Stepping off the treadmill
This time of resting seemed to me to be stepping out into an unknown wilderness. It was a feeling of wandering, not really sure where I was going, not being able to see the end point, but knowing that I must take that step or risk the consequences…
This past spring I found myself feeling quite tired – and cranky. I’m learning that it’s important to pay attention to these feelings within ourselves. I had experienced a lot of major changes at work with a new regional director, new ways of doing things, new approaches, and all of this on top of an enormously heavy workload. My job of caring for the staff who care for the patients in health care is often an area that is underfunded and unrecognized. And so I found myself feeling tired – and cranky. I felt as though I was at a crossroads in my career without any idea what the next step was. I decided to take some time off and rest. I thought I would just take a few days, perhaps a week or two, but my doctor, in his wisdom, suggested I take at least a month. And so I found myself stepping off the treadmill of work and facing an extended time of rest – foreign territory for me!
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This time of resting seemed to me to be stepping out into an unknown wilderness. It was a feeling of wandering, not really sure where I was going, not being able to see the end point, but knowing that I must take that step or risk the consequences of not paying attention to my deep fatigue. I knew that I needed to let go of the familiar routines of work in order to move beyond my fatigue and discouragement and begin to explore and listen to the gentle voice of God beckoning me to a new way of being. But in the dark recesses of my mind a sense of failure lurked – a sense that stepping off the treadmill of life meant that I was not pulling my share of the load.
Wilkie Au, in his book, The Discerning Heart, talks about facing the need to re-evaluate our life’s direction. He describes a lurking danger of entrapment or escalation of commitment. Entrapment refers to the tendency to stick to prior decisions and attempt to justify them. The more one follows this course, the more one invests in the original decision and feels entrapped by it. Au says it’s important to identify our heart’s desires and discern how we can infuse vitality into the portion of our life that lies ahead. Au uses the term holistic discernment to describe the process of paying attention to what goes on in the external world and in our inner world of feelings and desires, thoughts and bodily sensations, dreams and fantasies, aspirations and fears. This allows us to take seriously our own inner life as a source of God’s guidance.
In The Enduring Heart, Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au say that walking the spiritual path entails a never ending series of changes and struggles. Walking our life’s path requires paying attention to the inner workings of our soul. Au says to deal effectively with crisis, we need to stay with our discomfort long enough to figure this out. Taking an extended time of rest can be helpful in allowing this to happen. Along with awareness, we need courage to make the changes that are necessary, even when those changes entail the loss of security, money or status.
Mary at the annunciation is an inspiring model of both patience and courage during times of crisis. The intrusion of the angel messenger led Mary down a path toward crisis. Yet, after receiving reassurance (of a sort) from the angel, Mary surrenders in trust to the divine plan. As with Mary, confidence in God’s love for us can enable us to let go and let God.
When I began my time of rest, I could not see what the outcome would be at the end of that time. I just knew that I needed to trust in God’s plan. After some time away from work, I felt better rested but still could not see how I could return to the same situation and not experience the same fatigue. A section in Au’s book is entitled Message to the Stalled: Be Still and Know That I am God. Spending time in prayer and discerning God’s call to me was helpful in bringing me to a new acceptance of myself and my situation, preparing me to move forward. Au reminds us that the Israelites grumbled about leaving Egypt and then panicked. Moses relayed God’s command to them to march on and the story brings us to the wonderful description of the parting of the Red Sea.
As the time drew nearer for my return to work, I experienced a sense of peace and trust in God’s provision for me – whatever that might bring. A few days before returning to work a new position opened up. I applied and was offered the position. While it was difficult to give up the work I had enjoyed, this new opportunity seems perfect for me at this point in time.
While I am certain there will be challenges ahead in the new job, I am also certain that I face them with a new sense of my own inner landscape and the certainty that God has sustained me through this time of seeking and the call to new beginnings. Wilkie Au reminds us that the Chinese word for crisis involves two characters or ideograms: the first meaning danger and the second meaning opportunity.
What new crises lie ahead for you? May God be present in the midst of your life’s “danger” as you seek new “opportunities”.