As a substitute at a preschool, I wait around for people to get sick so that I can work. Winter break just ended and the preschool must have cleared itself of germs, so right now I’m waiting for germs to re-incubate so my source of income can return. Beyond just a source of income, the job – any job, really – provides a sense of purpose and duty. I notice that after a certain period of time, which is usually mid-morning, early afternoon, or both on a day of not working, anxiety starts to rise in my chest. What am I doing with my life? What am I doing with myself? Why am I here? More than worrying about money, my biggest struggle is that my distraction of feeling busy and important is taken away from me. I cannot hide behind a facade of doing-doing-doing because I am NOT doing anything.
I still try to hide, mind you: I occupy myself with reading, with my graduate school application, or things like writing this post. I try to spend time with friends who are usually busier than me, and I spend time with my boyfriend, who is currently not busier than me (which strangely, sometimes helps calm me down but often promotes even more anxiety – surely ONE of us ought to be DOING something!! My vicious superego, full of “shoulds,” can also be relentless on him).
None of those things that I fill my time with are bad, but when I am being honest with myself, I know that my activities are often serving the needs of what I call my “false self” (a la Thomas Keating). My false self wants to prove to my ego and the world that I am important because I am accomplishing things. My false self cannot believe that I am important simply because I am here, and that I am loved by God regardless of what I do or do not do.
My false self overidentifies with what the world considers to be normal. Normal (in our culture, at least) is to work a solid job, to earn a solid paycheck. Normal is to keep busy with social and community engagements. Normal is to have people nod approvingly when you tell them how you spend your time.
A book I have been reading recently is called Everything Belongs, by Richard Rohr. Rohr is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, located in New Mexico. He has also written a book on the second half of life, about when people realize their insistent strivings for achievement and success and looking good have not actually brought them meaning. Given that I am currently planted squarely in the middle of the first half of life, I’d say I am well in tune with these demands. But if I could have the foresight to realize that ultimately, it all does not matter so much as we think it does – maybe it doesn’t even matter at all – how would that affect my self-worth about everything that I attempt to do right now?
Here’s a couple of quotables from Rohr:
“Our shadow is failure itself. Look at what we scorn. We are desperately afraid of having no power and not looking good. We fear poverty, and we fear being ordinary. It looks like failure in a success-driven culture.”
“To achieve our resting place in “normalcy,” we tend to overidentify with one part of ourselves. We reject our weaknesses and we overwork our strengths… So we ignore our true character to accommodate to what society names as successful.”
(Secretly, sometimes I think I would enjoy mostly not working and having time to read and do other things and find my own meaning, were it not for the matter of a paycheck and my gigantic, noisy superego hanging over my head telling me that I’m not important if I’m not somehow being “successful”…)
“The utter powerlessness of God is that God forgives. I hold myself in a position of power by not forgiving myself or others. God does not hold on to that position of power. God seems to be so ready to surrender divine power. God forgives the world for being broken and poor. God forgives us for not being all that we thought we had to be and even for what God wanted us to be.”
I find this to be a beautiful quote altogether, but as it relates to this post: When I cannot hide behind busyness, I disappoint myself with not being all that I want to be. I can never live up to my expectations, because they are not made to be lived up to. But God forgives us already. Can we forgive ourselves?