Twice today, I found myself sharing about recent events in my life with two different people. Our family is in the midst of some turmoil and changes. These have been challenging times, and I took care as I spoke to be open and authentic without oversharing.
In both cases, the other person was appropriately empathetic and understanding. And I found myself saying, “I’m okay. Really, I am.”
Which I’ve said before.
But it feels so different these days.
These days, it’s true; in a deep, visceral way. And it’s not something I feel like I need to explain, justify or even understand. It simply is.
This is new for me, this space that feels empty of anxiety and stress, instead filled to the brim with emotion that is powerful and intense, but different, somehow.
I don’t mean to imply that I’ve not felt pain or sorrow. These have been hard days. There have been tears, crying out to God, grief and loss.
Today, on my Sabbath day, as I puttered around like I usually do, I sought out some teachers via podcasts, as I usually do. Ellen Langer, a Harvard social psychologist who studies mindfulness, talked about intentions and science and psychology. She began to speak of stress and assumptions and I leaned in when she quoted Epictetus.
“Events don’t cause stress. What causes stress is the views you take of events.”
She went on to add:
If it’s good, I feel I must have it. If it’s bad, I must avoid it. When it’s neither good nor bad, I can just stay put and just be.
Something clicked into place, and I thought Aha! This seems to be what is happening in my soul, in the midst of these events.
It’s true. Stress is diminished. I’m doing all I can to stay in the gray area of a situation that makes me sad. Striving to avoid casting villains and victims. Seeking love, above all. Crying when it’s needed; then back to seeking love, over all. I’m doing all I can to stay centered, rather than shout This is good! or This is bad! and then run to claim my ‘truth’.
It’s working. Something is shifting, and it seems that the resulting behavior is much more reflective of the woman I would like to be as I follow Jesus.
But I must say this: It’s not great philosophers or mindfulness alone that coax my grieving heart to this place of surety. It’s how this different thinking is expanding my soul not into something that has been empty, but into the faith that I have claimed for years. It is the slight adjustment, the tender tweaking of what I believe to be true, as it swells into place where the shadows fall just a little differently.
I hear a lot of talk these days about people who are dissatisfied with the church, who are leaving – either the church or faith altogether. The wave seems to be building. People are looking for another way, or deciding that they need no way.
I get it; truly, I do. But I will say this: Any faith that is static, unchanging, unresponsive to the abundant life we receive – well, I think we miss the mark when we embrace our own growth and declare faith and the church to be too small, too shallow, too irrelevant.
There is another way.
And I can testify to this: New life can come into old things.
(Not any wisdom I came up with, of course…)
Everything that I write about here can be summed up in the brilliant, expectant truth of these ancient words; words that I know to be true today in a deeper, more powerful way than I have ever experienced before. Somehow, they are becoming less hopeful and more sure.
God is our shelter and our strength. When troubles seem near, God is nearer, and He’s ready to help. So why run and hide? No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails. When the earth spins out of control, we are sure and fearless. When mountains crumble and the waters run wild, we are sure and fearless. Even in heavy winds and huge waves, or as mountains shake, we are sure and fearless.
That’s the Bible. Old stuff, found in the 46th Psalm. And resonant – not just as nice words about how we ought to act like we aren’t scared when we have every reason to be, but words of assurance, a supernatural invitation to something that makes very little sense without a willingness to be open to the realm of possibility.
The realm of something beyond.
Visceral, y’all. Deep inside. Sure. Fearless.
Not without pain. Not without tears. But able to stay put and just be, as the non-religious professor of psychology says.
If you’re willing.