The Process of Undoing

Today, I’m mourning something. I think I’ve been depriving myself of something over the past few years, and I wonder how many others are doing the same.

I’m ending my 5th year of Undergraduate school so soon. Looking back, I am burdened by how difficult it has been to get here. I’ve been saying the words, “I just can’t wait to be done with school” since before I even began. Without fail, each semester I come to a point of utter frustration at my lack of fulfillment in the life of a student. Through some combination of loving reminders from people around me, pure ignorance, and ultimately God’s hand, I’ve pushed through.

In this final semester though, this moment of frustration has stuck around. I think I’ve stopped trying to lie to myself that I like being a student, and finally let myself just feel that this process of education as been difficult. There are tears. There is anger. There is sadness. There is anticipation. There is mourning. I have never felt so tired, so worn-down.

Honestly, I’m not sure it was worth it.

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I sometimes feel guilty, put-down, and angry because I want to get all my crap together and stop whining about it. I see others who are “doing” so much more than I and are succeeding and flourishing in it. When I compare my life to others, I see that I have never faced much opposition in striving to follow my dreams. I’ve grown up in a loving home. I’ve known Jesus all my life. I’ve lived in a well-off community. I’m married to the most amazing and supportive man. Why should someone like me have a hard time, right?

But if I give myself the freedom to not compare myself other others, I see that something much deeper is going on.

I’ve forgotten what makes my soul flourish.

I’ve forgotten how to rest.

I’ve forgotten how to love.

I’ve forgotten who God really is.

I’ve forgotten who I am.

I’ve forgotten what I have to offer. 

I’ve forgotten the value of friendship. 

I’ve been absolutely consumed. With things to do, ministries I’m required to be a part of, transitioning into new communities, commuting, working random jobs, and doing life responsibilities and obligations. And at the same time, figuring out who I am, what I believe in, and where I want to go next.

As my schedule gets continually crammed, my conviction gets deeper. When I reflect on my college years, I get angry at myself for letting my education turn into, truly, a life ruled by busyness. I’ve lost myself in this process of education. In fact, I struggle to even remember what I like to do in my spare time, because I never gave myself “spare time.” Today, spare time turns sour quickly because my brain is too exhausted to think, create, or read. My body feels too tired to want to go out and do anything.

Because I haven’t taken care of myself well over the last few years, I now find myself struggling for relief from the lasting consequences.

I ran myself into the ground. The warning signs of burn-out are all here. Sleeping more at night (10+ hours). Simple tasks became major, energy-draining projects. Any motivation to be social was squelched. I became jealous for personal time and I never felt like I had enough. My patience ran out quickly. Mentally distant from work or class. From the moment I woke up, I would review everything I had to do that day until I would be able to climb back into bed again later that night. The list goes on.

At the end of this summer, I came to a point where I was so over it. I recognized what had happened, and knew this was not the life I wanted to live. I decided to slow down. I quit my job, registered for less classes, and gave myself a break. I wanted a more balanced life, but had no idea how to start the process of overcoming this burnout.

Now that several months have passed, I think I’m seeing progress. I still have no idea what the “3-step plan for overcoming burnout” is, but it’s been my own personal journey.

I’m learning that God calls us into the simple. The quiet. The still. This doesn’t mean our lives won’t be busy, but it does mean we need to balance them. While I still have all the same obligations (work, school, ministry, internship, etc.), I’m learning to approach them differently. I’m taking steps to be more aggressive in saying no. I’m remembering to take time for myself — like reading an entire novel on Saturday morning instead of stressing out over school papers. Drinking coffee on the patio instead of fretting over finances. Catching up on my favorite TV show instead of pretending to study. I’ve adjusted a lot of my expectations to what I can handle. I don’t do as much as I could for school or ministry, but that’s okay.

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This process of undoing is so messy, friends. All of my emotions are bubbling to the surface and I have to actually face them. I can’t ignore them, organize them, or make them seem pretty. They just are. When we numb ourselves to feelings like grief, shame, anger, or fear, we also keep ourselves from experiencing the fullness of joy, peace, hope, excitement, and love. We become lifeless.

In an effort to grow, I’m walking confidently into this mess. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know where it will go. I don’t know how hard it will be or how long it will last. But while I unwind my stone heart, I know that my soul will look- straight up- chaotic.

I think that’s sanctification.

I trust that as I unwind and slowly deal with the crap that shows itself, God will continually heal and redeem what’s been so disfigured. I trust that he’ll lead me towards the next area of growth, to sanctify me more into his image.

Even though I feel so angry about so many things, and I want to either full-on panic or fight it, I trust that God is big enough, patient enough, loving enough, kind enough, graceful enough, and close enough to walk with me through it and help clean it from my soul.

So when people ask me about what I’m planning to do when I graduate in a few weeks, all I can think of REST. Practicing prayer. Giving more. Loving better. Growing deeper. Creating more. Dreaming bigger. Pursuing harder.  Letting Christ be my center, my hope, and my anchor.

