Recovery Room: The Internal Frantic Monster (Or, My Addiction to the Egg Timer)

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.

*****TINY LETTER SIGNUP*****

In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I'm discussing the artisanal theology and the Fayetteville Hipster. It's a little bit snarky, a little bit graceful, a little bit introspective, and a whole lot of fun. If you sign up today, you'll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song "Train Wreck." It's a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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Micha Boyett: On the mystery and the magic. (Or, why I believe poetry matters)

Today, I've asked Micha Boyett, talented author and award-winning mother (so her children say), to answer the question, "why poetry?" Micha (pronounced "MY-cah") is a grand writer whose new book Found: A Story Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer, explores how to live an monastic life within the hustle and bustle of our contemporary society. (Go pick up a copy.) Micha received her MFA in creative writing from Syracuse University, where she studied poetry. In other words, when it comes to poetic license, this woman has some clout. Enjoy.

*****

I sit in the teacher’s chair before a carpet packed with five and six year olds, all sitting crisscross applesauce. They stare at me with expectation. I am August’s mom, the real-live-author, there to tell them about poetry.

“A poem is like a painting or a sculpture made out of words,” I say. “Have you ever had a big feeling and it made you want to cry really hard or hit something?” About eighteen hands shoot up at this question. (Me too, kids. Me too.) “Poetry takes a big feeling or a big idea and shows it in a small, careful way.”

“Sometimes I have big feelings.” (All the time. Big feelings are my best friends. For better or worse.) “And when I have them, the best thing I can do is put the feeling into words. I understand my feelings better after I write them into a poem.”

Five of the Kindergarteners are waving hands with vigor because they really need to tell me all about their big feelings and all the times they’ve hit their siblings. I nod my head with compassion and try to move on. “Poetry is like a painting because it says something big in a small space. Poetry shows us the world around us in new ways.”

I stare at my son who is beaming because his mom is sitting in the teacher’s chair. He is beaming because I am an expert in something, even though on the way to school he assured me that poetry is super boring.

“Yeah, buddy. Sometimes it’s boring for me too,” I said. “But sometimes it’s magic.” I’m sure he rolled his eyes in the back seat. But, right now, he’s bursting with pride in me.

It’s true, what I said to him in the car. I love poetry because of the magic. I love it because sometimes I need to be given new words and new images and new gentle rhythms. I need to be reminded of the beauty of this world, and poetry gives me a different vision. Poetry adjusts my lens, my paradigm. It helps me notice what is more real than the to-do lists and anxieties of my daily life.

The world is both exquisite and foul. It is both wonderful and tragic. And poems somehow give me the space to hold the weight of the bothness.

Poetry gives me the form to hold the wild sweetness of my son on that carpet in his Kindergarten classroom, gazing at me with pride and love. Poetry gives me the form to acknowledge that I can hold his innocent pride in me and still recognize the coming loss: that he will grow up, that this moment will pass, that he will mature and become a man. He loves me desperately in this bright moment but soon (so soon!) he will fall in love with another woman and make a life with her. He will have a job and responsibilities and he will have to remind himself to send me a happy birthday card. His blonde hair will go brownish and eventually grayish and I will die and (please God) he will bury me with tears.

I think this as I speak about poems to the twenty-one children in his classroom. Somehow, I hold the desperation of his sweet innocence, and the truth of his growing up. Somehow I feel it in a moment as I speak.

Poetry tells me there is room to hold the mystery of this. Poetry gives me a way to say it.

I speak to his class about William Blake who wrote words two hundred years ago. “Can you guys believe that he wrote a poem two hundred years ago, before we were alive, and we still read it, even though he’s not even alive anymore?”

They cannot fathom two hundred years. I cannot fathom it either. How do I dare to consider eternity?

We pass out copies of Blake’s “The Tyger,” which I have printed in large font next to a black and white image of the ferocious creature. We stop with each stanza so I can explain the big words. I define symmetry. “Hold out your arms and draw an invisible line down the middle of your body. Look how your arms are the same on each side!” We discuss the scary feeling of seeing a cat’s eyes in the dark and compare that to Blake’s description of the tiger’s fire eyes.

We wonder out loud about what it could mean for stars to shoot spears and weep. August and his friends are sure that “when the stars threw down their spears” it meant that a bad hunter was trying to kill to the tiger and the stars were protecting him. (These San Francisco boys have passionate feelings about caring for the animals.)

I listen and wonder with them. I want them to feel the mystery of this poem, of poetry in general. Because sometimes there aren’t answers. Surely Blake knew what he meant by the stars/spears image but, honestly, I’ve never been quite sure. And even though the language is high above these Kindergarten-sized brains, I know this to be true: Kids understand mystery and the otherness of the fierce creature in Blake’s poem. Kids may not know what a furnace is, but they know the creepiness of a brain fashioned inside glowing fire.

