I hate wearing things that are tight. Shoes, clothing, rings, watches, bracelets. If it’s on my person, it cannot be tight. My skin starts feeling like it is going to crawl off my body and whatever thoughts are going through my head at the time start spinning at something like a thousand miles a second. I rarely get to the heart palpitation and sweaty palms stage, but I have been known to go into a full-blown melt down just because I strapped on my watch a little too tightly. Thus it has been since I was a kid. So what on earth do I do when it seems as though my life just doesn’t fit me, that it is life itself that seems somehow too tight?
My life is pretty much a case study in how to avoid meeting my own heart as it is, but when life starts to chafe against the tender places, finding the half-healed lacerations and the still angry bruises, it can be a disaster waiting to happen. I run from the constriction. I start packing in more activities, more hockey games (or baseball, depending on the season), more concerts, longer motorcycle rides through the mountains. I will eat anything that isn’t nailed down (Look up “emotional eating” in the dictionary. I’m pretty sure you’ll find my picture there). I will pack in more and more and more and more until exhaustion makes me sick. Literally. Anything to keep me from feeling the ache in my heart, the restlessness, the relentless thoughts that tell me something needs to change.
I have always hated the expression “lean into” something. How do you lean into a heart that has already been shattered? How can you lean into the injuries of self that have festered, robbing you of strength and vitality, that have left you dead or dying in all the ways that matter? How on earth can you hope to resist any of that without failing entirely? What kind of fool insists on pressing into that? What kind of fool would even try? I didn’t for a long, long time. I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. I didn’t have the courage. I was tired, and heartsick and God was so very far away.
It takes time to rediscover the desperation capable of transmuting the pain into lament, into plea, into petition. It takes a special kind of intervention, I think, to learn the vocabulary of prayer when it is not your native tongue. And it takes a special kind of grace to weld the two together.
Now? I hate to admit that my first thought may be to blow off that workout or to find any carb that doesn’t come from the organic fruits and veggies that have been the mainstay of my diet for the last year. I may still accept that invitation to one more game or one more concert or one more night out. I may yet turn “Oscar” towards the foothills or take the (very) long way home. But more and more often, I turn to my journal, my laptop. I pick up my guitar and let my fingers dance over the strings. I grab my camera and start looking for the beautiful things in my life. Or I get my sketchpad and make beautiful things of my own.
I am learning there is a kind of spiritual alchemy that turns art into an expression of the heart. Although it runs against every inclination I have, I am trying to get the hang of being patient. I’m learning to listen more. I’m trying to pay attention. I’m practicing being still. I’m searching for good questions to ask and waiting to hear the answers rather than rushing on to the next question. And if that starts to sound like the beginnings of a conversation, then maybe I’m finally learning how to pray.
How about you? What do you do when life presses in tight?