Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Be Gentle With Yourself"

Among the (many) facets of grief which I had to discover for myself after Josh died was that of fatigue.  I was submerged under wave after wave of physical and mental exhaustion, complete and unrelenting, for months.  Even today, three and one-half years later, I find that two or three consecutive days of intense work deplete my resources entirely.  I may have ambitious plans for the third or fourth day, but they are seldom realized.

In the wake of breast cancer, I have discovered yet another loss, one which I did not expect at all.  I have a long way to go in terms of re-building my physical strength and stamina, but I am not plagued by constant fatigue anymore. The surprise is that my natural capacity for emotional resiliency has almost completely deserted me.

Thursday afternoon, after two days of challenging pastoral visits to people spending time in various medical facilities, I headed out for a doctor's appointment of my own.  A simple follow-up visit, with no real purpose that I understood.  I went anyway, thinking that it might serve as a cap to this whole breast cancer narrative, a sort of experience of closure.  ("Closure" being a term which I generally scorn.  But, whatever.)

I lasted for 35 minutes in the waiting room, and then I left.  The receptionist was a bit taken aback, and insisted that my wait would not be much longer, but I knew that I was finished.  Quite.  I knew that ahead lay the disrobing, the examination, the conversation about possible options for future procedures ~ and I had lost the wherewithal even to sit still in the waiting room for another ten seconds.  Another full minute and I was in danger of complete meltdown.

Combativeness ~ that would have been my M.O. a few years ago.  I don't have it in me anymore.  I carry so much sadness; such a sense of isolation.  A friend of mine is fond of proclaiming that she can bounce back from anything, but her anythings have not included lost children or lost body parts.  I think it is probably a good thing, and a source of compassion for others, to recognize that there comes a time when the elasticity of the spirit is stretched to the point of frayed limpness.  

I think that, despite my own reality, I am still a good pastor and spiritual director to others.  My imagination, my ability to tolerate ambiguity, my passion for fostering others' encounters with God liturgically and academically and prayerfully and pastorally ~ those are all intact.

It's myself whom I have to learn to care for.  "Be gentle with yourself."  That's what I hear in my prayer.  This afternoon in a workshop on using the arts in spiritual direction, I persisted in smoothing out the contours of my clay shapes and turning them into containers of varying forms.  

A couple of days ago, I sighed as I left a hospital visit, wondering almost aloud why God has such a penchant for vanishing when people are most in need.  There are so many of us in need of hiding places within the cool, smooth container of God's Spirit, places in which we might be gentle with ourselves.


  1. Robin, this speaks so deeply into the week I have had. Be gentle with one's self, indeed. I

  2. This is so true, so precisely on track, so much my own experience--it really needs to go in a book. Hoping you are still moving in that direction. NO one talks much about grief 3 or 4 years later, but I have not only the scars, but also the seemingly permanent disabilities. I sooo get the whole "hitting the wall" in the waiting room. So sorry, my dear friend. Wish it could be easier for all of us.

  3. Robin, as I have written previously, our journeys have been different but we are all wounded. I needed to hear that advice to be gentle with myself as I grieve over a very different loss and learn to rebuild my life also. What you write applies to all of us in many different situations. Thank you and God bless.

  4. Robin -

    "I think it is probably a good thing, and a source of compassion for others, to recognize that there comes a time when the elasticity of the spirit is stretched to the point of frayed limpness." I can't tell you how absolutely profound and perfect this sentence is to me today.

    This "imperfection" is indeed the source of compassion. I know that whatever wellspring I can find inside myself, whatever connection to God, always comes when something in me is broken. This image of "stretched to the point of frayed limpness" is another way to look at it. And, probably a bit gentler on myself as well.

    I'm very interested in the workshop you attended! It is the work I feel so called to do. And have done. I have a business (Art & Soul Foundation) that is in a bit of a latency at the moment...but this is what I want to do!!

  5. Wish we could sit and chat by flowering trees, or just sit

  6. You are such a beautiful writer and never fail to touch me in what you say. Have really felt the way you describe here so often, and am sure will do so in the coming years. Wish I had something profound to say, am so pleased you left the appointment when you did, and can recognise what works for you and what doesn't and when etc. You have been through hell, still going. Bless you Robin. Take care.

  7. I belive, no I KNOW that you are a good pastor and spiritual director to others, and I think it is as much because of all of your realities as it is in spite of them.