I had a whole other blog post, in my head, about this. About learning to set things down. About learning to forgive yourself. About realizing shame has never served us. But halfway through writing it, I realized I couldn’t. Well, I could, but I didn’t want to. Not really.
Lay it all down.
I almost rear-ended a guy last week. It was not as bad as it sounds. I just hit my brakes a little too late, and, other than a raised heart rate, it wasn’t anything serious, but, in the moment, it felt serious. It felt as bad as it would have had I hit him. In fact, I felt bad that it was “almost.” Where someone else might be relieved that it had only been almost, I felt guilty that it got so close.
This is nothing new, of course. I’ve been beating myself up for real and perceived mistakes most of my life. Like I said, this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about this.
But sitting in my car, breathing hard as I continued driving, safely, I realized what I was doing. More than that, I saw that it wasn’t going to stop any time soon. I was probably going to beat myself up about this for at least a week. I’d get super nervous every time I got in the car, reminding myself how I almost got in a wreck. I’d drive overly cautiously as some kind of recompense for an accident that didn’t happen. I knew I would feel like this, and I knew I didn’t want to.
Guilt is such background noise to me that even when I have nothing to feel guilty about, I can’t help but look around and wonder: “Is there something I’m forgetting?” It’s like I don’t know how not to. No, not like. I actually don’t know how not to.
But, it’s like I said, nothing new. Nothing I want to rehash any more, because I’m just done. I’m done talking about it like I don’t know what to do with it.
I don’t want to talk about the darkness anymore. I want to turn on the light.
Now, I’m no expert. I struggle with this constantly, and chances are I will wake up the next morning and forget to do this. I will have to start all over. Well, so be it. I’m just figuring this out, but maybe if I try to tell you how to do it, I’ll figure it out for myself.
There’s a reason every metaphor and parable, every other word out Jesus’s mouth tells us to lay our burdens down. One, because they are burdens, and, two, because they won’t go away unless we let them.
So often we are looking for a reason why we don’t have to think this way. An argument as to why we are allowed to feel good about ourselves. And all that is good, up to a point. But I can tell you, in the end, it won’t really help. You can’t argue yourself out of it. Mostly because you can’t argue with anxiety. It knows how to sound like truth.
There are no arguments. Not any that you will believe when you’re really down, anyways. If there were, we would have figured them out, and, well, we wouldn’t still be talking about this. You’re not going to plead your case, because you’re not on trial.
That’s the kicker. The part I’ve never, so far, been very good at. You don’t need a reason. You don’t need to prove that you’re good enough to walk around without the sinking feeling that you’re not. You’ll never graduate from the burden. You have to let it go. Not because you deserve to, not because you’ve gone long enough with it, not because you’ve earned the right. You have to let it go because you choose to let it go.
If you want to feel better about yourself, you have to choose to. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to operate without that feeling. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know how to like yourself. You’ll learn, but you can’t start until you choose to.
I wish, so much, that I could tell you how it works. How to strip it all off like a wet shirt and start feeling free. I wish I could talk to you from the other side of this, but I’m in the middle. I’m split, a lot of the time, between the old part that thinks I can’t feel any other way and the new part that knows that there’s something so beyond that. I wish I could tell you how to pull the steering wheel away from the old, but there are days I still look at the new with a suspicious gaze. “Who are you? Are you sure you’re allowed to be here?”
I’m learning. I’m trying. After my “almost”, I could feel the guilt rising, but I stopped. I stopped and reminded myself that nothing had happened. It was, at worst, an honest mistake, and how thankful I can be that nothing serious happened. It took effort. Real effort, but I didn’t feel guilty. I don’t, and I know I still would, even now, if I hadn’t stopped myself right then.
Sometimes, if you catch them when they’re just starting, you can stop the thoughts before they really get going. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
I wish, sometimes, things were a little more literal. That our baggage looked like baggage. That we could see and feel it. If we could, who wouldn’t set the whole thing down? Who would ever bother picking it back up again?
Then again, we can see them. We can see the effects they have on us, and, for some of us, we never think about letting them go. But we can. We absolutely can.
And we should.