I had to laugh. God certainly has a sense of humor and he surely knows how to get a message through to me, thick as I may be sometimes.
I have been feeling a bit vulnerable recently. When someone challenges or questions something I say, I start to take it personally. When I make a minor mistake, or don’t do well in sailing competition, I begin to get down on myself. Part of it I believe, is the aftermath of my wife Jennie’s diagnosis of endometrial cancer. The roller coaster ride of a cancer diagnosis on the entire family can be overwhelming. Jennie was operated on and the surgeon is “90% sure” she got all the cancer and didn’t recommend chemotherapy or radiation follow up. Jennie has returned to work now, and is getting back into her workout routines. Part of my “pop psychology” diagnosis of this sense of vulnerability is the belief that I had to remain strong for Jennie as we worked through her cancer diagnosis and surgery and now that it seems like we have some breathing space, I can let down.
My other thought of why I may be feeling vulnerable is that I’m not praying enough. Bear with me as I explain. For the past 18 months or so, I have tried to spend at least 30 minutes a day in contemplative prayer, followed up with journaling. The contemplative prayer helps to center me and the journaling provides some insight and clarity on my inner journey. I have come to cherish this time in prayer and reflection, but with the turmoil of Jennie’s diagnosis, I found it difficult to stick to the routine even though I knew it was something that would be helpful.
As they say, the biggest part of solving a problem is in accurately naming it. I’ve been feeling down, but didn’t spend any time in trying to understand why. As my sensitivity heightened over any small slight, I knew there was something out of kilter and that I should spend some time figuring out what was at the core of my feelings or watch helplessly as the downward spiral intensified.
As I watched my actions and assessed my feelings and reactions, I came to the realization that I was caught in a “me against you” battle that was all in my head. In spiritual terms, I had trapped myself in a dualistic mode of thinking. I had let my ego take over. I am getting better at spotting those moments in myself when duality takes over and unity is pushed aside. I know where to look for answers when I find pettiness, personal slights, self-doubt beginning to overwhelm me and take over my thought process.
So, with the realization that I had – again – fallen into the ego/duality trap, I offered this knowledge up to prayer and journaling. I offered up my pettiness to God. I offered up my self-doubt to God. I offered up my vulnerability to God. Then, when I was done praying, I let it all be and went about my daily business. And then I heard a song.
I have been a musician (of sorts) for most of my life. I can play a passable folk-rock guitar and rock and roll piano, and am trying to learn how to play jazz. Because music is important to me, I have also come to realize that it is through music that I hear the whisper of God in my soul. What usually happens is that I will hear a song in my head and know – intuitively - that it is coming from the deepest recesses of my being. And, that is what happened yesterday.
As I was making lunch, the Bill Withers song Lean on Me popped into my head and kept looping around my thoughts throughout the early afternoon. It isn’t like the song jumped into my head and I had a flash of understanding. It is more that I heard the song, or snippets of the song in my head. Then I heard it again. Then again during the course of the afternoon. And finally, I realized what was happening. I was receiving a message: You can let go of your load. You can lean on me. I will help you carry it. I had to laugh. God certainly has a sense of humor and he surely knows how to get a message through to me, thick as I may be sometimes.
The big picture message for me is this: cherish and protect my daily prayer and reflection routine. Watch out for when my ego begins to overwhelm my thoughts and feelings and listen for and trust the quiet, inner voice of God. I know this will help me. I share it with the hope that something resonates and will help you. At the very least, maybe you will pay closer attention to the tunes playing inside your head.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.