“You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. So you might as well just do whatever you want.” Kacey Musgraves
Even on my best hair days I’ve never felt like J.Lo before, and I doubt I will again, but there was a thirty second slice tonight when the spirit animal of Jenny from the Block stopped by.
I spun my hot mug of tea around so that the handle was parallel to the edge of the mirrored coffee table and I straightened my laptop until it was perfectly aligned with her other desktop friends and I remembered watching that scene in “The Wedding Planner” where Ms. Lopez’s character, Mary, so beautifully OCD, comes home alone and we get a snapshot of what her every evening is: she sits in the quiet, save the glow of the television, every inch of her apartment in elegant order; she even opens her delivery dinner with deftness! Every fold is creased smoothly, her TV tray was the most glamorous TV tray I’d ever seen, and as a young high schooler I thought her life looked so romantic.
Now I think, if all you’ve got at home is you, damn right you’re going to fold the napkins perfectly and spin your tea cup around! Make it pretty! There’s beauty in ever corner, but if no one is bringing flowers home to you, then cut some out of the garden yourself.
Today was going to be a day of making it lovely for me, on purpose. I’ve been in bed for days with a flu that came hard, fast, and uninvited. It’s homecoming week on this college campus where I live and work and everything is alive and buzzing. Usually I’m the loudest buzzer, but not this week. I’m quarantined and going crazy. I can’t stand the cabin fever that sinks in after about, mmmm, 43 minutes by myself, but four days?!?
No thank you sir.
Today the most I could muster was a shower, air dried hair in a ponytail, a dozen e-mails, two quick chats in the kitchen with my staff and one long chat with the girls, a trip to Costco to get a receipt reprinted for our accountant, and a stop at the local library. I picked up a movie for friends with new babies and a new sleep schedule, season one of a TV series I knew would make my brother laugh awkwardly loud, and a book. A book for me.
After dinner and an indie-flick that made me feel blue (but I guess light blue) I picked up the book and smoothed my hands over the plastic jacket slipped on by a library volunteer. Something in the slight audible wrinkle as it shifted against the hardcover made me feel just the smallest bit alive, and I hadn’t even opened the pages yet!
I’m terrible at ‘self-care’ because I think it’s bullshit. I think all this cultural conversation around ‘self-care’ and ‘boundaries’ is a really pleasant way of saying to everyone that you are selfish and not sorry. In fact, it’s basically shouting through a megaphone that everyone else should be sorry indeed if they expect anything of you or from you.
And I call bullshit!
As we run with the speed of a doped up panther towards success measured by happiness and self-fulfillment and happiness, oh and did I mention I just want to be happy? …well, guess what? What we are essentially hollering at the world is “I am not concerned with what you need or what could bless you if it is inconvenient for me. I AM GOING TO DO WHATEVER I AM GOING TO DO IF IT MAKES THE GOD OF ME HAPPY AND IF YOU EVEN BLINK IN A CONTRARY MANNER THAN I AM GOING TO ACCUSE YOU OF BULLYING ME! Of slut-shaming! Body-shaming! ME-SHAMING! The only way for me to be happy is to completely ignore anything BUT self. And that’s not ‘selfish’ it’s RIGHT! Don’t you dare disagree!”
(Five dollars says I’ll find the hashtag ‘happy-shaming’ if I look for anyone who dared to disagree.)
It’s true, we are overworked and exhausted. All of us.
We are connecting at the speed of light across so many social platforms that while we are ‘in the know’ we aren’t any further than ankle-deep in real intimacy. Our hearts hurt but our fingers fly across keyboards and touchpads. There’s an emptiness in our insides even though our senses are at more-than-full capacity. And not only are we clicking and texting and tweeting and talking and relating and researching, we are also going to our jobs and buying groceries and raising humans or dogs or maybe goldfish. We are planning vacations with full itineraries and yes, it’s true! We aren’t resting! The word “sabbath” is as foreign to the tongue as the word “Blockbuster.”
Real rest is different than the ideal of self-care that says “Nah” to helping a friend move or going to the hospital to relieve your mom for the fifteen minutes it takes for her to stand under a hot shower while you post up at your dad’s bedside. I wish the phrase “that’s not good for me/my schedule” was stricken from our egomaniacal vocabulary.
