my six days of silence in the desert was such a significant experience and turning point for me in my post-lay-off process that i haven’t been able to bring myself to blog about it until now. somehow, it felt like i would be commodifying it had i jumped right into a blog post within days. so i’ve let it sit with me for a couple weeks (it was actually two weeks ago today that i came home); and i think i’m ready now.
let me back up.
the afternoon i was let go from my role at ys, i knew i was going to need some time away, alone, to rest and process. i have struggled my whole life to be present to my emotions. and in more recent years, as i’ve grown in this area (really, starting with yaconelli’s death), i’ve also learned that i can go there, but it often requires a conscious act of space clearing. i need space, without the chatter of appointments and cell phones and email and television shows waiting on the dvr, to be gentle and welcoming to those emotions that i need to process and be present to. it’s almost like my deepest emotions are skittish little animals, and any sudden movement sends them scampering back into their holes (i’m thinking of the biblical “coney” right now).
the first 3 or so weeks got quickly filled up with whatever stuff fills your days when you experience loss — communication from friends (and many wonderful youth workers i don’t even know) and family, processing, filling out paperwork. when the cincinnati nywc came around, i was crawling out of my skin with anxiety and restlessness. that time, i just needed a distraction, not a deep dive into the emotion of it all. so a buddy graciously agreed to road trip with me, on about 16 hours notice. we spent three days in las vegas, having (good, clean) fun and being blissfully disconnected from the maelstrom.
but, eventually, i knew i needed that time away. a lovely couple in my church have a cabin (i guess you could call it that — really, it’s a home, but a funky one) in a desert canyon about 90 minutes from where i live, and have generously allowed others to use it for retreats like this. so, after a stop at costco for food (really a bad place to grocery shop for 6 days by yourself — i had massive portions of about three meals), i headed out.
i’d met with a therapist the day before leaving (who i’ll continue meeting with over these next few months), explained my situation, and asked for guidance on framing the journalling i wanted to do. she suggested i journal on what she considers the five primary emotions: anger, hurt, sadness, fear, and joy. this instantly resonated with me; and i found it really helpful that she was validating anger as a legit piece of the pie, as i’ve often heard others talk about anger as a secondary, or masking, emotion. but my experience was that i needed to process the anger before i could really access the true stuff of hurt, sadness and fear (which were the three things combining to gift me with so much anxiety).
each afternoon, i spent time in prayer and meditation, preparing myself to journal about whichever of those 5 emotions i was going to give space to that day. then, i spent anywhere from 1 to 3 hours writing, unedited, whatever came to me about how i was feeling. if it was anger, i was pounding my keyboard with a ferocity that proved the durability of macs, as i was really giving myself over to the feeling while i was processing thoughts about what was generating it. similarly, when i wrote and wrote and wrote about – for example – how and why this hurt so much, naming all the aspects of specifics, i had tears on my face the entire time. after each session of writing – which just naturally wrapped themselves up at a point where i felt “done” – i had to respond in some way. on the day i wrote about my anger, i had to go for a hike in the canyon to blow off steam. on the day i wrote about hurt, i sat for hours on the screened-in porch, smoking a cigar, watching as the sun slowly set; then, i watched a short comedy so i wouldn’t spend the entire evening in depression!
all of this felt like prayer, really. i was very aware that, as i wrote, i was writing in the presence of god, and that god was with me in unearthing, naming, and in some cases, purging these feelings.
at the risk of being an emotional flasher, i’ll paste a few very carefully chosen snippets here, to give you a sense of the unfiltered rawness i was trying to tap into…
I’m afraid of my anger. I don’t want it to take control. I’m nervous about allowing it space, or granting it any freedom. If I give it even the smallest bowl of milk, I have this gnawing sense that it will not only stay, but will grow into a feral, feline monster, shredding and screeching and tearing without the goodness to discern.
I’m only 46, and I still feel so young. I feel like I have so much of my life still in front of me. I feel like I was just beginning to really hit my stride in this role, that I was learning humility and how to serve youth workers. I feel like I had a voice and a platform. I did. And it’s gone.
The sun is quickly fading from the sides of the mountains across the desert valley, as it drops behind the ridge behind me. It’s only 4:27pm. Too early to be evening. Too early for night. That’s what this feels like – my daylight has faded, been taken, way too early. Way too capriciously. Way to easily. And it’s quiet. And lonely. But it’s the isolation that’s killing me. Too easily expendable, and too easily forgotten.
I’m afraid of becoming a shell of myself. I’m afraid that I’ve “peaked”, and nothing else – work wise – will come close to providing the meaning and fun that I’ve experienced.
I’m afraid I won’t be able to tell thousands of youth workers that they really matter, that they’re not crazy. I’m afraid I won’t be able to tell them they need to change and try new things. I’m afraid I won’t be able to encourage them or push them or paint a picture of a new reality.
I’m afraid I’ll have to be normal and boring and conventional and predictable.
I’m afraid it’s all downhill from here.
Maybe this is a circumstantial hope and peace I’m feeling right now – more a result of the quiet surrounding me and 5 days of not talking. But at least I’ve had an appetizer of what I hope and expect to feel in the days to come. At least I’ve had this dress rehearsal. At least I’ve been given this gift of foreshadowing.
It’s getting darker now – the remaining light of the day is very close to being gone. The single sound I hear other than my keyboard and my breath is the quiet nibbling of a bunny, chewing the birdseed I put out earlier. He’s looking at my now, between nibbles. Other than that little crunchy sound, there is absolutely no sound at all – no cars, no white noise, no mowers or machinery of any kind, no planes overhead. Nothing. Just the sound of peace.
two weeks later, i’m in a very, very different space than before i went on that “pilgrimage”. my anxiety has dramatically decreased, and my hopefulness has dramatically increased. i was able to write that post about ys and zondervan and youthworks in a way i could not have written it two weeks earlier. i’m able to hold loosely to my future and the future of ys, believing that what will be will be, and that things will play out as they should, and that god will make good of it (whether god orchestrated any of it or not).