“They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” ~Ecclesiastes 5:20
This little one liner has been bouncing around my brain lately. My heart has been more than occupied lately but it is far from gladness that is filling every nook and cranny. I have allowed worry and anger and fear and straight up physical illness to consume my heart recently. I have spent the last year or so visiting a counselor twice a month to figure some things out and clear some cobwebs and I am beginning to sound like a broken record stating over and over to her, “But it can’t get worse, right?” And even as I say the words I know better than to dare God or the universe or karma to a game of chicken but for some reason I hold tight to the sentiment that I won’t be the one to blink first.
And then the last time I saw her, I finally blinked. She and I sat in her office and talked about how the breakdown is coming. I’m not so good at embracing sadness or heartache, which is why anger and bitterness sit at my back door so often but I have done the work of kicking them to the curb lately. And that means that those negative emotions, those gut wrenching, soul crushing feelings that lead to those intense headaches that only emerge after a good cry, those emotions are knocking on that door. And ironically enough, I told my counselor I’m actually trying to schedule the breakdown. I have accepted that it is coming, I have made peace with the storm that will inevitably hit but I am really hoping I can dictate a “good time for me” for this to happen. We both laughed at the futility of this because we both know the storm will hit in a massively public place, most likely with strangers who will slowly back out of the room as carefully as possible. So I feel a little like a ticking time bomb but have come to the realization that there is really nothing I can do but wait for it.
In the meantime, in the waiting room, I have been doing some deep soul searching. I’ve been asking myself more and more what I NEED and I’ve been trying to do a better job of fulfilling those needs as completely as I can in the moment, whether that means a trip to the nail salon or a nap or a doughnut or a pointless movie. I’ve been reading these Brene Brown books about living wholeheartedly, the idea of living life out to the fullest and embracing all of the good and bad together and FEELING them out completely. She spends a lot of time talking about shame and how it steals joy from us at every turn and it does it most often by telling us that we aren’t good enough at (fill in the blank). I mean, could this be more of a mantra for my life?! I live in a constant state of wanting to be better. I want to write better, I want to cook better and parent better and love better and Lord knows use grace better. I have lived my life under the presumption that you probably will never be the best but you should always try. And it’s exhausting. And it does not lead me to a place where I am occupied with gladness of heart. It leads to a place where I am occupied by a feeling of lacking. I am full of empty, oddly enough.
There are a lot of ways I am learning to combat this particular brand of shame but I am currently clinging to two weapons in my arsenal. The first was something my friend Melissa said to me. She was telling me about some soul searching of her own that she is doing and that she was recently challenged by someone about how she hears from God. She rattled off a list of the common suspects we all rely on like doors opening and closing or something someone else says to her or a gut feeling or whatever. And the person asked, “Well, what about the Bible? Do you ever use the Bible? It’s kind of literally God talking to you.” I was stopped dead in my tracks when Melissa told me this story. Truth be told, the Bible isn’t exactly my first stop when I’m trying to hash something out. It’s usually down on the list right after “Ask everyone else’s opinion” and just before “casting lots”. So I have been trying lately to ease the shame and fill the empty by taking a hot minute each morning just to read Truth. Because what other way can there be to allow God to occupy my heart with gladness? I am replacing the mantra in my heart of “not good enough” with small nuggets of absolute Truth about just how more than adequate I already am. I am moving towards a place where joy occupies each corner of my heart more and more and fear and worry and anger are getting edged out a little more each day.
The second thing I have begun doing is paying attention to my hands and my heart. I was struck last week by the realization that when I am talking to someone about something that I absolutely, 100% love, my hands can’t be still and my heart hammers in my chest. I’m not an avid hand talker and 9 times out of 10 during a conversation my hands either sit still or play with something around me. But when I talk about something that I love, my hands can’t stop flying around like they’re tied to a kite flapping in the wind. And my heart begins to beat faster in my chest, not a wild nervous thumping, but an excited “Something is happening” kind of beating. So I have begun paying attention to what those topics are that make my hands move and my heart beat faster. And I am dedicating myself to having more of those conversations. I’ve been obsessing lately over what in the world I will do when Levi goes to kindergarten in a couple of years and I return to work. But last week it hit me, I can do whatever I want. I am so fortunate to be in a position where I can choose how I want to fill my time and what if I can find a way to fill my time with things that make my hands move?
Shame has no choice but to move to the side when passion enters the room.
So I hope that I am moving to a place where God has the freedom to occupy my heart with gladness. I hope that in the midst of this weird season of the soul where doubt and uncertainty and shame want to rule the hallways, that after the storm hits, joy and passion and wholehearted living begin to take their rightful place. I hope to allow my heart to be occupied with gladness.