This last week I met with a spiritual director. I met with her because the doctors keep giving me medication that doesn't really solve my depression issues, the psychologist I met helped a little, but he only knows how to make people normal, not to make them survive being a radical Christian, which is what I want.
I have a huge question as to whether it is possible to maintain being a radical Christian over decades. Jesus is to be our example, but he died after three and a half years (or so) of ministry, Paul was depressed and possibly paranoid after a couple decades of ministry, and most radical Christians have a short life span. Well, except for Menno Simons and a few others. Dorothy Day. Mother Teresa. Hmmm. Anyway, it's a tough life, and it's tough to endure for a long time.
So how does it get done? And why am I having such a hard time? I can't ask doctors to give me answers here. So, on to a spiritual director.
She didn't have a lot to say. Mostly listened. Which I guess is good. And I was concerned, before I met her, that she would be a Teresa of Avila type, who would command and tell me everything I'm doing is wrong. Nope, just the opposite. She is the listening, gentle kind. Which is good, I need some of that.
So she listened to my life and asked some questions and then it was command time. She told me what to do. "It sounds like you never get any rest. There are people around all the time and you are always concerned about them and so you never have any time for yourself. If you aren't yourself, then God has no one to connect to. So this is what I want you to do: Find a room in a church where you can go and no one will disturb you. You can get the tea you like and just sit in silence. You can read, you can sleep, but don't worry about praying or any other spiritual discipline. Just rest and get some time by yourself."
Whoa. That was like a bombshell, especially after I thought about it for a while. My problem is not just that I need to rest, but that I need to rest from people.
This makes sense, on a superficial level. I am an introvert, and so if I am going to really get rest, I need to rest without others around. Communicating and connecting wears me out and I won't get rest unless I'm not doing that.
But she pointed out something I didn't note before: Even if people are milling about in my area, or if I'm connecting with people on the internet, or if I'm meditating about my work, I'm still interacting with people. Not physically, but in my head. I am constantly thinking about what others are thinking or concerned about and how I can help them with that. I am concerned about attitudes and interactions and all that every day all day unless I'm asleep. It's my job and I do it all the time. When I'm at church, I'm thinking about the people around there, including those who are in the park, or the city officials or churches who aren't even there at the time. When I'm at home, I'm thinking about all 13 members of the household. When I'm on Facebook, I'm thinking about what they think about the post I write. Right now I'm thinking about the non-existent audience of this diary and what you are thinking about what I'm writing, even if you may be decades away.
That's not a bad thing. I want to think about others-- that's love. I want to think about how I can care for them, even if they are decades away. Honestly, I'm pretty good at it. It is a powerful spiritual discipline to make guesses about people's attitudes and to be about 90 percent right. Not too bad.
And it is destroying me.
Why is going to a Trappist monastery so healing to me? Because for the couple few days I'm there, I have no one to think about, few expectations to meet, no attitudes to help adjust, no one to care for-- not even me, because my food, sleep and spiritual needs are relegated. I just have to fit into a pattern that is already there.
I have even wanted people to move into our family time because that helped me to remain peaceful and gentle with my family, because someone is watching, taking note. I remember reading that influential Romans considered their open lives to be a community service. They would have open windows so that anyone passing by or waiting to see them would see how they lived on a normal basis, so they would be an example to the community. I wanted to be the same, to have my life as an open book, to provide a possible example of Christ-living to the community.
Okay, but now I know that it is killing me, and it is actually self-destroying for me. In my mind, there are always people there, even if there aren't physically, and I am performing for them, acting in a way that would be beneficial for them. But this very acting-for-others cannot be sustained because it is wearing me out, thus I snap like a trapped turtle.
I am trapped by others, constantly. I can't function because I am surrounded, and all I do is respond and so I am never me. The only me is a few days a year at a monastery. That is the real me. The rest of me is pressed in by the walls of the exceptions and needs of others, even if they never mention them openly.
Again, I don't think it is horrible, but it is wearing on me. I know Jesus felt the pressure of this because he woke up early to pray, to be himself, because it was the only time he had. But I will fall asleep if I follow that specific example because I am so worn. People tell me to meditate and I say, "You mean sleep?" Because at this point anything that I do without adrenaline pumping is going to put me to sleep. I can barely watch a movie anymore, let alone read a book or listen to music without crashing.
So I'm arranging a room, as to her suggestion, and we'll see what happens when I find out who I really am.