When we spread out through the room, back to seats and tables and crayons, the kids write their own poems in which, based on Kenneth Koch’s amazing prompt in his book Rose Where Did You Get That Red?, they are invited to ask questions of any kind of creature they want. I walk around the room helping the children sound out words.

One boy writes his poem to a megaladon. Another writes “Cretur! Cretur! Why are you so gloomee?”

About twelve different girls write their poems to unicorns. (How did these girls collectively zap each other’s brains with the shared unicorn idea? I’m amazed.) My son calls a cobra snake “wis” and “fritng” (wise and frightening). And each time I see them working to put pencil to paper, struggling to get the questions out of themselves and into the world, I feel the magic of poems.

All great art should say the big truths with economy and beauty. Every word of a poem should be necessary, just as every stroke of the paintbrush on canvas, or every cut of the clay in the sculptor’s hand should contribute to the story, the experience, the presence of the piece.

We need big feelings set in small spaces. Our world is too loud and too fast and, most likely, it will continue to speed up as these children grow. We need the quiet ferocity of poems, the room they give us to recognize the truth in the wild motion of our lives. Poems are like prayer in that way: an invitation to slow down.

Yes, poetry is sometimes boring. But, mostly, that’s because we are too frantic to trust the poems, to wait with them, to ask them questions. When we stop to listen to a poem speak, when we take the time to sit with their quiet mysteries, sometimes we are invited into the magic.

 *****

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 recently released her first book Found: A Story Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer. Boyett and her husband live in San Francisco with their two boys. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at michaboyett.com

Micha Boyett

On Micha Boyett's Found

Today I'm reviewing Micha Boyett's book, Found. All block quotes in this piece are taken from Found. For more on Micha, visit her website, michaboyett.com.

1.

“It’s just that all the answers of my evangelical past—read more Scripture, pray longer, try harder, serve more people—have become heavy burdens in my life. I can’t do enough to prove myself spiritually fit.” ~ Micha Boyett

In the fall of 2012, I quit praying.

Our youngest son’s health was failing, and we were trapped inside a Children’s Hospital, watching him waste away. I prayed every prayer I could muster, prayed for healing, for life, for the doctors to discover the underlying condition. I prayed prayers of faith, and lack of faith. I gave God the grand out--if it be your will. I prayed early morning prayers, and prayers while doing late-night loads of laundry in the hospital commons.

And then one night, I stopped praying altogether.

There are times when doubt is not a creeping, sneaky thing. There are times when you cannot work your way out of doubt. There are times when doubt is a hound of Hell with iron teeth clamped around your throat.

2.

Identity issues are very real things.

In my mid-thirties, I uncovered a deep distrust for the evangelical platitudes of my youth. I’d done most of the right things—read scripture with continuity, prayed continually, joined the ministry machine for a stint. I was a bootstraps kind of believer, hoping that by enough tugging I might pull myself up to heaven. I wouldn’t have told you this, of course. I would have told you that I believed in grace.

“Can you try so hard to be perfect that you miss God? I wondered. Maybe they’re missing God.”

3.

When Micha was in eleventh grade, an itinerate preacher—a well-meaning one, I’m sure—visited her church in the Texas flat lands. A young fellow, he told the church-goers that if they “trusted Jesus enough,” they could “go an entire day without sin.” By implication, I suppose he might have opined that by trust and pure-D old boot-strapping effort, one could string a lifetime of sinless days together.

And there, among the flat-land throng was Micha, she with a budding intuition. Go without sin? Is such a thing possible?

“I knew I was a sinner. I knew I was supposed to be a better witness for Jesus. But these words, this sermon, did not free me. The words squeezed my insides. They felt wrong.”

4.

In one’s early days, life is filled with notions of grandeur, of world-changing, of exploration. By our late-twenties and early thirties, so many of us are filled with notions of survival, instead—make it through another day at the office; change one more poopy diaper; arrive at church at some point after the opening hymn but before the benediction.

Micha dreamed of taking on Africa, of becoming a missionary to unreached peoples. This, she thought, was the pinnacle of Christian sainthood. Perhaps she thought that this sort of devotion would prove her fidelity toward God. Perhaps she believed that by good, holy work, she could reach heavenly status. No matter, by her thirtieth birthday, she’d walked far from those youthful dreams, was raising a child in the congested heart of San Francisco, groping for connection with God.

“I’ve realized that just about everyone is like me, second-guessing, longing for courage to find awe in the world.”

