Standing unconcernedly still

“I feel like I’m shrinking…shriveling away…” I confessed and they held space for me.

I asked what I should do, how can I push back against this withdrawal in me? Should I force myself to be seen by posting daily on social media…maybe, but… social media has stirred up all kinds of insecurity in me lately. Maybe it’s not the healthiest place for me to be. Should I invite people over more and force more connection? This would probably be a good thing, we have been very isolated, but it’s also hard when we’re tired, when we have’t slept, when Bryan’s not feeling well from treatment.

They didn’t give me suggestions or answers. Just space. And I cried.

What do I do to keep from shriveling away?


And then this morning the gentle whisper of Spirit… “Surrender.” Go deeper.

I have long believed in the cyclical nature of life and work. There are seasons that ask us to give and expand. There are also seasons which ask us to receive and shrink. There are times when we must look outward to the world and times when we are asked to go inward, to wait and be patient, and just stay in discomfort.

I’ve known this for a while. I wrote briefly about it in my book, On Creativity.

But, this season has been stretching that knowledge thin.

I thought we’d be out of this cocoon by now.

That’s the truth of it. I was fine with turning inward, shrinking, withdrawing, when I thought it was only the natural result of winter. “It’ll be different in the spring. I’m going to just enjoy this quieter more internal time.” And then spring came and Bryan was told he needed to start treatment again and Sage had surgery scheduled so I thought, “It’ll just be a little longer of slowing down and being home.” Her surgery was pushed back and so was treatment, but rather than experiencing an unexpected season of moving back out into the world, it was a season of one cold after another. It was also a season of waiting and uncertainty that led to hesitancy and turning inward.

Then Sage’s actual hip surgery came and I sank in to the isolation. I embraced it. I knew that for the six week recovery I wouldn’t sleep, I’d be at Sage’s side caring for her, I’d be home bound and life would be quiet. So I tried to make the best of it. I stock piled books to read. I celebrated it. And my little introverted heart soaked up the excuse to let my introversion rule and reign.

But then something changed. The six weeks of recovery I had planned on stretched longer. Sage was still in pain at eight weeks and nine weeks and ten weeks. We increased Physical Therapy and both of our PT’s told us it could be six to twelve MONTHS before she was back to where she was before surgery. I tried to adjust my expectations.

Bryan started treatment and all went fairly well at first, but each time symptoms got worse.

More than a month ago, under the light of a round moon, I told some friends that I knew God was taking us into a more quiet and inward season, but I didn’t want to lose some of the agency and expansion I had gained last year. Last year was all about stepping out, saying yes, taking up space, letting myself be seen and heard. It was terrifying and also glorious.

I knew this season would be different, but I realized a few days ago as I sat on the floor and cried into the phone to friends thousands of miles away, that I hadn’t expected it to be this long. I felt like I was losing ground. Slipping away. Slipping back into shame and insecurity and inadequacy. I had welcomed the season of quiet when I thought it would be short, when I thought I knew when it would end. But, when it stretched beyond… I grew bitter. Tired. Resentful.

I want out of the cocoon.

There are two images I’m holding close today as I process this desire.

The first is an image of butterfly soup. Long ago, back when I was in college and going through a difficult season, a friend told me if you cut open a cocoon you won’t find a half formed butterfly. You’ll find butterfly soup. The caterpillar completely dissolves before being transformed into a butterfly. I’ve been in butterfly soup seasons before. Seasons of dissolving, but this one feels extra tender, because the season before it was full of so much growth and expansion. I don’t want to lose what was gained. I have to remind myself of this paradox….

Nothing is wasted. Nothing is lost.

AND also…

Transformation doesn’t just build on what’s gone before, caterpillars don’t just sprout wings in the cocoon, they dissolve. They turn into soup first. Everything is lost and made into mush before being used again.

This is the way of it. This is the path of the cocoon.

The second image is that of a tree. A tree that stands accepting each season as it comes, not trying to change or force a different season than the one it’s in. Last night, I opened Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. I’ve never read it before. And a few pages in I came upon this passage:

"There is here no measuring with time, no year matters, and ten years are nothing. Being an artists means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!"

I knew right away these where the words I needed. This season, a season of Sage still (far too slowly) recovering from surgery and Bryan in treatment, keeps asking me for patience. The calm, quiet patience of trust, of ripening, of being "unconcernedly still and wide."

This season is demanding from me the fortitude to stand like a tree “confident in the storms of spring without fear,” patiently trusting that a better season will come (even if slowly). It’s asking that I stay “unconcernedly still”, trusting that my life will ripen in time, when ready. And not before.

I don’t know how much longer this season will last. I suspect it will still be awhile. So, I’m adjusting. Surrendering again. Reminding myself again of what I’ve learned before. Everything has a season, and not all seasons are fertile. Some seasons ask nothing more of us than to wait, quietly and patiently, in trust.

Grace and peace,

Bethany Stedman