On Learning to Lean In

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?


10 thoughts on “On Learning to Lean In

    • Thank you Tonia. Sometimes I need to remind myself that there are some advantages to being a card carrying member of “Control Freaks ‘R Us”. Even more than that, though, I think I need to learn to trust the process more. As in all things, it’s a process.


  1. Carryl, Thank you for writing this. It is raw an honest and shows your journey. Isn’t it interesting how what we wear and how we “make ourselves up” often reflect our underlying self perceptions. It took me years to cut or colour my hair and I still struggle with the idea of wearing make up because of my own inner perceptions. Which reminds me, I have let my hair grow out long enough, time to go choose the colour I want to start using for the school year. You have a beautiful spirit and I am glad I am getting to know you through your writing.


    • It has taken me a while to realize that I am not left to the mercy of my past, that I can choose how the events of my life (past, present and future) shape me. Slowly, I think I am beginning to grow into the woman I think God has envisioned I could be. At least I hope that is true. Thank you so very much for coming on this journey with me, Linda.


  2. If you ever can get your hands on the Parker J. Palmer book “Let Your Life Speak” I found the journey of that story so helpful I gave away 11 other copies of the book. Your writing is resonating with what I read there. I can sense the listening. Here is a quote to share an example:

    “….if the self seeks not pathology but wholeness, as I believe it does, then the willful pursuit of vocation is an act of violence toward ourselves — violence in the name of a vision that, however lofty, is forced on the self from without rather than grown from within. True self, when violated, will always resist us, sometimes at great coast, holding our lives in check until we honor the truth……Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about ……..”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing your heart. Your prose is profoundly beautiful, almost lyrical in places, and it was a joy to read. Underneath that, is a depth of understanding that only comes from taking the time to listen to what beats within us. I look forward to reading more from you.


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