“You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.”
One of my seminary classmates posted this Calvin & Hobbes quote yesterday morning. And it’s true– sometimes even our most faithfully held talismans fail us. Our magic pebbles lose their magic. We are left, staring down our fears, armed with nothing more than what is within us.
Frankly, some days it doesn’t feel like that could possibly be enough. It’s been dark, and cold, and there is much that feels undone and overwhelming. Whatever I consider, from my growing list of uncompleted tasks (a side effect of Refusing To Do It All, it must be noted, is that some things don’t get done) to the tangled knots inside my head and heart–my body registers an anxious warning: Danger. Here Be Dragons. And sometimes, friends, I just don’t have the tools or the energy to take on one more scaly beast.
This is hard. The work is hard. The ongoing time crunch is hard. The change and the losses it brings are hard. And in the midst of these hard things, life keeps happening. Which means, in some of our families, that death is what’s happening. Or illness. Marital difficulties. Financial troubles. The list goes on.
And thinking about this larger process, the truth is that even the supportive parts are challenging. Almost everyone I know is working with a therapist, a spiritual director, or both—and seriously, put the emphasis on “working.” For myself, I’ve stopped wearing makeup on spiritual direction days. That may seem like some sort of deep personal metaphor; it’s actually because from a practical standpoint it’s just pointless–why spend valuable time applying something you’ll be mopping off your face an hour later?
In short, with one semester almost in the bag, our first year class is showing decided signs of wear. We are growing, but it costs. We are excited, but we feel grief. We are strong, but know fear. And we’re tired.
I’m tired. This is true physically, but even moreso psychologically and emotionally. It’s the relentless schedule, in part, but it’s also that there’s a “front” involved in doing this work, and in preparing for it. This means “make some mistakes, but be very selective when you show your struggles.” (Or, alternately, “Show them to everyone, via your blog.” I’ll let you know how that works out.) In “public,” which is virtually everywhere, remember that your presence–the calm kind–is what counts. These are critical lessons for the leadership of our movement, but cultivating them isn’t free–we pay in time, in energy, and, if we’re not careful, in personal integrity as well.
And of course there are other, procedural costs: already, we are preparing to leave our home congregations. In my case, that’s a very formal process; for some others it’s simply an awareness of transition in the coming months. I think most of my classmates, weary as we are right now, feel excited about this. For my own reluctant-to-adjust self, the knowledge of looming change feels like the slow drip of water torture.
Realistically, I imagine I’ll be prepared for the move to my intern congregation right around the time that I’m scheduled to leave that community. For now, I literally want to dig a hole underneath my current church building, curl up inside it and stay there for a very long time. People could come visit–bringing snacks would be good—and I’d come out for worship. (In fact, there used to be a joke among my friends in lay leadership that we needed to have cots in the sanctuary in light of the amount of time, day and night, we spent at church. I wonder if on some level I thought that’s what seminary would mean—I could just live at church! I’m starting to see how without clear boundaries and constant attention to work-life balance, that could someday be horrifyingly true, but not here. Never here.)
Instead, inevitably, I put one foot in front of the other and take one more step. We all do, leaning on one another, following those who’ve gone before . . . and wishing, lately, for a place to rest.
And I realize that I have been waiting for someone to say it’s time to wait without planning, time to reflect without acting, time to stop, survey the landscape, and take a breath.
But no one does. Not to me. At least, not out loud.
Meanwhile, this happened at church—the same church where I’d like to live in the wall or the floor, but apparently can’t be bothered to engage with what’s going on during the service. (This is not our choir, but you get the idea.)
I remember that it was pretty, but I was distracted (what’s coming next? And what’s coming after that?), so I didn’t really listen. Frankly, I’m not sure I would have thought about this song again, EVER, had someone not mentioned the next day how the performance touched them—the sound, the words, the spirit.
So I looked it up. I played the song. And hearing it, I remembered the moment I heard it in our sanctuary—but this time, I truly listened.
When the song ended, I played it again. And I’ve been playing it since, because it speaks truth to me now.
That same service included a meditation on the importance of quiet in this season, culminating in Richard Gilbert’s observation that
“In the darkness we rest our bodies and our souls;
We escape that which distracts and confuses.
We come face to face with ourselves.
We come into the deep places of our being.”
And so, I now wonder, what more official invitation to rest is needed than this interlude of darkness and quiet? The growing season will come soon enough.
What I need now is some space in which I might simply be.
For a brief time, I will rest my mind and my feet. For this quiet interval, I will leave those sleeping dragons where they lie.
For a short season, let me be still.