I can’t sleep when I travel. Instead of laying my head back and resting my eyes from the passenger seat, I drive. A few years ago, Keith and I drove to Oregon and back for our summer vacation. I drove almost the whole six thousand miles. I don’t fall asleep with the television on. I can’t relax while things are happening. I could lay on the sofa, but I would just listen to what was happening, afraid I might miss something. I can’t even fall asleep with music on. My brain is wired to pay attention. As a child, I would linger at the bedroom door, listening to adults talking in the other room, while I was supposed to be sleeping. I never wanted to miss a thing.
This reality of my makeup has caused a few challenges for me. I find myself agreeing to activities and outings not only out of joy and anticipation but out of a fear. I don’t want to miss the conversation, the experience, the moment with people I care about. I fear that if I don’t show up, people will stop inviting me.
This same fear infects other areas of my life as well. I join in things that I don’t really want to because I fear what others might say of me. I agree to commitments, activities, and events not because they are right for me, but because they are happening and I don’t want them to happen without me.
I’m not really proud of this. But, I also don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.
Over my adult life, I’ve developed a capacity for activity that is pretty high. Like a heavy drinker, who can throw a few back without even feeling tipsy, I can run for quite a long-time juggling events and activities without even feeling tired. When my kids were home, I volunteered at the church, and in the schools. I led small groups, marshaled homework and laundry, put dinner on the table most nights, earned a college degree, and managed the social calendar for five human beings. I picked them up, dropped them off, carted them from field to field, and generally handled it pretty well.
I learned to fill up the corners of my life. I learned Spanish vocabulary words sitting out front of the house where my kids took music lessons. I scribbled notes for my next Bible study in the wee hours while I sipped my coffee to get going. I filled in the cracks and empty spaces of my life with good things. I layered time with good people and interesting projects, spending time with people I cared about while we did something important.
But, occasionally, I would have this sense of being on the outside of my life looking in. You know that feeling when you are driving down the road and thinking about things and you realize you don’t remember the last five miles. It was like that. I would lose myself for weeks, months, sometimes longer. I had this sense that my life went on just fine, but I was no longer connected to it.
I wish I could tell you that I identified this challenge and made necessary adjustments to ensure I was living my life fully. I didn’t. I learned to recognize the symptoms, and understand again…Oh, yes, I know what this is. I would slow down for a bit, withdraw into the practices that make me feel whole and then head back into the fray. In some ways, I think I just believed this was that way life worked for me.
Over the past few months, in this period of disconnectedness, I’ve thought that maybe I don’t need to be connected and involved. Maybe, I could just withdraw from the wider world and find contentment in my home, job, and family. I toy with the idea of living smaller, retracting the wide boarders of my life to a smaller and more manageable realm. Maybe I could do that, but I don’t really think I want to.
I love to be in the midst of life, connected, and engaged in meaningful ways. I thrive in the chaos of big ideas, the mess of implementation, and the complexities of connection. I feel most alive when there is lots of action swirling about, and I am in the dead center of it. I think some essential parts of me might not survive in a place of enduring calm.
And yet, I also need to recognize that I need the stillness, the calm corners of my life where I can get slow and low. I need time away from the fray, protected from the wider world, and deeply tuned into my people. I need slow time to listen to my life, to heal my soul, and deepen my awareness. I think I am realizing, I am built for both.
I need to find a way to say yes to new ideas and projects, as well as yes to time playing with my grandson. I need to make time for both the big and fast as well as the slow and small moments in my life. I am learning that I can find a rhythm to this. Like the tides, there are times to say yes to the wider world as I head out into the fray and there are times to say yes to a quiet evening at home with Keith, a slow Saturday morning, or sitting on the front porch watching the day turn to dusk.
Right now, there aren’t any big projects pulling my time and energy out of my home. Life is quiet and sweet. I hope there are new things for me to get excited about, new ways to get involved and participate in the wider world. I also hope, I have finally learned that I should be more afraid of missing out on the small intimate moments in my life. Saying yes to the simple and slow, the quiet and unseen pieces that ground me and connect me to my people may force me to say no to some opportunities moving forward… but it’s okay. I know what matters most, what matters always. These small moments are something to truly fear missing out on.