart feels heavy, rhythms reorient toward what matters most amidst the noise of life,” I read in Shelly Miller’s challenging and soul-feeding words on Sabbath.
I see myself in every page, believing my need to find real rhythms of rest, knowing I can’t live at capacity for long without melting down. I am learning how God made rest holy for a reason, how Jesus broke the rules that bound Sabbath, but honored the quiet place where the Father could be found and His soul could be restored.
I wish I could tie my story up with a bow and say how resting in God’s presence has restored me. Maybe I can one day. Today I am on a journey towards it, seeking unforced rhythms. I am taking baby steps towards quieting my soul and finding the kind of rest that allows a free and light life.
I am trying to leave those dishes in the sink while I lie in the hammock with the kids. As deadlines summon me and my heart quickens at thoughts of all I have left to do in the day, I call out, “Jesus, help me” when no other words will come. I set my alarm for 5am and try again to rise to the quiet morning, the early moments of Sabbath each day.
I dig deep and ask for compassion for myself, the ability to give myself permission to rest. My soul settles a little as I grab tight to my thin sweater, knowing it won’t protect me much from the downpour I am about to run into. I am seeking shelter in my capacity to rest, looking for the places inside where I can find serenity, while the storm rages around me.