Wherein I wake up early on Tuesday mornings to put something I’ve been thinking a lot about into words, wrapping up the writing on Wednesdays. Here we go.
In my last writing I mentioned spending a Sunday afternoon picking up groceries at Target and Whole Foods, two places that skew pricier on the scale of supermarket options, which sounds privileged – but what I want to say now is, I AM PRIVILEGED.
I am! I can buy food online using my laptop and wifi, and I can drive to get it in my car that runs reliably thanks to regular maintenance, which we can afford. While some people are losing their lives in Afghanistan even as I type, and families in Haiti don’t know where their next meal will come from, I get to ride passenger while my able-bodied boyfriend (I mean, husband) totes us around town to pick up food, what a gift. And then we carried the groceries into our comfortable home, equipped with air conditioning to cool us in the summer and heat to warm us in the winter; we loaded them into the fridge our landlord just delivered, because ours was old and we have an equitable rental situation, another privilege.
And I’m just sitting here absorbing it all like, wow. If beneath my anxious exterior I am ever anything other than fall-on-my-face grateful, sit me down for a stern talking-to.
Because the truth is, ALL of this is privilege.
And this has me thinking of other truths revolving around privilege – while the pandemic didn’t affect me at all work-wise (we were so busy!), a big change I’ve noticed in me is that I don’t want to do much of anything anymore, even things I miss doing that sound super fun, and this includes:
- Going to in-person church services
- Seeing my dad’s band perform live
- Attending large in-person gatherings, like weddings
That last one is hard. I have so many beautiful friends who waited months, years in some cases, to get married while a pandemic ravaged their plans. I know they are excited to finally get hitched, and that I should be excited to attend and celebrate, too.
But I’m not. I can’t force it.
And oh, have I tried to force it.
Have you heard the expression of people living in glass houses? Probably, right?
How about people who get married in glass buildings? No? Well, let me give you some insight:
If you are a guest at a wedding being hosted in a glass building, and the ceremony starts at 4pm, you’d better not walk up at 4:08 and try to go inside or you will absolutely risk ruining the bride’s walk down the aisle (and possibly your friendship with the bride).
How do I know? Because that’s what happened to a wedding I had nerves about attending earlier this month.
I had been anxious all day, all week, for this. Was I concerned over being in a room full of strangers during a pandemic? I don’t know. But when the day arrived I was so distraught over attending that I couldn’t even will myself to brush my hair (isn’t mental health that manifests in physical symptoms COOL?).
As the afternoon wore on I realized I couldn’t get out of this — I’d already said I would go, which meant I had to, right? — so I cobbled together an outfit, slapped on some makeup, and got into the car, buckling up next to my anxiety for a very bumpy ride. Literally. The wedding was in Northeast Minneapolis which is basically one big construction zone this time of year.
And as we drove through torn up intersections and dusty streets, I felt tears in my eyes. I wanted to throw up. I was sweaty. I could have pooped on command.
When we found a parking spot and realized the situation was arriving late to a wedding in a venue made of glass, I told Christian, “I can’t stay here. I can’t show up right now.” Never one to downplay the severity of a mini mental health crisis, Christian immediately agreed we should go home.
I walked embarrassingly past the huge wall of windows where all the guests were seated. Instead of going inside and ruining the bride’s walk down the aisle, I handed our gift to an attendant, thanked her, and walked back to the car.
And we left.
You already know, I’m sure, that this did not go over well with the happy couple. I’ve received some justifiably angry texts in the days since the wedding, and I will probably feel guilty forever that I wasn’t able to be there for my friend due to anxiety.
I texted her, “I wish I’d had a crystal ball when I RSVP’d in June to know what I’d be carrying in August; it’s too much, and if I’d known this is where I’d be at right now I could have given my seat to someone else.” She did not reply, which is all well and fine as I’m used to not living up to people’s expectations lately; surviving through a pandemic takes so much out of a person, and it’s taken most of my capacity just to maintain the day to day. I truly have no fucks left to give if someone is mad at me over making a decision for my own health, even if it lets them down.
Is this just how life feels now?
Or (a deeper question persists): is there a way to mitigate the risk of hurting others with my anxiety by being more honest about what I’m actually capable of carrying during a global pandemic?
Because, let’s face it. I didn’t need a crystal ball in June to know what I’d be feeling in August. Pandemic restrictions in our state might have lifted, but the health crisis rages on, and everything is more taxing when the Risk is acting like an accountant, constantly running numbers in the back of our minds.
