First, the fear.
I’ve been struggling with a project lately, really TRYING to “make it work.” But I’ve been slogged down, not exactly unmotivated, but afraid of failure and equally afraid of success. Paralyzed with fear. When I feel like this, I look to God, to my Higher Power, to my own internal guide. Whatever we call it, it's there, ready to help.
I’ve been so scared and then this voice starts in that says, I’m so stupid, I’m so stupid, I’m so stupid. It’s a relentless voice, and it steals all my energy when it starts.
So I’m trying to do this new thing: I’m trying to accept these periods of depression and low energy and not worry so much about them. To just accept this as a natural part of a system that has been trying too hard forever, for my whole life, since infancy, to get comfortable. To feel ok.
I tried to feel ok with weird eating behaviors, or with drinking, or with drugs. Trying to feel ok had me doing acid every few days in the summer after ninth grade, and then in college, smoking so much pot, on a wake and bake schedule. And I felt better. For a few minutes.
Now it’s a decade later and I’m at work on this project, and it’s good. It’s good to try things. That’s one of the gifts of a life without drinking.
But I’m experimenting with just letting myself feel depressed when I’m depressed. Let myself be low energy when I’m low energy. (Seriously, I’ll let you know if everything crashes and I turn into a total failure.)
Now, I don’t think of myself as someone who rejects sadness. I champion complaining as a path to honesty and authenticity.
But depression is a different beast. If you’ve ever been depressed, you know the fear that I’m talking about, the swampy feeling of it. The “will I be able to get out of it this time” feeling.
So what did I do this week? Like any good depressed person, I started with TV. Lots and lots of tv. I watched three whole shows this past week. My husbands says, “If I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have believed it.” Just so you understand me, this is three ENTIRE shows, pilot to last episode. (If you want to know what they were, just ask, because they were AWESOME and totally bingeworthy.)
I got dressed each day but I wore a bathrobe over my clothes for two days around the house because I realized it was like wearing a blanket and I thought it might amuse me. It did.
And I worked at my kid’s school a couple different times, for maybe a total of five hours. I emailed a couple people I needed to reach out to and I made plans for coffee with someone. I said yes to an invitation to a retreat despite my extreme misgivings about mostly strangers, especially super cheerful go-getters. Ugh. Scary. But ok, God. Whatever.
And I did my usual morning stuff. I journaled. Gratitude. Etc.
Then, this crazy thing happened.
I was journaling in this writing-a-letter-to-god method and I wrote, “God, don’t you even care if I succeed?” And the answer came back, as plain as day, No. I don’t care.
I am not someone who hears God’s voice in my head all the time. It’s only happened a couple other times. I write about one of them here.
But this idea that God doesn’t actually care if I succeed caught my attention. Because it’s both harsh and loving.
First: I think: What a jerk.
God doesn’t even care. He* (*she/it/whatever) admitted it.
But then, I also think: Oh, God doesn’t care if I succeed. Or if I’m skinny. Or if I’m a champ in any way. God doesn’t need me to do anything in order for me to be loved.
This is what unconditional love feels like.
Omfg. It’s terrifying.
In the Christian church, there’s this protestant idea that God's love is free and grace is freely given. This is one reason some people broke off from the Catholic church. The idea that we don't have to do any "works" in order to earn God's love.
This is a great idea in some ways. It can also lead to laziness, and encourage people to bask in their privilege and justify not helping anyone. This idea of no-works-necessary, "unearn-able" love has (shockingly) been used to argue against having FOOD BANKS IN CHURCHES (are you fucking kidding me?).
But the idea that we don’t have to do anything in order to be loved is still radical for most of us. Even in our families most of us don’t experience that kind of love.
So, with my own Higher Power, I ask, There’s nothing I have to DO in order to be loved by God? Nothing I have to perform? I am good enough, just as I am? What?
And then that leaves me with the question, so what is it then that wants me to succeed? Is that just my ego? Just my own will?
What am I supposed to do if not “succeed”? Some little God-sense inside me suggests I just show up and experience my life. (Cue Peggy Lee singing, “Is that all there is?”)
But the brilliant Buddhist text, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Trungpa Rinpoche describes the emotionally present person in this way: “You are willing to be awake to whatever may present itself to you, and you feel that you can take command of your life altogether, because you are not on the side of either success or failure. Success and failure are your journey.”
Ok. Success and failure. That doesn’t sound so bad.
Life offers us this banquet of choices and we get to try things out.
We get to try. And God will love us through it all.
So again, I realize: God loves me just as I am. Right now. Wearing my husband’s sweatshirt, with a mysterious grease stain on it. Last night’s make-up still on. Sitting on a sofa with a rip in it where the stuffing is coming out. I’ve accomplished some things, but not a ton. No real money to speak of.
The point’s not that God wants me to be small, but that God doesn’t need me to be big.
God doesn’t really care. God just loves me, no matter what.
So it seems harsh for God to say, I don’t care. Because it means God’s not invested in our dramas and squabbles. But it’s freeing too, because God’s not invested in our dramas and squabbles.
And God loves us. God doesn’t care if we succeed. That’s us. We’re the ones who care about that.
God doesn’t care how much money I make or how many people know my name. God doesn’t care how I do at work or if I’m on the PTA Board.
God just wants to love me. God wants to be in relationship. God just wants me to show up. So here I am, god. Here I am. Showing up, just as I am.