On Monday afternoon, I found myself sitting in my car on the side of the road in Nashville, crying, and wishing I could just spend a few relaxing days in a mental institution. I imagined the green walls soothing me. Someone else picking the tv shows. Me in a chair, not expected to talk. Just eating canned corn and apple sauce and taking a little dixie cup of pills then lying down for a nice long nap.
You know you’re in a bad place when a mental institution seems like a soothing alternative to your life.
I told my friend and she said, “Not a mental institution. Those places are horrible. How about a spa? How about Canyon Ranch?”
I can’t afford Canyon Ranch, but I’ve seen Fred Wiseman’s documentary Titicut Follies and I take her point about mental hospitals. She’s right. So, I decided I would do something in between, in my own apartment. There’s a lot of grey territory between a mental hospital and Canyon Ranch.
Here’s what happened:
I spent the weekend at a writing conference that was heavy on Evangelical Christians. Over coffee hundreds of times I answered the question, “So what do you write about?” I stumbled over my answer, but the simplest answer is this: I write about how we all have the right to access God, regardless of our beliefs.
The subtext there, and they heard it, is that Jesus is A way, but not necessarily THE way.
And, you know, they didn’t respond well. I know a lot of us have had these experiences with people of faith, of all faiths. Have gotten the feeling that we are ridiculous for the beliefs we hold, that our spiritual experiences aren’t good enough, aren’t real. That we are just confused, unlike them, who are certain.
Sometimes I envy that certainty. That’s just not my experience. My experience is that the details of God are murky. I’m ok with that. I don’t expect it to be clear. God is big. It’s confusing. But I still think we can all reach out, if we want to, to this thing that we don’t understand.
It hurts to be told that I don’t deserve to pray. It’s like being told that I don’t deserve to breathe. I’m not good enough for God. Not doing it right.
But I’m in an argument in my head now with a couple of them. It’s annoying to be in an argument in your own brain with someone where anything you say seems to prove their point. And it’s annoying to me that it feels like I can’t listen to sermons, or my usual inspirational music, because Christianity has been temporarily poisoned for me.
It sucks, honestly.
Walking away from the weekend, I felt spiritually harmed. I feel like I have the spiritual equivalent of a broken ankle. And like with a broken ankle, I need to go slower for a while, go easy on myself, to cancel any marathon I planned to run, or even a 5-K. (Or even around the block. Let’s be honest: I hate to run. And it’s dangerous with a broken ankle.)
So, God was good, and my son woke up with a cold so he got to stay home. We snuggled on the sofa for hours, and I got out two bins from the Container Store and we soaked our feet in hot water, like I used to do with my mom sometimes. I thought about going out to get epsom salt, but a trip to Fred Meyer has no place in an apartment spa weekend. So we used baking soda instead.
My son found it delightful to be soaking his feet in a tub of warm water, watching a movie, in our living room. And later, I took a nap. We ate cereal for lunch. For my snack, I had saltines, just like when I was sick as a kid.
We played a game. We stayed in our pajamas all day. At 3:00 we briefly considered getting dressed to go out to the library, but common sense won out and we stayed home.
And my spiritual broken ankle is a little better this morning.
What do you do when you have the spiritual equivalent of a broken ankle?
How do you take good care of yourself when you are limping around spiritually, either from your own bad choices, or from the sometimes crumminess of interacting with other humans? How do you soothe yourself and help yourself heal?
My advice today, if you need it, is foot soaking, and movies, and naps and saltines. That’s good medicine. I’ve had a 25% improvement since yesterday, at least. It’s magic. You can count on naps and soft blankets to help you connect with God. And I’ll venture out for some apple sauce today.
I’ll continue to heal and connect with the god who loves me, the one who’s big enough for all of us. Who’s available, all the time, no matter what.
We all deserve to connect with God, in whatever ways work for us, and to call it whatever we want.
However we feel the presence of the divine. That’s good enough. We have enough to work with, right where we are. For me, today, applesauce, and tennis shoes, and a warm sweatshirt are key elements to my spiritual program.
God loves me, just as I am.