Anxiety Procrastination: Ending Up With Your Head on a Platter
This is not a pulpit sermon, this is a blog post, which means I can be irresponsibly personal and say whatever I want.
And that is good, because I really have something on my heart right now.
It’s something small and insignificant in the scope of the issues facing society, but I know you understand how a small, niggling worry can undermine your outlook until it colors your whole world.
So let me go ahead and admit up front: this piece is not some great theological treatise and you may not take anything away from it that deepens your own spiritual journey.
This is just me telling you that I’m stuck.
Here’s the deal: I thought I had written a whole book, but it turns out I’ve only written half a book, and now I’m not sure I can finish it.
It’s called The Darker Blessings: Finding God in Doubt and Depression, and I’m really proud of the work I’ve done so far on it.
So is my editor—he says all the writing I’ve submitted to him is really solid.
His feedback said that I’ve really delved into the darkness and mined it for its treasures. The problem is that there’s not enough light, and I have to admit he’s right.
The basic structure of the book is to explore what we would normally call “dark” emotions or experiences, like anger, fear, or regret, and explore how each of them was a way to God for someone in the Bible.
So I talk about Mary of Bethany’s journey with grief, for example, and Nicodemus’ experience of uncertainty, and Pilate’s relationship with fear.
And with each of these chapters, I tell a bit of my own story.
The problem for the reader, my editor says, is that while they can see clearly how depression and darkness created the crucible for my spiritual journey and held me underwater for my entire young adulthood, they can’t see how I came to the other side of it.
The reader doesn’t magically understand how blessed and fulfilled I am now. I have to tell how I got from there to here, from suicidal to (most days) really happy.
I think there are a couple of things going on here.
First of all, I very much did not want to write a book with a happy ending all tied up in a bow.
Real life is not like that, and real life with God is especially not like that.
Real life with God is not a vanquishing of the darkness.
Real life with God is a finding of the light inside the darkness, along with the darkness, intermingled with the darkness, partnered to the darkness.
I need to find a way to talk about all the good in my life without turning it into Disney princess spirituality, which I loathe.
But the deeper truth is that while I have no problem at all being vulnerable about my pain and failure and shame, I find it strangely difficult to be vulnerable enough to show my joy. Isn’t that odd?
It seems that this is the further journey of faith I’m being called to in this writing—finding the courage to transparently speak of the radiant transformation of my life by God’s unending love.
I had a real, “Wake up, dummy,” moment with God in the scriptures this week.
One of my great spiritual stumbling blocks that has dogged me for years is an inexhaustible internal pressure to be self-reliant.
It has really inhibited my ability to trust and rely on God, to believe that God wants me to admit my weakness and draw strength from the Divine.
I was raised in the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and look like you’ve got it all together at all times” school of life like so many of us.
But when you rely only on yourself, or rather, delude yourself into thinking that you rely on yourself, you’re the only one there for yourself. That is a very lonely place.
And if you’ve got only yourself to count on, what do you do when you start to doubt yourself?
If you start to question whether you’re all that reliable or trustworthy, suddenly you’re leaning on a staff you halfway believe could break at any minute. That’s no way to live.
Our gospel story this week is one account of the last days of John the Baptist’s life. And in my book, I pair John with the darker blessing of doubt.
When John is in prison, he questions whether Jesus is the Messiah. He sends his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
John wonders, in his moment of crisis, if everything he believed when he began his quest to help usher in the Kingdom of God was false and hollow. In the cold and loneliness of his prison cell, John doubted.
Poor John’s isolation was entirely involuntary, but mine is stupidly self-imposed.
In my morning prayer time on Thursday, I had the blinding realization that I can’t and never could do this on my own.
I need my friends to help me finish this book.
I need my friends here and now—my family and my colleagues and my fellow dancers and my parishioners past and present—and I need my friends in the communion of saints.
I need my grandparents, both of blood and faith. I need Tom and Marylou Rice and Lowell and Johnnie Wammack, and I need Thomas Merton and Therese of Lisieux and Julian of Norwich and Francis of Assisi.
Jesus did his work with his friends.
The disciples traveled and learned and screwed up and got redeemed with their friends.
None of them, not even Jesus himself, did it alone.
Neither did John go it alone until he no longer had a choice.
He had disciples and followers and members of his community, and his cousin Jesus, to help him communicate God’s message and to proclaim God’s message back to him.
The same is true for me. I’m going to stay stuck if I go it alone.
I’ve carefully built my own prison brick by brick around me, inspired by the false idol of presenting this perfectly crafted book for the world to receive and admire and congratulate me on, all by myself.
Well, that’s stupid and it’s bad theology. All of God’s good work is done in community, and if I’m not humble enough to realize that by now, then I probably don’t need to be imposing a spiritual book on the world to begin with.
I have to say that I find it hilariously ironic—and I know God does too—that here as I’m trying to drive this book across the finish line, I’m getting tripped up by the two qualities I claim to be an expert in in the actual title: doubt and depression. I’m doubting whether I can finish it and it’s making me depressed.
My entire thesis is that these negative emotional states have untapped spiritual potential. Clearly God is asking me to prove it.
So I’m trying to say yes to this further journey of faith, and to say yes to admitting I can’t do it alone.
I ask all of you who are reading this to pray for me and for this project, and to ask me about it and encourage me and challenge me and demand that I stay faithful to this call as long as it takes.
Help me learn to embrace the vulnerability of joy that comes in knowing that each of us has a piece of the truth, but we need each other to fit them all together in the beautiful mosaic of love that is the Good News.
John gave his life to get the message out.
All I’m being asked to sacrifice is my pride.
So I’ll ask: dear friends, will you help me? I need you.
I can’t believe how good it feels to admit that. Why did I wait so long?