expectations

It became apparent: I wasn’t falling asleep anytime soon. My first attempt to soothe insomnia: Trader Joe’s Chocolate Fudge Chip Ice Cream and Shannan Martin‘s new book Falling Free. Shannan’s words are hardly the type to put me to sleep, but a balm for my weary soul, with a side of ice cream, seemed like a good place to start.

 

As the clock ticked toward the midnight hour, I decided to move on to phase two: melatonin and an uninterrupted hot shower. I stepped over a smug cockroach in the hallway, who scurried into the closet before I could scoop him up in a wad of toilet paper. Cockroaches in our walls help us stand in solidarity with our neighbors, I told myself phlegmatically. I reached into the shower to start the water, knowing it would take a good 6-8 minutes to actually be hot. This phenomenon is still a mystery to me, given the 100+ degree heat index. Shouldn’t the water already be hot? The sound of running water woke my husband who appeared in the bathroom asking why I was taking a shower at midnight. As I explained my desire for a long, hot, uninterrupted shower, I felt myself growing slightly annoyed by his intrusion.

 

My shower routine is intentional and efficient, and if you asked and I was being honest, I’d tell you my whole life is that way, because that’s what I want to people to think of me. First, I co-wash my hair (that’s wash it with conditioner, for those unfamiliar), then I let the conditioner sit while I brush my teeth, shave, wash my body, rinse conditioner, wash my face, and put in round two of conditioner which I leave in, if you must know. It’s strategic. Purposeful. Smart. It goes the way I want it to.

 

As I washed my hair, I thought about something Father Greg Boyle said at the Global Homeboy Network earlier this month. He said burnout does not exist. His theory is the feeling of burnout stems from having expectations of others and, when those expectations go unmet, we internalize that unmetness and take the person’s actions or inaction personally. Then, often, we do more stuff to try to change them.

 

I like this theory, and not only because I think Father G is one of the twenty-four elders. It tracks with what I’m learning from my counselors and research and reading and life about controlling other humans and being responsible to people and not for them.

 

But practically speaking, I’m not sure how it rolls out. I mean, it sounds great for a Jesuit priest working with ex-convicts but for a wife? A mom? No expectations? As in zero?

 

//

 

Somewhere between lathering and rinsing my Trader Joe’s Tea Tree body wash (Yes, there’s a theme), I heard the bathroom door open and assumed it was our ridiculously cute and equally delinquent (foster) dog who can open all our fancy French door knobs that turn upward in the wrong direction; but instead I saw my tiniest human. She stood outside the shower half asleep in a sagging diaper, her usual two fingers planted firmly in her mouth. She doesn’t talk but is not silent, making unrecognizable noises the way only half-asleep children and rabid frogs do.

 

To my surprise, I am not frustrated by this interruption.

 

//

 

I lay in bed, my doctor’s words swirling around in my head. “Sleep is the first thing to go,” she told me, two years ago as I sat in her cold, small exam room, surrounded by my four young children. They were doing their best to stay focused on coloring sheets and beat up Golden Books likely covered in germs from the 1980’s, which is to say, they were bouncing off the walls.

 

When you’re anxious, sleep is the first thing to go. When anxiety builds like the tower of Babble, desperate to see what God is up to, sleep is the first thing to go. When the very air itself is sucked from your lungs and you long to hear from the One who spoke the world into being with His breath, sleep is the first thing to go. When literal walls are crumbling on houses just blocks away and the cockroaches are no longer a token in solidarity but a threat to families staying together, sleep is the first thing to go.

 

So I release my expectation to sleep.
 
//

 

In July we spent a week in Lovejoy, Georgia with a hundred like-minded folks from InnerChange and Dr. John Perkins. It was an intimate gathering, providing ample opportunity to listen and learn from Dr. Perkins and our other speakers. I sat around cafeteria style tables, listening to my friends and co-workers ask him questions about living through the civil rights movement, about today’s racial tensions, about #alllivesmatter. He was always gracious but never soft with his answers.

And his preaching. Oh, his preaching. It is otherworldly.

On his last morning, he talked about three different roads in the Bible:

The road to Emmaus.
The road to Damascus.
And the road to Jericho.

One of my kids lost their mind on the way home from Georgia. Honestly, I don’t blame them. After a month long road trip, over 12 hours of driving that day alone, within a few hours of home… they lost it.

In an effort to spare the others, I pulled over on the side of I-95, pulled this kid out of the van and headed for the ditch. In all the ways this kid struggles, they struggled there, in the ditch on the side of the highway. Semi’s 30 feet away were no competition for my kid’s lungs. These are the lungs of a survivor. The lungs of a child whose voice went unheard for years. But here, on the side of the highway, they will not be outdone by semi-trucks, or the threat of alligators.

This child’s screaming causes my heart to pound, my blood pressure to rise, my stomach to knot. Sometimes I hear them screaming when I lay in bed at night not sleeping and when I actually shower alone. Even when there is no screaming, I hear screaming. I suppose I have come to expect it.

//

I did not expect to be on the side of the highway. I expected to be an hour closer to home. My expectations and lack of sleep and countless hours inside a minivan brought me to the brink of my sanity. Simply put, I broke.

In my breaking, I joined the screaming child on my hip, flips flops now long gone in the knee high south Florida brush.  I screamed at God. I wanted to know why I listened to Dr. Perkins preach for seven full days about roads and yet, there I was, standing in a ditch.

I’ve never really thought before about who my child(ren) screams at. Often they scream at me, but really, I’m only a reminder of the primal void they feel. Of the lack and the rejection. Of their unmet expectations.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that I cannot save any of them – my children, my husband, my neighbors – from their past, from their present, from the future. It was never my job.

Our choice always is the same: save the world or savor it. And I vote for savoring it. And, just because everything is about something else, if you savor the world, somehow — go figure — it’s getting saved. – Father Greg Boyle

 

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4 Comments

  1. Angie Thomas August 29, 2016

    Tears here because today was a day I had expectations….last day of summer…fun with the kids….get organized for first day of school. Instead there has been crying, and bickering and turmoil all day and the elephant has sat on my chest all day. Savor…I need to savor my kids….I honestly so rarely do this….I am always so worried about disciplining, directing, discipling. Thank you, wise friend for sharing your heart and struggle. Praying we can both learn to savor more.

    Reply
  2. Racheal August 29, 2016

    “Thank you” seems like such an awkward thing to say when you know the person isn’t looking for thanks. But this was incredibly profound for me, and I’m grateful for people who steward the gift of words and the gift of solidarity and also mercy and wisdom. You said what my heart needs to say but couldn’t articulate. XO

    Reply
  3. Sarah August 30, 2016

    “He said burnout does not exist.” This is fascinating to me. Is there a book/article/sermon/lecture from Father Boyle where I can learn more about this?
    Thanks so much for this post. Lots to think about.

    Reply
  4. Meghan August 30, 2016

    I have thought and prayed a lot about who I am screaming at (sometimes internally, sometimes, always frighteningly, externally). Sometimes I am screaming at God, but more regularly, I am screaming at myself, so so angry that I am not able to fill the void myself, so angry that the void must be allowed to exist for now. I can’t even save MYSELF, let alone my children, my neighborhood or my city. Come, Lord Jesus.

    Thank you, Lindsay, for your vulnerable words. I was especially moved by the profound image of anxiety being a type of Tower of Babel.

    Reply

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