The most radical spiritual discipline

I've struggled with wanting to control situations and people my entire life.

It's complicated and I don't want to oversimplify the situation but part of it is simply fear-based management. I excel at managing time, space, and resources but when I am fearful (also something I struggle with) I can slide down the spectrum to the unhealthy end of management, into the red zone of control.

When I'm acting like a control freak, it's almost a dead giveaway that I am in a state of fear. Big fears, little fears. Fear.

I used to feel the controlling behavior was the problem, the thing I had to change. Over the years I've come to recognize the underlying fear is where the resolution needs to happen, anything else is window dressing.

Manipulating or managing my life circumstances to avoid feeling out of control is not the solution (but trust me, I keep trying!)

I am a manager/organizer type. This is one of my gifts. It's something I am really good at doing and when done in the right spirit, I feel great about myself when I operate in that space. And yet management on a bedrock of fear, or management as a hustle for worthiness, is not a life-giving application of that skill. It will get the job done, maybe, but it usually hurts me or others in the end.

I'm learning, painfully and slowly, that an unshakeable peace in my true identity, value and worth is the bedrock on which to build healthy management practices and expectations. Healthy management is when I recognize the wisdom of sound management principles but my trust is not rooted in good management or good decision making, my trust is based on my inestimable worth in God's eyes.

This feels harder to do than my default action of trusting in my own strength. But trusting in my own strength has a good track record for messing with me emotionally, regularly breaking my heart. And in the end, that's harder on me than learning where to properly place my trust.

Learning how to use the gifts I've been given but not rely on them for my value, or trust in them for my worth, is an on-going life lesson.

This spring, the pace of our life felt a little out of control, and this made me anxious. I felt like my gifts were a good fit in some areas (backstage management, for example) but I also felt I wasn't cut out for what was being asked of me. I felt clenchy, stressed, and frustrated.

It wasn't just the level of activity: out-of-the-house, lots of driving and traffic, social engagements, deadlines, other people's schedules that made me feel frustrated. That was part of it, for sure, but on top of that I was fearful about the margin being squeezed out of my life. I was fearful about losing myself and things I value (margin being one of them).

I've experienced sacrificing too much of myself for the sake of others, and that fear made the frustration even worse.

I like boundaries because they protect me and others. They provide safety, security. And I need breathing room in my life so I can see things clearly, so I don't lose perspective.

But in some seasons of life boundaries are pushed and breathing room is scarce. And what then?

For the last two months I've been at the edge of my boundaries with very little breathing room. I found it difficult to continue with two of the spiritual disciplines I had been nurturing this winter and early spring. Practices that, theoretically, would expand the breathing room, were very difficult to keep going. So I didn't.

I love these practices. These are not things I do because I feel a good Christian must or because I am guilted into doing them by the church, a guru, a blogger, etc. Bookending my days with morning meditation and an evening Examen is something I love to do.

Through most of May I continued the Examen, recounting the day's blessings and gifts and asking (begging) the Holy Spirit for the grace I needed for the following day; surrender, joy, gratitude, patience, presence.

But the long days of production took their toll and meditation stopped all together.

And then June arrived and the things we had set aside in May caught up with us and we had a tax deadline. And as we toiled through the days, dealing with unexpected problems and a looming financial deadline (finances and deadlines, a perfect recipe for stress) my frustration climbed through the roof.

After long days of tedious work, tears, and quite a bit of swearing, I didn't really want to invite the Holy Spirit to review with me the emotions of the day. "Hi, me again. I am frustrated, again. My heart feels murderous. How are you doing?"

Instead, at the end of the day, I watched TV with my kids, doing something relaxing, cheap, and fun, that we all enjoy (this is a huge win with three teenagers).

And then I would read myself to sleep to the lullaby of the oscillating fan and summer traffic through the open windows. I loved that part; a good story, the fan, cool sheets, the sound of traffic. A different type of evening mediation.

Disciplines are important to me because I feel secure in routines and daily rhythms. Being disciplined feels like good self-management. And over the course of time, discipline can really change things: eating habits, thought patterns, financial outcomes.

I have not been disciplined with my spiritual disciplines, and I had been feeling a little bad about that. And the swearing.

And then I went to the women's conference, with some reluctance. Life was so busy. I didn't want to leave the house, again, and I didn't want feel insecure around all those well-dressed women. But I went anyway so I could hug Sarah Bessey.

And it was in Sarah's preaching that she delivered this:

Living like you are loved is the most radical discipline of your life. Sarah Bessey.

