I’m Never Going to Have it All Figured Out.

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I’ve been holding on too tightly to my thoughts and trying to control my feelings recently. This always leads me down a path toward distraction and anxiety. I could sit here and think of all the potential reasons that this is happening right now – kids starting a new school and the unknowingness of this big change for our family, for one. Also, I spent a lot of time imagining the future this summer, dreaming of things that could happen. It’s hard to transition back into the real world from the dream world.

When I’m feeling contented, fusing with my thoughts isn’t a problem. In fact, it makes me feel in control. This lasts for some period of time, during which I further retreat into the inner world of my thoughts, otherwise known as “being in my head”. I spend a lot of time thinking about how things should be, what I should eat, when I should exercise, how my children should behave. Notice how many should thoughts are going on?!

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A symptom of this pattern includes my being frustrated and angry when things don’t go the way they “should” – according to me. When my son is sad and crying, it’s very inconvenient; we have places to go and must be on time! When my husband has an idea for our Saturday afternoon that doesn’t coincide with mine, I become irritated.  I spend a lot of time internally debating what I’m going to eat, since every food has a judgement attached to it. Thank you diabetes.

Eventually, my need for control and “being in my head” combine forces and turn their attention to sleep. I have come to believe that this battlefield in my life is sort of perfect. Sleep is the ultimate surrendering. When I’m struggling to be in control of my emotions, I cannot surrender and trust God. Anxiety flows over me while I’m lying in bed. I am not in control. These emotions are real. I’m struggling with my thoughts and feelings because  this is not what should be happening!

Because, I’m obviously the one in-charge, right?

The truth is, this pattern keeps repeating in my life, and is likely to continue.

Why? Because I’m a sinner. I’m prideful. I try to fill the God-sized hole in me with my brilliant thoughts, with collecting new ideas, with figuring it all out on my own. With me.

However, God is stronger and bigger and way more powerful than my thoughts and feelings. He is using this sin to show me my sinfulness and need for Christ. Martin Luther called the second use of the Law, the Mirror: The Law serves as a perfect reflection of what God created the human heart and life to be. It shows anyone who compares his/her life to God’s requirement for perfection that he/she is sinful. When I strive to remain in control and these symptoms start showing up in my life, I imagine myself struggling in God’s loving hands. He’s always there, caring for and sustaining me. But I so often fight and wrestle with myself, instead of surrendering into His embrace.

I’ve been praying about my desire to write a book on my awakening experience, specifically how mindfulness and trusting God work so beautifully together. It’s on my heart to share how embracing growth and not having it all figured out is a much more fulfilling way to live. But, I’ve been struggling to start the writing process. My procrastination is driven by the need to have it all figured out! Oh, the irony. On some level I know that my words will be refined and revised through the writing process. But, when I’m unable to experience the feelings of frustration, fear, and potential failure, I become trapped in this thought pattern: I need to master these lessons before I can write about them.

So, here I am relearning lessons that I want to share with others. Returning to acceptance, commitment, and mindfulness as a daily practice to release control and trust God. I’ve been here before and will likely be here again. I will never master these lessons. I will keep growing, with God’s grace and guidance.

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.”

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Excessively making plans was one of the symptoms of my pre-awakening mindset. I felt under control when occupying that mental space of the future. Life felt safe and secure when I wrote events and activities on the calendar days, weeks, and months ahead. Then, when those events and activities occurred, it was evidence that life was under control, predictable, and ultimately safe.

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Living in my head was no longer safe when my thoughts turned into anxiety. When the reality struck that all my planning and seeking control couldn’t keep me and my loved ones perfectly safe and secure, planning didn’t hold the safe allure.

Here I am, five years into embracing a mindset of growth, curiosity, and trusting God rather than myself. Life is good. God’s plan keeps unfolding in my life in beautiful ways. I now see where lessons I learned over the past few years helped me grow while deepening my dependence on God. These lessons have prepared me for future growth and new experiences. One of those lessons is that we never stop growing!

I recently realized that being “in your head” does not necessarily mean that you’re struggling with anxiety or fighting “negative” thoughts. You can also be distracted by “positive” thoughts that, nevertheless, take you out of the moment. This helps explain why I thought I was “happy all the time” for years, although I was rarely in the moment. Retreating into dreams, plans, hopes, and anticipations is still retreating from the present moment and the real life going on around me.

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Over the summer, I found myself dreaming of having a house by a lake, traveling to Europe, losing those last ten (okay, fifteen) pounds, imagining being debt free, and writing a book. Dreams are all well and good, but I found myself feeling vaguely dissatisfied the more time I spent imagining the unknown future. When my attention is directed to my thoughts instead of the moment, where my life is actually happening, I cannot connect to my loved ones or feel my emotions. Attention can only be focused on one thing at a time (that’s why multitasking doesn’t work!), so when I’m focused on my dreams, I’m not focused on the story my child is telling me, or my husband, or the sunset, or the music on the radio, or the work project I’m trying to finish, or the meal I’m eating… you get the idea.

Dreaming about the future has a couple other side effects. Studies now show that imagining yourself reaching a certain goal or destination actually makes it less likely you’ll succeed. Turns out you can trick your mind into thinking you’ve already achieved a goal, such as losing weight, traveling, or paying off debt; which then makes you less likely to engage in the behaviors that will lead to success, such as eating less, exercising more, saving money, etc. Crazy, right?

The other downside to dreaming about the future is that it tends to make you dissatisfied with the blessings you already have. When we dream about wanting more, we tell ourselves that there’s something lacking in the present. It’s hard to appreciate things that we already have, when we’re dreaming of something new and different.

The saying “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans” is cliché but true. With this recently epiphany, I’m looking forward to a long weekend of noticing the present moment. The future will unfold in God’s perfect timing. I plan to focus my attention on each moment as it happens, so I don’t miss a thing.