I didn’t choose a “word of the year” this year. The New Year happened to coincide a particularly low point in the book process, even by doomed project standards, and I scrapped the whole word choosing process when the only options I could come up with were:
Then last Tuesday I found myself at daily Mass, and I think I got my word.
My husband had kindly arranged to take a day off of work so that I could get some time to recuperate after a month that has so far been insane on a lot of different levels. Using a chunk of my precious free time to go to church was a move borne more of desperation than of pure holiness. I had really tried to keep God out of the picture and manage everything on my own, but, oddly enough, that didn’t work out so well. I’d been overwhelmed for months. Not “life-shattering crisis” overwhelmed, but just the slowly soul-sucking, “do I really want to live with this low-grade stress every day?” overwhelmed. I knew I needed to do something about it, but I was too busy treading water to figure out how to swim to shore. Meanwhile, I barely noticed that I was gradually sinking…until after the accident, when I started to drown. And so I found myself sitting in a pew on a Tuesday afternoon, not even knowing what to pray for, but just kind of hoping that if I sat there and looked extra pathetic God would notice and feel sorry for me.
I should have known that it would be an occasion of transformation, because it was the first time in a while that I had actually put God first. In contrast to my recent behavior, going to that Tuesday Mass was a radical act of faith, a routine-shattering occasion of declaring that God will work everything out if I actually give him a few moments of my attention. And sure enough, when I returned to the pew after receiving the Eucharist, there was a message for me. When I knelt in prayer a single word came to me, stopping all other thoughts and filling my mind as if I’d heard a loud roll of thunder:
I figured it was pretty safe to say that this was from the Holy Spirit and not from the Jen’s Crazy Ideas grab-bag, since it was a) clear, b) not related to anything I had been recently thinking about, and c) carried with it a feeling of great peace. As I unpacked this word and all the messages that came with it, I became more and more convinced that this was the answer that I had been looking for — as well as my guiding word for the rest of the year.
The issues I’d been having with feeling overwhelmed could be framed as an issue of authority: When I wake up each morning and start dancing like a trained monkey in response to all the requests that wait for me in my email inbox, without once considering if this is really what I should be doing at this moment, I am essentially saying that my email inbox is my authority. When I dash around trying to do X, Y, and Z because that’s what Mrs. So-and-So down the street does and therefore everyone will obviously think I’m a terrible mom if I don’t also do X, Y, and Z, I am making poor Mrs. So-and-So my authority (and she doesn’t even know me!) When I feel like I must check Twitter or text messages or whatever before I can do anything else, that media has become my authority.
Thinking about my situation this way not only helped me understand how I got into this mess in the first place, but now I know what I need to do to get out:
Place my life under the proper authority.
That doesn’t mean that I’ll cut out all of the activities that have been overwhelming me; I may even do some of them more. But instead of rushing around at the beck and call of whatever “urgent” item has popped up on my computer or smartphone, I’ll pause to ask myself what I am really serving here, and whether it should be my authority. If the task at hand seems to be from God, either because I feel peacefully led to do it, or because it falls into the category of “One of Those Things I Know God Wants Me to Do — no discernment necessary!” (e.g. feeding the kids once in a while), I’ll do it. And — here’s the key — I won’t worry about what is meanwhile not getting done, because I will understand that those tasks have no authority over me.
We’ll see how it goes. It seems to be a natural part of life that we find ourselves in a constant ebb and flow of getting overwhelmed, fighting back the chaos, then drifting into Crazyland again. So I doubt that this will be the final solution to my tendency to get myself in over my head. But it is really helping for now — and, if nothing else, it has kindled within me a burning and passionate desire for daily prayer. Setting aside a few silent moments for God each day is a good thing for a lot of reasons, but right now, the biggest one for me is that these are moments of re-orientation, of aligning my life according to its real Authority.
UPDATED TO ADD: Don’t miss Marissa Nichols’ great post on a similar subject, in which she talks about how she’s been having a tough time lately, and offers a powerful and eloquent prayer for those who are going through Hell. Beautiful stuff.