Before Carl died, I had a problem. I apply the past tense to the ownership of this problem because in the landscape of grief it has, at least temporarily, been put on hold. “Have, had”…whichever way one spins it, these are both verbs and verbs are identified as actions. How appropriate considering that action is exactly the problem. Or, rather, too much action. And, in my deepest grief, too little action (at least by outside standards).
Have I confused you yet? Yes, it is confusing. It is delicate territory.
I’m having a hard time writing today. At the moment, I feel stuck in my head. I’m attempting to dive deeper into this topic of time and energy because of a question posed to me last week: “What is the importance of this social draw on my time?” The question is annoying. It doesn’t even quite make sense. It misses the mark. The question came about because of a desire to create a more purposeful, God-centered life, rather than allowing myself to be endlessly drained by the constant influx of to-do’s and over-extended obligations, specifically in managing my time and energy in relation to social commitments.
At some point during the most difficult days of my grief-stricken hiatus from work, I attempted to be extremely strategic about my time and energy. I was semi-successful in creating a new work schedule for myself. I would begin by working in the studio 5 days a week for 5 hours a day. I would bring my own lunch and be at the studio by 10am, or 11 at the latest. Other work could happen, either inside or out of the studio. The point was that I at least show up. This was serious progress. For the first three months after Carl’s death, I did not work. I was paralyzed by anxiety and sorrow. Not working only made it worse and yet, every cell in my body needed to simply be still. Despite the pressure of client commitments and financial obligations saddled against horrendous heartbreak, I knew with my whole being that things should not and could not be rushed. I was experiencing sacredness. I could work, always…but in the midst of my deepest mourning, I might never again be able to receive its greatest gifts: such profound closeness with God.
It has now been 4 1/2 months since Carl’s passing. It is a surreal and drawn out blink of an eye. And yet, soon, it will be five months and then six. I dread the continued passing of time. My heart aches at the thought of it. But I can’t stay here, I know that. As much as I’d like to, time is spitting me out into the whateverafter.
And with the movement of time comes all its accompanying challenges. The world and all of its demands come flooding back in. I go to the studio on a regular basis. It feels good. Peaceful. I am grateful for my clients and the work ahead of me. I’ve allowed painting to become a time of prayer. My original schedule has been unashamedly modified, but still bears tangible potential worth orbiting. Expectations for myself are both healthy and dangerous. After all, there has always been a lot more to my life than simply painting. Before I know it, I am once again traveling back and forth to Minneapolis. I am responding to emails, texts, facebook messages and phone calls. I’m packaging and shipping orders. I’m doing photoshoots and editing. I’m catching up with bookkeeping, applying for events, ordering supplies. I’m delivering artwork and scheduling meetings, coffee dates and dinners. I’m tending to life’s details in full force and it doesn’t take me long before I’m flung far into oblivion. As though someone grabbed me by the ankles and hurled me across frozen fields, disoriented, I come undone.
Back I go, to a place that looks an awful lot like those first three months. I cry. Things get ugly. I crawl under the covers. I shut down. I retreat back into much needed solitude.
But here’s the thing…
It’s been a gift. All of it.
God calls me back and–in my brokenness, in my inability to function–I go to Him.
You see, my life is not meant to be what it once was. It can’t be. What would be the point? I am being led somewhere new and, in order to get there, I need to be able to tune into that still, small voice.
Life is constantly clamoring for me. It clamored so loudly that, 3 years ago, I left the city on a self-appointed “Northerly Painting Retreat.” I still have not returned. But there is that old adage: “wherever you go, there you are.” Yep. Eventually, even in the deepest of woods, my busy-ness caught up with me all over again. Even in grief, it tries hard to sneak its way back into my life. The only difference these days is that my spirit doesn’t allow it. I’ve become allergic to busyness; my body simply won’t support it.
And I want it to stay that way.
These are the things I value most. I value God, creativity, inspiration and adventure. In my refusal to go back to the over-obligated trappings of my old life, I find myself needing, wanting to start from scratch. Since the birth of Stray Dog Arts, I have been booked out with commissioned work for 1-2 years or more. Things snowballed early on. It was exciting. I could have easily been booked out another year or two with travel and special projects. It was a “good problem to have.” These successes: I am grateful for every inch of it, even for the lessons that I learned along the way. And yet…I was also miserable, over-worked and burned out. Before starting my business, I was obsessively working on a graduate degree and teaching college classes. I never took even one day off in between. All along, I was single-minded, motivated, stubbornly unstoppable. I was also a workaholic.
Yay me? No. Looking back, I see the banality of it. I was generously well-intentioned, but what was it all for?
The gift of shattering is this:
I can start anew.
There is a high price to pay for busyness and it is a debt I no longer want to have. It no longer offers me the sense of importance I once gave it. This issue of time and energy is not about being more efficient. Rather, it is an issue of the heart. It is an issue of my relationship with God. God is love and love takes time.
Time is something hurried people do not have.
“The decisions you make create the schedule you keep. The schedule you keep determines the life you live. And how you live your life determines how you spend your soul” ~Lysa Terkeurst
A part of me wants to retreat even further. I go online and Google “distant mountains.” I’m drawn to desert-like places, the landscape that exists inside of me. There is incredible beauty, even in its barreness. I imagine a simple shelter somewhere far away, surrounded by mountains, sky and dust and not much else. I imagine languages that I do not understand. A place where the sunrises and sunsets are made of pure God. It is not a fantasy of escaping, but rather of entering in. And maybe someday I will find myself there. But for now, I know that God wants me here. He wants me to sit still. More still than I’ve ever known. He wants me to know this rejuvinating stillness even in my movements, even in my work, even in my time with others.
I am constantly subtracting. And, in doing so, I find the gap–between my debt of time and the holy present–finally begin to lessen. He refuses to let me rush ahead. In that still, small voice He guides. And in the quietness of my own heart, I hear Him perfectly.
I once again find my North Star. And, yes, it changes everything, to be quieted by love.