From my turquoise front door, I traipse over flower snow scattered on pavement and inch slowly past cafes bustling with after work chatter. Before me, a young couple’s interlaced hands swing as they amble in conversation. A man holding a phone up to his ear stands in the middle of the street, speaking loudly about a real estate deal. Open windows on three story terrace houses provide an eavesdropping audience.
As I round the corner, past our favorite Indian restaurant, I walk past a woman playing with buttons on her dress. A bouquet of lavender tulips wrapped in cellophane swing upside down in her hand.
Looking up, into a canopy of a million tulips pointing upward on spindly tree branches, I am suddenly accosted by malaise; an overwhelming sense of heaviness that begins in my head, rests on my shoulders, and travels down to my feet.
Checking the time, I pick up the pace, cross a clear intersection, and begin questioning the unexpected physical symptoms. What I feel mimics grief, as if sadness has taken up residence in my soul without incident.
Why am I feeling this way, it doesn’t make sense?
I have nothing to feel sad about, life is good.
Wait a minute, this feeling is familiar? What is it?
Shame, I quickly assess, is the burglar of unassuming thoughts that slowly drip from the mind and seep into the heart.
Because when I closed the door behind me, I was leaving late. As I walked over a carpet of white petals, I was counting the ways. The ways I fail to keep my house clean; the ways I often fail to push past resistance and leave things undone. “You are so easily distracted, when will you mature and get over that,” accuses shame.
As I ambled past that cute couple chatting it up, I caught my reflection in the grocery store window. “Old, middle-aged, average, and anonymous,” said shame, holding out labels that I quickly accept and wear in defeat.
Beside the open door of restaurants, shame interrupts, “You can’t even afford to go out to dinner with your husband, how does all this writing actually add up?”
Deep sighs are my only response. And sneakers begin to feel like boots trudging through thick mud.
“Sometimes all your good intentions to find rest are squelched by bully nitpickers of Pharisaical thoughts. They appear right in the middle of time set aside for rest, causing doubt and confusion. But Jesus is your advocate.” A Sabbath Journey for Lent
Quieting the mind and heart on this fifth week of Lent might be the most challenging surrender for all of us. Because how do we harness a mind that never goes on hiatus?
Lists to check off mutate into alphabetized files on all the ways you don’t measure up; all the ways you’ve believed the voice of shame chanting, “You aren’t enough!”
“If you want to make progress on the path and ascend to places you have longed for, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love.” St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
Before the mind can rest, love must be awakened in the soul. The inner life orders the outside world but often, we get it backwards. We order our outside world first and forget who we are in the busyness.
“The one who thinks less and desires less actually accomplishes more,” she says and it’s true that overthinking leads to dead ends and small bodies of work. And shame makes desire an absolute, leaving no room for both/and.
In Christ, we are both strong and weak, rich and poor; distracted by beauty and focused on following him.
We are old souls with young hearts.
We experience restlessness while holding space for a quiet center.
We are doing the best we can while remaining imperfectly messy.
We are wholehearted and equally broken.
We are both the friends and children of God.
We follow a Savior who loves beyond comprehension and yet, is just like us.
We quiet the mind by remembering that we are loved for exactly who we are right this moment. Christ anchors doubt and self-deception with a wooden cross.
A quiet mind leads to a quiet heart.
“He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.” Matthew 12: 11-21
As we approach the final days of our Lenten pilgrimage, let’s repeat the words Jesus says about us back to him. Quiet shame and allow God’s thoughts to overwhelm your heart. Practice adoration and kick shame to the curb.