E is for “empty”

One of my most primary principles of life, is that we ought to encourage and help and support others every way that we can.  I don’t recall consciously choosing to embrace and uphold this ethic, it simply always has asserted itself in my moral code. Maybe it is a standard that was placed upon me like a destiny by virtue of the name I was given.  Sandra, a derivative of Alexandra, means helper of humanity.  Carol, my middle name, means to sing.  Music the way God intended, I believe is meant to uplift and soothe.

I can’t recall any time in my life that I was not presently and actively supporting, encouraging, or helping someone.  It’s not a boast. It is simply an observation, made at this juncture when I am longing to help, encourage and support my self, and wrestling with the “selfishness” of that prospect.

I have come to a crossroads of sorts, of a similar magnitude to one I encountered before only in my early twenties, a moment in time when I am aware that if I don’t find a way to change my current mental and emotional landscape, I am going to bear repercussions for the rest of my life, of failing to do so.

That probably sounds dramatic.  I don’t mean for it to.  I do realize that my problems, in the overall scheme of the world at large, are minuscule and trifling.  I am faced with a dilemma, a moment of decision.  It is so complex and personal that I couldn’t possibly encapsulate it in a sentence or two or even twenty.  Or maybe words just fail.  All I know is, it is all off kilter.  What do I fear? What regret am I unable to move past?  What is the paralysis that has me immobilized when I have always, always been a person of action?  I have assumed it has just been the cumulative result of many years of more resources going out than I have had coming in, that is in terms of nurture and affirmation and feeding my own spirit and senses and continuing to try to maintain my customary level of giving.  Because maybe that has been standing in as an “identity” for me, particularly in the past couple of decades which have been, by all accounts, a period of “stripping away”.  And I accept God’s prerogative to do that, and even understand the necessity and good of it.

It is entirely possible, and in fact, not at all unusual, for one to know things in their head, yet act in ways that would seem to belie that fact, ways that completely contradict it.  Like how a person eats.  We all know the basics that we should divide up our plate into fourths, and 1/2 of the plate should be non-starchy vegetables, and the lean meat serving should be the size of a deck of cards, cheese the size of the average thumb, whole grains instead of “enriched” breads and cereals that have been stripped of what is healthy for the sake of shelf-life, and then had a little of the nutrients added back in for the sake of propriety. We know we should consume unsaturated fats and omega-3 for “good cholesterol”, but still in very moderated small amounts. Yet many of us often eat as if we never heard this stuff in our lives.  Why?  Maybe because life is so darn hectic, and the healthy foods that made our grandparents sturdy and sound, are priced outside of our budget, due to modernity.  And the stuff that is most readily available, even if it presents itself as farm-fresh (cultivated, harvested, and canned by automation) is riddled with genetic modification, pesticides, and substances which preserve the food, substances frighteningly similar to the stuff used to preserve our corpses for burial.  In fact, I venture to project that the average corpse today requires much less “embalming” than once was necessary, as we are doing a lot of it before hand.  A boon to morticians the world over, that is!

This thing we call aging, it was never in God’s intended design for us.  It is ironic that mankind spends countless hours and countless billions of dollars seeking ways to counter this dilemma, all the while rejecting the one antidote that exists.

For a time, most folks counted it a noteworthy achievement just to weather the inevitable decline of aging with grace.  That option is no longer upheld as virtuous, in this present age, however. The battle cry now is “never yield”!  Fortunately for me, I have never put stock in what is “socially acceptable” to the degree it would dictate my course.  I never chose to take up the mantle of nonconformist.  It came standard in my particular design, I guess you could say.

I didn’t make the decision to be different.  But I’ve been told all my life that I am “different”.  It only took me about forty years of living,  to finally concur, and that not without grudge. I don’t pride myself on this.  I also don’t (anymore) beat myself up for it.  Well, not as much as I used to, anyway.  It just is what it is.

