When I came back from maternity leave, I was hit with the same familiar dread I had been feeling on and off for three years. “But isn’t a break from stress supposed to get rid of stress?!?” I bitterly thought to myself (and silently prayed to God).
He gently reminded me that I wasn’t being authentic. Ever since finishing grad school and my big move to Hong Kong, I haven’t felt like myself because I was too busy trying to be the person I felt I should be instead.
Uhmm… Have I been doing that my whole life? (And can you relate?)
I thought back to that first month of maternity leave when I felt a break from my anxious feelings. For five weeks, I just sat at home being a complete bum with my newborn baby and not feeling an ounce of guilt over it. I definitely smelled like crusty milk spit up, but I felt easiness in my spirit. I watched my baby intently since he was more blob than human, sending signals about his feelings and needs in very subtle ways (or maybe he just wanted everyone’s undying attention by acting this way, which is genius).
When he was tired he fell asleep, no matter where he was. When he was hungry he screamed bloody murder, all red in the face (but no tears yet!) until his belly was satisfied. And when he wanted to poop he literally just pooped right then and there…regardless of whether his diaper was even on yet or not! He fully embraced what he was feeling, like a brokenhearted popstar pouring all their pain into a song and then getting famous for it. It’s been working for him, too, because now he is fat and has his parents wrapped around his tiny fingers, fighting over who gets to change his diaper or feed him.
As I watched my baby, I realized the value of fully living in the moment. I realized there was NO WAY he couldn’t be authentic. I never second-guessed whether he was really hungry or just trying to trick me; I never doubted that his smile wasn’t due to happiness (or gas). I don’t wonder if he’s just trying to please people or is acting out of guilt—he’s too young and innocent for any of his motives to be anything but honest.
As I watched my baby, I realized the value of fully living in the moment. I realized there was NO WAY he couldn’t be authentic.
And thus I began my journey of trying to be more like him. But being honest with yourself after years of not listening to yourself is REALLY difficult. Because, like me, I think we all get pretty good at the latter. For example, I was terrified to move to Hong Kong and start a career here. Then, I found myself with two jobs, investing in a private practice, and working hard to get every accreditation I could within a year of living in the city. Work keeps changing, but that feeling of restless indecisiveness is still there in my spirit—the feeling of chasing something unknown.
I have an insecurity that is likely due to childhood experiences. I am constantly looking ahead at what I want to (or, really, what I believe I “need to”) become, in order to be okay. But being better and better at planning ahead meant I had to be more in control, less in the present, well prepared for anything, and always taking advantage of every opportunity.
I’ve found that my anxiety comes from being constantly torn between what I feel I should do and what I actually want to do—and not in the Romans, wrestling with sin sort of way, but in the way that one path felt like a success while the other would be a massive failure. Or, in other words, I didn’t trust myself. And when you don’t trust yourself, the world is very quick to step in and tell you what you should trust instead.
I’ve found that my anxiety comes from being constantly torn between what I feel I should do and what I actually want to do … one path felt like a success while the other would be a massive failure. Or, in other words, I didn’t trust myself.
And then God, who is constantly working within us and through us, feels farther away too.
There is an exercise in counseling they like to call a “mantra,” or I guess in Christianity we could call it a repetitive prayer. It’s essentially reminding yourself of something meaningful over and over again until it becomes a deeper part of your internal thought process.
There is an exercise in counseling they like to call a “mantra,” or I guess in Christianity we could call it a repetitive prayer.
Mine is now: “Let go of control so you can let go of your insecurity.”
So reader, whoever you are, make a mantra for yourself too. Or a prayer, catchphrase, slogan, whatever you want to call it! Make it honest, think about it, allow yourself to feel it, and talk to God about it too. How can you live more honestly in the present? How can you be more like Emily’s cute baby and less like the anxious young adult you’ve become???
Make it honest, think about it, allow yourself to feel it, and talk to God about it too. How can you live more honestly in the present?