Are you tired?
With the end of another year coming to a close, that familiar tension of guilt mixed with nostalgia begins to settle in as reflection pulls up front and center. Questions like, did I do anything of value this year? and what do they think of me? and did I waste another year? trickle in and sink along familiar doubt lines in the soul.
So much fear, clenching tightly.
Fear of being misunderstood, judged.
Fear of the criticism that might follow if I share honestly.
Fear of closing out another year without anything of value to show for it.
Fear of disappointing others, yet again.
I feel a pressure behind the eyes that pulses and blurs, a heaviness that bears down on the shoulders and I wonder when it’ll release, if it’ll ever release. And how to stop the tears? My mind and body wage war and I fear I cannot will myself up and out and into the world.
Some say just pray, just believe. But does one say to a starving man just eat without first preparing the food and paving a path toward it? Sure, some may snap the fingers and find belief summoned. But me, my mind rushes forward, backward, sideways a million miles a day while my body falters to keep up. The just pray, just believe accolades don’t hold the kind of power needed to usher in real change.
So then, what’s a body to do to stay above the fear?
Perhaps it starts with simplification.
I’ve decided to go back to the basics, to forget all the self help books, endless advice blogs, and mindfulness podcasts to take another long look at the life of Jesus. Here is a man who, at the height of his calling, experienced a maddening pace of life. I suspect in the midst of it all he too felt anxiety, chaos, pressure. I suspect he too had doubts and fears and questions and panic (see Hebrews 4:15). And then scripture beautifully captures his simple, often overlooked response to it all. . . that when it bore down too heavy, he took to the mountains, the sea, the trees. He wandered away, alone. And then he sat, stilled himself, and talked to his father (see Luke 5:15-16).
In moments where he could have stayed, listened to more people, taught more crowds, healed more of the sick, he laid responsibility down, he said no to the pressure, refused to indulge the crowd’s expectation, and instead he escaped.
In this, the pure life and struggle of Jesus, I find hope. I find permission too—permission to care first for the state of my soul, to go against what’s expected in an effort to pursue true peace.
So I focus on slowing the mind, on centering myself, on quieting the chatter. For if I cannot find a way out of this pressing down of fear, then perhaps I can forge a way forward and through it.
In the dark of the morning, I leave the lights out and instead light a candle or two. I drink a glass of water. I listen to the silence and let it linger. I check in with my body and stretch it to ease away the leftover stress that’s settled into and hardened muscles. I wander outside with the pup on his leash to take in an awakening world and crunch through fresh snow. I stop to breathe in the sunrise. And I’ve found that if I walk far enough and look up, if I pause a bit longer over the candlelight, if I breathe in slowly and hold it, I can feel the stillness and the calm gradually returning.
This is my pursuit then—to practice more mindfulness in cultivating a self that is centered and able to recognize when escape from responsibility is needed. Even if I can teach myself just to let go of the self-imposed pressure to juggle responsibility, perhaps that’s a step in the right direction.
Let go of the responsibility to show something of worth.
Let go of the responsibility to live up to others’ expectations.
Let go of the responsibility to please people.
And in the letting go, in the space that’s left open, peace is given an invitation to rush in. And that is the freedom I want.
In your corner,
Want more essays like this one?
Every month, I send out an encouragement email filled with thoughts about life and how to survive it all. If you’d like to receive those emails (with links to new essays) delivered straight to your inbox, you can sign up below.