“Aligning ourselves – heart, body, mind, and spirit – into unique positions of stillness creates the special environment we need. It creates the waiting season in which we become able to commune with our depths and begin to recover what is lost, heal what is wounded, and become who we truly are.”
–Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits
I am a self-identified and self-proclaimed overachiever. I am not proud of this fact about myself, but I have come to recognize my natural inclinations to want to do everything, perfectly right now. Perhaps this is the single, most powerful reason I am drawn to the contemplative, spiritual life. I need it. If left to my own devices each day would be filled with tasks, to-do lists, activities, and plans to get to the next goal. God, however, has something completely different planned for my life that goes beyond achieving and perfection.
Here is one way I struggle as an overachiever. I am impatient and often think I can accomplish about three times more than what is humanly possible in a day. Thirty-six years into my life and faith journey, my natural tendencies still try to dominate. I am, however, getting better at recognizing when they take over and when God is inviting me to slow down. The word invitation connotes gentleness, and yes, I have learned that God’s requests most often do begin as those gentle nudges and small whisperings. When ignored, however, they get louder and more forceful. In my life, God regularly uses illness to speak to me. For fifteen years, I have struggled with chronic daily headaches that often escalate into migraines. My body sets off alarms when I am going to fast and too hard.
About three weeks ago my body did just that, sending me message after message that it was time to slow down. Having spent the last three months forming my company, launching the website, and trying to build a small business in the span of about a month (remember overachiever), my body grabbed my attention and mandated I simply slow down. I was taking six or seven Advil a day and a tramadol just to function. I was attempting to manage my headaches with pills. Please don’t worry; my neurologist and I are in constant communication. I am currently undergoing a medicinal “reset” to get my body back to equilibrium. Yet, medicine is only one part of the equation. I have learned that right now, for whatever reason, I simply cannot do everything I want to do when I want to do it. My headaches are a spiritual reminder to let go and surrender my inner overachiever.
You might think that being a trained spiritual director would free me from such tendencies inherent to my humanity. Well, I am here to tell you I am just as human as you are. I have the same spiritual struggles that everyone else does. I think the value of my training is that I can recognize my unhealthy patterns faster than in my youth and refocus my thoughts and actions. Sue Monk Kidd talks about aligning ourselves to unique positions of stillness. Those places of stillness look different for each of us. For me, it is often a walk at night instead of time in front of the computer or television. I also find stillness in reading words of wisdom from poets and theologians or writing in my journal. Sometimes, I am able to master the art of simply sitting and listening to God for ten to twenty minutes. What I do know is that when I accept that Holy invitation to slow down and begin again with God, peace comes to my spirit.
Over the past month, I have had to make some choices about what I can focus on for my business right now. I have had to elongate some timelines and recognize that my original plans were not realistic for me. Honestly, I grieve in these moments because I feel like I could be doing so much more than I am doing some days. But Kidd reminds me that it is not in the “doing” that we discover who we are or what we are looking for in our lives. Our daily tasks are meant to be a response to what God is doing within us already. We are all on a journey of healing and becoming more fully ourselves. It is only when we slow down and wait on God that our lives will open to the mystery. I have to remind myself of this process over and over again. Some days I get angry about my physical limitations. Some days, however, I am thankful for my health struggles because they force me to stop and be intentional. All of our feelings, prayers, and heart desires are a part of our spiritual life and journey. So, I encourage you that if you find yourself needing to slow down and hit pause, that is just fine. God will meet us in that holy space of waiting. We can trust that we do not have to control every single thing we think we do – whether it is in building a business, a family, a home, or whatever task is at hand. Take a few minutes today and reflect on where you are being invited to slow down right now in your life. See what happens and then share with me what you learn!