Magical Thinking Makes Me An Island

I am a hypocrite.

Lately, I’ve been writing about fear and about moving ahead despite fear. I’ve talked with one of my kids multiple times over the school year about magical thinking: as in, “you can’t just let your unfinished work pile up, hoping that it will go away and everything will resolve on its own.” I can honestly say that I’ve been doing things this year that give me high anxiety and the change and growth that have resulted have been really, really good.

Except in one case.

My daughter had 4 E.R. visits in from December to May, one of which involved an overnight stay, two of which involved IVs and X-rays, and one of which involved a broken bone. An avalanche of insurance paperwork and hospital bills have been arriving at our house. And I let them pile up.

After awhile, I let them pile up unopened.

My husband’s company had switched insurance companies two weeks before all this started, and the new company’s policies were incomprehensible to me. When my husband called about the first item that arrived, he was told to wait, that they’d pay that soon.

I took that too much to heart. Way too much.

In May, I made a binder for all the medical stuff, and I paid a few things from our flex pay account. I even discovered that we could pay bills based on the full amount that we’d set aside for the flex pay, that we didn’t have to only use what was in there at the time. Even so, I let the bills pile up. Unopened. As if everything would be fine. I’d been praying about it for months, praying that I would push through my anxiety and take a look at the bills, asking God to help me stop being such an idiot. I couldn’t sleep. For weeks, every time I woke up in the middle of the night, I’d lay there in a stew of anxiety and fear. And in the morning, I’d do nothing.

So this past Wednesday, I taped two pieces of paper together, opened the binder, opened every piece of mail, detailed everything in one big chart, tossed duplicate bills. And discovered that we had enough in the flex account to pay for everything. I felt chastened and relieved. And really, really stupid for having wasted so much time.

At least part of the relief was that I didn’t have to feel so alone anymore. Because that’s part of magical thinking: it keeps you alone. Alone and terrified. You can’t admit your magical thinking because as soon as you say it out loud to another person you realize how irrational it is and then your adult self will have to step in and do something about it — if you don’t, the person you said it to will step in. This is a lonely place to be.

I’ll have to confess this to the child I talked to about magical thinking, which should be good for both of us. And make us feel less alone.

Anyone have any magical thinking they want to confess? Feel free. You already know I’ll relate to it.

This was part of my participation in Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five Minute Fridays, wherein we write for 5 minutes about a common topic. This week’s word: lonely.

Practice, Practice, Practice

I’m going to say this straight out, rather than ease you and me into it, and possibly lose some of you in the process: I believe that God communicated with me with words.

It was last fall, just as I was realizing that all the work I’d put into the David and Saul story was coming to nothing. There were a couple of rejections yet to arrive, but most of them had come in with no requests for more material. My queries were dead on arrival. Even the two publishing contacts I’d made in person came to nothing, as well. Not “no’s,” but nothing; no communication at all. I’d been so hopeful. This was the project that could really go somewhere. It felt so different from any of the other work I’d done, better, right-er. It was the idea I’d been praying for, the idea that brought together so many of my passions. And then zilch.

So I went outside to do some raking and complaining to God. And then this message filled me (I say that because I didn’t hear an audible voice, just a strong impression of these specific words):

“Just because my hand is on you, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”

On the one hand, this is confirmation: God’s hand is on me.

On the other hand, it’s going to be hard.

God is rarely this clear with me. When he’s communicated something specific before, it’s subject to interpretation. It’s more usual for God to communicate with me by what I call piling on: the same word or idea coming at me from everywhere. Recently it’s been the word “practice” — prayer practice, writing practice, Pilates practice, spiritual practice, practice, practice, practice. A good friend who is a spiritual director and a poet is the one who started it: “That’s why we call it a practice, because we’re not very good at it yet.”

Because I’m not very good at it. Yet.

Indeed, the book project I’d been so dejected about: there was a big hole in it. I needed my winter of whine to make me realize it. So I put in the work this spring. Writing practice.

I recently added something to my prayer practice. Most days, I write my prayers, freeform, but after my friend the spiritual director/poet recited the following prayer at book club and I cried my way through the whole thing, I knew I had to add it. It speaks hard to me as a writer, impatient for success, for publication. For (dare I say it) validation.

The author is fascinating, as well, and I plan to look into his life in more detail: he was a Jesuit paleontologist during the first half of the 20th century. He studied evolution and explored the spiritual implications of that scientific work. Look for something about him in the future here at won*der.

For now, here is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer:

Above all, trust the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end
without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on
the way to something unknown,
something new,
and yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability —
and it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually —
let them grow,
let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and
circumstances acting
on your own good will)
will make them tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself in suspense
and incomplete.

There are so many moments in this prayer that pierce me. “the slow work of God.” “And so I think it is with you.” “his land is leading you.” “accept the anxiety.” “in suspense and incomplete.”

This is hard.

But I’m practicing. This past weekend I stepped out big time to attend a writer’s retreat, the Renew and Refine Retreat for Writers. It was small. Fewer than 20 people. There would be no hiding. I was anxious. Okay, I was terrified. I would have to put myself out there as a writer, with other writers. But I accepted the anxiety and went and met wonderful people. We laughed and cried and prayed and worked together in the kitchen and ate very, very well. I was so deeply encouraged by my time with them, both specifically (after I read my work) and generally, as kindred spirits driven/called to work out our faith and our lives in words that we are driven/called to share. I hope I was able to encourage even one person there as much as I was.

So I’m moving ahead with a little more courage than I was before. Revising my materials. Getting ready to send out It Is You again.

Practicing my trust of the slow work of God. His hand is on me. But it isn’t going to be easy.

What are you practicing? What might accepting the anxiety give you the courage to do?