I’ve been home from a useful work-trip to Europe for about a month. The first two weeks back were full of purpose, as the trip was fresh in my mind. Then I hit a slump.
I periodically hit slumps. They creep up on me without me noticing it, until I realise I’m having trouble getting anything done, that I don’t feel an emotional connection to my projects, and that even as neutral a skill as “reading comprehension” has deserted me. I push onward, but instead of this helping warm me up and get me into the swing of it, I continue to churn out something that inexplicably has no life in it. If I’m trying to write in this state, it’s as if my memory only lasts a few seconds, so by the time I’ve gotten to the next sentence, I’ve no idea what I wrote before, and when I re-read it, I don’t know how it connects to what follows.
I’m not exaggerating this brain fog, and yet—it is suspiciously selective. I am, meanwhile, perfectly able to watch strings of videos on Netflix, write a reply about something inconsequential on Facebook, or read a trivial article online and then write a long response picking apart a minor detail that really didn’t deserve such attention. In other words, while I can spend time on anything that doesn’t qualify as what I’m supposed to be doing, my brain goes on a mental strike if it’s asked to focus on something with a higher end in view.
Although I found my way out of the worst of this paralysed state a week or so ago, and had become active again in other parts of my life, there was one portion of my life last week that had not yet recovered: I had a blog post due for New Christian Woman, and no matter how many times I turned over the four partial articles I had brought with me to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, I was still stuck. I kept working on them periodically, but the result was a bigger mire of disjointed words to slog through, while my brain was like mud between my ears.
I wonder if a spiritual description of what’s happening to me in this state is that my rational has gotten turned off — the real rational, which is oriented toward heaven, and makes good choices. This part of the rational doesn’t account for my entire rational faculty, as I still seem to have a primitive, natural one, which delights in ratiocination but doesn’t have much time for simple truths like, “You know from the Word, the Writings, and much experience, that you will not be happy if at the end of this day you have only watched movies and haven’t gotten to your work.”
By what mechanism is my good rational mind getting turned off, and why is it so susceptible?
One pattern I’ve identified is that when things are going well, I feel as though I have the leisure to make one . . . then two . . . then three unwise choices. I know they’re a bad idea, and I make them anyway. It’s more subtle than a flagrant disobedience of conscience, because the bad choices aren’t immediately identifiable as moral issues: watching a funny video instead of making a phone call, watching ten more and then doing something else moderately useful but tangential, and putting off the phone call until tomorrow. These fall into the category of, “it’s my life, so if I want to waste today, that’s fine, and it’s not hurting anybody.” But where someone else might be able to sit in front of a screen for an hour and then bounce right back to work, I have a hard time returning to a furrow to plow again after a break. Not keeping promises to myself slips quickly into not keeping them toward others, and by the time I realise that my rational mind is no longer working, I can’t seem to find the switch that turns it back on.
It’s frustrating, and even scary, because I begin to worry whether I’ll ever be able to make myself do anything. I forget that I’ve ever been useful or accomplished anything, and I feel like a non-human: how is it that even though I now desperately want to be working again, and try and try, I still don’t succeed in getting back on track?
Somehow, it always comes down to some version of the same insight: I have to do the opposite thing of what got me into this mess. It’s remarkable to me how this perennial insight evades recurring to me when I’m in the slump: that, since I chose to shut off my rational faculty, chose to make my own rules as if I could avoid consequences, I now need to call on the One whose rules actually govern the universe and submit myself to Him.
And not just call on Him as in “Oh, right, this is where I ask that God person for help and He magically cleans up this mess. . . . Why isn’t this tactic working? Lord? Lord?” That first call isn’t really sincere, and doesn’t fix the problem. Its failure to work in the way I’d like makes me much more receptive to the realisation, a few days or weeks later, that all power is really and truly from the Lord, that His ways are far above mine, that I can do nothing – seriously, nothing – without Him. If I don’t realise this, I may begin to normalise and be moderately productive, but I keep tripping back into the rut, week after week, just when I thought that I had pulled myself out. (“What’s wrong with me that I can’t hold it together?”)
