Breaking Down

I crossed my legs, but uncrossed my arms. I leaned forward in my seat and listened. He stopped reading the passage in Hebrews and began talking about muscles and how when we lift weights, to strengthen our muscles, we fatigue them and tear them in order to strengthen them. We break them down to build them back up. The knowledge about muscles wasn’t new to me, but the metaphor really hit home.

This week has been hard. It just has.

I feel like the pressure has been building for awhile, but this week, this first 9 days of August, it has come to a head. I am feeling torn, broken down, completely fatigued.

We had a tough decision this week. A decision I felt entirely unsure about, a decision I felt incapable of making. I sought guidance, prayed, quieted myself and tried to listen, but still all I felt was unsure. We had to decide whether we would continue with one more round of the treatment Bryan has been doing for the past 5 months or if we would stop it and move on to something else. In the end we decided to do one more round of treatment (starting tomorrow) and then after that we will move on to something new. Oh, something new, full of uncertainty and unpredictability.

The kids feel my uncertainty, my insecurity and they have been mirroring it back to me. They have been difficult, tiring, and parenting them has been full of frustrations and failures. Sage starts preschool tomorrow and though we have had a lot of clear guidance about where to put her this year and are feeling very good with the decisions we made, it is still a bit scary to send my baby off. Then there’s just been little things, logistics, phone calls with doctors that haven’t gone well, blown tires we didn’t expect. Oh, the little things.

But, the hardest thing for me is that my physical strength and ability to handle things has been dramatically compromised this week. I’ve been having a good deal of stomach pain off and on since early July. Well, really ever since that ER trip I had when Bryan’s diagnosis first moved to stage 4. But, mostly it’s been kept in check, minor, manageable… until recently. This week it’s been particularly bad. I’ve been seeing a doctor who suspects an ulcer or at least extreme irritation of the stomach lining due to stress.

Stress. That’s what we do to our muscles when we lift weights, when we work out. We put them under stress, until they start to tear and break down, until their fatigue reaches it’s edge. That’s how they grow strong.

I don’t feel like I’m growing strong. Quite the opposite I just feel like I’m breaking down, like all of the crud and junk and insecurity of my heart is right on the surface. And I can’t help but think of muscles again, as they are worked, don’t they begin to let off toxins that they’ve been holding on to? Those things which had sat sort of idle and hidden begin to come to the surface and pour our of our muscles. And you know what, it stinks.

That’s how I’m feeling right now, weak, broken down, fatigued, torn, smelly.

I carry the metaphor a little farther and I come face to face with a lot of my own toxicity. Muscles need to be worked to their edge, torn and broken, in order to be strengthened, but they also need rest. Rest. Sabbath. The exhale. The letting go and resting.

And this is where my junk get’s stirred to the surface… I can’t rest. Even if I don’t feel well, even if my stomach is crying out, “you need to stop!” I can’t. Or at least I feel like I can’t. My children need me. My husband needs me. My family needs me. I can’t stop. I can’t break. I can’t break down and then rest. I am the caregiver.

Logically, with my head, I can recognize that caregivers need to take care of themselves in order to care for others, but, there are other feelings at work in my heart. When I take breaks, when I go to yoga, when I take times to write, there is a price to my family and it’s a price I don’t feel deserving of, a price I feel guilty to put on them. It often requires Bryan having the kids (guilt - how can I ask my husband, who is in the middle of treatment, who is fighting cancer, to take the kids or take care of some of my other responsibilities without feeling LOADS of guilt), or it requires me to get a babysitter (guilt - spending more money when I’m not contributing money to our finances at all), or it requires asking family or friends to help out (guilt - they all already help so much and how can I ask them to help so that I can go do something restful when I really need them to help when I have to go to a doctors appointment with Bryan or Sage?).

When I do manage to do something to care for myself it never feels like enough. When it’s all done it never feels like it does enough. The stress is still there. Waiting for me.

Honest truth, I feel guilty even writing this. I feel like I’m complaining and I feel guilty for complaining. Seriously, if it’s not stress (feeling like there’s more than I can handle), or insecurity (feeling like I’m not enough to handle it all), it’s guilt (feeling like I’m handling it all wrong, feeling like I’ve done or am doing some wrong towards those I love - I’ve asked too much, I’ve demanded too much, I’ve put too much on them, I haven’t carried enough of the load myself, I’ve said to much, etc).

Somewhere inside I don’t feel like I deserve to have a break, or to have others take care of me. Some part of me believes that I have to earn love, earn being taken care of, earn each precious break that I take. Some part of me believes that I haven’t done enough, that I’m failing too much in too many areas to deserve a break now. I can’t take a break now, not only are my stresses things I can’t get away from, not only would it damage my children too much for me to step away, but even if I could, how could I? How could I really, because I’m failing. Breaks are earned by those who are succeeding, those who have the time and resources, those who’s kids are stable and who’s lives are put together. I don’t have space for a break, to care for myself, to let other’s care for me, because I’m a wreck. I’m falling apart at every corner. I’m unraveling. I’m failing as a mom, as a wife, as a friend, as a sister, as a daughter. I’m too much to handle and I can’t put that on people.

There it is, my toxic.

And here is my confession, I believe that if I need people too much they won’t like me. I believe that if I am too needy they won’t want to be with me. But, I am needy. I’m a needy, clingy, wreck. I believe that if I don’t prove myself through skill, and capability, and strength, if I am weak, then people won’t want me on their team, in their circle. And I want to be in their circle.

But the real toxicity comes when I extent these thoughts, these beliefs, to my relationship with God. Some part of me believes I am not worthy of his care, of a sabbath rest. Some part of me believes that if I am too weak, too needy, too out of control, he won’t want me on his team either. Oh, how messed up is my heart!

I am a child.

I am whiney and self-indulged and, oh, so needy. I am hurting and in pain, physically and emotionally. I’m tired and run down. I’m broken and still a slave to so much guilt and fear and shame. I am stressed and tired of carrying burdens that feel too big for my insecure, frail, broken, little heart.

Perhaps that’s exactly the first step towards new strength… Confession. Recognizing where we really are. Everything coming to the surface where we can’t avoid it anymore, so it can be washed clean. The step before rest. The step in the middle of the breaking. Admitting our own weakness, allowing the tearing, the releasing of toxins, welcoming it. Crucifying self, little by little, muscle by muscle, so that we can be made new. So that there is space in our hearts for trust.

And there’s my second confession… I don’t trust. My faith is small and weak.

I have had big moments of opening my hands, surrendering in trust to the Spirit who is all-powerful, all-knowing, holy, just, and right. I have wrestled and laid down my arms when it comes to the big things. Multiple times. But, the little things, the day-to-day stresses… the submissions for equipment for Sage, changing respite providers, babysitters canceling, blown out tires, raising kids and worrying about their well-being, dealing with the countless questions and temper tantrums, running from one appointment to the next, the long repetitive list of to-do’s, etc, etc, … oh, it’s hard to trust in these things. I don’t always recognize my lack of trust in God when I’m dealing with the little things. They seem like things I’m suppose to deal with, I’m responsible for, things that are on me. And so I hold on to them. I clutch at them and as they add up, one on top of another, the stress builds.

Oh, how far I have to go!

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord… Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death…For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Lord, remind me often of your care. Teach me how to accept it. Crucify the nature of guilt and fear and shame that rises so quickly in my heart, and bring me into new freedom through the guidance and tutelage of your Spirit. In the name of Jesus Christ, the one who stoops to serve, who offers to clean all our toxic hearts, and bring us safely into a better kingdom. Amen.

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany Stedman