Imperfect Serenity

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Surrender is one of those words with completely different connotations depending on the context. It can imply a spiritual letting go, floating in life’s stream with New Age music playing in the background. But surrender can also imply giving up, waving the white flag, often at gun point. I’ve been surrendering a lot lately, hoping it’s the spiritual kind of giving up, not the lazy or cowardly kind.

My biggest summer surrender has been time to write. I haven't even blogged in weeks. There have been past summers when the demands of two children out of school have frustrated me to the point of extreme crankiness. I’ve looked forward to school starting with manic desperation, rushing to my computer at the first opportunity. Not this summer. I took my book manuscript on our two week camping vacation, but I didn’t look at it once. Instead I spent my snippets of free time reading fiction or just hanging out with the kids. I had a great time. Now that they are both in camp for one week, I’m tempted to pull out that manuscript, though it’s Tuesday afternoon and I haven’t yet. There were too many other things to take care of yesterday, the usual stack of bills after a few weeks away, plus the list of phone calls to keep our kitchen renovation rolling along. I could have resented those ordinary chores, but I’ve made some kind of shift finally. I’ve always known that I wanted to put family needs ahead of my career, and I’ve always done that while carving out some time for my own work. But this is the first summer I haven’t had a backlash of resentment around mid-August. It feels good, this surrender business.

Of course the month isn’t over. There will be over two weeks of no camp, no school, and still no sink in the kitchen, so there is plenty of time for me to get cranky. It’s also possible that I’m unconsciously afraid to get back to writing since I was feeling a bit stuck before July’s camp let out. I don’t want to surrender to fear. Maybe it’s easier to focus on my list of things to do than to get back into the risky realm of creative work. I sometimes sense that when I talk to women who have stifled their creative ambitions while caring for others. Sometimes it is what Quakers call “rightly ordered” to put other people’s needs first, though sometimes playing the martyr is a way of protecting ourselves from risk while claiming the high ground. We need to listen to the Inner Guide to know what we’re truly meant to be doing.

Yesterday in Quaker meeting for worship I was thinking of the question of how we live with risk and remembered the question the prophet Mohammed was once asked: “Should I trust in God, or should I tie my camels.” The prophet responded, “Trust in God, and tie your camels.” I wondered how to apply that advice to my eight-year-old, who had been breathing funny during the first fifteen minutes of meeting, as I started to worry that he might be having an asthma attack, something he’s never done before. So the question was how much should I surrender to God—stay in the meeting and just pray for him—and how much should I do myself? Running him to the emergency room seemed like an over-reaction. My daughter has asthma, so I know what bad wheezing looks like. He wasn’t bad, but is little coughs weren't normal either. I hadn’t been to meeting for worship for a month (because our travels didn’t accommodate it, and the one meeting I had tried to visit wasn’t where the web site said it was), so I really didn’t want to leave unnecessarily. I also didn’t want to forget the “Trust in God” part of the prophet’s advice, though the idea of surrendering my son reminds me how much I dislike the story of Abraham and Isaac. In the end I took a middle road: I left meeting to call my husband and ask him to bring our daughter’s asthma medicine over to meeting to see if that helped. Then I went back into worship. By the time my husband got there, my son was happily playing, insisting he was fine. (We have a follow up with the doctor tonight just to be sure.)

So I keep getting practice with this Wisdom to Know the Difference topic, and I’ve got to figure it will only help me when I sit down to work on the book manuscript again in three weeks. In the meantime I get to surrender having a working kitchen for at least a few more weeks while the pots and pans are stacked on the couch. I’m going to trust in God and try not to get cranky.

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