Free with me?

Sometimes I wish I could see you through the screen. I crave solidarity. Community. A feeling that there's someone who's in the same mess I am.  

In this case, I want to know I'm not alone in my feeling overwhelmed by the burdens around me. I want to know I'm not the only one who mistakenly takes responsibility for people's problems or their bad moods. I want to know that I'm not alone in my annoying habit of taking everything personally—that it all must be my fault.

If only I had...

If only I hadn't...

It's not that I want you to be enslaved like me. I want freedom for you, just like I want freedom for myself. But, like most things, I just want to know that I'm in this with someone who's trying to reach the same goal, that they have recognized that this isn't how it's supposed to work, that there's a better way to live.

Ironically, I want to experience being free while attached to community. 

"Free" is my word for the year. Craig was the one who thought of it, probably because he notices on a continual basis how enslaved I am. I rarely I notice the chains. I don't even picture them as chains—more like I'm a magnet and I allow burdens to become a part of daily living and breathing and moving. The problem is, when you've attracted all this weight, moving becomes heavy and breathing, ragged.

I want to be very clear: I love helping people. I love listening to people. It's an honor to be invited to share burdens, to be privy to vulnerability. But where I get muddy is I allow their problems to become my problems. When my thoughts wander, I find myself tangled in their possible solutions. I drown in their sorrow. I lament continually to God. I lose where I end and they begin. There's no clearly defined raindrop—just a puddle.

This year, God has introduced me to the concept of boundaries. Of course, I've always known what boundaries are and why they are important, but I didn't know how to practice them in real life. Or rather, I wouldn't allow myself to practice them because I feared it would make me seem unavailable, uncaring, and un-Christian. 

I had spent much of my life assuming that if someone needed me, I needed to be available. I was to give until I had nothing left. I thought this is what Paul meant when he said, "Do not grow weary in doing good" in the book of Galatians. If I was weary, clearly, I wasn't spiritual enough or connected to God enough or, simply, not enough.

My word, "free," isn't about being free of people. It's not about choosing not to listen or abandoning them in their time of need. It's not about having more "free time" (though wouldn't that be nice?). 

"Free" is about allowing myself to let go of the responsibility to fix it all. "Free" is breaking out of the mentality that if it's not working correctly (or in people terms, acting correctly), I must have broken it. It's about admitting to myself that I can't do everything for everyone right now. "Free" is allowing myself to accept that I am fallible, that I won't always have the answers, that sometimes, I'll even give the wrong one, however unintentionally.

"Free" is recognizing when I am empty and, instead of trying to manufacture capacity, surrendering to the emptiness and seeking to refuel—not just so that I can give more, but so that I have more. "Free" is knowing that God wants me to give out of the overflow and not scrape from the bottom of the barrel. There's a noticeable difference when I give when I have than when I have not. You, too?

"Free" is trusting God to use His infinite resources, to listen to that still, small voice that tells me when it's not my turn to work the problem. 

I ponder how I think this word will impact my marriage and I can think of two things right away:

  1. When I don't constantly assume that I am to blame for everything, I will have more energy to enjoy life and the people around me (including Craig). To live in constant analysis of whether or not I'm "in trouble" or at fault is exhausting.  Plus, you know what they say about "assuming." Right now, I will practice this by asking those who are troubled/anxious/angry/disappointed open-ended questions and trust that if I have offended in any way, they will come to tell me directly. Craig will be very excited about this. Like I said, always asking if he's angry with me is annoying to him. (I did this in high school with my friends. It annoyed then, too. Old habits die hard.)
  2. I will pay attention to my capacity. This means not always answering the text or phone right away. This may mean not meeting with anyone for a few days in a row (Party on, my introverted self). I will show respect to my body when I feel tired and not lambast myself for feeling this way, even if I don't have a seemingly respectable reason for being tired. (Sometimes, I don't think we recognize how tiring somethings can be.) If my first priorities in life are God and my family, I have to have stuff in the tank for them—to serve them AND enjoy them (hello again, my introverted nature).

I'm praying that God continues to show me why I've picked up all these responsibilities that were never meant to be mine. To get to the root of the problem helps ensure that I don't just repeat these behaviors down the road. To truly be free, I must admit there was a reason I got locked up in the first place.

How about you? Do you have a one word this year? Are you hoping to be free of something, too? Who wants to be free with me?