A favorite picture from the all-time best vacation referenced here.
So, here’s the truth. Unvarnished, and throbbing.
Inside my head, there is a crazy person, a woman who runs around, wringing her hands, spouting out worst-case scenarios for every unknown thing in my life. I swear, there are days I can feel her stuttering footsteps banging against my brain, her worried hands dropping balled up pieces of Kleenex just behind the hippocampus.
I don’t like her much and I surely didn’t invite her in. But there she is, alive and well, thriving on all my insecurities, worries and deepest fears.
Did I mention I don’t like her?
And that fact does not seem to trouble her in the least. The woman never takes a hint. She is relentless, and surprisingly nimble. I’ve seen her leap over hurdles of monumental proportions. Hurdles like reason, intelligence, even clear evidence to the contrary of whatever it is she’s obsessing about at the moment.
And energy? This girl never sleeps! She inhabits my dreams, interrupts conversations, gets louder when I get quiet. To tell you the truth, she runs circles around me, and when she is doing her thing, I end up exhausted and empty.
She does take breaks now and again, and that’s always a relief. Earlier this year, in fact, I thought maybe — just maybe — she had moved out for good. I actually enjoyed several months of rest from that incessant jabbering in my head.
But this summer? Man, she showed up big-time, complete with roller bag and backpack. I think maybe she plans to stay a while and I’ve gotta tell you, I’m seriously bummed. Because this ‘guest?’ She is no friend of mine. I so enjoy practicing hospitality, but this one? I’d like to kick her to the curb. Hard.
In the middle of the most amazing family vacation we’ve taken in years, I turned around one day and there she was, earnestly trying to convince me that we were getting too old for this kind of thing, that our kids and grandkids no longer enjoyed our company, that we were on the outside when we desperately wanted to be on the inside. And oh, yeah, that I was the dorkiest grandmother of the century, big, awkward, loud and b-o-r-i-n-g.
And then again, just this past week, I lay down for a small nap and POP! There she was, niggling her way into the crevices and crannies of my frontal cortex, spitting out terrifying and convoluted pictures of me, on my death bed, saying good-bye to everyone I ever loved. Why this particular scenario at this particular time? Well, because there was a barrage of medical testing going on, most of it mildly invasive, some of it painful.*
The doctors were doing their job, tracking down possible causes for a few slightly screwy lab results. But the crazy lady? Well. She was convinced that cancer was eating us from the inside out (despite copious evidence to the contrary found by looking in the mirror!), that all the news would be bad, bad, bad, and that I should just shove to the sidelines any ideas about fun in the future.
Does anyone else out there have an unwanted houseguest like this one? An enemy who sets up camp inside your spirit and seeks your downfall? This one shows up whenever things feel like they may be sliding out of my control (as if I actually have some, right?), whenever my insecurities rise up and call me cursed, whenever I cannot see what’s coming next.
And, friends? That’s just about all the time. This is surely a first-world problem, one that is endemic to the human condition whenever we are blessed to live in a relatively peaceful, secure and steady place and time. Because when we don’t have actual physical enemies surrounding us — like too many in this world do — then something inside us needs to invent a few. And let me tell you, invented or not, those suckers are real, they are well-trained and they are deadly. And they live inside our heads.
Well . . . at least this one lives inside my head.
But here’s a truth I am slowly learning about dealing with this intruder: she doesn’t much like the name of Jesus. In fact, when I say that name, quietly, over and over — well, sometimes she just slinks away and leaves me in peace.
What is it about that name? And about that ancient prayer of the church that is so simple and so centered, the one that is built around the name of Jesus? This prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, (breathe in)
Son of God, (breathe out)
have mercy on me, (breathe in)
a sinner. (breathe out)
The Jesus Prayer. Taken directly from scripture, practiced by believers all over the world for centuries. There is no magic in the words, but there is power in what they say. Life-giving, life-saving power.
And when that crazy lady gets loud and insistent and intrusive, these are the only words that give her pause, these are the ones that bring relief and hope and healing, to replace her frantic, hand-wringing, repetitious, doomsday predictions.
I wish I could tell you that she’s out on her keester for good, that she has agreed to leave me alone, to pack up her garbage and take it directly to the dump. But I know from past experience that she is never truly done with me, never gone completely, at least while I’m on this side of heaven. I imagine I’ll have several more unpleasant experiences of her crazy tap-dancing in my head for whatever life is left to me.
But this much I know: the crazy lady is not my friend, she is never right (even though she is very, very convincing), and she thrives on my natural restlessness and anxiety. She is my enemy, seeking to cut off the fruits of the Spirit at their source. And the most effective weapon in my arsenal is this beautiful prayer, this memory of who I am, and who is on my side.
*All tests thus far have come back benign, only one more to go.