the discomfort, the darkness

It’s Holy Wednesday.

There’s a full moon lunar eclipse in Libra.

This is my song of reconciliation.

These past few months, opportunities have come for me and I have relished them, grabbed on with both hands and been grateful.

But these sorts of opportunities, the things I’ve hoped for and wished for, all ask the same thing of me. They ask me to stretch out of my comfort zone, and not just one tip-toe at a time.

And along with gratitude and excitement, I have felt anxiety.

Bubbles of air popping in my head, my heart racing and heavy.

Remember-to-breathe-but-don’t-breathe-too-much anxiety.

There was a time in my life when anxiety was my constant companion. Then, it went away. I was quite self-congratulatory about this. I made it go away. I healed it. Or it was healed. Whichever one, it didn’t really matter. The anxiety was gone, for years, and I was glad.

But when it returned, I realized how I’d been keeping it at bay.

I was not feeling anxiety because I was staying in a bubble of safety.

I was, without realizing it, following the advice, “If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.”

To the extreme.

No risk = no heartache.

No risk = no humiliation.

No risk = nothing to worry about.

I wasn’t recently in the company of someone I admire. Her energy is so grounded and kind and wise, I feel instantly at ease and calm around her.

I was standing near her like a vampire, soaking up the good way it feels to be in her presence when she said that one of the things she enjoys about her age is the freedom of no longer caring what other people think of her.

As many times as I have heard and read and spoken that phrase, I found something different in it this time. It hit me in a different place.

For a brief moment, I caught a glimpse of that liberation.

It can only happen when you live in integrity. When you are willing to listen to the way God is speaking in your life and act accordingly.

But it can happen that you untie yourself from the burden of seeking love and approval, of believing your worth lies with the definition of others, of defining one’s success and failure through feedback.

It can happen to simply be in the world as one’s self. To speak truthfully, to make art, to engage in community with authenticity, without feeling one’s whole self precariously perched on the edge annihilation.

Recently, I was anxious about standing up in front of a group of people, so I started to paint.

As I moved paint on the canvas, listening, the thoughts and emotions that begin to rise in my were decades old. I was remembering marks of the deep past and I realized that I hadn’t done the work of forgiveness.

There were things – situations, decisions, people – I had only pretended to forgive. I had spoken the words of forgiveness but had continued to carry these situations and decisions and people underneath my cells where they had been feeding on me for decades.

It occurred to me that one of the reasons I feel so nervous when I am breaking new ground, reaching for things that truly matter to me, allowing myself to be seen and heard in the world is that I’m carrying around my whole story.

When I step up to a microphone or out into the sunlight or type onto the page, I bring all this old crap with me and I assume that everyone else can see it too – all of my failures, all of my missteps, all of my disappointments. The times I haven’t acted with integrity, the times I made horrible choices – the things I wished I’d never allowed to happen – the things I never apologized for – the many things I did apologize for, but shouldn’t have.

The rejection letters.

I assume that everyone is seeing all of these things, that everything I do or say must somehow make up for it all, that everyone I encounter is sifting through all of this and judging me accordingly.

But they aren’t.

Everyone I encounter is meeting me here, now. They are seeing the person I am right now, this moment.

I am the only one carrying the past around with me, worrying it until it forms grooves in my bones.

I realized that without meaning to, without any real awareness of it, I often assume the posture of the hated.

I assume that people don’t like me or what I have to say or the work I create and that every moment of engagement holds within it, a defense of myself. Me hoping for redemption.

There’s an ugly self-centeredness in thinking that everyone is judging me all the time, in believing that the whole world is keeping a score card about…me.

There’s an inherent meanness in grasping on to things that happened twenty years ago.

I seek to release all of that.

To be reborn.

But don’t think I haven’t considered an alternative.

I could stop.

I could retreat back into the place where I feel safe.

When God calls I could just…not answer the phone.

In truth, however, that’s not really an option.

I don’t want to experience this deep discomfort. I don’t want to live with this heart squeeze. I don’t want to dance with fear, but the only way over is through.

And what I do want is the sweet freedom that comes from being who I am, doing what I do, and allowing it all to be seen.

So my work this week is forgiveness.

And this is my redemption song.

Only, it’s not my character that’s being redeemed, it’s the cruel standard I’ve held myself and others to. The walls I’ve built in an attempt to keep pain at bay.

I seek to be reconciled with my story, to carry it with love when it must be carried, and let it go where it can be let go.

I no longer wish to defend myself.

I want to breathe – not too much or too little – but enough to live.

I want my mistakes to be what they are – nothing more and nothing less.

I want my work to have space in the world.

I want to take up space – not too much or too little – but enough.

This is not the redemption that comes from desiring praise and receiving it.

It’s the redemption of knowing I am loved by virtue of being alive, of no longer hanging my survival on the shaky hook of approval.

I suppose anxiety isn’t so bad.

It usually comes with something I need to learn.

Discomfort is usually a sign of growth, a sign pointing toward that which needs to be examined.

It’s still dark here on Holy Wednesday and more darkness yet to walk through.

The moon is eclipsed.

But the transformation is coming.

The light is shining up ahead.

These intentions I bury in the ground like seeds.

This wish I breathe into the air around me:

The peace of knowing that all is well, not because I have convinced people to love me or my work, but because I am a human living a life and making things.

I belong to God.

And that is enough.

It is more than enough.