The week dawned dark and if I would have written then, I would have spoken of shadows. The kind that are so wide you hardly notice them, outlined in the shape of a giant shoe that might be dangling from its own strings directly above you. I shook off my apprehension determining to stay within the moderate beat of a rainy Monday. I will not go off tempo, I will not go off tempo, I will not go off tempo.
Emily P. Freeman talks about being content in our smallness and mostly the day was small. There were hugs for a friend who lost her sister last week and preschool drop off; some studio work and snacks for an army, or maybe just 3 starving post-spring breakers; another hug for a neighbor who lost her husband (also last week); dinner on the stove and then off to violin.
I can make a mountain out of the thirty-five flicks of dirt unionized on the kitchen floor so when I read the text, I forced my heart back into rhythm. I will stay in this day, I will stay in the small, I will not make a mountain out of the Mole Motel.
More information oozed in and confirmed that we absolutely were dealing with a mountain, possibly even a volcano. Smaller than Everest, but much larger than the Moletel.
I’d like to say that I responded with dignity and composure in the manner of a 40 something woman who’s dealt with some difficult things in life and for the first 24 hours that would’ve been true. But somewhere around hour 26, the day slowed and the exhaustion of pushing my fear below the surface caught up with me. I’d diffused the issue the night before with words and prayers of belief and then tried to give it time to settle, but mostly I hoped it would be resolved within a day. When it became clear there was no quick-fix on the horizon, I took aim and released jagged stony words from my slingshot directly at the nearest target breaking my collected composure and anything else within earshot.
Life has a way of flushing out core beliefs.
As I willed myself to stay within the small of Monday morning, I was very much aware that conflict is my default mode. Sometimes I look for problems as a way to feel that I have some control.
Adrenaline mobilizes and frenzy creates an order to life that allows us to feel as if we’re managing our lives quite well. As we check off our emergency responses to injury, job loss, death, even household repairs or birthdays, there’s a sense that we’ve brought order to chaos. In the middle of that unspoken belief is the invisible banner declaring that we are our own god. We made the appointment, we ordered the flowers, we found the perfect napkins, we solved the problem and all is right in the tiny little world that we created and control.
I believe though, that there’s a difference between managing comfort and order in our DIY dioramas and embracing smallness in the universe that God created. The mountain that dropped into my world on Monday night was entirely out of my control. I wasn’t able to scale and conquer it and in fact it turned into a volcano as the long term ramifications spewed out. The anger that poured out of me seemed a perfectly reasonable response until I reminded myself that no one died.
Understand that in proportion to the teeny tiny world where I’m in charge, these unique circumstances were a pretty big deal, but in the smallness in the world where I say I believe God is in control, they’re merely a flick of dirt.
It’s at this point of understanding that we’re able to choose. We can act as though we believe that God is in control and the director of this whole gig or continue acting as though we are in control, pulling the strings to drop the perfect scenery behind our tiny little lives in an attempt to appear as if life is moving along just as we’ve planned.
Our to-do lists serve as scripts as we paint just the right back drop for our tiny scenes. But if we say we believe there is a God who controls all things, we have to do the hard work of believing through the moments of our lives that feel completely out of control.
This seems, at first like a passive response but it’s actually a very active way to walk through crisis or even deep disappointment. There are three things I do once I gather my contrary composure. I believe that these responses can actually ground our faith on a deeper level and allow us to more clearly see God not just after the crisis has passed, but while it’s in progress.
Step from tiny places of pain into open spaces of small healing. Today I would love to cozy up with my list of lament. I would sub-list and detail how this current issue will affect our lives for months to come. It would be valid and realistic, but wrapping myself up with my woes would separate me from the people that God has put in my life to make this mangled world a bit more tolerable. By choosing to step out from the microscopic place of our own pain where we focus on ourselves and our lists, we deliberately embrace our own smallness. Today, this looks like laying down my right to be angry and joining my family while I focus on the activities of the day. I will make dinner while I choose to lay down resentment, snuggle my peeps before bed while I resist recounting the what ifs, and for cryin out loud, I’ll stay off the phone. (In which I discuss my obsession with phone a friend)
Choose to contain destructive thoughts. Containing thoughts of defeat isn’t taking shelter in denial for days on end, but deciding how long we should hang out with them. We can choose to repeat a playlist of how we could have avoided the issues and list in detail the measures we’ll take in the future. In fact, we should, but for a limited amount of time. I drive a six mile rectangle several times and then slam the door shut on the funk. You might go for a run or take a shower giving a definite beginning and ending point to your process time. By setting a time limit on our brooding with a specific activity, we’re admitting that there’s not one thing we can do to fix the situation in the moment. By choosing to shuffle destructive details through our minds, we choose to mentally destroy the beauty of being wholeheartedly present as we chauffeur children, lunch with friends or focus on our work.
Rehearse what is true. I believe on a very basic level that God is the author of my life. While certainly I make choices every single minute that can change the path in front of me, inviting God to walk along beside me, allows him to take both the triumph and tragedy that result from my decisions and give them value if I choose to let him. Honestly, I thought I’d finally moved on to a new plot and was welcoming the change of setting because the lines in this act are exhaustingly familiar. I feel contempt for the process and could easily turn up the playlist of defeat. By choosing to repeat out loud that God is the author and finisher of my faith (Hebrews 12:2) and that all things work together because I invite him to walk with me (Romans 8:28), by reminding myself that most things look better given a little time and that a good night’s rest often makes life more bearable, I’m inviting my mind to get in agreement with what my heart knows is true.
The choice to stop rehearsing on my tiny stage and remove the thoughts that tie me to a single-minded view of the issue (gloom and doom of course) and replace them with what is true about the smallness of my life is actually an act of faith allowing God to continue to act as writer, director and producer of my life.
The events from earlier this week are far from resolved and it’s possible we’ll be dealing with the outcome for quite some time. It’s been a rough few days of finding balance by rejecting my bent for imagining the worst case scenario while remaining engaged in the problem solving process, but I’ve given up one more teensy piece of contrived control and in the process, strengthened my faith.
I don’t believe that God ever expects us to get it. I don’t think he’s irritated or disappointed when our first response to pain isn’t compliant resignation. Conflicts, hassles and gut-wrenching pain are often the passageways where we can feel and see him the most, but only when we make the difficult choice to embrace the journey with all of the questions and uncomfortable feelings we experience.
What are your initial responses to conflict? Do you have definitive processes that help you walk through it?