I sat across from my counselor and I took a deep breath. My throat tightened, like a hand was reaching around my windpipe and slowly squeezing.
“I don’t know how to do life.”
“I can see where I am, and in my mind’s eye, I can see where I want to be, but I have no idea who to get there. It seems like I try and I try and nothing ever changes. I never change. I’m so tired of trying. I can’t do it any more.”
He stared at me for a while. (He is one of those people to whom discipline comes more easily. I am pretty sure at this point I am beyond hope, especially from someone who doesn’t seem to struggle with daily disciplines.)
Counselor: Do you really think that you have never changed? Are you the same person you were in your 20’s?
Me: (I turned 50 this year.) Oh, heck, no! Thank God I’m not the person I was in my 20’s! I learn a little with each cycle, but it just seems like I’m struggling with the same things over and over and over again.
Counselor: What is it you think you need to do?
Me: (sigh) Stop eating sugar. Eat healthy. Exercise. Drink water. Be organized. Manage my time. The list is endless. I’ve been like this as long as I can remember, even as a little girl. I make lists, I make plans, I start out great – for a while. Then I slowly lose steam, and finally everything comes crashing down around me, only to remind me that I’ve failed at life once again. (and now my throat has a lump the size of a tennis ball and the tears are stinging my eyes).
It doesn’t help that I am married to a man who is the perfect example of discipline. He exercises and has his morning quiet time regularly – he rarely misses a day of either. He is the kind of person who exercises when they are sick. What is wrong with this guy? He exercises faithfully every day, while I will make a check list for myself with exercise and weight loss goals, and give myself gold stars when I make the smallest step towards those goals. He picks up his socks and puts his clothes away, while mine find themselves in piles at the end of the bed, and I am smelling them to see if I can wear them for one more day.
What kind of life is this? And why can’t I be more disciplined? I try, I really do. And I do well for days, weeks, sometimes even months. But then I get sidetracked, or bored, or something more shiny comes along . . .
Counselor: No – what is it that you REALLY NEED TO DO? None of the things you mentioned are moral issues.
When it comes down to the very core of your life, what is important? What do you need to do?
Me: Love God, and love people.
Counselor: And are you doing those things?
Me: Yes. I am. (I really am. Not perfectly, but I am loving God and people.)
But I feel like I should be doing all of these other things . . .
And therein lies the problem. That pressure of the ‘shoulds’. Those things we feel like we ‘should’ be doing. Who told us we should be doing those things? And why do we feel pressure, guilt, even shame if we don’t?
Counselor: What if you look at it another way? What if you set aside the should’s that are imposed on you, and look at how God made you unique.
You are like Old Faithful – you start with a dream or a goal, and you build up and up and then have this beautiful, creative explosion – for a while. Then the water subsides, and there is a time of quiet until it begins to build up again.
Me: Hmmmmm. That’s true. But I like the explosion part. It’s beautiful and wonderous, and people are watching and cheering. I don’t like the part when the water subsides, though. The ground is broken and cracked and the air smells like sulfur. And the people walk away.
Counselor: What if you reframe it?
What if you are a seasonal person? You have Spring when the buds begin to blossom, and Summer when you grow and thrive, then Autumn when the growth slows and you prepare for Winter, your season of rest, so you can grow and blossom again.
Old Faithful would run out of steam (literally!) if it were going 100% of the time.”
I thought about that for a long time. It didn’t set well with me, not at first. I didn’t like it. I would much rather be slow and steady.
Or would I?
Actually, I think that might be rather boring. But then that internal argument started. I am so tired of starting strong and usually not finishing well. I have always been that way, and I have learned my limits. After a big project, I need down time. After a busy week at work, I need at least half a day just lounging around, recharging.
I told my counselor I thought he was right, but I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not.
The next day I had lunch with my friend who is wired very much like me. I told her what my counselor said about being a seasonal person. She said, “That is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard! Doesn’t that just give you a release, a sense of freedom, that it’s okay to just be who you are?”
I had to agree, and as I let it sink in that I am who I am, I began to appreciate that I am uniquely made. I am not saying that I should not strive to be more disciplined, more organized, more structured. But I am not going to beat myself up for not meeting a standard of performance that does just not fit me.
When I am focused, I am very focused, and can accomplish more in a week than many people will in one month. And that is why I need to time to rest and recharge, to get ready for the next burst. The next season. The next eruption. And I am learning to appreciate the winters. I am learning that they are not dark and barren, but they are peaceful and regenerating, and that without those times of rest I would not survive. It’s also very freeing to know that those down times are a necessary part of how I’m wired, and I don’t have to feel guilty, as long as I don’t wallow in them. And I’m going to treasure my seasons of focus and not waste a moment.
I am a seasonal person, and that’s not just okay – it’s beautiful.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:14 (NASB)