I'm going to say that again, living like you are loved is the most radical discipline of your life.

Something I don't understand about myself is the internal resistance I have to living like I'm loved.

This confounds me because I am loved: by my husband, parents, children, extended family, friends. I grew up feeling I was loved unconditionally. And yet I still struggle with living like I’m loved.

Psychology says you must not have been shown love, you must not have been attached, you must have felt unsafe as a child. (Or something like that, I don't know exactly what the psychotherapist would say.) But that doesn't ring true in my life. What rings true in my life is that there is an enemy of my soul whose chief aim is to undermine the truth that I am loved, precisely because I am so loved. Because if I actually lived with that radical awareness at the forefront of my mind, I would experience a spiritual freedom that evil despises.

For me, that spiritual freedom is a deeper communion with God, a sense of security in spite of circumstances that would allow me to be a wellspring of life and liberty into people's lives, a conduit of living water.

I want to achieve that reality, to bring living water, through management, cost/benefit analysis, schedules and sound decision making.

The faulty thinking goes something like this: if I construct this (family, marriage, homeschool, schedules, the arrangement of furniture, whatever) just right, cobbling together the ducts and the pipes, just so, the water will flow. Phew. We did it.

Sometimes that faulty thinking is fear-based and sometimes it's simply well intended manager tendencies.

But God doesn't need the pipes.

God says, open your hands and give me those gifts I gave you, we'll use them together. And while you're giving me stuff, hand over everything you're carrying that is weighing you down.

Ok, now with your open hands (notice how you don't feel so clenchy, take a moment and breathe, ah, that feels good, doesn't it?), I'm going to pour in something better than the gifts I've given you, I'm going to give you my Spirit. I'm giving you love and life. Go share it.

Use the gifts I've given you, you'll need them, that's why I gave them to you. But honey, living water and my love for you is completely independent of how well you're using or not using those gifts. It's not the gifts, it's not your management, or your discipline, it's not your meditations that control the flow. I've turned it on, come drink; come wash yourself in my love.

The most radical discipline for me right now is to live in the love of Christ. To abide there, not just in the quiet of my bedroom before the day begins (though, oh how I love that) or in the stillness before bed, but in each moment.

I’ve had a lot of moments in the past couple months where I felt terrible. Not depressed, this isn’t my depressed season (Hallelujah!!). But I felt angry and frustrated and then shame that I - so blessed, so loved, so well fed - feel anger and frustration.

That's when I need to go stand in the waterfall, to practice the radical discipline of accepting love (and forgiveness) in those awful moments. In the moments of conflict, shame, frustration, exasperation, fear; in the moments I feel terrible for feeling terrible, especially those moments.

This was the spiritual discipline I was learning, and re-learning, to practice this month.

Before we can live like we're loved we have to believe we're loved and that's where the discipline comes: we make the choice to accept love. In this way, the Holy Spirit can minister to our weary hearts.

Emotional tension (I'm loved). Outburst (I'm loved). Hot flash of shame at outburst (I'm loved). Financial setbacks (I'm loved). Shame at failure (I'm loved). Feeling emotional distance from my husband (I'm loved). Overreacting (I'm loved). All angsty about the pace of everything (I'm loved). That nagging worry that I may have messed up my kids (I'm loved).

I'm loved.

This love is not dependent on my management skills. It doesn't depend on using my gifts well or using them at all. It doesn't depend on things going according to plan. This love is true when I'm a stressed out, swearing, control freak or when I am at perfect peace. This love is there when I feel overwhelmed and weak or when my confidence is luminous. Nothing I do or don't do can separate me from this love.

There is a barrier in myself (false self? ego? "the flesh"? pride?) to living freely in the love of Christ, to stepping under the waterfall, in all the moments of my life. I hope, and desperately pray, the more times I jump over that barrier the more worn down it will get, till it is no more. But until that day I keep having to choose to step over it.

And this is a discipline.

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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  • Joy

    Joy on June 30, 2016, 2:09 p.m.

    LOVE this - every word. LOVE the image of standing under the waterfall of love. These vulnerable and beautiful thoughts of yours will change how I live today - thank you <3

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  • Karen Heiner

    Karen Heiner on June 30, 2016, 4:24 p.m.

    Renee -- Wow, just wow! I've read your blog for months now, returning to it because I feel like you live inside my brain. ;-) This piece absolutely speaks truth and peace to my heart. I loved this: "Learning how to use the gifts I've been given but not rely on them for my value, or trust in them for my worth, is an ongoing life lesson." Thank you for acknowledging that there is a purpose for our gifts but using them as a measuring stick for our worth is not one of those purposes. And that it's okay to re-learn that as often as needed. His living water is real and enough. 

