Letting Go, and Letting Him In

If there’s something that strikes me about us Catholics, it’s how much we don’t know. I’m not talking about the stereotype that we don’t know our Bible (although, I must confess, I probably know less than I ought to), but rather, that our entire faith is a celebration of the incredible minuteness of our human capacity in the face of the vast ocean of God’s grace. As St. Augustine concisely put it, around 1700 years ago, “If you think you understand, it isn’t God.”
So I’m going to do a little something different with this post today. I’ve interspersed it with stanzas from one of my favourite hymns, “These Alone” by Dan Schutte (video at the end of this post), based on a prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola. And although my blog has been a good way thus far to mark the new things I’m learning and internalizing every day, this post shall be a reiteration of all the things I don’t know—and thank God for that.
Take my heart, O Lord, take my hopes and dreams
Take my mind, with all its plans and schemes
Give me nothing more than Your love and grace
These alone, O Lord, are enough for me
I actually meant to begin (and post) this two weeks ago, when I was thinking a lot about what it meant to surrender to God’s will. I’m a frenetic planner by nature. Close friends can attest to how I often cannot put my mind at rest until I have a problem set out in a mind map, schedule, or battle plan. This constant need to have my problems delineated and put on the conveyor belt on their way to being solved, to know what’s happening next, even permeates my time off-duty: I, sadly, flip to the ends of books more often than I’d care to admit. (Don’t you? No? Okay.)
Those two weeks came and went without me ever feeling in the right mood to sit down and type a big chunk about what I don’t know, until problems piled up at my door that I had to let in and sort out. And these nights, before I lay me down to sleep, instead of going through battle plans in my head, I’ve been trying to let them go instead: to ask God to “take my mind, with all its plans and schemes”. It seems counter-intuitive that you can be much better off with a tenuous faith in He Who Cannot Be Seen rather than plans which give you a semblance of comfort, but to quote St. Augustine again (very eloquent, this man), “Our hearts are restless, until they find rest in You.”
So take everything I think I know, Lord- take my tangled strings and hanging knots and weave them into the tapestry which I know You have in mind for me. Take my yearnings and longings and uncurl them in the palm of Your hand, place me against Your heart, and keep me there. You know better. Let that be enough for me.
Take my thoughts, O Lord, and my memory
Take my tears, my joys, my liberty
Give me nothing more than Your love and grace
These alone, O Lord, are enough for me
“Strangely enough, if God’s will is to be done, there is only one way things can end. And that’s crazily comforting. There’s no need to make plans or worry about how to get there. God can handle that,” said my friend Anne over skinny pizzas one day (I paraphrase your words, dear, but I hope I got the gist right).
It seems that growing up, our problems are more open-ended than multiple choice, and sometimes the distance between where I am and where I want to be terrify me so much (to paraphrase Tracee Ellis Ross) (too many quotes?) (never too many quotes). But it is in these chasms that I hear, most clearly, the voice of God calling me to Him, to trust him. As Father Clifford said in his Homily two weeks ago (on the Sunday when I ought to have written this post), “God speaks to us most powerfully through interruptions.” What we see as a long-fought-for, long-trudged road coming to a dead end may well just be a curve in the road He has in mind.
And the strangest thing is, once we start to let go of the human conception that we know what is best for us, and start to glimpse the enormity of His excellent plan, there is so much joy. There is a fullness of joy which I cannot hope to entirely comprehend and terrifies me in the same way vast oceans and great mountains and beautiful flowers terrify me: when I realize that I am a small part in a huge and wonderful world, and I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
I surrender, Lord, all I have and hold
I return to You Your gifts untold
Give me nothing more than Your love and grace
These alone, O Lord, are enough for me
The second reading on that Mass two weeks ago was from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, 12:8-10: “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Three times St. Paul asked the Lord to rid him of his afflictions. (I must have badgered God at His door far more often than that.) (Sorry.) But like St. Paul, I only found peace once I stopped asking for more, and started asking for less. I need to learn to stop asking for God to fill my half-empty pot with more of what I think I want/ need, and to start asking him to empty me so He may fill me with Himself. As Sir Thomas Browne wrote, at least three centuries ago,
“If thou could’st empty all thyself of self,
like to a shelf dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf,
And say, ‘This is not dead,’
And fill thee with Himself instead.
But thou art all replete with very thou,
And hast such shrewd activity,
That when He comes He says, ‘This is enow
Unto itself—‘twere better let it be,
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me.’”
I like to think that at the end of the day when we reach Heaven’s doors, I will lift up my empty hands and tell Him, “Here are the gifts You gave me, Lord. I have used them all, and now I return to You.” As another friend wrote to me a few weeks ago, “God loves you so much, and He loves you enough to give you this life. That alone should bring you so much joy.”
Let me be filled with Your love and grace, God. Nothing more, nothing less.
When the darkness falls on my final days,
Take the very breath that sang Your praise
Give me nothing more than Your love and grace
These alone, O Lord, are enough for me
Admitting you don’t know anything, when you’ve made an entire life on being the one who knows what’s going on, is terrifying. But it’s also really liberating.
One of my favourite books of all time, Anne of the Island, has this to say about death: “I think, perhaps, we have very mistaken ideas about heaven- what it is and what it holds for us. I don’t think it can be so very different from life here as most people seem to think. I believe we’ll just go on living, a good deal as we live here- and be ourselves just the same- only it will be easier to be good and to- follow the highest. All the hindrances and perplexities will be taken away, and we shall see clearly. Don’t be afraid, Ruby.”
I think it’s also super applicable to letting God’s will reign in our lives- we will be ourselves just the same, only it will be easier to follow His word.
Lord, help me to let go of the bitterness and anger I feel when my plans don’t come to fruition. Help me to walk by faith and not by sight. Help me to keep my head lifted to the sight of Your eternal glory and fullness of grace, and help me to walk by this light, forever and always.
I don't know so muchbut You always know better.
For those who are curious as to what “These Alone” sounds like, here is a video (filmed at my church!):
For a truly inspiring article on opening your heart to God’s joy and love in the midst of human grief, read this!

