Finding balance in the second half of life

Act Lit

In Fulfillment on March 14, 2011 at 3:13 am

One of the many things I worry about: Bedbugs. (Photo courtesy of WebMD.com)

I once heard Lauren Winner suggest to a group of readers and writers that we give up reading for Lent. Inconceivable, I thought. Every Lent since then I’ve wondered if that’s precisely why I should give up reading.

I revisited it again this year, aloud, with Lois. She pointed me to Spirithome.com, which suggests giving up “anything which most relates to behaviors that are particularly sticky for you.” Reading qualifies. It would take a Herculean effort for me not to read for 40 days and nights, but I could do it. It would be a dazzling display of my willpower. That’s what bothers me. I would make it into something that’s all about me and what I can do, once I set my mind to it. This is not my understanding of what  Lent is all about. As of last night, I still hadn’t settled on what to give up.

This morning I thought, We are five days into Lent. It may be a lost cause. I may be a lost cause.

I went to church because that is what I do on most Sunday mornings. The sermon was on trust, i.e., trusting that God knows what is best for us. And there it was–the thing more sticky for me than reading and more difficult to give up. Worry. I worry about everything with great skill. It takes up too much space in my life, crowding out other things, better things, like love, abundance, and joy. It was what I needed to give up for Lent. I basked in the peace that comes from making a good choice.

Thirty seconds later the worry set in.  How? Short of serious self-medicating, how does someone like me stop worrying? It’s not like I haven’t tried it in the past. At best, I’ve been able to keep it at bay for a while. But that’s not what I wanted this time. I wanted to let it go, not hold it back.

It was between the end of the sermon and the benediction that I remembered something that would be the beginning of a breadcrumb trail for me. A therapist friend recently told me about acceptance commitment therapy (ACT). One part of ACT is labeling a thought as a thought instead of seeing it as reality. For example, one worry I have is that I won’t have enough money to retire. Using ACT, I’d think “There’s a thought” and then I’d let the thought float away. Thinking something does not make the thought real or true.

The breadcrumb trail continued when I remembered a discussion Lois and I had about the difference between faith and denial (or delusion). This is the kind of thing that I can ponder for a long time without reaching any conclusions, but I made some progress this time. For me, denial is “Everything will be okay,” while faith is “No matter what happens, I will be okay.” I don’t need to worry about things; I need only to remember that, whatever comes my way, I will be able to deal with it, accept it, get past it. And I don’t have to do it alone. (Lois’s thoughtful conclusion was “love more.”)

Mary Karr’s Lit, which we discussed at length, is also part of the trail. On page 234, Karr recounts a schizophrenic friend’s advice to her when she was struggling with believing in God’s existence:

“Get on your knees and find some quiet space inside yourself…Let go…Surrender, Mary…Yield up what scares you. Yield up what makes you want to scream and cry. Enter into that quiet. It’s a cathedral. It’s an empty football stadium with all the lights on. And pray to be an instrument of peace.”

Like Lauren Winner’s idea to not read during Lent and like my friend’s explanation of ACT, this passage stayed with me. That any of these things stayed with me is pretty amazing, considering about how much information skips across my brain without ever sinking in. That these ideas also lined themselves up and fell like dominoes this morning is remarkable.

Writing this post as a way of making sense of worrry and trust is the final crumb in the trail, or at least the final one for today. I might find another tomorrow. Maybe that’s how I can trust–by knowing that there will always be a breadcrumb trail left for me through friends, books, music, nature, and experience. Trust more. Worry less. “Act lit.” That’s my plan.

For the next 35 days (better late than never), I am yielding up what scares me—the Tea Party, global warming, texting drivers, my teenage son’s bathroom, bed bugs—and making room for something better. Come, Holy Spirit. –Christine MacLean

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