One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the personal chaos of the past nine months is that I need to know when to step back and breathe. And it’s not always easy to know when to take that step. It’s easier for me to double down and keep going than to have to explain to others that I need a break, some room to breath, time to process or decompress. Perhaps the aspect of that lesson that alarmed me most is that because I’ve trained myself to keep trudging until I fall on my face, sometimes I’m blind to the fact that I need to step back.
Two weeks after Easter, God called me out. I’d spent two full days reading for my theology class and making notes in the margins as I went. God is real. The experience of God is real. The stories are real. These same themes kept popping up for me as I read. Then as Sunday afternoon wound down, I went back to my former parish on a whim hoping that maybe Fr. Tom, my former pastor, would preach the 6:00 evening Mass. I was not to be disappointed. He stepped up to the pulpit and began his homily: “God is real. The experience of God is real. Especially those experiences of God’s love for you.” I damn near fell out of the pew. If God wanted my attention, believe me that worked. I cried through the rest of the Mass. Not a stray tear or two either but full-on thank-God-I-have-tissues-with-me waterworks.
That was a serious wake-up call. I’d been submerging myself in my schoolwork because it was an escape from the chaos of taking care of everyone else and it was an escape that was somehow respectable. What I’d caught a glimpse of during my time on Cape Cod had now come into sharp focus. I was hiding out not only from the people around me, but also from God. I wasn’t happy with where I was on my journey. I wasn’t happy with myself for a variety of reasons. And somehow, I was going to work myself out of that dark space all by my lonesome. So after chewing on this for about a week, I instinctively did what I do best: I sat down to write about the experience. I spent the next three hours alternating between staring at a blank screen, typing a sentence or two and then deleting the words in disgust, and staring out the window wondering why the words just wouldn’t flow like they usually do.
I realized as I sat there in front of the blank screen that nothing was going to flow out of me because I was spiritually running on empty. Even the fumes had burned off. I knew something had to give. Over the next ten weeks, I stopped trying to write publicly. I stopped trying to explain myself to anyone. I started taking extra time out to spend in prayer, even if that was simply ten minutes of sitting on the back porch watching the birds in the afternoon while dinner was cooking. During those ten weeks, I had some incredibly reassuring God moments, which is good because when I read through my journals for the past year the one theme that appears over and over ad nauseam is a sense of being overwhelmed. And if I’m not taking that extra time to stop, breathe, pray and write privately, I lose track of those God moments. When I submerge myself, either in the chaos that is my life right now or in my schoolwork, I intentionally let myself drown when I have a Savior who walks on water and calls me to walk with Him. Sometimes that walk means taking a step back, standing still, and catching my breath.