It’s taken a long time to get to this place. – Five years, maybe longer. – No longer, maybe my entire life. I remember, as a teenager, looking up to people who seemed to be able to balance it all, look good, get every achievement and never look or appear tired, grouchy or stressed out. I remember wanting to be them. I wanted to be that Student Body President with the 4.0, who could both perform and play a sport and essentially do it all. I was competitive, driven and had an overwhelming feeling of needing to be important. I carried this self importance with me through college, grad school, seminary, ministry, etc.
Now, at this midlife marker on my time line – if 46 is midlife, and I think it still is, I am find myself at a threshold of what is behind and what is ahead. The day after my 46th birthday I was hit over the head. Actually, I was hit in the head. Hard. I knew the moment it happened that it wasn’t good. The pain was severing. At first it was blinding. I remember a metallic taste in my mouth and thinking, “don’t pass out, you are home alone.” I willed away the pain, pretended like it didn’t happen, finished what I was doing, which was sweeping the kitchen floor, got on my coat and left for a church meeting. I lasted one hour, before I told the group I needed to go home, as I was seeing stars and thought I was going to throw up. Since then, my days have consisted of doctor visits, a concussion diagnosis, some tests, a massage, a visit to the chiropractor, some walks, and lots of naps. The only way to recover from a concussion is to rest. The orders are no screens (yes I am on one now), no driving, no reading, and lots of resting.
This hit over the head, I think was the only way I was going to be forced to stop and look at how fast I am going, how hard I am trying to will the world right, and most importantly, how far away I have gotten from any practice self care and rest. It’s embarrassing to admit that my self care practice is taking a shower. That’s nothing to be proud of.
For those of us who carry an over sense of responsibility, we can believe that our existence depends on the success or failure of whatever it we feel we are responsible for. For me, the two things I feel ultimately responsible for are: the church and my kids. I have convinced myself that I am responsible for saving the church where I serve. – Yes, I realize the ego in that statement. I have also convinced myself that I am responsible for making sure my kids are o.k. – It is impossible for me to not feel responsible. It is impossible for me to not believe that I can fix things, work harder, try something else, keep going, sleep less, do more and then everything will be alright. –
But then I got hit over the head.
And I realize that for a good while now I have been more of a human doing than a human being. The doing is a way to avoid the loneliness of leadership, the acceptance of failure, the reality of death, the truth of aging, and the acknowledgement of time passing. In other words: grief. – And the truth is the work of grief requires rest. You can’t work your way out of grief, you have to rest in it.
It’s a crazy thing to realize you forgot you were a human being. Just a person, with no special powers to save anything, as much as you would like to.
I know this injury will heal and I will get back to “normal” soon enough. I will be able to return to the routines that are so addicting. The question I am asking myself is “Can I obey God’s call to rest?” Can I relinquish my over sense of responsibility and take that yoke off of my shoulders? Can I give the space I need to grieve? Of course the irony and the sin is thinking that I can save anything on my own, that I am in control, and that I am more than just a human being. The sin is the ego thinking that it doesn’t need God.
Since the beginning of the year I have been studying the work and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. – If anyone was responsible and and courageous in leadership, it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If anyone grieved the loss of his church and his friends and his own freedom, it was Bonhoeffer. His theology is very clear that he was not responsible to the church, but to God. His relationship to the church and to the world was rooted in this constant, steadfast reminder that he belonged to God. He wrote from his prison cell:
“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”
“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
I am at the beginning of this Epiphany Season, that began with a hit over the head. I am only beginning to see what I had become blind to. It’s humbling thing to confess how far from God I feel, and how exhausted I find myself, and how much grief I have shelved. I share this not for sympathy but in hopes that maybe if you find yourself overly responsible trying to save something, that you don’t need to run into a wall – as I did (the corner of a kitchen cabinet), but can stop, rest, breathe, slow down, light a candle, and just be a human being. That’s enough.