But here I am now, going to turn 53 this coming August.  And I am disappointed in myself because I am not “finishing” the way I started.  I am no longer such a “giver”, and I’ve allowed myself to cop-out.  I am less loving and encouraging and supportive.  I am, quite frankly, shriveling as a person, even as my body expands.  I have had periods, since becoming a mom at least, when I continued to give but began to resent it.  I continued to give because it’s “who I am”, and it’s “what I do”.  I know this seems to run counter to the “Love one another” of scripture.  Believe me, I know this.  But then I go and read something like the account of Elijah after the momentous victory of exposing Baal as a false god, when he ran away from Jezebel, along with everything and everyone that lent security in his life, and sought to burrow away in seclusion because it was all just too much all of a sudden.  I “watch” as God Himself ministers to Elijah, instructing him to eat a hearty meal and sleep.  And when Elijah wakes up, the Lord (or the angel sent by the Lord) tells him to eat again, and sleep some more.

I long to have someone else be the one who is responsible to put a nutritious meal on the table for me to partake of. (Couldn’t we just hire a chef?)  I long to have all the people who depend on me for friendship and affirmation, to just understand how depleted I am, and maybe step up and do for me what I have often done for someone, or at the very least, stop expecting anything from me for a while.

But I do realize that it isn’t their fault that find myself this way.  People will willingly “take” whatever we willingly give.  They may not even say thank you.  But its human nature.  And not everyone has that same “gift” or propensity for the nurturing and the giving.  Which is why those who do, often end up feeling cheated.  The ones whom everyone else counts on in their crisis, often face their own crisis solo.  On the one hand, that makes it easier for us to retain our reputation of strength and fortitude.  Lets face it, pride is always a factor.  No one likes admitting they are a quaking coward on the inside even when you’d never know it from outward observation.

I have always been able to count on a couple of things from myself.  Determination (stubbornness), endurance (stubbornness), and an absolute refusal to ever give up (stubbornness).  But you know what I found out?  Even stubbornness has its limits, not to mention its drawbacks.

I only wish that along with this epiphany, I also had received some corresponding new revelation about some other newly discovered something to employ in place of the now defunct stubbornness. Instead, I find myself in a stall.  And I’ve been in it way too long for my liking. (Though I should be thankful there’s been no crash this time).  What does one do when they are truly at a total loss for what to do now?  And don’t assume that I have taken my eyes off of the Lord.  I have continued to walk with the Lord, be in the Word, fellowship, and pray, with thanksgiving.  Maybe not a lot of praise, though, I admit, not a lot of  that celebrating of God for Whom I know Him to be, going on lately.

I feel certain we are looking at a case of need for old-fashioned rehabilitation.  That going back to the basics and simply starting from scratch at figuring out how to be.  I mean, sometimes life changes so much over time, that our managing skills, though necessarily adapted, have strayed too far from the medline.  So what does one do, to start over in re-calibrating?  It goes without saying that at this juncture in life it will require “baby steps’. Like the lovable “Bob” played by Bill Murray in the movie “What About Bob”.  Over time, even the most pro-active, determined, confident and straight-forward person can be worn down by the demands and circumstances of life, and stray far away from seeing to their own needs in obvious and simple ways that healthier individuals (or those less service-oriented) take as their due.  It would not be the first time in my life that I erred way over on the other side, in my determination not to go the way of ease and entitlement.  The opposite extreme may insure against failing the Lord on the one hand, but balance is always crucial, can never be dismissed as dispensable. I think that is my fatal error.  I act as if that law doesn’t apply to me.  It’s an inverted form of pride, but it still is pride just the same.  So the thing I was wanting to avoid, is the thing I end up accomplishing anyway.  Sound familiar?  Like something Paul the Apostle said about the flesh versus the Spirit?

Oh who will deliver me from this body of death?  How long, oh Lord?  And how long, indeed?  Because one can’t actually stop living to wait on that promised deliverance.  Well, one could, but it is hardly a sign of obeisance to the sovereignty and wisdom of God. It certainly doesn’t honor Him, when He has clearly instructed us to “occupy until I come”.  Although there is a form of that verb that means to simply take up space, that is not what God meant in that verse.  To occupy is to be busy.  Doing what?  Ah, that is indeed “the question” is it not?

