It’s Monday. Usually on Mondays I’m at work by 7:55am, drinking a cup of coffee, snacking on fruit (or more likely donuts), and getting to work on all the emails that have built up in my inbox over the weekend. Today, however, I woke up like a groggy frog, feverish and feeling like a bouncy ball ricocheted off the inside walls of my skull all night; so, I’m home, sitting on my couch, drinking green tea, rocking my Santa Claus pajamas, and my soul is breathing. Finally.
In the last month I have not taken Sabbath, even for a few hours, despite teaching young college women twice on the importance and execution of Sabbath rest. I have added more and more and more to my responsibilities and lifestyle regardless of reading (and preaching to every person I meet) the wise words of Shauna Niequist in her newest book, Present Over Perfect, which call us to a deeper life of silence, rest, and simplicity.
I have expressed my utter exhaustion to others and have made them promises in the exact same breath. I have fed my desire to be needed, busy, heard, and accomplished, rather than my deepest need to rest, wait, listen, and see. I have planned rest for myself “later,” but “later” has had yet to come…
In the midst of this crazy month, my brain has still been “storming” – ping-ponging ideas back and forth about how I might explain the next of my anxiety-reducing mantras, Lean In. Until this weekend, I hadn’t a single good idea on what it really meant, what it even did. Yes, I repeated it to myself over and over again when my heart couldn’t stop pounding, when my soul felt stretched thin, when my hands couldn’t stop shaking. But why did I say it? What does it mean? It was comforting in the midst of my anxiety, but why?
I have often thought of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: a call to women to push harder, think more creatively, and make their own path in a world that keeps putting up walls. In some ways, this definition is helpful. When I felt like everything was against me, when the person I trusted most in the world broke my heart and walled himself out of my life, when I knew that my circumstances weren’t changing, and that I could not wake up from this nightmare, I knew that I just needed to lean in, push harder, and simply keep going. Lean In became my cheerleader phrase: encouraging me to try harder, run faster, jump farther, feel stronger. I would not give up.
I don’t think this definition fully captures the meaning of the phrase, though. Something is missing if I start to think that healing and strength comes from within me. I am a broken sinner who is easily depleted of all energy, life, creativity, and power. At some point I cannot “simply keep going.” At some point, I stop.
This past weekend I was in Phoenix with my cousin. We were talking about life, and anxiety, and God, and trying to figure things out. I mentioned that I just couldn’t write this blog about Lean In. I was stumped because I didn’t really know how to define the phrase. Sheryl Sandberg just wasn’t cutting it. Sheryl Sandberg made me feel more exhausted than I already was. Sheryl Sandberg wasn’t what I wanted to share because I just didn’t really believe her. I had been doing the Sheryl Sandberg thing all month long and I was ready to be done with it.
My cousin’s response: “Bethany, think about climbing. What do you do to help preserve energy? What do you do when you’re especially tired? You lean in to the wall, releasing a lot of the strain on your muscles as the wall takes on more of your weight.”
Leaning in doesn’t mean that you ‘just keep climbing,’ it means that you use your energy wisely, and allow yourself opportunities to rest on something else. The reminder to Lean In cheers me on to keep going, but it also exposes that I cannot carry the weight on my own. I am leaning toward something, or rather someone, that shifts the challenge, the exhaustion, the hard away from my own weak arms.
This past month I have tried to lean in to myself. I have taken on more and more and more; I have pushed myself to be social and busy, and honestly stressed out of my mind. Being sick forced me to pause today, and reminded me where I should be leaning: in to my rock, my redeemer God – the only source of hope, peace, and energy there is. I am not in this alone. I am not forced to keep going without help.
I am slowing down and giving myself time to fully rest; I am making time to meet the God of the universe and only source of life; I am leaning in to him because only through him can I keep going, keep loving, keep growing, even keep being.