5.

Prayer does not have to be a complicated act, an exercise in the effluence of words. Prayer can be simple, an act of understanding that the everyday, mundane tasks can be done as unto God. This, is Boyett’s grand claim, and she derives it from the Rule of St. Benedict.

It is a grand and freeing claim, indeed.

By contemplation, by study, by visiting the monks who have devoted their lives to prayer and service, Micha learned the solace in the simplest prayers, prayers like, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

She breathed this prayer in rhythm over the waters of the South Platte, fly-line unfurling on the waters. She found that even fly-fishing can be done as unto God. She has learned the way of simple prayer—perhaps the way back to prayer.

“Our prayer should be free of preoccupations and it should normally be short.”

6.

“Prayer is not as hard as I make it out to be. Again and again, lift and unfold. Lay that line out, let it meander a little. Do it again. I am not profound. I am not brave in spirit. My faith is threadbare and self-consumed, but I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.”

Is prayer about moving mountains in faith? Is prayer about finding healing in an Arkansas hospital room? Is prayer a form of magic, a spell to be cast over the problem du jour?

No. This sort of prayer, I think, is born from the same bootstrap mentality that says you don’t have to sin. This sort of prayer is more about the pray-er, more about the need and the faith, or the standing required to conquer a thing.

Jesus taught us to pray more simple prayers, prayers that connect us to the very fabric of God and his universe. Boyett the Benedictine, the Mama Monk, teaches us the way of this sort of prayer, too. There is freedom here.

7.

"I feel like the water must have felt when Jesus changed it to blood red wine."

Sometimes epiphanies are sudden things, they come up like a west Texas thunderstorm, change the landscape of everything all of the sudden. Sometimes, though, they are slower working. Sometimes they start at the surface and work their way down to the fabric.

Was I praying all wrong back in those Arkansas Children’s Hospital days? Was there a reason my prayers ricocheted from the ceilings? I don’t know. I know some simpler prayers might have done me well, though.

As for you: do you believe that God likes you despite your own broken prayers, your inability to measure up, to go a day without sinning? Do you believe that you identity is found in your endless doing, your striving. Do you wonder whether you’ll ever pile up enough works to reach the heavens?

There are gems in this book of Boyett’s. She sneaks its Benedictine shots in with the grace of a God-bearer and the chops of one with a Master of Fine Arts in poetry. She writes beautiful sentences, allows the reader his own slow epiphany.

God's love is not only for the deserving doers, the perfect prayers, Micha might say. Instead, it is for the everyday common man, for those too tired to try measuring up to some silly standard. And yes, most of our standards of measuring are silly.

Grab Found. Benedictines, Baptists, and low-church Evangelicals welcomed.

bookLG-found2

Good Links (The Found Edition)

Here in the Boston Mountains, spring has come to thaw the good earth and the weeds have begun their sprouting. They grow fast, the weeds, the first green things of the season. There are daffodil shoots by my front door, too, a foreshadowing of something beautiful breaking. Weeds are not the only things shooting up here. The boys are shooting up, and up, and up, and it's not a far stretch to imagine them all as seven foot tall bottomless grocery pits. Ian, our third boy, has a stomach that empties into his hollow leg. I swear it. He's always asking for more to eat. On Tuesday Taco Night ("Everything is Awesome"), he ate four tacos, an apple, an orange, a handful of chips, and another taco. He's only six.

Lord, save us from the teenage appetites.

My appetites have shifted over the years, of course, have been turned more to art, music, and words. This week, I've found a few good works to slake my thirst. Enjoy.

BOOKS

I've been digging into Micha Boyett's book (check out her new site!), Found, and let me tell you something: it is good. In it, Micha writes of her struggle to add-up, deals with the subtleties of a quiet works based righteousness. She explores the way of Saint Benedict, a way marked by less striving, by a kind of restful labor.

Micha writes of her long, broken prayers, how they never seemed to add up or amount to much. Having left a successful ministry position for full-time motherhood, she struggled with core identity issues. Would God love her enough? Would she be a worthy saint without some grand God-task? What if she never changed the world?

Is this a book that deals with motherhood? Sure. But deeper, this is a book that deals with the endless striving of modern Christian culture; this is a book for men and women alike. (We all suffer from our own identity crises, don't we?) Grab a copy. Better, grab three copies and give two to a friend.

MUSIC

This week, the music segment ties in with geopolitics. "How," you ask? Good question.

Yesterday, in an bold move to bring back the Cold War era, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a declaration formalizing Matthew Wilder's 1983 hit, "Nobody Gonna Break My Stride," as Russia's alternative national anthem. Taking the stage with Crimean Solid Gold dancers, Putin declared, "Nobody gonna hold me down! Oh no! I've got to keep on moving!"