I have no idea what that will be like. And I’m so excited.


Restart: Living More Intentionally

Today I quit my job. And no, I don’t have another one to replace it. I’ve been considering it for months, but I’ve been dreaming about it for longer.

Knowing how needed I was on my team, I felt obligated to follow through with my original commitment to December. And I honestly enjoyed having a part-time student position that was more than just the “same old, same old” everyday. I was a part of higher-level discussions and felt respected on my team. For that, I am ever grateful.

But since the beginning of the summer, I’ve started to notice a pattern. More and more, I felt like my life lacked a sense of purpose. I realized that I can’t squeeze myself into a work environment that doesn’t fit my personality and somehow find a way to still be happy. People just don’t work that way.

I was giving too much of myself to something that was not life-giving to me. I missed working towards meaningful relationships, being creative, dreaming about the future, and goal planning. All of my mental energy was being poured into trying to stay sane to the point that I had no energy left for the things or people I loved.

The next 6 months are about a restart. A step towards living more intentionally.

Building better relationships. Pouring into ministry. Resting my mind and body. Exercising. Reflecting on the purpose of my education. Cooking, baking, reading, crafting, and writing again. Remembering to live with joy and peace. Taking steps towards a more healthy spiritual life. Supporting my husband in his job. Planning for life post-graduation. And, what I’m most excited for, dreaming. I love to dream about the possibilities in life and take steps to make them a reality. Of all the things I’ve missed, this is the one I’ve missed the most.

Have you ever found yourself at a place in life that you didn’t want to be in? Whether it was through a series of your own decisions or through uncontrollable events, I think we can all relate. If so, what did you do? What do you wish you’d known or done sooner? 

If you can relate to my situation somehow, let’s talk about it. When people are open and honest about life, it allows other people to do the same. Realize that you are not alone. And that there is no shame in weakness. Let’s take steps towards being real with each other without judgement or guilt.

Choosing Joy

“But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners.” – Thomas Merton.

I’m a beginner. This exactly articulates how I feel today. Like I’m standing at the edge of a mountain yet to be climbed, but I can look back at the trail I’ve taken to get here. I’m gone so far, and yet there’s so much ahead. Life is so weird lately, and I’ve had trouble articulating why.

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I’ve quit my job, so I’m working on my internship from home. I have time to enjoy cooking, cleaning, sleeping, watching TV, and being around people. Finally. Finally. Phew. The flexibility and dictation over my life is wonderful and I’m soaking it in all that I can.

I’m finding that restlessness and negativity are a root. My life has become much simpler and free, and yet it’s like these two things have woven their way deeper because they’re too afraid to be cut off. They’re clinging on for dear life.

Despite all the good, I’m finding myself freaking out about big picture stuff. The what-if’s and when’s of life. Like graduating. Continuing to find what I’m passionate about. Searching for jobs that line up with that. Continuing to build a community. Possibly moving again soon. When do we have kids? Will Nathan go back to school? Will I ever go back to school?

So, now I’m asking myself, at what point will I be satisfied? What is “enough” that would make me happy? In many ways, I think happiness is a choice. You can choose to smile through situations and choose to be joyful in the midst of difficulties. But sometimes, honestly, that’s really hard.

From the research I’ve done recently for my counseling internship, very practically, people who experience depression have a harder time filtering out negative thoughts. Everyone has positive and negative thoughts. But when you experience depression, it’s like there’s a filter that removes all the positive ones, and leaves only the negative.

Imagine the frustration. You want to get better, you want to choose joy over sadness. But. How do you actually do that without just suppressing your feelings and burying them deep? Cognitively, it’s takes a lot of work and practice to filter those thoughts. To identify what you’re feeling, evaluate why you’re feeling it, and find alternative ways to view the situation. And then adapt to those alternative perspectives instead.

We usually completely accept our automatic, immediate thoughts in a given situation. But sometimes our automatic thoughts aren’t based on any real factual evidence, and we end up causing ourselves a lot of emotional distress for no reason. For example, if a friend passes by you without saying hello, you could think, “He’s ignoring me. I must have done something to upset him. He doesn’t like me anymore.” Instead, what about something like, “I wonder what’s going on with him today? He doesn’t seem like himself.”

For a tired mind, challenging these thoughts just feels impossible. And I feel lazy. I hear myself saying, “Just do it. Just get over it. Just feel better.” And to someone who may not have ever experienced this before, you’re probably thinking the same thing.

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” – Thomas Merton

Growth takes time. I’m choosing to accept the fact that all I will ever be is a beginner. Beginnings are exciting. Beginnings mark new adventures. New growth. New learning. New people. And all that has come before helps make me who I am.

So, one foot in front of the other, I’m going to strive to choose joy in every situation over sadness, anger, frustration, or whatever else. And it’s going to be difficult. But I’m also going to be honest with myself. And honest with other people without shame or guilt. In the midst of all my own fears of graduating and moving on to what’s next for us, I know that where I am is a great place. Full of experience, love, joy, and purpose. Cheers to what’s next.