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  • Julie Prescesky

    Julie Prescesky on June 30, 2016, 6:14 p.m.

    Renee, thanks for sharing. Sometimes I feel like I don't exist at all - let alone operating from a place of feeling loved (though I know I am) - and I chalk that up to allowing myself to become so insanely busy that I'm essentially a conduit for other people's projects and goals. Bascially it's just that I'm a YES girl and I nickle and dime away all the moments. Just because I can do it - does it mean I should? I am working on that. Most of what I spend my energy on I believe in, but I have to learn to be a better editor of my life. I think there is a balance in learning to trust in ourselves and also trust that we aren't alone; that we don't have to do it alone (enter spiritual practices). Fear is a big motivator for me - that's a whole other essay. But really, what'll happen if I don't busy myself constantly? What will happen if I say NO sometimes? It's very silly that I don't say no more often, or delegate, or just trust that people can get on without me. What is this self-importance all about, anyway? And the margins thing - I feel like I'm dying a slow and agonzing death without them. So, I'm aiming to find those boundaries again - to get back to writing and drawing and other life-breathing daily practices. Thanks for sharing your vulnerabilities, that we might find that our struggles aren't so different. It's nice to find normalcy - even if it's something bothersome like how normal it is to feel like we are losing our minds to busyness. May we reclaim our quiet places. 

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  • Jen Knowing The LIght

    Jen Knowing The LIght on July 1, 2016, 6:23 a.m.

    Just want to let you know... you are loved, I love readng your stories here. 

    But, I am an excellent project/event (former stage) manager. Amazing at it. It was a major part of the freelance work that I did. Since I got ill I don't do it anymore. Yes I'm brilliant at it and everyone wonders how I get it all done. I get it all done by making myself extremley ill, highly stressed and utterly exhausted, until one day my body rebelled against me. 

    Yes, I have cut my earnings by half, but it needed to be done. this has allowed me to explore other gifts (writing, photography, music). I don't believe God gave me the skills to do this stuff in order to make me sick. 

    I can still use those skills, but in a gentle way, for myself and for coaching other freelancers/artists to get stuff done. 

    I do not use them on the front line anymore. I have realised that part of my condition is to be highly sensitive to adrenaline and cortisol. I used to run off of them, but I can't do that anymore, it leads to a lot of pain and misery. 

    Now I try to run on love - Pen Wilcock in one of her books talk abotu how Jesus always seemed to run on love, that was his fuel, but he needed time away from everyone to do that, he actually was not at everyone's beck and call all the time. Hmmm....amazing. 

     

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  • Beth

    Beth on July 1, 2016, 2:23 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing this.  Truly.  I'm not religious but this post spoke to me.  And made me feel like much less of a nut.  ;-)

    I'm working on a pretty drastic career change and the past six months have been very difficult for me.  Mostly because I'm unsure how to "manage" this process (like you, I'm an excellent manager!) and it's often been unclear what excatly I should be doing with my time. My main funtion the past decade has been Mom and Home Manager with a part-time freelance musician career.  Now I want to transition into part-time work in a different field and eventually work up to full-time employment (knock on wood).  But it's a long term process that's taking many turns and hitting several dead ends.  Intellectually I understand this is how it needs to work but emotionally it's hard to process at times.  Anxiety, stress, and feelings of despair do creep in on ocasion.  I don't deal well with uncertainty.  After weeks, okay months, of being somewhat on edge I decided I need to take some time in July and chill out.  Step back from everything and relax so I can replenish.

    So your words speak to me and provide comfort.  A much needed reminder regarding the way I need to show up in the world.  Thank you.

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  • Tiffani

    Tiffani on July 2, 2016, 11:14 a.m.

    Renee, how is it that you are able to put to words (beautifully, I might add) all that I'm thinking and feeling? God is using you to minister deeply to my soul. Thank you!!!

    reply

  • Melissa R

    Melissa R on July 10, 2016, 9:02 a.m.

    This post has been sitting, unread, in my rss feed folder.  I woke at 2:30am today, sat down to consider some difficult things.  While in angst, I decided to read this post.  It's perfect.  It gave me the courage I needed to write a much needed letter of resignation.  After doing a certain volunteer job for almost 6 years, it's time for me to step down.  Thank you for your words.

    reply

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