Windows are windows and mirrors are mirrors.
Don’t get them confused.
My eyes are tired of looking into my own eyes instead of the eyes of all the hurting and happy others. Writing a book about your own damn heartbreak can be so exhausting (and without a doubt self-focused) but you know what else? Forget the writing a book part, heartbreak itself is so exhausting. You know that. But here’s what caught me off-guard today – the soft crackle of that library book.
Because it’s been eighteen years since I borrowed a book from the library. When I was a kid, I would carry stacks out that toppled dangerously high over my bowlcut.
When I got in trouble I wasn’t grounded from playdates but from another visit to the __insert current city__ Public Library. (Specifically I was grounded from hanging out with Kristy, Maryann, Stacy, Claudia and Dawn.) Books were hidden under the bed and under the covers and in dresser drawers and stuffed in a backpack that wouldn’t zip, and almost always accruing late fees because I’d forgotten. (So sorry Mom!)
Oh the freedom of getting lost in a world where I wasn’t moving again after 12 to 24 to 36 months of trying to make new friends despite my crooked teeth and homemade wardrobe. There was such a joy of reading chapter after chapter and watching the escapades of my always-friends unfold; people that I could put in a suitcase and take with me to the next town and next school and next group of kids that may or may not like me. I read more than others ate or danced or spiraled a football, I read and read and read. It was my greatest love. And as I got older, it painted sweeping dramas of fake romance that made my bones ache for true love. And with every boy who dated another one of my best friends, every school dance I didn’t get asked out for, every cruel comment I heard while hiding in a bathroom stall after practice – those books seemed like lies. For years I would figuratively run away into the welcoming arms of words, and after all those years all those words had done was set me up for disappointment. So I stopped.
I didn’t stop reading, oh heavens no. I was a theology major, and as one of the few girls in my arduous academic program (and the stereotypical oldest of four kids) I might as well have had “something to prove” tattooed in neon magenta across my forehead. I still read with the appetite of a velociraptor, but only now it was books on the Bible and God and prayer and angelology and anthropology and perichoretic relationship. Those words were necessary for essay test regurgitation but also, they couldn’t hurt me – right?
So for the last almost twenty years that’s all I’ve read! (Once when I had emergency surgery a co-worker brought me some trilogy on vampires that you might have heard of… but besides that…)
And tonight I got nervous with that library book from the fiction shelves between my palms. I wondered if it would hurt me. But, but! I also had this teeny tiny little flicker of excitement, what if that kid with the crooked teeth and boy bangs and cobalt blue eyeglasses who loved nothing more that sitting in the corner of the couch with The Babysitter’s Club, what if some of that same happy could make it’s way into my heart again? It had been so long since I read something that wasn’t an arduous exercise for the benefit of my soul. Would it be wrong to throw on a sweatshirt and sit with my knees tucked in one of our chair hammocks and just read for (gulp) fun?
Was that ‘sabbathing’ or selfish? Was turning off my phone and doing something that had no measurable gain for someone else closing the shutters and turning back to the mirror that kept me staring into my own eyes instead of out to a world that needs constantly?
What about pedicures? What about movies? What about naps?
The constant guilt for anything that isn’t helping or encouraging or changing or celebrating hangs heavily on my chest like a vest at the dentist’s office before x-rays. Was the guilt I felt for any attempt at ‘resting’ holier than those that freely shouted “self-care!” before leaving the kids with grandma for a weekend?
Resting makes me feel guilty.
Saying no makes me angry.
Where’s the healthy balance?
Is the answer perhaps the Irish Breakfast steam curling in my mug and that copy of “Sweetbitter” on the edge of the table? Will a few moments in someone else’s world heal or hurt me? Am I allowed to run away in order to rest? Is escape a worthy pursuit or a greedy seed that springs up rows of uncharity?
Does God get mad if I sleep more than six hours? Will He turn away from me if I watch another hour of the Real Housewives? Discipline is a beautiful (and very clearly expressed) part of the pursuit of holiness… wise stewardship… hard work… it’s all part of the package deal of pleasing the Lord. But even He rested. Right?
In what ways do you tuck little bits of lovely into a lonely life? Where do you feel we have to beware the new normal of self-everything? Of staring into the mirror when we should run to the window, and then out the door?
How do YOU sabbath with freedom?