Like many of you perhaps, I relished going on to Facebook over the last two days and seeing dozens of pictures of adorable kids dressed up for Halloween. It was especially poignant for me, since my own kids are past the point of painted chubby cheeks and crazed sugar highs. But soon enough, my feed was populating again with news reports and commentaries about the many things that are going wrong in our country these days. Reading about Trump’s unethical business dealings and new email innuendos about Clinton, the struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, the latest political scandal, or refugee crisis, my heart grows heavy with anxiety and confusion. I find myself spinning. What do I do with all this (mis)information? The oppression and injustice? The violence and cruelty in our politics and on our prairies? What in the world can I do about all this suffering?
I don’t know.
I felt helpless the day before Halloween and I felt it creeping back up on me today. Like a sugar addict with her hand in her kid’s candy bowl for the twentieth time, I pass one sickening headline after another and feel myself getting nauseous from the over-indulgence. I want to stop, but I tell myself I can’t stop, because then I’m just burying my head in the sand, using my privilege to pretend like it doesn’t matter. I’m safe even if I don’t engage. I will be so grateful when the election is over and I hope (though I know it may be a false hope) that at least some of these issues will be resolved.
So when I sat down to pray this morning with a heavy heart, I didn’t know if I would find silence, or be able to still my busy mind. I didn’t know if my “prayer of quiet” would actually bring any, or if it would just be an exercise in futility. I was open to either outcome, since the latter is more frequent than the former. But I have been taught that success lies in the intention, more so than the execution and so I continued.
As is my habit, I opened up my copy of Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening before I began my sit. And this is what I read:
Thomas Merton wisely challenges us not to just slow down, but, at the heart of it, to accept our limitations. We are at best filled with the divine, but we have only two hands and one heart. In a deep and subtle way, the want to do it all is a want to be it all, and though it comes from a desire to do good, it often becomes frenzied because our egos seize our goodness as a way to be revered.
I have done this many times: not wanting to say no, not wanting to miss an opportunity, not wanting to be seen as less than totally compassionate. But whenever I cannot bring my entire being, I am not there. It is like offering to bring too many cups of coffee through a crowd. I always spill something hot on some innocent along the way.
My heart sank as I read his words. Whom have I burned?
I want to do my part to make the world a better place, more loving and thoughtful, and in times like these, when so much of the world is hurting and so much of it is right in front of my face, I start to lose focus. I start “liking” everything and I want to be here, there and everywhere with my words and prayers and money and presence, and when I can’t, I feel like I’m part of the problem, not the solution. Left unchecked, my desire to do the “right thing,” leaves me feeling helpless. I sat there this morning, convicted of the fact that over the last several weeks, I’ve scalded people on my political left and right, and probably even those who sit at my left and right around the dinner table.
It can be one of the hardest questions to ask ourselves: What is mine to do?
(Hint: It’s NOT everything!)
Deep down, we know what is ours to do. If we don’t, it’s because we haven’t slowed down enough to hear the answer. Or we’ve ignored it, because it’s asking something of us that we don’t want to give, or give into yet. But when we create space and silence, the answer comes – like it did for me this morning.
I know what is mine to do. I was born to Love – to find it, to make it, to spread it. I’m a smiler, a talker and a laugher, a hugger, a baker, a reader, and a teacher. What can I do with that?
I can do all sorts of things with that, but I have to be there! If I am vacant, preoccupied, or feeling badly about what’s left undone, then none of the things I do have the same impact. I’m just a body, going through the motions, not half the woman I was born to be.
As this election season winds to a close, how are you feeling? Are you clear about what is yours to do, especially on November 9th? How can you make the world a better place?
Because no matter who wins, we’re definitely going to need the help.