Sometimes when you list sanity tips all day you forget you need them yourself. And often the people who blab on and on about trusting God are the very folks who need to follow that piece of advice. My foster dad and mentor, Mike Leach, always tells me (when I hear about what a jerk a spiritual author is in real life) that you can get the words right without having the life right. Fortunately for me, I have good friends who can read my voice like a psychic shrink.
For a few months I’ve become increasingly more anxious about the economic toll in our household, now that no one needs an architect because no homes are being built. Eric’s job has always been our stable source of income, because my numbers jump around more than that bungee jump on Ocean City’s boardwalk. Blogging and freelance writing are not associated with dependable and lucrative salaries. So his bi-weekly check relieved me of the pressure to meet a certain quota every month.
Until the last month or two, when that cushion went bye-bye.
I’ve been chasing after new work at a pace reminiscent of my manic days last May. But not because I want to this time. Not because introducing myself to a dozen new editors a week sounds like a fun pastime. Because I have to, in order for us to keep the house and pay the kids’ school bills. I’ve been trying to channel all of my stress into productivity, not allowing myself to feel scared or anxious … just moving ahead with the next query to a speaking bureau or magazine.
“How are you doing?” my friend Michelle asked me the other day on the phone.
“I’m okay,” I said, “let’s concentrate on you.” After all, she suddenly lost her husband of ten years just a month ago. She has a legitimate gripe.
“No, you’re not. I can hear it in your voice,” she responded. How she is able to move her pain over for a second to worry about me tells you a little about her generous and compassionate soul.
“Okay,” I leveled with her. “I guess I’m scared. I’m stressed. I’ve never had a family depending on my pay check before. I mean, I don’t even feel like I can depend on me. I write my blog posts three weeks in advance, for God’s sake, because I never know when I’m going to have a breakdown. What if I wake up one morning and can’t write because I’m so depressed? I can’t depend on my brain.”
Then I began to cry. “I can’t depend on this brain, Michelle. It’s undependable.”
It occurred to me then that I feel like I have two broken legs that I have to just overlook until the housing market picks up again.
“Your brain is dependable,” she said. “Look at what you have built.”
“But how do I know another breakdown isn’t around the corner?” I asked her.
“You’re just going to have to trust me on this one. You’re going to be okay.”
Her words reminded me of the meditation from Thomas Merton that I have been reading every morning:
You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work and your witness. … That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.
For the umpteenth time, I forgot about God’s place in all of this. I was so fixated on my broken brain, and the pressure to get optimal performance out of that broken brain, that I forgot he is the one who created it. Therefore, he could probably help me fix it down the line (if I assist him by grabbing the right tools), if I encountered a power failure in my prefrontal cortex.
It also called to mind what Michelle said to me the same week her husband died: “Faith wouldn’t be faith if we had a back-up plan.”
That seems to be the message God wants me to hear this very hour because today’s gospel reading was about the miracle of the loaves and fish–the anxiety of the disciples upon seeing just two fish and five loaves and a massive crowd in front on them that needed to be fed. But they listed to Jesus and trusted him, and in the end, there were twelve wicker baskets full of leftovers.
Ironically, I read the miracle story while listening to Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” and teared up at these lyrics:
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas.
I am strong when I am on your shoulders.
You raise me up to more than I can be.
Here’s hoping he can do that with me.