When you've hit the wall...
It was third grade and I was at recess. The weather was wet so we couldn’t go on the playground; we were stuck playing foursquare and hopscotch on the blacktop. Several of us were playing tag, and as I ran away from whomever was ‘it’ I managed to run face first into the side of the building.
I literally ran into a brick wall.
I was so embarrassed. What kind of person runs into a wall? I pretended everything was fine. Nothing to see here! But an hour later my head was throbbing and a goose-egg was forming on my eight-year-old forehead. The teacher sent me to the school nurse for an ice pack and a lecture.
I’m a grown-up now and I never play tag, but I can still run straight into a brick wall. I can have one of those days when my life feels like a triathlon and I trained for a pie-eating contest instead. Days when I feel completely unprepared to deal with what’s in front of me. Days where I just hit the wall.
On those days, there are no reserves, no coping skills, no cheerful response for my child who asks me what’s for dinner for the third time that afternoon. I. Am. Done.
On those days, the worst thing I can do is pretend that everything is fine. Things are clearly not fine. I have exceeded my limits and I must acknowledge that. But now what?
First, let’s begin with what not to do. I’ve learned not to begin with shame. Everyone has limits and everyone gets pushed beyond their limits. It is part of the human condition on planet earth. You and I are not failures because we hit the wall.
Let’s pretend that you hit the wall recently. (I know this is a stretch because you are handling corona virus like a champ and you never eat your feelings, but stay with me.) I don’t know what led to your hit-the-wall moment. Maybe it was something big; maybe it was a series of small things. Maybe it was a Zoom meeting that went an hour too long.
Now that you’re here, you have two options – you can hide and numb or you can retreat and recover. You may have noticed that the two options are awfully similar. Yes, there is a fine line between hiding and retreating. And yes, there is a fine line between numbing and recovering. That’s why this is so tricky. That’s why most of us end up glassy-eyed in front of a screen with our hands covered in Cheeto dust instead of actually taking care of ourselves.
I’m betting you don’t need my help discovering what your go-to hide and numb formula is. Most of us are experts at hiding from the hard stuff and numbing our feelings. But what does retreat and recover look like for you?
Retreat is a strategic move. It’s not surrender and it is not hiding until the battle is over. Retreat is about removing oneself from the situation long enough to regroup and develop a new plan. It could take 5 minutes or it could take a weekend. When you and I have hit the wall, we need to retreat to a place of quiet so that we can hear the voice of God. We need to make some space in our life so that we can pay attention.
This past weekend I needed to retreat and recover. I had begun to feel the tears hovering just below the surface and I noticed that mindless eating was replacing being present in my own life. It was time to take a beat and regroup.
I went for a long walk, just to meander and think, not to burn calories or meet a fitness goal. I used a meditation app to help me take deep breaths and invite Jesus to speak to me. I tore up my carefully curated to-do list and asked myself what I needed to do to feel more alive. Most of all, I just paid attention.
I paid attention to my body – the tension in my shoulders and the butterflies in my stomach. I paid attention to my mind – what was weighing on me? What was I telling myself about my life? I paid attention to God – where do I see Him working in my life? What does His Word say about who He is and who I am?
Nothing in my life changed. None of my stressors went away. But I came away renewed. I came away with a renewed conviction that I am not alone because God is always with me and He is always working in my life. I came away with a renewed sense of grace and a lot less shame. I came away with a renewed determination to be fully present in my life because Jesus is there and I want to be where He is.
I know that this seems like an overly simple answer to a complicated problem. Our lives are messy and sometimes we can’t just climb the wall in a weekend. I get it. But I have found it helpful to ask myself whether I am hiding and numbing or retreating and recovering. It’s a helpful filter for my actions. I thought you might find it helpful too.
Hang in there, friend,