Getting Over Nasty Funks!

I’ve been wanting to do a post like this for some time. This summer dealt me some nasty funk, but the nasty funk also helped me to clean up my standard operating procedures for getting over bad times. This is not to say that the bad times are over; I think there are still going to be some days in the months to come when I feel particularly vulnerable. But happiness is, sometimes, a choice.

I don’t mean to say that in the way The Worst Advice in the World is, “Snap out of it!” Because there are going to be times when no matter how much you want to be happy, you get confused about what would get you there, and this makes the choice all the harder. I mean that in the sense that sometimes you have to be your own sunshine and make your own battle plan to achieve your own happiness.
Photo credit: Pinterest
There are good days, when I find myself smiling and laughing and loving my life. This Monday evening was one of them. I miraculously won a pass to a Meet & Greet session with the lovely dancer, Miko Fogarty. I didn’t know what to expect to come away with when I arrived: while I love ballet, I harbour no aspirations (delusions) of becoming a professional ballet dancer, and talk of performances and competitions seemed quite exclusive to me.

Miko at Prix de Lausanne. Original photo credit: Gregory Batardon
I didn’t expect to hear this: that Miko, an amazingly dedicated and disciplined dancer, has bad days too. She went through a bad funk of her own when she was thirteen or fourteen, when she felt burnt out with the pressure of school and dance. Hearing her talk about her experience and how she dealt with it really resonated with me.

I’ve compiled a few tips I remember from the session below, as well as a list of my own from what I’ve learnt the past few months:

Miko’s tips

1.   “Allow yourself to have bad days, but always remember to reset the next morning.”
I think it’s important to recognize that everyone has moments of weaknesses, and it’s not always your fault. You have to extend to yourself the same kindness and compassion you would extend to others, and that includes allowing yourself to have the bad day, and acknowledging all the nasty emotions you are feeling. The important thing, however, is to reset. Every brand new morning is a gift, unencumbered by yesterday’s sorrows. 

