As I write this post, I feel like I have returned from an unexpected leave of absence from joy; a dark time when I have felt disconnected from the world around me, like I had walked to the end of a very long underground tunnel and having arrived there, turned around to stare through a mist at the rest of the world, operating normally, while I stood at a distance with a somewhat obscured view and quizzically felt connected, yet disconnected with those around me.
August has been a difficult month for me.
As I have been processing the final week of this month, I’ve been reminded of the races my younger son ran when he was in high school, and how he leaped over hurdles seemingly effortlessly, while I wondered, “How does he do that?”
During August I have had a few hurdles of my own to jump, and they have not been tiny hurdles. Rather, they have been I’m-not-entirely-sure-I-can-get-over-this-one type hurdles. Hurdles that have given me pause and left me immobilized,wondering, “Can I get my metaphorically stubby and unconditioned legs over that behemoth?
These are the “hurdles” I have found most challenging this month:
An unbelievably slow healing injury.
An initiative to move more, though I am still injured and healing.
An experiment with food and food choices.
The effects of sugar withdrawal.
The discovery of suspicious skin lesions on my injured foot.
Subsequent biopsies to analyze said lesions—test results pending.
A couple of confusing sermon messages.
One totally un-relatable series of lectures.
Lots of confusing conversations.
The unexpected hospitalization of someone I love.
Several large family gatherings.
The crumbling of one family member’s marriage.
The realization that my hair is falling out, again.
A net weight gain of 0/a net weight loss of 0: Turtling, again.
Failure to meet my fitness goals for my August Action challenge.
What you have just read is a chronological listing of the stressors I have encountered in August. This is not a listing of how the last thirty days have actually played out, however. Life is often anything but chronological in nature for me. Oh, that it were. But my life is never that ordered and precise.
My life is often blurry, messy, complicated and confusing.
When I think about this past week, I remember feeling tired. I was frustrated. I had been reduced to tears a few times, and I’m not a crier by nature. I wanted this experience to end. I needed the whistle to blow and for the “coaches” to pack up and go home. I didn’t want to jump hurdles anymore. I wanted to limp off the field to find my coign of vantage, away from the hot sun and spectators, and away from the unrelenting competition that often makes up this life.
I needed an oasis.
Dear God, I hope September is a kinder month!
One positive thing that has come about because of my August Action challenge, has been a realization that through the stress and turmoil, there is God. I’m pretty sure He was there all along, but hidden from my view for His own reasons; hidden among the criticisms; hidden among the complaints…hidden among the nit-picking that has gone on, on my part, but also on the part of others. He has been hidden in the anxiety and confusion, and the pain. Nevertheless, there.
Last night I realized, finally, what my conscious mind had previously missed. Several months ago I began asking God to help me develop a mental toughness that I felt was missing in my character. I didn’t like that I seemed to be easily swayed by other’s opinions of me, and I wanted that to change. Problem is, I am often weak, fickle, and contrary, in addition to being easily distracted. I had asked God to help me develop this mental toughness, than I had promptly forgotten about it. I remembered and asked again, than forgot about it, again. I kept asking and kept forgetting, always knowing, but never remembering the request until last night.
It hit me.
Last night, I inquired of God, “How can I reclaim joy? How can I change the fundamental flaws within me by myself; including flaws I don’t perceive or cannot control? I may know they need changing—or maybe I don’t—but that doesn’t mean that once I identify a flaw, that I will have the power or ability to affect a desired change, so how does it happen? How do I get there, from here?”
No sooner was the question asked, than answered.
“Trust me,” I sensed God saying. “I will do it. I transform people and situations. You asked me to help you develop mental toughness, but that can’t happen without the “practice” hard times bring. These are your hard times. Practice on these, but let the results be Mine to achieve.”
Although He didn’t say so, I think God also wanted me to understand that because I can’t see Him working at any given time doesn’t mean He is not at work. His ways are not my ways, and His means, not limited to my means.
God is right; mental toughness, for me, is all about learning to take captive errant thoughts. It’s about putting handcuffs on my imagination. It’s about letting my anxiety have only so much room to wander. It’s about pushing back overwhelming emotions, defending my objectives and feelings, summarizing my plan, and validating my abilities.
Those things are my work to do, but transforming me—no, I cannot do that. That is God’s work, not mine.
Change is a process. It can be painful, but also valuable. To get where I want to go, it is absolutely essential that I figure out what I believe, communicate that clearly, establish that it is well thought out and factual, and decide that I am willing to defend those beliefs to someone who thinks differently. To God alone am I accountable for my inner development or sin, not my fellows. (Psalm 51:4)
Finally, a Light shines.
My August struggles weren’t about pride or prejudice; sense or sensibilities. My August struggles were about pushing past where I am today, and allowing God to make me into the best me possible this side of heaven. Today, I’m praising God for a purposeful bit of progress made in my life. I think I finally understand.
Whew. I’m glad August is almost over.
Again, Lord, let September be easier, please.
Let September be easier!