It doesn’t always work the same way twice. We create rituals. We set aside time and space. We plan. We expect. We assume that if we do the “Thing” that worked for us before, it will work again the next time.
Makes sense when you’re following a recipe. Those things are predictable. Given the same set of ingredients, the same baking techniques, the same oven temperature, and the same time, you’ll get the same results almost always. If you don’t, you can track down what changed. Maybe the humidity level is extra high and that changed how much flour you needed. Maybe you didn’t actually measure carefully. Maybe the oven needs repair. Maybe someone unknowingly peeked under a lid that needed to stay closed. Whatever the cause, you can normally figure out what went wrong and know what you need to do to fix it.
But what about faith? Spirituality? Your connection with the divine? Your ability to hear what spirit is saying in your life?
As much as we want them to be, those things don’t always follow the same path. Sometimes our rituals lead us to the place we need to be. Sometimes our practices help us build our relationship with god.
But sometimes they don’t.
And if you’re like me, you’re first assumption is that you’re at fault. That your connection with spirit was always broken. That once again you’ve failed “the quiet time test.” That a “good Christian” (or whatever you call the people who hold the same beliefs you do) would have received an answer. That you weren’t good enough.
I thought I’d left that old story behind, but I recently found myself right back in the middle of that shame-filled place where I’m never enough.
I’d carved out a space in the middle of my day to sit in silence and stillness and listen to the guided meditation that is part of the Flock’s spiritual practice for January. I was so excited knowing that we were going to use the same recording as last year. Those words had been so powerful. The experience of hearing Boldness as the name of my star to follow for 2012 was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. I couldn’t wait to repeat that moment.
I’d had a thought a couple of weeks earlier about my word for 2013, but I deliberately held that word at a distance so I could wait for that moment in the meditation when the name of my star landed in the palm of my outstretched hand.
Time carefully arranged. Feeling peaceful and excited. Ready to listen, I began to play the meditation. I listened. I breathed deeply. I turned the word over in my heart wondering if it was the one. I waited in stillness, patient. I reached out and …
Not a single thing.
There was silence. Not the warm, welcoming silence of friendship, peace and contentment, but the cold, dark, lonely silence of abandonment and exclusion.
I had no clue what my word was. The panic started to rise. I’d done it wrong.
Last year, I was at home, not in the library. Last year, I’d been laying on my bed in the dim light of dusk, not sitting at a table under fluorescent lights on my lunch break. Last year, I’d done some other planning and thinking before I got to the meditation. This year, I’d waited for just this moment, secure that I would know the answer when I was done.
Having boldness as my word last year was such a catalyst for change in my life. What if I’d screwed it up? What if I’d failed at this new spiritual practice just like I’ve failed at every spiritual discipline I’ve tried over more than 30 years of trying to be the Christian I thought I was supposed to be?
I tried to pretend it was okay. That it didn’t really matter to me. That I knew there was magic in having a word for my year. The truth is I headed back to work with an underlying sense of panic.
In that moment, in that horrible silence, the right-fit feeling of the spiritual practices that have become so important to me over the last months cracked. My heart was broken. I had failed at this practice too. I’d done what I thought I was supposed to do and God didn’t show up. I’d been right before. He wasn’t interested. I didn’t belong. I wasn’t beloved.
How quickly our old stories jump out of history and into the forefront of our minds and hearts. Here, let me just pick all that baggage up again. While I’m at it, let me just grab that extra bag too. I’ll just bring along a bit more to carry.
Then, I made a choice.
Really who cares if I have a word for 2013 or not? I don’t actually need a word. No one whose opinion matters to me is going to judge me for not having a word … or an intention or a resolution or a whatever it is you think you need to have. And if I really want a word, I can pick it for myself. I don’t have to be “divinely inspired”. There’s nothing magical about the word.
The good things that came into my life during 2012 didn’t come only because I did it “right” and heard boldness as my word.
They came because I followed the quiet voice inside me that knew what I wanted and what I needed. The star of boldness was simply a reminder of the path I wanted to be on.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I put the extra bags back down. I surrendered my need to follow the same path as those around me. I leaned in to accepting that I didn’t have a word and that I didn’t need to have a word in order to be okay, to be enough, to belong.
And as the tension started to dissolve and the panic began to loosen its grip, I heard my heart sing in a quiet whisper.
Soften into being who you are, not who you think you are supposed to be.
Soften into who the people around you truly.
Soften into what is.
Seems I needed a different path to find my star’s name this year. I think that might just be the first lesson of soften for 2013.
It wasn’t until I allowed myself to soften that I could hear what my heart needed to say. It wasn’t until I surrendered my ideas of how my spiritual life was supposed to work that I could recognize what spirit had been saying to me since before Christmas.
Boldness? Yes, still that, but soften first.