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  • Writer's pictureRuth Sauers

Presence over progress

I’m learning to just be with myself.

I’m learning to hold my plans loosely and not let them get in the way of my actual life.

I’m learning that the things I think are most important are sometimes not the most important - like progress towards something. Gosh, I love progress, I love feeling like I’m working my way towards something. I love feeling like I’m contributing towards something that matters, not just doing busywork. But what about when it seems like what I must do right now does not really contribute to progress? Is progress always visible? Is it always observable? Is it always verifiable? I’m learning that small moments and underground days, days that don’t seem like they really contribute to progress, these are the days that are forming me.

The past few weeks, maybe even more than a month I’ve felt a sort of funk, even though I’ve felt mostly well physically, I didn’t feel much motivation to do a whole lot of anything. Housework seemed like the biggest drag I’ve ever known- which it kind of is - but I felt this straining, this need to break free from the mundanity. It felt like each day stretched into the next without hardly any clear distinction, like we were living the same day over and over and over again. Maybe I’m just describing what we all feel mid-winter. The slow lightening of the sky in the evening is comforting, a sign of hope. The warmer days have been a balm, hopefully not just a tease. I found myself mostly wanting to hunker down and read whatever I wanted, maybe nap, look through magazines for inspiration, listen to favorite music. But I had this inward angst that I wasn’t making any progress. I wanted to be writing, writing towards the goals that I have. I wanted to be writing things I thought were good not just little bits here and there.  I wanted to be checking things off of the master list. I felt like I was wasting precious time. But as all creatives know, you can’t force inspiration, you just simply can’t. Sometimes you can trick it into coming in a side door while doing something else, like letting yourself play at a different creative endeavor. But mostly you just have to live alive and awake to your real life, make space for it, make time for it, and it will show up. (Everyone has creativity built into their bones. Some of us live into that side of ourselves more than others - but we all have it. And we can all cultivate creativity in our lives if we want to. After all, we’re made by an incredibly creative God.)

So anyway, during that funk that I feel is slowly lifting, I let myself pursue the things I wanted more than the things I thought I should do. Sure, I got some crap done that needed to be done, but I let some things go. I let some vacuuming go, I let some laundry go, I let some dishes pile up - they will always be there. I did feel a little guilty doing that but I am learning what kind of routine I need in this season of the year and in this season of life. I made more space for people- in small doses- I took more walks, I made some playlists. I let myself be with myself. I sat with God as much as possible. I took myself to coffee shops let myself write whatever I wanted, whatever took my fancy. I explored some things I wanted to learn about, nothing too hard, too heavy, lighter things. I made time to be with myself during the day if at all possible so that when my kids came home I could give better attention to them.

As I’ve worked through past trauma I’m learning what it’s done to my nervous system. Because I lived most of my childhood in fight-or-flight mode, on high alert ready for the next battle, my body often perceives things that are not that serious as major threats. I become dys-regulated more easily than the average person. It takes time to talk myself out of those feelings of helplessness. With all that has been going on with my family, with working through past stories with my counselor, these dysregulated times have occurred a little more frequently. Or maybe I have just noticed them more because I am able to name them better now. It takes time and energy and kindness and compassion to be with myself in those times, to not shame myself for struggling, to be my own advocate, to repeat beautiful gentle truth to myself, to know that Jesus is never going to leave me. He will always help me work through what I’m feeling, the anxieties and fears that I have. He always has time to sit with me, He will never abandon me. He also will never harm me. The plans that He has for me are beautiful, good, hopeful, creative plans. Plans not to change me into something I’m not, but to use me  as I bring all my flaws, and all my struggles, all my beauty to Him.

When you have a long history of not listening to your body and just pushing through, sometimes when you start listening, your body starts to finally be heard and begins telling you more and more things. Ugh, these things are not convenient. But you have to honor the new relationship you have with your body, a relationship of gentleness, compassion, and care. You cannot silence your body again- or ignore it. Sometimes when we begin to tell our bodies they can trust us, they begin to do that.

I don’t know if there will be a day when I don’t struggle with this, but I do know that I am healing, healing mostly from a need to cover up, from a need to look like I don’t struggle, from a need to have it together. Jesus is healing me and helping me unbelieve the lie that there is one best, untainted, innocent path of growing up and going through life, healing me from the lie that some situations are too messy to get involved in, healing me from the lie that I have to say I’m doing fine or people will walk away, healing me from the lie that my neediness makes Him think twice. I could (and will) be needy every day for the rest of my life and He will not tire of me. I could be unproductive for the rest of my life and He will not call me a waste. Jesus is willing to go places with me that a lot of people aren’t, but He also provides his messengers, his healers to walk through these things with me.

Blessing Offor sings in his song “Believe,”

Do I want you or what you can do for me?

Do I love you or what you can do for me?

Do I love God or just what He can do for me? Do I love myself for who I am or only what I can do? Do I believe God loves me for who I am or only what I can do for Him? These questions, if we are brave enough to answer them honestly, provide a window for knowing who we are, why we do what we do, for knowing what we truly believe.

Sometimes when there have been really bad and detrimental patterns of thinking it can take a lot of time and patience and energy to work to change those patterns. One thing I have noticed this winter is that even though there’s been a bit of a funk, there haven’t been the dark days that I’ve had other winters. Maybe this is due in some part to a commitment to be with myself with what’s true, to not whisk it away, and to not shame myself for feeling it. I’d say this is progress.

Sometimes unlearning what we’ve learned and learning to just be with ourselves is good good progress to make.

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