I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
The weather has shifted. Leaves are on the trees, and for the first time in my life, I've developed seasonal allergies, granting me empathy and sympathy for an entirely new population of people, and giving me an appreciation for OTC drugs like Zyrtec and Flonase. I wake up often with this incessant scratchiness in the back of my throat, and I have to keep a pocket pack of tissues on me at all times. Still, though, tie abundance of green outside and the presence of sunlight in more than mere glimpses has been refreshing. At least my sneezing in two's and three's is consistent. Consistency can, and often is, a blessing.
I haven't had consistency in many other areas of life lately. Relationships with others have been in and out, up and down, close and distant. I'm not saying this is bad. It simply is. The ebb and flow of relationships is a constant in life, one that many of us face. And our relationships with our selves is not immune to this waning and waxing. Sometimes we know and love ourselves deep and well. Other times, we do not. I do not.
I heard over and over from a dear friend who was a CPE resident the year before me that the first year after residency is one of growth, of actually processing all the changes one experiences while in the throes of on-call shifts, early morning presurgical rounds, weekly individual supervision, covenant groups, verbatim reports, and personal reflection. She wasn't kidding. The transition from resident chaplain to staff chaplain has been one of slowing down in terms of the pace and the busyness, but the work of reflection and awareness has been anything but slow. It has been a process, a constant state of being.
A proper bond between two people is severely damaged if the process is rushed. ― James Dobson
Yes, I just quoted James Dobson. Forgive me. In this instance, I think he has a point. In any relationship, the experience of getting close and becoming intimate takes time. In the last two months since my most recent post, the relationship I've been letting develop has been with myself, or more accurately, with my Grief and with my Anxiety.
On most given days, I wake up to the sensation of my fitness tracker vibrating against my wrist. I have several alarms set because, honestly, getting out of bed isn't something I like doing — not in the morning when it's still dark and my bed is so comfortable. After thirty minutes of arguing with reality, I'll get up, take my vitamins, get dressed, have some breakfast, and leave for work. It isn't that I dislike my job; lately, I've grown to love it quite a bit. But I miss having someone to share my life with. I might not be anywhere near ready to pick up and have another serious relationship, but I miss the companionship. Sure, my cat Kylar is amazing. But he's no husband.
I mention this because the experience of letting myself recognize the desire for relationship, for companionship, has been another process. Getting to know myself — my tendency to shop compulsively, to sometimes substitute meaningless physical encounters for real intimacy, to overmedicate rather than sitting down with my journal and pen, the sensation of tightness in my chest and gut when someone takes to long to respond to a text (or doesn't respond at all) — has been more than a little challenging. Still, I do it. I let myself notice my actions, my thoughts, my feelings, and I try to do so with as little judgment as possible.
You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it? ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
If I understand it correctly, Lewis is talking about his faith in God. Reading this quote however, I realized recently what my own rope has been: my disbelief in my own worth and value, or in the words of Whitney Houston, my own strength. The rope I've wound together and held onto for dear life has been made of threads and fibers of believing that I'm not worthy of love, of success, of being cherished or desired.
However, another rope has been lowered in front of me via therapy and residency, slowly and over several months. It's a rope made up of my strength and courage and resilience, of my worthiness of love and affection, of my ability to meet my own needs or to have them met by others around me. It's made up of my okay-ness when a relationship ends or transitions into something else.
Month by month, week by week, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, this rope inches closer and closer, beckoning for me to take hold of it and to let loose the rope of my insignificance and worthlessness. I'm pretty sure that others before me have had to go through this same experience, leaving one rope — the one that has made the most sense for most of their lives — for one that is new and strong but equally horrifying and unknown. As I sit in my recliner, laptop in hand, windows open to the breeze, I find that my fingers typing are my form of prayer, not only for myself but for those on the same road.
...the real "work" of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing-- that demands real effort. ― Henri J.M. Nouwen
As with much of my writing since moving to the northwest, I'm not sure what prompted me to share this step in my journey. Maybe it's simply because I imagine there is someone else out there who just caught a glimpse of a new rope and is deciding whether or not it's worth trusting. Personally, I haven't fully let go of the old rope yet. I'll grab hold of the new one every now and again, tugging on it to determine if I can trust its strength, holding onto it for a few moments. But the old rope is familiar, even if frayed and ragged, splitting and shredding from being held onto with such desperation.
Maybe we can both trust the new rope, the one that tells us we are loved and valued and worthy. Maybe we can both trust our ability to grab hold of it and let the old rope fall away completely, never to be grasped again. Maybe we can take a breath and realize we're okay, no matter where we are in the process.
photo credit: Hans Splinter (via Flickr)