My resistance to the realisation comes, perhaps, because to some portion of my heart, this feels unfair. What, I have to humble myself before the Lord when all I did wrong was refuse to be useful? Other people seem to have no struggle working despite the fact that they’re stealing or are in active adultery; they don’t get paralysed and grind to a halt just for taking a little vacation from acknowledging the Lord.
That’s the mindset before the despair sets in. In retrospect, if not, ahem, at the time, I’m grateful for despair, because choosing humility takes off that heavy yoke of merit where it’s all up to me to crawl through the mud alone, and submits to the Lord’s yoke, where Wow, I didn’t know I could plow and sow such a big field with the Lord’s help! It is sobering to realise, but liberating to acknowledge, that on some level I really believe that I should get a free ride, that merely knowing all this truth is in itself having a spiritual life. Screebies. When I remember it’s the Lord’s truth, and when I choose to serve Him with it, my life becomes fruitful again.
We all get attacked in different ways, but we all get attacked. And we’re all given a chance to turn to the Lord or not as we choose. I hate getting caught in my personal pattern of paralysis and prevarication, but afterwards, with the blessed relief of finishing things and getting back to work, I’m really thankful that the Lord keeps giving me chances to choose His yoke. I still need to learn that my way is pretty miserable, but when I do let go of it and turn to the Lord, I get to experience how it is SO worth giving up.
5 thoughts on “Accepting The Lord’s Yoke”
Your blog was written for me. Thank you! A truly useful piece of writing. I cannot comment in more detail because I must now get back to that bit of useful work I was doing until I got distracted by my inbox where your post had just popped up. Thank you again!
Ahhh, Ayisha. HEARIN’ YA! 😀 Thanks for sharing this conundrum with us – for putting into words what a lot of us experience! (…Amazing how trouble writing a piece ends up being a piece in itself, eh?!) Thank you for the reminder to really *submit* ourselves to the Lord, not just give Him lip-service.
I hope you’re able to remember this lesson when you next find yourself in your rut! 😛
A very perceptive article Ayisha – thanks. I find that I shut down when I stand back and analyze my living, creative flow and question if that’s really what I want to be doing. In other words, when I let my will get in the way of the Lord’s. It takes ongoing practice to overturn this tendency and of course, the hells have a field day when we are in stasis. Living creatively, with life in what we do and insight dropping in from our open rational to heaven; only comes from the Lord, just as you say. What’s not to love and why do we keep turning away / need reminding?!
Ayisha, this is my personal “feel-good” article! One of my main reasons for structuring the blog with a Writer’s team instead of the usual open-to-everyone-to-submit-if-they-feel-like-it structure that most publications such as New Church Life have was that I wanted to create an outlet for women to intentionally commit to focusing on the Lord and serve the Church. Reading you use the article commitment itself to refocuse on spiritual things makes me a very satisfied woman– and is quite clever of you. Love you lots!
Thanks for this, Ayisha! I relate so much to what you are describing. There were a few years of my life (I quite my job, got married, my mom died, followed by a few other bumps in the road) where I just couldn’t get myself going. Every thing I tried to get involved with had just one (although, realistically sometimes only one at all) too many hoops to jump through, and I was left doing nothing and feeling mostly like a failure. I watched a LOT of tv. But in retrospect I can see just how many things I learned and forced myself to push through, and definitely grew significantly in my relationship with the Lord.
One of the parts that stood out to me: “that I can do nothing – seriously, nothing – without Him. If I don’t realise this, I may begin to normalise and be moderately productive, but I keep tripping back into the rut, week after week, just when I thought that I had pulled myself out.” I think what I like about this sentiment is that I’ve felt this time and again that on my own all I can ever accomplish is being moderately, normally productive. And it is only when I focus on the Lord and what He wants for me and the people around me that I am actually able to push myself to be properly inspired, motivate, and willing to push through as many hoops as are presented.
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