(A follow-up to my post from a year ago, “We were on the mountain“)
You should know up front that though it might seem like it at first, this is not a post about writing.
Four weeks ago, I’d just finished the draft of my fifth novel, and I was feeling really weird about it. I know some people who dive straight back into revisions, but I was like, screw that and screw those people I need to sleep real bad.
Then I didn’t. And I haven’t.
I started to write other things. My fiction-making brain cells were pretty much shot, so I wrote blog posts for the Yellow Conference and The Higgins Creative*. I wrote an article about an amazing veteran I met at work. I journaled until my hand cramped and I had to use the other one (true story – not that anything’s really legible). I wrote two posts for this blog, both of which are saved as drafts until I decide whether or not I want to publish them.
Then this weekend I went on a church retreat in the Southern California mountains, and realized I haven’t actually given myself a break at all.
And in refusing to rest, I might have sort of broken… myself.
So many of my friends are in the middle of National Novel Writing Month, and I’m watching from the sidelines feeling like I should be doing something more useful with my time. I don’t know what exactly that is yet, but I do know that over the past month, there’s been something incredibly uncomfortable about being still.
A proud voice in my head keeps whispering, I’m not this person.
I usually crave silence and solitude. But I think that for the past several months, I’ve gotten so used to crowding my head with noise that I’ve forgotten how to be still. And enjoy it.
A few days ago, we were on the mountain again.
More than two hundred of us, from the young adult group at my church. Last year at this time, I remember being really tense and afraid of what might happen if I went up the mountain to meet with God. I remember being worried that something cataclysmic would happen in my life, some epiphany that would shatter all of the post-college routines I was just beginning to set in place.
But a year ago under the stars, He met me gently, in between breaths. He asked me to be still. And I had no problem doing that.
Fast forward to a few days ago, I was eager to get out of LA. I was looking forward to the mountain this year, and I told all of my friends how excited I was, how much I “needed” this. I felt sure that God was going to meet me in the same way as last year, that I’d go up to the mountains and He would hold me together and I would feel warm and fuzzy and then I’d leave, rejuvenated.
The first morning we were there, I woke up just after dawn to go walking. The camp was asleep and the sun was beginning to burn off the fog as I wandered through the woods. I’d taken my headphones and my journal with me out of habit, and when I sat down on a tree stump in the middle of nowhere, I thought I would encounter a pleasant God who would stroke my ego and tell me everything would be okay.
Instead I found myself needing to drown out the silence. I cranked up the music in my headphones and buried my nose in my journal, scribbling until my fingers got so cold that I had to stop. And then I sat there and wondered why God hadn’t shown up for me.
I went back inside. I changed and went to breakfast with hundreds of other people. We laughed and joked and asked each other where we’re from. Then we all filtered into the morning session with the weekend speaker, and after an hour or so, we were told to go out for a time of solitude.
And I don’t know why, but I felt myself starting to panic.
Again, my first instinct was to bolt back to my cabin to get my journal and my headphones. But when I walked outside, passing people sitting on the side of the volleyball court with their open hands resting in their laps, and people along the hiking trail leaning against trees with their eyes closed and heads bowed… I felt so frustrated.
Here were people content to sit quietly with their Creator. Here were people willing to be still and know, and I wanted that so badly, but there was so much in my way. So many things I was supposed to be doing. So many international tragedies that had unfolded seemingly overnight that I couldn’t stop thinking about. So much family tension that I couldn’t defuse, and instability that I couldn’t make better.
I went up to the mountain a Martha disguised as a Mary.
Where is grace when the world has broken us down? Where is peace when 129 lives have been snuffed out in a matter of seconds? Where is mercy when my life spirals out of control and all I can do is bury myself in deadlines and projects and stuff so that I feel better about how little I actually can control?
I walked back into the woods alone and without pen or paper. My hands felt naked without something to do. My heart was a stone wall.
I sat on the same log I’d sat on that morning and I clenched my fists and demanded that God show up somewhere, somehow.
And the pleasant, tame God who only speaks in whispers did not show up. Instead, I got a God who spoke out of the storm, since it was apparently the only way I could hear Him.
You don’t want Me, you want routine. You have built a shrine for security, and you have made yourself numb. You pray for awakening, and yet you run from it.
I run from it.
Ironically, this weekend I’m meeting with the founder of the Yellow Conference to talk about self-care, like I’m supposed to be an expert on being healthy and whole. Like any of us are supposed to be good at being not-broken.
I have exactly zero answers, you guys. But when we were on the mountain, I had to start to open my hands and let go of things that made me feel secure—my need to fix every injustice in the world, my unwillingness to be vulnerable with people I care about, my stubborn desire to be right at every turn. And I am still opening my hands. Actually, God is prying my hands open with a crowbar, and I honestly hate every second of it. But it’s slowly getting easier.
Tomorrow I turn 23 and if there’s anything that I’ve learned in the past year, it’s that sometimes God is in the gentle whisper. And sometimes, God is in the storm.
But whisper or howl, breath or gale, He will meet us there. So let go.
(*edited: link to The Higgins Creative post added, Nov. 28, 2015)