Recovery Room: Professional Performance Addiction

I had the privilege of meeting Ashley Hales in Portland, where a few of us gathered at Warner Pacific College and discussed faith, writing, and the carpet of cherry blossoms on the WPC parking lot. Ashley is a gem. I can attest. In addition to being an accomplished writer, Ashley holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She spends most of her time running after her 4 children and helping her husband plant a church.  You can find her work at aahales.com, and The Mudroom. She loves to make friends on Twitter.

Welcome Ashley to the Recovery Room. (For more Recovery Room pieces, CLICK HERE).

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I do not often believe that God is good. Instead I picture God with a frown in heaven, not quite pleased that I haven’t got my act together yet. For all my Bible answers, all my understanding of a theology of grace, I choose hustle to prove that I am loved and seen. Do you?

When I sat in a little red plastic chair and “prayed the prayer” at a Get-Your-Salvation pop-up tent, I wanted to make the lady manning the booth feel good by sitting down and following Jesus. Even at 4 years old. As an only child, I’d quickly learned that pleasing people not only made both parties happy, but also endeared me to them. I was special as long as I was perfect. And salvation groaned under weight of duty.

I’d check off Bible studies and small groups. I’d travel on mission trips to Mexico and invite my friends to youth group. My love for Jesus and his church was mixed up with my own need to be seen as a model Christian. This was my addiction, my sanitized way to hold off what Brennan Manning calls “the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.”

Duty is a terrible god. It does not motivate, release, or encourage. There is no freedom, just an obsessive turning-inward, where I’d never do enough to wipe the frown from God’s face.

On the other side of adulthood, the list shifted to parenting choices, political affiliation, what brand of theology you sold. It was easier to sort others into columns of “acceptable” or “non-acceptable” based on their answers. This was easier than the hard journey of love – where truth and grace dance and no one knows exactly how the steps will go.

Rule keeping was easier than believing the children’s song: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. A song I thought I’d outgrown, but one I’m just now learning.

Underneath all the frantic hustle, there are burning questions. What might happen if I lost myself in the love of God? What could happen if I loosened my grip on all the ways I was sure I was right? What might happen if I loved others by sacrificing myself? I feared I would become invisible. I would lose myself.

This recovery is not a neat and tidy story of upward mobility, where the power of people pleasing and rule following fall off like chains and I’m forever free. For as many times as I’m moved towards a love that embraced death for me, I crawl back to my chains. I plan church events and get sucked into all the “doing,” all the fretting about my children’s behavior, and I’m stuck in a world of “me.”

Seth writes, this is not a clean story. It’s true. This is not a story of tabulating performance to land on top. This is not a story of just getting my act together to please a frowning deity. This is a story of a grace that shatters. I’m shattered again and again and lovingly put back together by hands that are not mine.

Most days, honestly, I still prefer a safe, tame God. I resist opening my dry bones to a God whose love is so bent on the object of his desire that it is a consuming fire. I fear I will be burned up. But I’m learning that instead of backing away from the fire, to use borrowed words. I repeat creeds and prayers and “Jesus Loves Me.” I have no shiny words, no jargon or religious activity to make God happy. His eyes have always smiled at me simply because I am his child.

I’m beloved. That is worth getting caught up in.

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Ashley Hales profile picture

 

Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She spends most of her time running after her 4 children and helping her husband plant a church.  She writes at aahales.com, The Mudroom, and loves to make friends onTwitter.

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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.

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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]

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“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.

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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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