Often, for weeks or months at a time, I have very little negative self-talk about my body. Then, sometimes with a distinct trigger and sometimes without warning, the negativity begins…a single, seemingly rational, thought (“You ate too much today”) followed by a fear-based attempt to control something (“You should skip dessert tonight” or “You shouldn’t have any cappuccinos this week”). I often catch myself before I get swept away in the undertow, but not always.
Today, as I frantically headed outside for a walk (not with the intention of enjoying the scenery but of burning off calories I ate while out to lunch with a friend), I suddenly realized that not only was negative self-talk present with me, it was running ten paces ahead, begging me to stop being a loser and catch up. So, I did. I caught up to those thoughts and realized what was happening.
In the past ten days, I have mourned with the nation over the senseless deaths of 58 country music fans. I have learned that my beloved spiritual director is leaving the area to pursue a new ministry. I have said goodbye to my pastor of 10+ years at her retirement service. I have listened to my clients’ stories of pain and loss. And I have been unable to stop or control any of it. Although I’ve cried often and engaged in meaningful self-care, it wasn’t until my walk this afternoon that I realized my mind is trying to control something (someone) when everything feels like it’s slipping away.
And when I realized that was what was happening, I was disappointed and sad. I slowed my pace and started sulking. I remembered my spiritual director’s oft-asked question, “Have you taken this concern to prayer?” and my usual answer, “No. God knows my suffering already.” But this time, I decided to try it. I started talking out loud to God. “Why do I keep falling back into this pattern? Why can’t I be free from this negativity forever? Why can’t I just love myself 100%, all the time? Why do you let me suffer? Why do you let any of us suffer?! WHY DO SO MANY OF US SUFFER?!” I kept walking. I didn’t hear God’s voice responding. The clouds didn’t part. Nothing magical happened. So I kept walking, silent now and more calm.
As I rounded the turn of the last road that would take me back to my apartment, I took a wider path than I usually take, one that took me closer to the road than the houses. I paused to take a photo of some pansies on the corner and then looked up and saw a magnificent tree with sunlight streaming from behind it. And in the middle of the tree was a heart-shaped hole…a scar of sorts. (The photo is kind of dark. Can you see it?) I smiled. I stood in awe. I tried to think of something profound and meaningful to sum up that moment, but the only thing I can say for sure is that it was a moment of True Presence — my presence with pain and God’s presence with me. I took a photo and started walking home.
I still don’t know the answers to my questions, but I know the value of being present to pain instead of running from it. I pray for the courage to continue to be so and for the awareness of God’s presence in my and others’ pain.
Peace, joy, and health,