For the past few weeks I have been consumed by negative thoughts about the world and worries about my family. Life’s headlines – both inside and outside of my house – have had me holding my breath, waiting (almost wishing) for “the other shoe” to drop.
My son is deeply unhappy at school and I don’t have answers for him. My sister struggles with her ex-husband and I don’t have answers for her. My community is fraying and I don’t have answers for it.
I do not want to look away from these hard things, but I cannot let them overwhelm me either. I am learning to face hard moments without diminishing them (“It’s not that bad, son”), offering fake solutions (“Would you like some wine, sister”) or casting blaming (“Why are you doing it that way, world?!”).
But it is so hard.
An unsatisfying truth
Loving my son and my sister and my world – loving them fiercely and without numbing – carves me out. It requires me to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations; to listen to crying instead of hushing it; and to hold space for pain instead of numbing it. It creates a terrible, unyielding tension that wants nothing from me – no plans, no solutions, no answers – but instead demands my complete surrender and trust.
I come to this (unsatisfying) truth out of sheer exhaustion. None of this sits well with me. I am a woman of action. I judge the success of each day by how productive it was – how much shit I got done. Surrender and trust are for lesser creatures. All things being equal, I would choose weapons of war over tools of recovery. Every time.
But my weapons of war (my will, my way, my vision) created unintended carnage. My marriage was weak, based on a constant shifting of power, rather than a balance of mutual respect. My parenting decisions were one-sided, based in fear instead of joy. And my relationships were fragile, based in ever-narrowing circumstances that restricted growth.
Eventually, after years of lobbing bombs to make things “right,” I could no longer ignore the barren landscape I was living in.
For me, surrender and trust are inextricably linked. Despite their insufficiencies, I would never surrender my weapons of war unless I was certain I could trust in a stronger will, a better way and a bigger vision. So I did not so much as give up my weapons, as I exchanged them for better ones.
Richard Rohr writes:
Learning that you are not in control situates you correctly in the universe. You know you are being guided, and your reliance on that guidance is precisely what allows your journey to happen. What freedom and peace this can bring!
But I must warn you: initially this new empowerment will feel like a loss of power, almost a step backward. … You must get through that most difficult first step of admitting that you are powerless before you can find your true power.
Situated correctly in the universe, I am now armed with my true power. Game on.
Our true power
Our true power is not found in our amazing productivity skills. Nor is it found in our insistence on controlling things.
Our true power is the same thing that carves us out – it is our fierce, wide open, undiminished love. It is love that allows me to hold space for my son to cry and my sister to scream and my community to fray. And it is love that allows me to trust that the crying and screaming and fraying is moving us along in a larger, beautiful, mysterious plan – a plan that I am lucky to be part of, but will never fully understand.
Surrender and trust do not keep me from dark moments. Fear and panic still come – as the past few weeks have shown. But they do not consume me. And I know I am not alone in the dark.
Erin W. is the managing editor and lead writer for the She Recovers blog. She lives in Virginia where she has been working on and blogging about recovery since 2013. After years of trying to do recovery alone, she discovered the beauty of connection and friendship through She Recovers in 2017.