So yesterday the pastor told us to relax. Seriously. No…really, seriously. He shared a story about Dallas Willard and an encounter Dallas had during one of his talks. Someone in the audience asked him to describe Jesus in one word.
Dallas slowly inhaled, peered out over his glasses at the young pastor who had asked the question, and said…
Ugh! I thought, suddenly focused on the distance between my pew seat and the faraway but beautiful state of relaxation. I think it’s somewhere in Montana. Montana is where people live by a slow clock, cast fly rod lines out over bubbling rivers, and eat comfort food for dinner every night. And they wear stretch pants. Ah…now that’s living. It’s a place where people don’t care about the things I care about and oh, how I wish I didn’t care about them either. I also envy supermarket checkers. To me, checkers are extraordinary people innately content, offering warm smiles and greetings for each “next” customer despite the mind-numbing monotony of the job. I don’t think I could do that.
I get bored too easily.
My mother once told me she didn’t understand what makes me go. That’s another story.
Anyway, I like the implications of Dallas’s response. It gives me something to shoot for. Last night at the end of the Kingdom of God discussion group I facilitate, I attempted to leave my fellow discussers with a good word.
Unfortunately, the delivery sounded more like Cher in Moonstruck when she slapped Nicolas Cage across the face and shouted, “Snap out of it!”
That’s so me.
Anyway, the idea of Jesus as relaxed makes perfect sense. Of course He wouldn’t be fretting over this or perseverating over that. He wouldn’t be wondering whether the money will last until retirement or if things will ever get better with His sister or if He did a good job presenting Isaiah 61 in temple last night. And He wouldn’t be worried about what else the Father might have in store for His life. Those things would come in due time. For the moment, He was busy about His Father’s business and being Himself. And that’s all that His Father willed.
I did a Skype call with my Queensland friend on Friday and it turns out we are both secretly referring to ourselves as “Angry Sylvia” and “Angry Shannon.” And even more interestingly, it is for similar reasons. We are both pursuing truth and peace and trying to find our way to the state of relaxation. I don’t know what Australia’s Montana is, but I’m sure there’s a place on the continent that Sylvia sees when she thinks about her restful destination. Anywho, we’ve both hit a terrible snag. Some of the roads are closed off and the traffic is at a standstill. We’re each stuck in our respective vehicles listening to the same old analytical thought loops that never seem to move us forward. It’s a terrible state of stall. And we’re both frustrated.
Can I just say “Thank God!” that in His mercy, He’s given me a faraway friend who gets it? A huge gift I tell you. Huge. Ironically (and helpfully), Sylvia is studying to become a psychologist and has access to a few tools of the trade. She sent a self-assessment tool that’s designed to get through the traffic, find the open roads, and trade out the old and useless analytical thought loops for something fresh.
Sylvia forgot to say, “Don’t try this at home.”
I won’t go into details, but here are a few of the least offensive phrases used in the descriptions of my highest scoring issues:
- Excessive emphasis on rationality while disregarding emotions
- Emotionally deprived
- Different from other people
- Strives to meet high internalized standards of behavior and performance
- Involves significant impairment in…relaxation… (WHAT? THIS IS VERY BAD)
- Exaggerated focus on superiority to achieve power and control (not primarily for attention or approval) (ISN’T THIS LIKE…OH, I DON’T KNOW…NARCISSISM?)
You get the idea.[modern_footnote](Actually, I think that’s the definition of a project manager)[/modern_footnote]Emotionally repressed intellectual perfectionist who doesn’t fit in and mows people down to achieve results.
Definitely not “relaxed.”
I completed Sylvia’s assessment on Friday and was ready to dive into the “fix me” exercises right away, hoping my efforts would get me unstuck and out of my unexpected traffic jam. By Saturday, I could barely push the foot pedals on the elliptical machine. A heavy and inexplicable lethargy had come over my body. Later that day, I snarled at my husband most of the way to wine country between diatribes about needing something to do, something to get excited about, and something that might set me on a new and open road.
The next morning before church I struggled to stay awake after watching Eric Metaxas videos on YouTube until 1:00 am Sunday morning. I had decided at about 11:30 Saturday night that I want to be like Eric Metaxas because it would give my life meaning. I thought if I watched enough YouTube videos of his talks, I too could become brilliant and funny and deliver thought-provoking messages to interested audiences who laugh at my jokes. I even sent him an email asking if he’d consider being my mentor, figuring that at this point in my life I no longer care what people think about me and it certainly couldn’t hurt to ask. Or maybe it could.
Nah…I’ve got nothing to lose.
Sitting in our new regular chairs at church (having displaced another couple who now gives us the stink eye when possible), I had a tough time following the pastor’s message, mostly because I felt sleepy, and partly because I tend to shut down when I hear certain terms. I don’t like politics in church. Whenever a faddish politicized term is released into the sanctified atmosphere of the sanctuary, I get irritated. I don’t know why. But as he meandered his way to the main points, my spirit perked up and I felt a shift of energy. The idea of “relaxing” suddenly seemed like the most effective thing I might do.
Now, I’m not someone who gives up. I’ve wished many a time that I could just give up…and relax…but that’s not been my experience of myself so far. No, I won’t start referring to myself in the third person; well…maybe just a little.
The “me” captured by the assessment is the “me” that emerged out of a traumatizing childhood. She’s a survivor, a perfectionist, a workaholic, and a fiercely independent person who is incapable of trusting anyone else to help her, protect her, or understand her, because that’s how it was when she was a kid. There was no one good to help her and many bad that hurt her, and she was damaged in deep and long-lasting ways. She convinced me a long time ago that she’d moved on, leaving the effects of the past behind. Now she’s trying to convince me that this assessment result is just another problem for her to solve, and I need to get out of the way and let her do her thing.
Nope. Not this time.
Except I have one question.
“What does it feel like to relax?”