I want to tell you the truth about what my life was like a few years ago. I was overworked, exhausted, addicted to sugar and caffeine. Whenever I’m tempted to sugar-coat (pun intended) the stress of that lifestyle, I remember this: I came down with shingles at the ripe old age of 23.
This morning, I find myself wanting just this: to sit on the sofa and stare out the window. Sacred dawdling, as Sue Monk Kidd calls it. When I first read those words, I thought, Dawdling as sacred? Really?
But it is sacred, because it is an act of faith. To stop my work, be unproductive, and simply look out into the new day … this requires trust.
When I do this, I feel as though I am coming close to a subversive act.
To sit around? On a Thursday morning at 10am, when I ‘should’ be working? On a Thursday morning at 10am, when in another lifetime (and by that I mean two years ago), I would have been sitting down to a long series of meetings at my former workplace?
When it comes to what happened the other day, I have choices.
I can forget it, beat myself up, or learn from it. Usually I elect a combination of forgetfulness and self-flagellation, but now, I’m going to go with learning.
Here’s what happened: I spent a day in a haze of stress, flitting from one administrative task to another. I didn’t prioritize creative writing. By the end I was sprawled on the couch, back aching from hours of sitting, eyes strained from staring at the computer.
What I found especially frustrating was that I know better. When I feel a day spiraling out of control, I know to take pause and ask: what needs to happen? What can wait? What would bring joy into the picture? But I didn’t.
We don’t quit doing harmful things until we’re ready. We don’t start doing kind things until we understand, on a bone-deep level, that we are worthy of love and tender care.
My husband and I have been under the weather this week. We’re dealing with some kind of virus, and he’s facing seasonal allergies on top of that. We’ve been keeping up with our most important responsibilities by sleeping or resting every free moment. And slowly, we’re starting to feel better.
This week of fatigue has had me feeling anxious; I worry about not getting enough work done each day, not moving faster toward my big goals. And there’s always this nagging, hypochondriac worry that maybe this bug is something serious.
In moments like these, I call my dear friend Brooke and ask for help and prayers. She will usually quote Anne Lamott in a soothing voice: “Darling neurotic…”
This always makes me smile, and helps me to dissipate the anxiety that haunts me whenever I don’t feel well. If I’m honest with myself, though, this anxiety also comes up whenever I feel like I’m falling behind on my work.
Behind what, exactly? I don’t know. I do know that I face a deep-seated fear that I’m not measuring up.
When this fear accosts me, it’s hard to give myself permission to rest, or to tell myself, “Oops, no big deal!” when I’ve made a silly mistake (such as forgetting daylight savings time and being late to meet a dear friend). It’s tough to be kind, to allow myself to rest when I am tired. It takes faith to believe that, in taking time to do nothing, I may actually be doing something of tremendous value for myself and others.
That is, until I remember my friend Miguel*, and what it’s like to see him rest.
When I lived in L’Arche, I loved to help Miguel get ready in the morning. I did his routine so many times that I had it down to a kind of dance. On any given day, I knew how long it would take him to finish his oatmeal in the morning, and what shirt choice would please him most. (Miguel receives assistance with tasks that most of us take for granted. He receives help with such dignity that it doesn’t seem difficult for him.)
I can call it back to me in an instant, the way it felt to tap the door and walk into Miguel’s room on a bright summer morning. I can feel the warmth of sunlight streaming through the blinds, the sense that I’m entering sacred space. The room smells of powder and lotion and hardwood; it’s a sanctuary of quiet.
When we’d start Miguel’s morning routine at 6:30am, he’d almost always be awake. He’d have a sheet pulled up to his chin as he threaded the cotton between his fingers. He’d look over at me as I entered the room, and I’d see a secret smile on his face.
If I chanced to push his door open without knocking, I’d see his gaze focused on the window across from his bed. He always looked happy, and rapt, as though he could see something beautiful that was hidden from my eyes. It seemed that Miguel was praying in his own way: prayer without words, a spirit opened up to receive God’s gladness.
In L’Arche, I was introduced to the idea that we can rest in service to one another, that we can, in fact, rest for one another. This comes clear for me when I think of Miguel lying in bed, waiting to be assisted in his routine. His rest has taught me that peace isn’t dependent upon our abilities, or how much we get done in a day. Thanks to him, I see that one can cultivate joy even at times when one can do nothingbut rest.
Miguel’s life shows me that anxiety is a choice, that I can choose to experience peace instead. Though I have the ability to do many things for myself, I still need to learn to pray each day in the way that Miguel does: without words, with an open spirit.
Much as I treasured those mornings together, I also loved saying goodnight to Miguel at the end of evening routine. As I tucked him in, I’d ask in Spanish, “Would you like a kiss?” He’d always nod, and turn his cheek toward me. As I left, I’d say the short Spanish blessing another assistant had taught me, which translates to, “[May you] sleep with the angels [attending you].”
My room at L’Arche was directly above Miguel’s, which meant that I could hear almost every noise that came from his room. Sometimes, this meant that I needed to respond to urgent calls of “Bathroom!” that no one else could hear, but usually, it meant that I got to listen to a lullaby of purrs each night.
You’d think this would have made falling asleep difficult, but actually, it helped me to relax. I’d drift to sleep thinking that the blessing I gave to Miguel had boomeranged back, somehow.
And so I choose to dedicate this time of rest to Miguel, that I might offer respite to a man who has given so much to me.
Who might you rest for this week? Tell me in the comments!