In 2015, I’m hosting various writers, pastors, and counselors as they step into the Recovery Room. Here, we'll discuss the things that supplant inner sobriety and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn’t we all use a little recovery from something? Today, welcome Micha Boyett to the Recovery Room. I've always been drawn to the authenticity of Micha's voice. Her 2014 release, Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer, was a splendid release that examined living into an everyday Benedictine spirituality. It's available HERE or wherever fine books are sold. (GO GET IT!)
Welcome Micha to the Recovery Room.
When I was in 3rd grade, I took my mom’s white mechanical egg timer (with one of those old-school dials that turned and ticked) from the kitchen counter and developed a plan to time each aspect of my morning routine. I set myself some “reasonable” goals—ten minutes for my hair, fifteen minutes for breakfast, three minutes to brush my teeth—and began to carry the egg timer around with me while I got ready for school.
Now, this was not about competition. There wasn’t a timeliness goal in my head. This was more a perfect storm of neuroses: my anxiety and my longing for self-perfection, exploding in my nine-year-old little-girl-brain. The timer would go off while I was still tying my shoes, and I would scream, “I’ll never be on time to school! I’ll never be on time to school!” throwing my shoes at the wall.
My parents (wisely) took the egg timer away from me after two days. But I still feel like that little girl sometimes, carrying my grown-up versions of egg timers, begging their little tick-tocks to assure me that my life is good enough, that I’m performing the way I ought to be.
[tweetherder text="'I am addicted to my own franticness. I am addicted to performing enough...' @michaboyett"]I am addicted to my own franticness. I am addicted to performing enough, in the right amount of time, in a way that the people around me say is good.[/tweetherder]
“Look where you’re frantic,” my pastor said last year in a sermon. “Look at where you’re frantic and that’s probably the place where you’re trying to find joy.”
Joy. And purpose. And meaning.
Maybe an addiction is the place where we go to escape our fears that there is not enough joy, not enough purpose, not enough meaning.
There’s a reason that the past six years of my life as a mother have been full of repeated lessons in slowing down, in learning to live at my children’s pace, in learning to be grateful for the simplicity of my life, instead of pressing through tasks in order to tell myself I am somebody worthwhile. The slower I live my life, the more I learn to recognize the God who is already here, the God who has always been here in the space beyond my frantic striving.
It’s hard to let go of my need to produce, to be efficient. I long to be useful, to live a life that is easily measured by accomplishments, whether those accomplishments are spiritual or physical. I imagine that recovering from an addiction to franticness is similar to any other recovery. I learn to recognize the symptoms: the fog of guilt that rolls into my mind and settles over everything else when I’m not living up the expectations I’ve set for myself, the rapidly beating heart that comes with being late or failing another person. I’ve also learned what inevitably comes after those initial symptoms: I lose my temper, I scream, I accuse my kids of making me late, though I know I’m the one responsible. I become the worst version of myself.
That very scenario has been the story of my mothering life. I’m fun and kind and gentle when they are listening, when we don’t have somewhere to be. But the moment they don’t perform, the moment their lack of attention affects my anxiety, is the moment I lose my cool.
I’ve been learning to breathe, to recognize that this part of me—the same part of me that carried that egg timer and cried every time it buzzed its torturous alarm—is a part that wants to hurt me. My internal frantic monster is not good to me. It’s not good to my family.
And I’m learning to recognize the antidote to my addiction to franticness: when I purposefully slow myself, slow my movements, slow my words, the fog lifts from my anxious mind. When I slow myself, I breathe. And when I breathe, I pray.
Two weeks ago, the boys were doing what we Texans call “dilly-dallying” when it was time to put their shoes on for school. I was brushing my teeth while packing their backpacks, and they were staring at walls, aimless.
And I did what I’ve been learning to do. I prayed, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. And (after spitting out my toothpaste) I spoke slowly to them. I didn’t look at the clock. I said, “Fastest person to get their shoes on and into the car gets to pick the song!”
And when we got into the car, we were still running eight minutes behind schedule, the same as we would have been if I’d forcibly pushed shoes onto their feet and yelled while they snapped themselves into seat belts. By the time we dropped the youngest at preschool and made it to my first grader’s school, the bell had already rung and his class was already sitting on the circle rug, starting the day with the calendar and weather charts. But as I pulled into a metered parking spot and began the two-block walk to school, my oldest son took my hand.
“Good job not being stressed today, Mama.”
It’s not much for most, but for this frantic soul, these are the small moments when I believe that I don’t have to live as a slave to my internal monster. I belong to a God who heals, even neurotic little girls with egg timers who grow up into short-tempered stressed out moms.
And God is healing me. Through rest and prayer and through the belief that who I am is not what I accomplish or how perfectly I perform, but to whom I belong.
Micha (pronounced "MY-cah") Boyett is a writer, blogger, and sometimes poet. A former youth minister, she's passionate about monasticism and ancient Christian spiritual practices and how they inform the contemporary life of faith. She is the author of Found: A Story Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer. Boyett and her husband live in San Francisco with their two boys. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook, and find her blog at michaboyett.com.
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