Author’s Note: Honesty can be raw, but I feel compelled to dig into my painful past, to bare my soul, to splay it open for you, in hopes of sparing you years of struggle that I endured, a former fiercely independent woman, who held on to a shallow idea of self for far too long. Fiercely independent women can be stubborn, but we can learn. (Gloria)
I Can Do It All by Myself!
“I can do it all by myself!” Marco, my three-year-old grandson, loves to exert his expanding sense of empowerment. He’s allowed. He’s still learning and soon he’ll learn the synergetic power of working together. For now, he wants to do everything his big brother does without assistance of any kind. I love his fierce determination. Admirable, for a toddler. As an adult, well, it can be carried too far. I know this because my adult brain took on similar toddler myths. It took a crisis for me to emerge from my chrysalis.
Toddler Myth #1: God Wants Me to Work Solo
Somewhere along my journey, I determined that since God gave me a fierce sense of independence, that God intended me to work solo, to forge ahead on my own steam. Looking back to this headstrong approach to life, I thought of God as a secondary resource, a fresh player waiting on the bench when I needed to be taken out of the game. My innermost dilemma was this: when to send in the A-team. I was stuck in the faulty choice of Me or Thee. This distorted sense of either-or, was an exhausting, harried and unfulfilling way to live my life.
I always considered myself a seeker. I took pride in journeys taken to find meaning and truths in hidden places. Yet here is the irony. Even as a self-described sojourner, I still allowed myself to get stuck in a rut of false premises. Ruts can have long lasting effects. I recall a vacationer, who had just returned from traveling the back roads of the Alaskan wilderness. He spoke of a sign he saw posted near a side road. It was late March, the start of the spring thaw. Daytime temperatures climbing to the 40s created a mucky soup of melted snow and mud. But come nighttime, the subfreezing temperatures turned the deep tracks carved by cross country vehicles into deep frozen ridges. The sign read:
Choose your rut carefully; you could be in it for the next 20 miles.
Toddler Myth #2: Surrendering to God Means Giving up Yourself
There I was, entrapped in a deep rut that kept me tethered to a belief that I could do it all. Without help. I thought that submitting to God meant giving up my free will, denying the self. The irony was that in holding on to this myth, I was enslaving myself to a shackled way of thinking.
Many years ago, I shared a personal struggle with a kind friend. Feeling genuine empathy for my situation, she offered to pray for me. My toddler brain quietly, but surprisingly recoiled. I concluded that her devout faith would put her on a direct line to God and together they would overwrite my life. I didn’t want to become a marionette puppet with God or anyone pulling my strings. Entrenched in the rut of I can do it myself, I continued to bulldoze my way across serious life issues. It took a crisis of the soul for me to painfully dig out of my toddler muck. I was about to learn that submitting my life to God was the opposite of passivity. It would generate self-actualization; the freedom to be my true self.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (Corinthians 3:17-18)
Toddler Myth # 3: I am Caught and I Can’t Get Out
I don’t think I made a conscious transition into this kind of thinking. Many of us drift along wearing masks of what we think the world wants us to be. Wake up, shower, dress, apply makeup, put on the mask and enter the world. Constant clamor from social media, song lyrics, movies, book titles or pseudo-couch-psychologists on TV, creates a cacophony of soundbites that can seep into our subconscious mind. Phrases like ‘pack your own chute’ and ‘I believe I can fly’, are foodstuffs for the ego. I gobbled them up and puffed out my prideful chest. And along the way, I quilted remnants of I can do it myself. I stitched them together into herringbone patterns, swatches that patched up the missing parts of my journey; their jagged ups and downs mirrored my own up and down life.
Over time, I became accustomed to this internal civil war, a conflict between what my mind was thinking and what my soul was needing. My mind, powered by my ego, provided the will to work hard, to achieve my goals and to continually set new ones; always striving for the next degree and the next status of achievement. Successes only reinforced this pattern, this way of life. My soul, on the other side of the conflict, had a different approach. It whispered gentle but persistent questions. Is this want you want? Is this who you are? The ego, in its hurry-up, frantic mode snowplows forward, while the soul patiently asks . . . patiently waits . . . for meaningful answers.
Crisis as Pattern Breaking Opportunities
“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.‘ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.” ― John F. Kennedy
The soul seeks healing. It will pierce through pain, sorrow and despair. When life shoves us into corners, the soul is there in the blind alleys where it beckons us to finally see. I found myself into that corner, alone and afraid, exhausted by years of I can do it myself. It was there that I finally awoke. I traded the trifecta of my ego; false power, false purpose and pride for my own metamorphosis.
It was the brokenness after divorce. I did things out of character. Flew off the handle at underserving friends and colleagues. Said cruel things I didn’t mean. I was hurting and I didn’t know how to stop the pain. Had I known I was falling; I would have longed for the bottom, but I was sinking in denial. The worse part was that my teenage daughter was also going through her own pain, but I could not see that her life was also being torn apart. Devoid of emotion, dark clouds hid my daughter’s plight from me. She was losing the family unit and now losing her mother as well. We lived in the same house, passed each other in the hall and I was numb to her grief. I just wanted to sleep away the sorrow. Each day I mustered up the energy to go to work and then sleepwalk the rest.
Emergence: Breaking Open
It takes a long time to hide behind masks that the world expects but in one instant, we can be freed. I didn’t see it coming but that one moment for me arrived. I gave up the myth of I can do it myself. Dropping to my knees, I cried out:
“I cannot do this anymore! Help me!”
And that’s when I heard:
“I have been waiting for you.”
Those simple words felt like a whisper, yet they echoed throughout my body and they calmed my mind. The hurt that swallowed up my life, released its grip and I felt the rush of emotion wash over me, like soothing rain. I felt loved. I felt complete. I felt new. And at that moment, it was all I needed. I looked around my house and it was still my house and yet everything was different. For months I felt detached to everything I knew and loved and now, I felt connected.
And in that moment, I felt the urge to do normal things, like cleaning my house or buying groceries. Normal felt so liberating. I did everyday things without the dark clouds pressing on me. At the food market, I felt taller just walking down an aisle, when my eyes rested on a display of cake mixes. An inner voice urged me to take one off the shelf, go home and bake a cake. It seemed so trivial a request, but I was cocooned in a loving embrace, so I listened. I put that cake mix in my cart, then went home to well, . . . to bake a cake.
I was taking the cake from the oven when my daughter, returning from school, walked through the door. She smelled the homey aroma wafting from the golden-brown confection. Smiling, and overcome with relief, she sang out,
“Mom, you are baking a cake! That feels so . . . so . . . normal.”
I looked at her and this time, after months of blindness, I really saw her. It was as though she had been gone for awhile and now returned. Only I was the one who had gone. I returned to the land of the living. And, I said to her,
“I’m back. Welcome home.”
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15-19)
I’d like to leave you with a few liberating thoughts about breaking through your chrysalis, whatever shell is holding you back. I am, in fact, breaking my own pattern by placing my tribute to nature as an epilogue, rather than their usual introduction to the theme.
Butterflies are a symbol of rebirth. Today, a small, pale yellow butterfly tickled my morning air as she danced her way around my garden. She doesn’t make a sound that my human ears can hear, but I imagine her giggling about her business with the flowers. As she flutters, her lithe beauty adorns my soul and I am light as a feather. Thank you, little yellow winged friend, for making me over this morning.