When I tell her in an email that it feels like I’ve got a cinder block sitting square on my chest, that it’s felt this way since I heard The Bad News three days before, she answers back in a flash. Cinder-block-chest calls for radical self-care, she says. What are you doing to take good care of yourself right now?
I stare at my friend Sarah’s email for a good long while. Because the truth is, I don’t care for myself well, especially when the chips are down and things are not going as I had planned. No, I don’t care for myself well at all.
Instead, I plow on, nose to the grindstone. I write blog posts and I prepare for the class I’m teaching at my church and I tweet and pin and Google+ and update my Facebook status and schedule radio interviews and try to think of “something else to do,” the thing I can do that will fix everything.
I rev the engine higher. I work harder. I push, bent on fixing what’s broken, focused on setting everything straight, determined to get it right this time.
On Monday, Columbus Day, I paint the entryway. I roll beige over teal and slap six coats of white over chocolate brown. I paint all day as the rain pounds the window panes because I cannot for the life of me sit still. I am restless and anxious and afraid, afraid of what might happen when I stop working, when I stop pushing. So I paint the entryway on my day off.
And all the while, I can’t get those two words out of my head.
“What are you feeling good about right now?” my counselor asks, a few days later.
I’m folded into the corner of the sofa. The sun blares hot and white through the blinds, and I stare at my hands in my lap. I have no idea how to answer her question.
I’ve always had a strong work ethic (I thank my parents for that), and it’s helped me in more ways than I can count. Whenever I’ve come up against a challenge in the past, my strategy, my solution, has always been simply to work harder, to push harder, to “make it happen,” as my dad would say.
A strong work ethic and a drive to achieve and succeed are not inherently negative. They only become negative when they become all-consuming, when they become, as in my case, the only thing that defines you.
My work defines me. Without it, without a clear sense of direction or a project to complete, I am lost.
“I don’t feel worthy unless I’m working,” I tell my counselor.
“Worthy of what?” she asks.
I tell her maybe worthwhile is a better word choice, but truth be told, worthy is what I mean. Worthy of…anything.
Part of me wonders if this uncertain time, this time in the wilderness, is God’s way of making me rest. Part of me wonders if God is using this time, this uncertainty, to help me move beyond my narrow definition of worthiness toward an understanding of his.
Only just recently (like yesterday), I’ve realized that my definition of worthiness, pretty much my whole sense of my worthiness, is based on my work — on accomplishment and achievement and success. I’ve made a mistake, I’m realizing. I’ve mistaken my work — or really, my success at my work — as the only measure of my worth.
Yet I suspect God’s definition of worthiness is much broader, much wider and much deeper than that. I suspect God’s definition of worthiness is much more spacious and gracious than my own.