I can feel it. The tension.
The tension starts in my shoulders. It creeps in ever so slowly, asking more of me than I can handle. It tells me I can’t. It makes me believe I won’t. It makes me think I’m not enough. It makes me even more tense.
As I recognize the familiar and frustrating feeling I begin to try making it dissipate. I become hyper aware of my shoulders, concentrating on them like a runner straining to hear the gun go off.
Looking away, trying to forget about the tension, I begin to scroll through Facebook mindlessly. I think I am resting, but when I put the phone down after a few minutes I feel more tired, more tense. I begin to feel the tension in my neck, down my back, and in my eyes and jaw.
I rub small circles in my jaw, letting it hang loose, looking like a bit of a fool at Panara with my mouth hung apart and my thumbs pressed firmly against my face. I don’t care. I want to be free of the tension.
I’m also not hugely concerned with the caffeine I continue to ingest, even though it must be adding to the tension. Taking another swig of mediocre black coffee, the place down the street is better but the internet there is slow, I look around Panara in wonder.
Can nobody tell that I am like a rubber band ready to snap? Can no one see that I really want a hug? Is there anyone here who will look me in the eyes and see the tiredness that is in my soul?
I’ve just gotten off two weeks of working at a camp for my job as a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and I’m still in recovery mode. College students from throughout the Midwest came to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for training and rest, and they got it. I went to give training and interact, there was very little rest for me.
I met God powerfully while there, learning more about myself as a leader, a speaker, and a worshiper of Jesus. What I didn’t do while there was rest. I did not meditate much. I did not experience God in the peaceful stillness of contemplation. I could not stop and just listen, to people, to nature, to ambiance, to God. My body is tired, but my soul is exhausted. Luckily, I have vacation this week.
There is a distinct difference between meeting God in worship, in movement, in action, and meeting God in stillness. Meeting God in action makes me want to take action, which is awesome. I love to get fired up for His mission and purposes. God sends us forth and we need fire in the belly to do it, but we don’t always need to meet God that way if our souls are to be made whole again.
When we meet God in stillness, our souls still, our thoughts begin to flow as slow as molasses, and our bodies quit their ceaseless movement. I know I haven’t met God well recently if I’m twitchy, and I’m twitchy most of the time. If I had my way I would live in silence, but that’s not really feasible for anyone, let alone someone God chose to minister His message. As I sit in Panara, I know I need to meditate, I need to be still, concentrate on nothing but God. My feet bounce excitedly, pounding the bass rhythm to whatever song is playing, or even just pounding back and forth double bass pedal style.
Song after song plays, and I type away, knowing I need this thing and not going for it, mostly because I’ve put off building this new blog for so long and want to capitalize on the momentum.
My shoulders tense again, inching up towards my ears. I slowly let them fall and begin to close my eyes, even while I am typing this sentence.
Sighing out, I begin to let go. It’s not easy, taking a few minutes to just sigh, an external reflection of what my soul is doing. Relief. Rest. Pause. Beginning to realize that there is nothing I need to do in the next 5 minutes, or the next 5 after that, I begin to uncoil.
Thoughts bombard my head, trying to put me off center. I think about my friend, who has just broken up with his girlfriend of years and isn’t doing well; about my mom, who I probably need to text soon because we haven’t connected in a while; about my work, even though I am on vacation and won’t do any work for the next week; and I think about the girl I’ve just started talking to, wondering how best to move forward, managing the balance between “I like you and want to connect more,” and the ever annoying, “I can’t appear too eager and turn you off because somehow over-eagerness is a thing.” The anxiety of these thoughts are the tension in my shoulders, every thought adding to the perceived weight resting upon them.
Cloud and Townsend wrote the book Boundaries, and it’s brilliant. I recommend reading it. One of the best parts of the book talks about the difference between loads and burdens. I summarize it as what we carry on our backs, and I may not have it exactly the same as they write it. A load is something we were supposed to carry all along, burdens are things that aren’t ours to carry. Sometimes we carry a burden for a while to help a friend, but much of the time we carry burdens because others aren’t carrying their loads. Sometimes we carry burdens that are God’s load. The truth to this is amazing, and we can quickly begin to realize that this is an explanation of manipulation, enabling, and incredible stress and anxiety. We worry about burdens instead of loads.
That’s what I’m doing right now. God has given me vacation, a time to rest and let down both burdens and loads. Even my loads become burdens when they are picked up during vacation, and yet I lift them up anyway. Somehow, I have decided that worrying about this, thinking about these things, picking up these burdens, will make my life turn out better.
The truth is that I’m just ruining my vacation.
So I sit at Panara with the tension in my shoulders, behind my eyes, and in my jaw, ruining the rest God has given my simply by picking up something I can do nothing with, but something I can’t put down. I can’t control my friend and his heartache, but I can be there when he calls; I can either text my mom or not, instead of just thinking about it; I can’t do anything about work, and honestly don’t want to even though I keep thinking about it; and I can’t control how this girl thinks and feels about me, I can just be me in all these situations and know that God is going to be God in all these situations.
Ultimately, that is the good news of the gospel, we can be us, feeble, weak, darn near useless in every situation, and God is going to be God; strong, able, and forgiving our every failure. And, somehow, He is so good that He makes our uselessness and failure work for good, both for us and for His Kingdom.
My tension doesn’t release with this thought, but my feet aren’t moving anymore. It’s a little victory, I’ll take it.