I sometimes feel like there’s a board of directors in my head making all my decisions for me, and I strongly need a reorganization of sorts; currently, the President of the Board is also the chair of the “That Sounds Fun!” committee, but she needs to be ousted, bad. She doesn’t have a good grip on reality, and she cares WAY too much about what other people think of her. How could she know which invites are best for me, which ones won’t cause anxiety? In her eyes, everything sounds fun!
Another board member vying for her spot is the chair of the “Stay on the Couch” committee, but she can’t replace the President or we’d never get a single thing done. Her boss is the Department of Overwhelm who is happiest when nothing is happening at all.
The board member “Anxiety” works for the aforementioned Risk Accountant. She wants to be in charge, wants to know what’s coming and wants to control the outcome. She can’t be in charge, because while she helps me avoid danger she is also the queen of showing only worst-case scenarios on the powerpoint during team meetings, and that scares the other board members into inaction.
No. The only board member who can run this show happening behind the scenes in my brain is Wisdom, the board chair who consults the Living God before anything else and on every single issue; making her decisions only after careful contemplation and prayer, Wisdom doesn’t overcommit to anything or anyone. She understands the risks and benefits of every situation, because she’s asked for eyes to see all sides. She knows when to say yes and when to say no, because she works directly with the Department of Truth.
We all have a board of directors of sorts in our minds. The voice of Wisdom speaks like a whisper, a deep inner knowing; the trouble is, we don’t give ourselves enough time or space to listen.
This is an area of my life in which I must increase my dependency on Jesus.
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Matthew 16:24 NIV
Many Christians have an ingrained belief that accepting Christ means our lives are no longer ours, we swapped them for God’s and that everything we do going forward is just magically “in the name of Christ”. But I wonder: how can I deny myself if the “self” is not mine, in the first place, to deny? It seems that Jesus is aware that our choices in the moment add up to a life that is either our own or not, and this is not a one time act. We do this– no church service or chaplin can do this for us. We either depend for our lives on the life of God’s son, or we don’t. It is a daily decision to submit what I want to the will of the One who knows better than I do what I need. This takes time.
And, what is my cross? In this case, it’s the act of pleasing people. I know myself enough to know that I am addicted to saying yes when something sounds fun, even if the practicalities of the opportunity don’t align. As a homeschooled kid from the ‘burbs I didn’t get invited to much, and I can tell you, being invited is fun.
What’s not fun? Failing your friends, because that which sounds fun is not always what’s best.
Taking the extra time to listen, assess, and answer is a tangible way I can do a better job of loving the people around me. I want that.
So I made a therapy appointment for the first time in weeks, hoping we could make a plan for my organizational restructure. And here’s what that entails:
- No matter what the invitation, I will write the information in a notebook, pause, and pray on it so I can process and respond accordingly. This might seem excessive, but as someone who gets asked to do a lot of things, this is the boundary I need to set in order to evaluate what opportunities are truly good for me, and what ones I’m saying yes to just because THAT SOUNDS FUN!
I have a sticky note above my desk that says, The Pause is a Profound Source of Professional Power, and I want to embody that in my personal life too.
And yet again, ALL OF THIS IS A PRIVILEGE. There are women in our own community carrying unimaginable heartaches, living in crisis mode every single day, who would likely roll their eyes at the amount of thought I’ve given this issue since the wedding.
And aren’t weddings a privilege, too? Aren’t weddings meant to be a gift you give the people in your life who mean a lot to your marriage? No one has the right to hold anyone on trial for not attending a wedding in order to prioritize their mental health.
As my therapist said, know what is a right?
The right to change one’s mind. No matter how last minute.
And by the power of Christ in me I will change my mind for good on the issue of people pleasing. I will learn discernment and let Wisdom be the boss over the board of directors in my mind.
It might take my entire life to perfect this work, but God’s not finished with me yet.
Do you struggle with trying too hard to please people?
Ever waltz into a wedding, only to leave doing a walk of shame?
Share your story with me in the comments, I would love to hear!
I’ll end this on a brilliant writing by Oswald Chambers on the issue of denying oneself to Christ:
“Is there any use in beating around the bush? We call ourselves Christians, what does our Christianity amount to practically? Has it made any difference to my natural individual life? It cannot unless I deliberately give up the right to myself to Jesus, and as His disciple, begin to work out the personal salvation he has worked in.
Independence must be blasted right out of a saint. God’s providence seems to pay no attention whatever to our individual ideas, because He is after only one thing — “that they may be one, even as we are one”. It may look like a thorough breaking up of the life, but it will end in a manifestation of the Christian self in oneness with God.
Sanctification is the work of Christ in me, the sign that I am no longer independent, but completely dependent on Him. Sin in its essential working is independence of God: personal dependence upon God is the attitude of the Holy Ghost in my soul.”
— Oswald Chambers, from Daily Devotions for Disciples