According to credible reports, state run television has been playing this video for the last twenty-four hours.

LINKS

The Malaysian Flight 370 debacle just keeps getting stranger. One day, they're searching a stretch of ocean the size of the state of Pennsylvania, and the next day, they expand the search "to include a several-hundred-square-mile zone in the Indian Ocean as well as each of the seven or 22 additional spatial dimensions posited by string theory." Follow The Onion for the most recent updates (sort of).

I love it when a fella writes good words about his wife, and Nathan Elmore has penned some of the best. He writes, "[h]ow can I say this? I suppose Amie is as good at nurturing smaller human beings as I am at putting fish sticks and crinkle fries on a tray and placing them into an oven..." Classic. Go check out Nathan's space.

I've followed Ann Kroeker for years. She has killer editorial skills, is wicked-sharp with a pen, and is kind to boot. This week she writes about forming writing habits. "Don't break the chain," she says. Any aspiring writer (or recovering addict, for that matter) will want to read this. If you're looking for a writing coach, or just some good advice on keeping the pen ink flowing, Jump over to Anne's site.

John Blase: "we live haunted by the remains of a paradise half-seen in dreams." Go read this.

MUSIC--THE REDUX

For those of you who don't know Nish Weiseth, you should. She's an extraordinary doer, a wonderful thought-leader, and a connoisseur of good music. Last week she set the hook and reeled me in with Twin Forks.

Oh, my.

Thanks for stopping in this week! And if you've run across any good links of your own, let us know in the comments.

Good Links (THIS {^} EDITION)

It's my firm belief that winter is giving way to spring. (If I write that enough, it will come true at some point; right?) The last winter weather blast is melting away. The courthouse roof is nearly snow free, and the Fayetteville folk are finally going about their merry ways without spinning rubber ruts into stoplight ice pockets. The slick sheen of ice patches can still be seen in the shadier spaces, but for the most part, we are thawing. This winter, we've been pounded by mother nature. She's seen fit to excuse the boys from fourteen days of school due to snow. This was, of course, just fine with the boys, until they discovered that they'd be in school well into who-knows-when. Everything has a tradeoff, I told them; they are learning the ways of give and take.

Speaking of give and take, today I'm giving you some good links for the taking. Take them. Own them. Enjoy them.

Books

A few weeks back, my friend Bill Jensen sent me Mark Buchanan's book, Things Unseen. Jensen extolled his writing, said Buchanan was penning some really fine lines. I've begun reading the piece, and let me say--this feller can turn a phrase.  

In Things Unseen, he writes about the world around us, the groaning in our bones for heaven. "Better figure it out now; the world is booby-trapped." That's it, I think. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Links

Are you familiar with the Facebook phenomenon otherwise known as "THIS {^}". If you are engaged in the internet world, there is no doubt you've run across this form of communication wherein an article is posted, tweeted, etc., without commentary save for one word, "This." My friend, Tim Willard, pens his commentary on the matter. Full of witty banter, and inside jokes re 90's action flicks and reformed theology, this must be read over your morning coffee.

Are you a fan of mythical creatures, of legends, of The Walking Dead? Then you'll love this post at Brain Pickings that explores Gabriela Giandelli's book Monsters and Legends. The illustrations in this post are incredible.

It's Lent. You're giving up coffee, right? Donuts? Liquor? Meat? Well whatever your personal sacrificial offerings might include, have you thought about adding a little something to the mix? How about donating all that spare change? My friend, Preston Yancey, is gathering a collective of people to chip in and help some good folks in Haiti. Consider his post?

I tell you, I like 'ol Micha Boyett.  Not only has she written a book that might just be the must-read work for every mother mired in the muck of mothering (alliteration anyone?), but she's also curating a lenten photograph series that's splendid. If you are an Instagram user, you'll want to check this out.

I returned from Ethiopia in January, awe-filled by the ways the Ethiopian church is reaching out to their orphans. They are a beautiful lot of people, our brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa. Anyhow, I've been revisiting my posts on Ethiopia (especially this one about my friend Kabede), adoption, and adoption ethics. I hope you'll consider them, too.

Music

I've been spinning the "Recovery" playlist like there's no tomorrow. It helps when the cravings for liquor come to roost. On that playlist is a fella by the name of Jon Bryant. This week, I started really digging into his music thanks to this tweet by Katie:

This week, I'd recommend you dig into his music, too.

Video

Enjoy the song "David Livingstone," by Jon Bryant.

"You be Dave Livingstone, I'll be his African heart." What a killer line.