Learning to Breathe.

As a part of the ordination process, I had to undergo psychological testing. I apparently passed, which simply means that I have no pathology that is bad enough to make a psychologist think I’d do substantial harm to a body of the faithful. However, I do have pathology . Regular, everyday, run of the mill pathology.

My pathology, according to this test and affirmed by my husband and I, has to do with sensitivity to stress. I’m extra sensitive to it. Specifically, I feel deeply and have a hard time letting things roll off my back. I need an unusual amount of space and time to process what’s happening inside of me. Also, according to this test, I’m lower energy than most people my age. This is no shocker. The main thing that the test showed was that being stressed or overextended manifests in my body. Everyone’s body and emotions are connected. Mine are super connected. Some wear their hearts on their sleeve. I wear mine on my shoulders and in my neck. So this psychologist (who I’ve only talked to for 2 hours) recommends that I meditate, get massages and/or learn body relaxation in some way (like yoga), and have a lot of time to take it easy. Okay, sign me up! In a myriad of ways–through my spiritual director, in prayer, in scripture, in my own desires, and now from a medical professional–it seems God is stirring up in me a calling to get still. Let go of control. Learn to breathe. Get to know, as this letter from the Abbott (which is the best thing I’ve read on this) says, “The scent of light.”

That’s what I’m wanting to learn this season.

There are a few challenges though:
First, practically, I’m a mom of a toddler who heads-up a growing ministry. I might desire to be the contemplative sort, but my life is a far cry from the monastic ideal. But I’m learning (slowly) to take what I can get. Stillness can be measured in very tiny spoon fulls.

We, as a family, are also taking some steps to carve out some time to be still and to be alone. I am very grateful that my husband is encouraging me to retreat (it is more work for him for me to do so). At the end of the month, I’m going on a day away retreat with these guys. I get to be alone with God for 7 hours without a baby and without a task list. Literally, this hasn’t happened in 18 months. I cannot wait.

Secondly, I am fairly addicted (and I do not use that word flippantly here) to activity. I fill up my stillness with distraction, internet voyeurism, or even really good things, like time with friends. The psychologist said to me: “You need to tell friends that you can’t hang out with them because you need to take it easy and stay home. And [this is the hard part] not feel guilty about it.”

Jonathan and I are hanger-outers. We are committed to community, and feel called to build community all around us. And I’m pretty sure my super-extroverted husband could be with people 5 nights in a row and wake up on the 6th day ready to see friends again. I, on the other hand, crave alone time. I often want to hibernate. I want to say to even those who I love and enjoy, “I’m sorry I can’t go to your birthday party because I have to stare at the ceiling in my house alone and listen to shadows.” But how often can you really do that and still have friends? And I love my friends. I need them.

The monastics get this better than I do. They understand that community and solitude are not opposite enemies but the truest of companions. They give birth to one another. Solitude keeps us from using community as a commodity- as a thing to take away loneliness or deliver us from ourselves. But Community keeps solitude from turning into isolationism and indulgence. I need both.

Like inhaling and exhaling. Both are indeed gifts from God.