Have you noticed all the artwork symbolizing your tranquility? You are the face of peace in the Buddhist tradition. Mary looks downright sedate amidst the stoic Catholic icons. Who doesn’t love a bearded guy holding an adorable lamb? Seriously. Have you noticed the gardens, water features, knickknacks, and extensive line of aromatherapy products claiming a backstage pass to your essence?
I’m beginning to suspect that peacefulness is an unrelenting, never-ending process and not a destination. I understand that gratitude is different from this state of mind. I can be grateful during periods of malcontent and unease. Gratitude is essential. I get that. I still struggle.
I continue to operate as if achieving peacefulness is my goal. Why wouldn’t I when it is readily available online and heavily discounted on certain days? Our number one reason for going to an ER is pain. It’s certainly a natural response to want to be out of pain as quickly as possible. And so it goes. When I feel angst and restlessness, I treat these feelings as dilemmas, wanting to solve them as quickly as possible – to be peaceful. In the past, I solved them by shopping and buying beautiful things I couldn’t exactly afford.
I’ve spent the last year responding to moments of unease by reaching out to others, nurturing friendships, intentional acts of playfulness, art projects, and prayer. And, God, I’m exhausted. I’m worn out by all this intentionality.
I don’t think I’m white-knuckling my way through this. I truly give it over to you – at least I try. Devotion to prayer and mindfulness offers no guarantees for long-term relief. Was there a calculation error? Did I miss something? Is it a simple matter of twenty minutes of exercise per day?
If I sit still in a dark room and get honest with myself, fear is at the root. I fear that no matter how diligent I am, I will never quite measure up to what you are calling me to do. This assumes I hear your voice, and I do to a certain degree. You gave me a general list of bullet points. Untangling these from my ego, though, should be addressed in a separate letter. Here is what I hear you saying.
Joanna’s To-Do List from God:
- Be yourself.
- Be kind.
- Help others.
- Try to make a difference by doing something you love.
- Don’t forget to care for your creativity.
- Lighten up and have fun.
Okay, can you be a little more specific? Like, should I pursue a PhD or devote myself to nonprofit service or apprentice with a filmmaker or spend a year making mosaics or live overseas? Should I sell everything I own and embrace vows of poverty? If I am to write, what kind of writer should I be? Surely not one of those spiritual writers. I’m open, God. Can you be a little more exact?
I expect a lot. I expect precise direction and guidance. My expectations are too high, and I get disappointed and frustrated and restless. If I tell myself to simply embrace all that I have now, it feels like I am also saying yes to all the tragic things in our little town – the poverty, domestic violence, incest, addiction, bigotry, hate, and fear. Fear. The fear in me sees the fear in others, and I want to run as far away as possible. It is as if the rest of the world is an ER, and if I just leave Carroll County, I will find relief. I know this is childish.
So, how may I be a better child to you? I grieve this state of fear, and I grieve the brokenness of our world. Perhaps it is your plan for me to mourn once a week. Maybe if I accept this as a spiritual discipline, I will see the burden differently.
I read somewhere about the strength that comes from suffering – that suffering is how you forge us. That’s kind of messed up.
I am tired, God. None of this is your fault. It’s my job to face my own fears and make peace with them. A little Grace would be nice. Just a little. I apologize if this missive is full of massive ignorance, but you told me I could say anything. Sometimes, I want to crawl up into your arms and fall asleep. I want to sleep and sleep until all my cumbersome debris is washed away and to wake up renewed.
A doctor gave me a steroid shot last week to help me recover from a bad cold. For three hours, I felt like Wonder Woman, capable of tackling any obstacle, full of unwavering zeal. I got a clean house out of the deal. The drug wore off, and I was back to my muddy state of mind, uncertain of myself and the world. I have no interest in drugs beyond Advil and the pill. Could you perhaps give me your version of a steroid shot? Or, maybe you can mix up a cosmic version of Red Bull? I should be careful what I wish for, no doubt, but I sincerely request a little help in this department. Sorry if I’m asking for too much, again. I would like to complain less and make better note of your great wonders and simple beauties.
I put these words down. I give them to you. I lay them on the altar for your blessing. Thank you for helping me to find my voice through these imperfect words. Any insights you can offer are appreciated.