Photo credit: Pinterest
2.   Get inspired.
Even amazing ballerinas have days when they run out of inspiration. I remember a piece of advice I once received on law school, which is that you shouldn’t be worried if you’re doing badly; you should only be worried if you stop loving what you’re doing. There are some days in ballet when I really want to quit. I think of all the odds which are stacked against my favour (I’m too old/ I’m too fat/ there are so many people better than me) and think that there is no point going on. But then I go home and watch a few videos of my favourite ballerinas on YouTube and think, “Ahhh. This is why I’m staying.” If you can, and as Miko suggests: watch a live show. (Or create a new Pinterest board. This totally counts.)

3.   Meditate.
Sometimes you can literally feel a knot of tension in you. But it’s important to find some quiet time with only yourself to sort out that knot; to lay it flat, and lay it to rest. I find myself doing this on long bus rides, in pockets of time in the afternoon, or even just before I go to sleep. 

Amy Poehler always knows what to say. Photo credit: Pinterest
4.   Sleep!
Miko identified one of the root problems of her stress as a lack of sleep over time. It’s important to know the controllable factors which may be causing you to react in a certain way. Sleep is always good. I always find that problems are easier to deal with after a good night’s rest.

My own tips

1.   Create your own playlist.
I think over time you get a sense of which songs make you feel which way, and which songs you reach out to when you want comfort or an extra burst of sunshine. Please file all these songs away into a playlist, either on YouTube or Spotify or whatever you fancy, and pull them out whenever necessary. Music really does wonders to lift (or worsen) your mood; pick judiciously!

For a soothing song which sometimes makes me cry but also feels like a mother’s hug when I’m alone at hostel, “Someone’s Waiting For You” (Shelby Flint) is wonderful.

For somewhat aggressive, power-tripping songs, I like “Run the World (Girls)” (BeyoncĂ©); “I Love It” (Icona Pop ft. Charlie XCX); and “Really Don’t Care” (Demi Lovato).

For healing, happy songs, “Gonna Get Over You” (Sara Bareilles) is absolutely great (she did a mash-up of that song with "Forget You", it’s fabulous!). Also try “Now is the Start” by A Fine Frenzy.

Edit: how could I forget?! Tori Kelly's "Unbreakable Smile" helped me through a lot. It's hard to resist smiling through this one.

You can find the playlist I made here.

2.   Reach out.
I think it’s very easy, when you’re down, to shut yourself up against the world and not let anyone in. It can be very hard to talk about the problem (or problems). But at the same time it is truly amazing what nasty funks can reveal about the people around you. For me, it revealed that I have the best friends ever. One of my best friends arranged a surprise get together with all my closest friends in law school, just for me. The same best friend and a couple others would allow me to call them randomly in the middle of nowhere, just to hear me whine (and sometimes cry) on the other side.

Don’t shy away from making social plans, either. I had great times meeting up with friends whom I wasn’t close enough to to share my problems with, but who nonetheless cheered me up wonderfully the way friends do: with plenty of shared memories and laughter.

3.   Try new things.
One of my best friends told me this, and I didn’t know how I was going to manage it, but when I look back I realize I’m now reading my first non-fiction book in ages (“Yes Please” by Amy Poehler, which so far, is laugh-out-loud funny and epiphany-causing at the same time), trying to improve my hand lettering with new pens and/or new methods, and sometimes dressing differently just for the heck of it (yes, this counts).

4.   When you’re ready- have a schedule.
Keep busy, and keep recognizing your accomplishments, even those which may seem very small or insignificant. The first day you wake up feeling amazing? That counts. Having tasks to tackle, and finishing them, can be a fabulous adrenaline kick all on its own. You are amazing, and you are going to feel amazing someday soon.

Photo credit: Pinterest
5.   Be your own sunshine.
I once read that smiling at yourself in the mirror, however forced, can really lift your mood. It sounds ridiculous, but on one of my worst days I woke up and told myself, “TODAY IS A BRAND NEW DAY AND YOU ARE AWESOME.” And it kinda worked. You have to be firm about loving yourself. 

Photo credit: Pinterest
On a related note, another avenue (haha) that really helped me through another nasty funk last year was this blog post by Avenue Maria. Maria is a lovely blogger from Australia who never fails to cheer me up.

This has turned into a super long post with probably more semi-colons and “wonderful”s than it ought to have, but I do hope it helped. If it has helped you, and you feel okay with it, let me know! I’d love to hear from you.