In my last post, I wrote about being overwhelmed by the “noise.” For some reason, that word has pinpointed my particular struggle in this season. Katie Davis’ blog post is what I shared from last week, but I first read about “the noise” a month ago in a poem by William Alexander Percy:
“I have a need of silence and stars;
too much is said too loudly, I am dazed.”
(I highly recommend reading the whole poem, if you’re into that sort of thing. You can find it here.)
These words were like a mirror for my soul. They revealed to me my growing desperation; they hinted to me that the end of my rope was approaching. It has been helpful to identify that feeling, to know enough to take a few days “off.” But as I prepare to re-enter the noisy world from which I’m currently respiting, I realize the occasional emergency vacation isn’t a sufficient solution.
My philosophy professor said countless times in college, “Get out of the realm of metaphor!” That instruction has entered my prayer life as I’ve realized it’s easy for me to throw around a word like “noise” and be all poetic about how I need “silence and stars.” It’s easy enough for me to identify that something has gone wrong—that “the noise” has grown too intrusive— but it’s not quite as easy to discern what, exactly, the noise is. So this past weekend, I spent some time getting out of the realm of metaphor; asking the Lord what dynamic in my life leads me to the sensation of drowning.
Surprisingly, a number of faded vignettes came to mind as I asked. I remembered crying in the car with my mom as we talked about how we were going to find money for college. She said to me, “Hannah, I used to get really depressed about this too. But you have to realize, it’s just money. You can do this. It doesn’t mean nobody loves you.”
I remembered moving out of our last apartment and the team of friends that came to help. One friend in particular said, “I’m cleaning your bathroom. Don’t think about it, just let it happen.” I remember peeking in at her on her hands and knees scrubbing my toilet and thinking, “That’s awkward. I wonder if she’ll still like me after she’s seen all that.”
I remembered talking to my counselor last week about my strange obsession with scheduling every minute of my life. I described to her the agony I felt over the decision of when to bake a cake for an upcoming dessert party: Wednesday or Thursday night? She laughed and said, “I hope you can see that that is excessive. Do you realize that you have a good and loving Father who wants to help you make those decisions? You don’t have to live like an orphan.”
Orphan. Another metaphor that triggered something buried deep within me. Something painful. But when I piece the memories together, I can begin to see a pattern that makes sense of it. In my young and vulnerable state, not having a father physically present (to help me find resources to pay for college, for example) felt like abandonment. It felt like nobody loved me. That’s why my mom had to tell me, it’s not true! But my heart grabbed hold of that moment and turned it into something else— into a commitment to not feel vulnerable and abandoned again if I could help it— to provide for myself. “I can do this, and I will. If I don’t have a dad, I’ll learn how to live without one. It’s better than feeling the shame of wanting someone to take care of me and having no one.”
So, I began to work really hard to be “responsible,” clocking extra hours through college, saving up for a car, learning to budget, and gaining more independence from my financially burdened mother—all “good” things, technically. And I’m thankful for the skills I learned! Lord knows I needed to get a little more organized. But it was the commitment underneath those actions to bury the sadness rather than admit the sadness, that separated me from my Heavenly Father. All along, I thought I was “making Him proud” by “doing my part” and not sitting around moping, when in fact, I was avoiding Him. What He wanted was to comfort me and grieve with me! But that meant leaning into the sadness I felt, which looked at lot like shame and rejection to me. So I just worked harder at “being good” and at distancing myself from my own vulnerability.
Jump forward a few years, and it makes sense that I was so uncomfortable when friends came over to help me in such a vulnerable way. Seeing the dust under my bedframe? Seeing the scum in my shower? Seeing how badly I need help cleaning it all? What a comical way for God to remind me, “You can’t do this. You weren’t created to have it all together and take care of yourself. Let me in. Let me help you. Don’t be afraid to feel your need for me, for I won’t abandon you.”
But no, I’ve gotten in the habit of taking care of everything myself, thank you. I’ll figure out what we’ll eat for dinner each night of the week and I’ll figure out when to bake the cake and I’ll make sure my next bathroom stays cleaner and….”
It’s tiring. I can’t carry the burden of my life on my own shoulders. I wasn’t created to do so, and God doesn’t look at my attempts to do it and call it obedience. He calls it fear. Fear of asking Him to be involved; of asking Him to care; of letting Him be the Father I need Him to be, whether I admit it or not.
It is scary to open that part of my heart again when I’ve experienced the pain of loss before. It is scary to take the risk of more abandonment. But sometimes, doing the scary thing is the right thing, and the only thing that can truly heal.
It seems that my choices are to continue life as an orphan, feeling the pressure of “meeting expectations” every minute of every day until my quarterly collapse, or to accept my vulnerability. To face my fear and believe God’s Word to me that “though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me in” (Ps. 27:10). To see that He’s not like an earthly father who can get snatched away by cancer, or like an earthly husband who can grow unfaithful and leave, or like a fickle friend who can decide it’s time to move on— but to see Him as the fulfillment of those things— the Father whose heart won’t fail, the Husband who is faithful to the point of death, “even death on a Cross,” (Phil. 2) the Friend who “lays down His life” for my sake (Jn. 15), who has loved me “to the end” (Jn. 13:1).
That reality, and really believing it, changes the way I approach a grocery list, a Greek midterm, or a weekly schedule. A position of trust and dependence on Him tempers the expectations I put on myself to “suck it up,” to “make it happen,” to “have it all together.” It takes off the tremendous pressure of everything being “up to me.”
I do have a noisy life, filled with good experiences and meaningful commitments and exciting opportunities. But choosing to walk through that life not as an orphan, but as a beloved daughter of a good Father, quiets the overwhelming noise of my own expectations.
“O Lord…I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Ps. 131:2