Is there space in the devoted Christian life for leisure and “fun”,  for a little R and R? Surely Jesus not only wept, but also laughed. He did get away to rest.  Surely He worked but also He “played”?  After all, He was fully human.  We know He employed sarcasm at times.  The Bible says that God laughed, but it is in derision of those who oppose Him.  Yeah, life is sober.  But Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything, including a time to laugh.  So surely Jesus laughed.Things have been too serious for too long in my life.  I tend to feel such indignation over the pain and wrongs of this life, not just mine, but the suffering of others that I hear about or witness.  I had begun to feel that laughter is inappropriate. Ever! I’ve taken an attitude of “let everyone else act like clueless and heartless buffoons, by golly, I won’t be one of them”!  Unfortunately this constitutes holier-than-thou-dom.

Yes.  Yes it does.

Why?  Because it assigns a certain virtue to sobriety that surpasses God’s definition of it.  How so?  In that if I believe God is in control, then I must also concur that He has reason for allowing what He allows.  Granted, sometimes certain miseries in our lives do result from something we had no part in bringing about, and  we suffer unjustly for someone else’s evil acts.  But not always.  And besides that, even if we are innocent in that case, what about all the other times we were guilty but skated by without consequences (seemingly)?

So, you know, it all “shakes out” ultimately.  Because the Bible told us not to be deceived, that God is not mocked.  No one actually gets by with anything, because there is a day coming when all will be taken to account.  No wrong will be left unaddressed.

I guess all of what I just said merely reiterates something I have often “preached” from this very platform.  It ALL boils down to perspective, how we choose to look at any thing.

Which is galling to say the least.  Don’t you hate it when the truth is so inconvenient? When the preacher is right?  Even if you’re the preacher!  I mean, I can’t escape the very sermon I preach.  I have dodged it for a while, though, yes I have.  But it is time to face the music.  What worked all those other times, is still effective in my current circumstances.  I just haven’t applied it.  Maybe I just let myself become too comfortable in the familiar  “can’t win for all the losing” paradigm we seemed stuck in for so long, between my illness, our financial limits, the problem of an interfering mother-in-law, a stalled economy, and a fallen world, that even now that “better times” might actually be possible, I am letting my dread of “inevitable disappointment” keep me from allowing hope to take root.

It’s stupid.  And I need to get past  it.  And I’m trying.  I really am.

I have taken this mantle of martyr.  Oh, I can’t believe I am admitting that.  It is my pet peeve and major bone of contention with others in life.  Even as I write this, I am aware I am setting up some kind of expectation.  I feel like I have been one of the hardest persons I have ever been expected to please and make happy or proud.  It is not really even a dread of disappointing others.  It is feeling I have failed to uphold my own standards.  Is that self-centered?  I don’t even know anymore!

Some people right now would say, “you know what you need, you need to just go do something for someone else, and stop thinking about yourself”.  I agree that most of the time that would be an appropriate conclusion.  I even agree that there is some legitimacy to it in this case, but I also know it’s not the whole answer.  I know I have neglected to care for myself.  And that is the biggest hurdle I feel I face right now.  Because I have done it for so long.  I feel as if the damage is irreparable, too extensive to ever overcome.  I am a person who has lived my entire life in the extremes.  I don’t know how to exist on “middle ground”, in the grey shadowlands. Give me noon or midnight, dawn and dusk are too darn vague. But again, that’s still all just perspective, isn’t it?

Well, I’m glad we had this little chat.  Just maybe something in my subconscious will finally escape the internal blockage and things will start to flow once again.  Because one thing I know for certain is stagnation has definitely set in.  I have honestly felt for a long time that all the good of life is behind me. Even as someone who does practice blessing-counting, that’s a pretty darn bleak perspective to get stuck in.  I lived most of my life with a philosophy of “do something, even if it turns out to be wrong, at least you will move from where you are”.  Lord help this poor middle-aged peri-menopausal, bench-sitting type-A, overly emotional woman to get out of her own head and over herself!

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