“If we give priority to the outer life, our inner life will be dark and scary. We will not know what to do with solitude. We will be deeply uncomfortable with self-examination, and we will have an increasingly short attention span for any kind of reflection. Even more seriously, our lives will lack integrity. Outwardly, we will need to project confidence, health and wholeness, while inwardly we may be filled with self-doubts, anxieties, self-pity, and old grudges. Yet we won’t know how to go into the inner rooms of the heart, see clearly what is there, and deal with it. In short, unless we put a priority on the inner life we turn ourselves into hypocrites.” – Timothy Keller, Prayer
One of the things about being an internal processor is that it makes me more prone to over analysing everything. This was solidified last week when my counsellor said, “You process everything so well on you’re own that I’m not always even sure how to help you. Girl, you’re even good at therapy.” Can I get that skill endorsed on my Linkdin page? Ha. But really, this more or less constant state of self-reflection is something I like about myself and on the other hand, it also drives me f-ing crazy. While it involves being well-thought out and intentional, it also means that I have worried a great deal on the inside about how things appear on the outside. I have given priority to my outer life more times than I can count. After all, it’s what people see that matters, right? Honestly, would we be as content with our relationships, talents, humour, appearance, and thoughts if we didn’t post them and receive the instant gratification of it being liked, shared, and commented on? Do we alone attribute value to those aspects of our own lives, or is some part of their worth in the hands of those we share them with? I don’t know.
I can sit at my computer and write about how much I’ve grown since moving here, how much courage I’ve gained, how strong I feel, etc., and all of those are true to some degree because I have made efforts to prioritize my inner life, but they’re still simply projections. I’ve had to face the fact that what I project is where I want to be and/or where I think other people want me to be. However, that is usually not where I really am.
Facing where you really are involves moving out of your own way. I’ve had to be conscious of where my thoughts drift to when nothing is forcing me to think about anything in particular and I’m not looking at a screen. That tells me a lot. The whole world-turned-upside-down-type stuff that has happened in my life this past year has made the inner rooms of my heart a very hard place to frequent. When I’m down, I keep picturing Jillian Michaels in that 30 Day Shred workout video screaming, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable!” That’s pretty much how it feels. Being on my own a lot…call it loneliness, call it solitude, has allowed me to see clearly what is there and I’m going to deal with it. The only thing that stands in the way of me getting to the place where my inside and outside match is me. As the brilliant Flannery O’Connor wrote in her prayer journal, “Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to…I do not know You God because I am in the way…I have started on a new phase of my spiritual life…the throwing off of certain adolescent habits and habits of mind. It does not take much to make us realize what fools we are, but the little it takes is long in coming. I see my ridiculous self by degrees.”
Reading that I thought, daaaamn that woman is honest. And then it hit me…
That is what has made going inward, seeing, and dealing so difficult. That’s what is uncomfortable. I have become even more conscious of honesty since being immersed in a culture that is generally put off by it. I have been learning how to be brutally honest in prayer. I find it weird. Unsettling. It takes practice. I have always gone about my conversations with God in a beautifully civil manner. Sure, I’ve prayed through a good sob session plenty of times but lately its gotten real real…you know what I mean? Angry. Pissed. Gutted. Destroyed. Lots and lots of expletives. My entire life I have been keeping myself composed in front of the one from whom I can hide nothing. I just didn’t get to experience the goodness that comes from brutal honesty until I moved out of my own way. Until I abandoned composure. Until I started identifying where I am really at, venting like its my job, and processing it all without an ounce of restraint in God’s presence.
Praying is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Although it is the most referenced and commonly shared practice among all faiths, I think that prayer/meditation is one of the most talked about and least understood things ever. For me, the confusion lies in that prayer is one of the ways I most profoundly experience God’s presence, and yet it is what makes me most aware of God’s absence. Keller also writes,”Perhaps we are so used to being empty that we do not recognize the emptiness as such until we start to try to pray.” Perhaps it is that loneliness which fuels our hunger; a hunger that is eventually always satisfied because ultimately, prayer is communion with God and that reciprocal love is God’s greatest desire.