I feel like I’m in the middle of what may come to be known as “My Awakening 2.0”. The recent trip to Paris triggered an intense period of insomnia and related anxiety that feels pretty awful. I know that my struggle to accept these feelings has exacerbated the issue, but I’m finding it hard to truly let go and cease trying to “fix” my negative thoughts and feelings.
However, unlike back in the summer of 2013, I now have coping strategies to help me get through the day – thank you, Lord! The basis of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is that we have very little control over our thoughts and feelings, but a lot of control over what we choose to do and where we put our attention. Most of the acceptance tools are meant to allow painful thoughts and feelings to be, without struggling with them or trying to change them.
So, in the course of a given day, despite how tired or emotional I feel, I’m able to pray for strength, focus my attention on what tasks need to be done at work or home, and do them. In these moments, I’m not fighting my thoughts and feelings, but letting them be while I carry out life activities in the present moment. Ironically, I’m probably better at my job when I’m in this state because I’m very intentional about my actions and don’t fall into the blind optimism that can lead me to avoid analyzing pitfalls with my Team and our work!
Today I’m seeking God’s peace and faithful guidance as I continue to surrender to His perfect will. Responding to an urging, I picked up an inspiring book that I’d read this past summer. It’s called Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton. One section was dog-eared and highlighted. As I re-read it today, I was moved. It captures my struggle so well:
“… God is dealing primarily with our “trust structures,” especially those deep postures of our being that do not rely on God but on self for our well-being. Here we make the devastating discovery of all the ways in which we are captive to our own anxieties, driven by our need to control God and others and impose our own order on things. We begin to get a glimpse of the false self that functions primarily to keep us safe rather than helping us to know how to abandon ourselves to God. At this level, we must take a hard look: are we really trusting ourselves to God and to the flow of God’s Spirit, or are we bound up by defensive, self-protective patterns that serve only to help us maintain our fragile sense of security and well-being in the world?” (pg. 103).
Oh man, my false self is such a pro at creating an internal world that makes me feel safe and “in control” and totally self-absorbed! As God so artfully orchestrates, I’m currently reading a book referred by another Cambridge mom that deals specifically with the false self. It’s called The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection. The co-authors Richard Plass and James Cofield describe their use of the term false self as a translation of what St. Paul refers to repeatedly as “the flesh”: For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (Romans 7: 17-18). Plass and Cofield describe the flesh or false self as “a toxin, corrupting our deepest connections with its self-absorbed, exaggeratedly self-reliant spirit. It is a deep mistrust of the true, good and beautiful triune God,” (pg. 60).
Yikes, is this ever convicting.
I know, deep in my soul, that the process of letting go of my sense of control, accepting my thoughts and feelings, and thereby trusting God above all else was real when I went through my “awakening” back in 2013. All that I learned then is still true today. Unfortunately, my sinful nature twisted these beautiful lessons into a clever way to feel in control of my feelings. My thought process went something like this: If I simply accept my thoughts and feelings, then they will feel under my control (i.e. I’d feel contented and “good”).
Letting go of my need to control my thoughts and feelings is my primary struggle. Accepting my anxiety and fearful thoughts, without striving to fix or change them, requires me to fight all my old urges. There is no positive mantra or reframing that I can do to make these feelings less painful. This is when I have to rely solely on my deep trust in God.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths, (Proverbs 3:5-6).