Be still and grow

First slide

Yesterday, the heat index was 109 degrees. The air hung heavy, and the haze made it so that I kept continually wiping my glasses, but my vision never cleared. Everything about the morning was oppressive. The weather matched my mood; life felt heavy and hot and enveloping. It was difficult to see more than a few inches in front of me. The familiar landscape was uncertain and light was diffuse — glaring but not illuminating.

Sometimes, life feels that way. We wake up and move forward in an emotional or spiritual haze. This kind of fog can be perpetuated by exhaustion, or it can come on suddenly with a family crisis, or it can build slowly and manifest itself when, finally, after extended effort, we burn out. Hot, hazy, intense periods of life happen.

Of course, care is called for in the fog. This is a time to be extra careful where we step, extra cautious about our movements. The thing about life in a haze is that we’re never exactly certain how to navigate it. Sometimes, the best thing to do when confronted with oppressive emotional haze is to be still in it. It makes no sense to fight through it — the exertion only makes us hotter and nothing we can do will dispel the haze.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. (Ex 14:14)

In the slowness of a burned out fog, I notice the details that flit past during more productive seasons. I swirl cream in lazy circles as my morning coffee cools. I curl back tendrils of my daughter’s hair and see how the sweat beads on her nose just like it does on her daddy’s. I wonder at the way the bright sunshine in the haze only makes everything more unclear. I stop fighting to focus on the big picture, and instead, I look at carefully at what is close and clear and intimate.

How does God speak into this one moment on this one day? How can I embrace the slowness, the languid nature of the time, even though I did not ask to be stuck in it? Fighting is futile; healing and wholeness come in the surrender.

I fix my gaze on my fingers. Two rings stacked one on top of the other speak the message of this time to me. Late last year, I found myself meditating on the word “tender.” I embraced its dimensions — both the call to be soft in this season of life, despite the inclination to be hardened (even bitter) as circumstances wear away at the fine patina of idealism, and the mission to continue to tend to those things I hold dear. I resolved then to focus on “tender.”

In January, though, my friend Ann suggested that I needed to contemplate the word “surrender,” perhaps at the same time. Ironically, this was a word generated for me by a “word of the year” computer program — a word I’d discarded in favor of “tender.” I trust Ann, and I respect her ability to see into my soul, so I took both words to heart, and then I had them engraved on rings so that I would be constantly reminded.

Seasons of emotional (or physical or spiritual) burnout are seasons of tender surrender. The heavy, hazy days are tender days — they hem me in, behind and before, and I feel the Lord’s hand upon me (see Ps 139:5). If I surrender to them, he meets me there; he ministers and he consoles.

The world outside my door is overgrown right now — lush, green and nearly tropical. This humid heat has been a season of astounding growth in the natural world, despite my inability to garden much at all. Ironically, the very conditions that have caused my torpor have given way to this growth.

Could it be that this is also a season of monumental spiritual growth, despite my inability to do? Could it be that God will grow things in the absence of my movement — emotional, physical or spiritual?

I resolve again to surrender to the same hot, heavy stillness deep in my soul and let the good gardener tend.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

@elizabethfoss