A grocery list of prayers in the midst of disorienting grief. I’m intentional not to use the word “debilitating” there. It feels like it’s not grief that I own, but grief that has sort of entered into the picture and slowly filled up the space, like a really foggy morning drive across campus. It’s not my grief to claim, but it’s mine to process, which is why I’ve chosen “disorienting.” I’ve spent a lot of time assessing the people in my corner, the ones who know the grief and know my mess and celebrate me and serve me well and love me better than any people I’ve ever known, especially in the midst of the fog. I’ve sat in passenger seats while my mind runs wild and I have to process, “How do I tell this person to love me better? Is that selfish? Am I allowed to ask that?” I think the answer is yes, by the way, you are allowed to ask that. These are my real words, the ones I want to say. I have an entire other post written that are not my real words, the ones that lay nicely over the grief like a blanket.
A lot of my writing lately has reminded me of when I was younger, and my mom would ask me to go clean my room. I would begin the process of dumping every drawer, every toy chest, everything from my closet, and everything from under my bed into the center of the room. I kid you not, I thought this was the best idea in the entire world. I could assess the mess and all the things that made up my life when I created the chaos and could see everything. Piece by piece, and with a bit of panic from my mom, I would start to reorganize and “clean.” This would almost always end with me getting frustrated and shoving literally everything back into every place it was never supposed to belong and shoving the closet door and the drawers tightly enough to make it seem like everything was clean on the outside. That’s what the writing has looked like, and that’s what my mind has been.
I get that convicting little whisper: I never promised you understanding. I wanted everything clean on the outside, to be able to say that I’ve pulled everything out, sorted through the mess, and now God’s given me the words to understand the mess in my life. He promised to be with us. That’s what I keep getting pulled back to.
I wrote a poem a few weeks ago that used the phrases, “emotional currency” and “mental real estate”, and I feel like God has ripped those words from my writing to pull me into something deeper with Him. What am I spending my emotional currency on? What am I allowing to take up my mental real estate? Something I’ve had a strong desire to understand is intimacy with God, and He is certainly using those things to show me what it looks like. There is intimacy in the here and now. There is intimacy in being present. There is intimacy in asking God what is pleasing to Him.
I’m also getting nostalgic for a place I haven’t even left yet, and I don’t want to get to the end of this year and wish I had more time so I could actually learn to spend it well. I don’t want my emotional currency and my mental real estate to be spent and taken up by all the wrong things, so I’m finding myself in a place of reorganizing my priorities and reorienting my thoughts, while still trying to navigate those foggy mornings of grief. Sometimes the coffee tastes like guilt and shame, and sometimes the prayers don’t come as fluidly, but for some reason there’s still so much hope soaked into these moments. Sometimes the words get stuck in my throat, and I force them back down. Sometimes I feel the reassurance of, These are the people you need with you right now. Sometimes I feel an overwhelming peace when I’ve walked out of a mess. Sometimes it feels good to wake up slowly and watch the run rise through imperfect vision. And it’s also okay to accept that I feel all of these things very very deeply, all of the guilt and all of the love and all of the sorrow that sinks into every day, it’s okay to feel it all this deeply.
There has been a lot of aching and sadness and pain and desperation, and for the first time with a strength I haven’t known before in not allowing it all to control or dictate my days. It’s been overwhelming in moments, of course, but it hasn’t been something I’ve allowed to seep into the deep parts of my identity. I’m learning how to fall back in love with pieces of myself I fell out of love with in order to satisfy another person. And that’s a statement I wish I never would have had to write, but there’s more freedom in admitting that than trying to hold a Jenga tower full of pieces of shame and guilt and self-deception together. There have been a lot of unspoken words and whispers to God where I admit that I cannot do this on my own, if at all. God and I have a lot more of an open dialogue now, not just moments of deep need when I’m on my knees, though those have still come quite often. I wouldn’t say it’s as many intentional prayers as it is moments of desperation walking to class or standing in the back of the chapel or sitting in the passenger seat.
The honest prayers are starting to rise to the surface, above the mess and the what-ifs and the noise of everyone else’s voices, but I might not like the answers so I muster up all the strength I can on my own to shove them down. I want to ask, “God, what do You have for me in this next year?” but I’m terrified He might say something I’m not entirely sure about. I want to ask, “God, is this relationship life-giving or should I do away with it?” but I’m afraid His answer will be, “No and yes.” I want to ask, “God is how I’m living every single part of my life in a way that is glorifying to You?” but I feel the deep conviction of, “No.”
And that honesty is what draws us deeper into a relationship with Him and begins to change our hearts. I don’t get to experience that freedom and intimacy when I hold Him at arms length and pretend to ask Him what He wants for my life as if I’m going to be obedient to it in moments where I want to have full control everything to create a false sense of comfort. This is the part where the blanket is torn off of us and we’re met with the freezing atmosphere of the morning. This is our moment of bargaining with God when it was never our place to bargain. This is the reckoning.
My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real-really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.So prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. Even mushrooms respond to light – I suppose they blink their mushroomy eyes, like the rest of us.Light reveals us to ourselves, which is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own creation. But like sunflowers we turn toward light. Light warms, and in most cases it draws us to itself. And in this light, we can see beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside.” // Anne Lamott
There is joy in the humility and submission where my only prayer can simply be, “Help,” which is a lot of what it’s been lately. Help is the submission and the freedom of misunderstanding and mess. My priorities have not been here, and how can we expect miraculous things to happen if we can’t keep our head where our feet are? The enemy is working, and some days I can proclaim that more confidently than I can proclaim the name of the Lord. The enemy is twisting promises and creating noise that I’m being overwhelmed by. God gives me these people who I trust and who I hand my stories over to and the enemy deceives and puts blinders on, gives us the pedestal to place our idols on. However, there is boldness in abiding and crying out for help when we need our Father who holds our days in the palms of His hands, who does not deceive, and who remembers that we are dust. Literally, every single morning I can wake up hearing that He speaks victory and goodness and kindness and gentleness and humility over my life. That is something to celebrate and walk boldly in, even in moments where we want to cave and sip the guilt slowly and push down the words where we stand up for ourselves and demand respect and love.
Surround yourself with people who love you well and celebrate the small things and encourage you well and who will never stop reminding you that they are in your corner. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to desire to weed out the ones who drain you more than they build you up, and sometimes it’s a process, one I still struggle with every day. There is healing to be found in learning when to say enough is enough and there is beauty in the brokenness of hard relationships. God is in the business of making all things new. I find myself walking this part of my journey, the one of boundaries and asking guilt to leave, especially close to God, continually asking Him what His will is in these days and the mess and the aching.
There is healing in these words. There is healing in recognizing the mess of it all. There is freedom in the healing. And it’s the most miraculous part of Jesus I’ve ever known.
In learning all of these little things, I keep going back to that image of God rejoicing over us. For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. When I let myself sink into that, I tap into a part of my identity that is powerful and that reminds me of the banner of victory already strung over me. Reading these words shoves out the guilt, makes the shame pack up and leave, and it frees up some of that mental real estate. It pulls me back to my seat at the Table and invites others to do the same.