Like most people, when I first started practicing centering prayer, a form of Christian meditation, I struggled with “thoughts.” Centering prayer involves letting go of thought and allowing the mind grow quiet for a set period of time, let’s say 20 minutes. But we can’t really stop thinking – it’s what makes us human. So in centering prayer we focus on a word or our breath and let the thoughts come and go. When we catch ourselves getting distracted by a thought, we gently return our focus to our word or breath.
Which all sounds well and good. In theory. In practice – and least in mine – it often sounds like this. Inhale … exhale … inhale … exhale … inhale … ex – man I am hungry. And I didn’t pack any lunch. Have to go out. Did I bring any cash? Ugh. I hate putting every little thing on my card. I’ll have to run to a cash machine fir—crap! I did it again! Crapcrapcrap. Inhale … damn, and I was doing so good, too … exhale … I don’t even know why I bother … inhale … I should have just gone to lunch early … exhale … If I’d gone to lunch early I could have taken a walk around that park by the river. That would be just as restful as — crap! I’m doing it again!
Earlier this month, I was holed up in a friend’s house as an ever-changing group of us listened to the radio and answered trivia questions for 50 (yes, five zero) hours. All across a college town in central Minnesota, hundreds of people did the same. It’s an annual bit of insanity that really is more than just a way to fight off cabin fever. My daughter grew up with these people, back when our team was hosted by her step (read: second) mom. I met my current beau there four years ago. I have been to weddings, funerals, birthday parties and fireworks displays with these people. Which all of which is made a little more insane by the fact that I don’t really like trivia that much.
“I’ve got a book you should read.”
It was my first conversation with the lead pastor at my new job. The Head Honcho. The Big Guy. He’d been on sabbatical when I was hired. Had been understandably busy when he returned and I tend to keep my head down in new situations – at least until I get the lay of the land and have sussed out all the players.
But my team had just given a presentation at an all staff meeting. We were laying out changes to the way communications would be handled starting in the new year and what we needed everyone to do to make it successful. Very logical, very detailed and yet somehow there was the sense it was all for naught.
It was about six years ago. My daughter was about to leave for college on the West Coast. We were at a goodbye dinner with my college friend, Claire and her daughter Rachel hosted by Marie, Claire’s mom and my former boss. As the meal wound down, Marie invited us into the living room. There she began to what only can be described as “hold forth.”
You’re about to start a great adventure, she ostensibly told my daughter, but her tone included all of us. You are leaving high school. Right now you are an expert in high school. You know all the people, all the rules, all the ways to get around and get by. You know these things so well, you don’t even know you know them.
When you get to your new school, you will be a novice. You won’t know anyone. You won’t know where to go or what the rules are. You will make mistakes. The simplest things will seem hard. You will get frustrated. You’ll get scared. You’ll be angry with yourself. Things will feel wrong. You’ll worry this is a sign you made the wrong choice. You’ll think you chose the wrong school or you shouldn’t have moved so far away.
It’s not true. Continue reading
There is a feeling I get sometimes. It’s a sense that although things are fine now, they are about to go wrong. I remember hearing once that really good typists know they are about to make a mistake several keystrokes before they actually do. They say the same things about jugglers (substituting “flaming blowing balls” for “keystrokes”). A former colleague compared it to riding a runaway horse. Right now you are on top and kind of steering. You know it will probably change and you will end up under the horse. But right now – man what a ride!
It’s not so much about “things being fine” or “things going wrong,” as it is about control. Am I in control or out of control of what’s happening and what’s coming next and what’s after that and after that?
It was about 4 years ago when I first heard the term. I was sitting in the living room of a pastor colleague who was temporarily home bound, recovering from surgery. She was in that horrible place of being well enough to be bored but not well enough to be doing anything. She was a woman of action and getting things done. She liked her committees and planning sessions. Cut off from those things, the cabin fever was wearing on her. I went just to chat and break up the tedium of recovery.
I was in the middle of helping a church through a major change. Change always brings stress and anxiety and when an organization or family or relationship changes the stress and anxiety cause conflicts. Or rather conflicts. Little fights over who should sit where or what will be served at a meal. Big fights over who gets to call the shots and why we have to this or that or even any of it at all.
I love to plan. Give me a stack of scratch paper and a fistful of colored markers and I am in my own little geek heaven. Other people pack for trips; I glue maps into notebooks, create timelines and research locally owned coffee shops. A good weekend is one that begins with a planning session over the first cup of coffee. I get as much joy from making the weekly menu and shopping list as most people do from cooking. I spend more time online researching and downloading planning apps than I do playing games.
Please don’t assume this means I am organized. It’s the planning itself that makes me happy. Once done, I close the app, recycle the paper or start the car and go merrily on my way.