Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Dark Night of the Soul

Hello Again,

I recently finished reading the book Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris (two teenagers at the time they wrote it). It's a great book that emphasizes the benefits of challenging yourself beyond your comfort zone in all aspects of your life, particularly spiritually. The authors share dozens of anecdotes and examples of how to accept your potential by reaching out in faith to God and allowing Him to use your gifts in everyday situations. Their website is if you're interested.

One of the more difficult experiences of life is pushing myself through moments of stagnation and patterned urges to be lazy or procastinate. It is so tempting to just stay home, say no to altruistic pursuits, ignore my pestering conscience that says "Hey, you WILL reap benefits if you take a little time now and put in the work or take the risk." It doesn't help matters when I accept that my darn conscience is right. There are times when I do well to stay in bed, pull the covers over my head, and hide from life for a while after a hard earned work stretch. Lord knows we all need a rest from time to time to maintain balance to this insanity known as life in these United States.

The problem arises when we want too much rest, not to avoid the work per se, but to avoid the potential pain of failure or hurt feelings that could come from taking a risk. Such is what happens to me more times than I want to admit. It is so easy to take refuge within my own little comfortable routines that keep me chained to things like bad habits or obsessive shame-based thinking. One of the worse times for me was transitioning back to home after being hospitalized for anorexia back in the late 1980s. I had worked reluctantly but diligently to get a good running start into a new healthy lifestyle. My weight was up, though I was feeling suspiciously content with "the number." My exercise obsession was moderately under control. Medication was feeding me a slight boost emotionally. Family and friends were excited to have me home. All was okay and going fine. "I can do this," I kept reminding myself. "A new life awaits. Go for it."

Yet, I felt unstable. My IT "voice" (shame) began honing in on my insecurity like a hawk on its next meal. I felt numb in sorts within the wide-open horizon of "Okay, what's next? Where do I go from here?" To be left on my own two feet after the structured nurturing of the hospital milieu became more than I could handle. It was one of those when-push-came-to-shove moments of outright fear of the unknown. I couldn't control everything that could happen to me, even if it was positive. Shame pounced and began to rip into my warey scruples. Was I making the "right" decision? Was the work all worth it? What would it feel like? Would it hurt? And the ever popular ...but it's just too hard.

The truth is, life is hard. Even if I accept this undaunting reality, it doesn't make it any easier. What helped me through was having a purpose or goal in sight at the end of the journey. Doing my best to consciously set aside my fear, even for a moment, and jump toward a purpose can be rewarding. I truly wanted to be rid of my eating disorder and build a whole new me. I wanted to rest in my personal relationship with Jesus, and have it be one hundred percent genuine, not just making myself appear all put together around others. I needed to accept that doing that hard thing won't be comfortable. It came down to pushing myself beyond the pain and living through it and accepting that it wasn't as bad as my fears made it out to be. That's where the learning came from. But then shame said, "Yeah, yeah, you did it, big deal. Look at how much effort it took. Is that how you want it to be for the rest of your life?"

This is a hard time indeed...making an honest-to-goodness change. But I found I do enjoy the succulent fruit of my labor, too, which helps motivate me to move ahead on my journey. I learned that humbling myself and keeping an open mind to new things can open doors to new parts of myself I never knew existed.

For you, it might mean gathering the courage to talk to a parent about your eating disorder, or curbing a nasty habit that's wearing you down, changing your diet, questioning your motives or beliefs, exploring real life-long goals, cutting down miles of running, or even trusting a therapist with your inner most self. Sometimes you just have to say, "Oh, the heck with it..." and just do it. I found it does get better over time, and sometimes it doesn't. But if it could be charted on a graph the trend is certainly upward. Pretty soon, before you know it, you've floated away from murky waters and closer to healthier shores, still not perfect, still with lots of ongoing work to do. Everyone is always a work in progress, and that's okay. I practice taking refuge under Jesus' forgiveness because I make many mistakes along the way.

It pays to do hard things. Thanks to Alex and Brett Harris for some great words of wisdom.

Till next time,