Burnout faith journey One small thing

Grace & Strength

Today I’m writing from my summer “office” – a place with no walls, bordered by aspens whose leaves sound like music in the wind;  we call it the ‘wifi tree’ as this corner of the bush is the only place around with semi-reliable connectivity and I haul a lawn chair, water bottle and laptop out to the bush to set up shop.  I kind of love it.

Today’s been a good day.  Yesterday, not so much.  The day before, even worse.

Looking Back

Being around people 24/7 was harder than I anticipated, even when the people are ones I love; even when I step away for large chunks of time to pretend I’m alone.  It’s just pretending, and I can’t turn off my awareness of everyone, everywhere.  I grow claustrophobic, and I don’t know how to cope with that, given the wide-open space I’m in.

Yesterday that tether to people felt like a stranglehold, and I panicked at how quickly my well-intentioned summer manifesto was falling apart.  How do I pay attention to my soul when my 6 year old’s chatter won’t stop?  How do I find rest when I’m the caregiver, here?  How do I breathe grace when I’m locking myself in the bathroom every half hour to just breathe?  

And I’m back where I started; feeling the walls close in on me.

No, that’s not true.

I’ve fallen down again; that part is true.  But the journey these last four months have been aren’t for naught; I know how to get up now.  And it won’t take four months this time.  It just might take a day or two; days I’m not sure how to claim. 

This Time

Only this time is different.  This time I’m not the only one paying attention.  My husband sees me barely hanging on and clears his schedule to make room for me to breathe again.  He loads the kids up and brings them along for a morning on the job, and I feel like I can breathe.  I reinstitute my “recovery Monday” rhythm that had brought me through so often before; I could make it through the weekend knowing that Monday, once everyone was off to school or work, I could clear the day to get back on my feet.  It’s Tuesday, but the rhythms are the same and by suppertime I’ve found my sanity again.  I love him for it.  I get the space I need.

It shames me to realize I’m not as far along as I had hoped; I’ll need more help over these next two months than I wanted to ask for.  I thought I had given up my pride in the course of this painful season, so this takes me by surprise.

I pay attention.  I remember the offers – the many offers – of help.  I sometimes don’t even know what to ask for, much less how, but I know I need to clear space for myself each week.  Family members who have offered to take the kids one day a week.  The neighbour who has said “anytime,” and means it.  And the dozens of family and friends who are carrying their own heavy loads but even in that, tell me they’ll make it work.  Whatever I need.

I just have to ask.

Perspective

It changes things, this reminder of my weakness.  I felt… not strong, but stronger.  I’ve told people I felt like I was at 50% of my former capacity.  That made me proud: 50% is enough to handle household chores, if not pressures of a working mom.  50% got me through weekends just fine.  50% meant I kind of look normal again when I go out.  50% meant I was accomplishing some personal goals.  50% was good, when four months ago I would have said 10%.

Today the other half of that 50% is glaring back at me: that’s normal every other day.  And not-normal the other half.  It means I’m only halfway there; I’ve done some good work in recovery, but there’s a long journey ahead of me.

Pastor Nadia Bolz says that the church needs to embrace the broken, but “not light incense to brokenness.”  She wants to be a place off acceptance for people who don’t have it all together, but she doesn’t think it’s okay for us to stay in our brokenness.  “You’ve got to do the work,” she says.

I know it’s true.  Accepting my brokenness was a hard thing.

Staying here is not an option.

And it makes me face some hard truths: I’m not done yet.

My journey of grace needs to move to strength.

My reminders for gentleness needs to press on to perseverance.

My mantra of one step at a time needs to morph into do hard things.

I had become comfortable in my new normal.  It was working.  I was spending less time in tears and more time upright, and I loved it.

But I was also incredibly sheltered from real life.  And I don’t want to avoid real life forever.  I appreciate the hiatus, and I know I need it, but I plan to return to the land of the living.  I want to get up again.  And I can’t do that as long as I’m content with functioning instead of abundant life.  

Grace and Strength

As I contemplate this, I realize grace and strength are two sides of the same coin.  Strength, true strength, comes from grace.  The ability to keep going, to persevere, isn’t a punishing pace: it’s a gentle but steady one.  One step at a time accumulates into accomplishing great and hard things. 

The steps I’ve been taking have been meaningful, important; they’re also only half the journey.

So I get back up again.  I say thank you to my husband, who was there when I needed him.  I smile at my kids and ready them for our next adventure.  I take a deep breath to call a friend, to arrange supports in advance for next week.  I ready myself to get up again…

And take the next step.

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