A mental health testimony by Liz Ellis
It’s 8:45 on a Saturday morning and I’ve already had arguments and multiple melt-downs from one child, another child telling me he’s missing things he needs for a 9am event, and we’re late to get to martial arts. I feel like I am stuck in a cycle of hurrying and reacting on repeat. We divide and conquer to get children to their events and I am finally alone walking laps around the neighborhood while they do their activities because this is what exercise as a working mom looks like. And as I’m walking and checking the clock I smell it… the sweet whiff of honeysuckle. It sneaks up on you because it takes work to actually see the vine and it seems to have bloomed overnight. I am filled with memories from backyards of my childhood and countless other walks, and I take a deep breath.
As a mother, healthcare provider, and enneagram one, I excel at worry and the need to make it all better is really the driving force of my life. The pandemic has done little to quell this. I’ve spent a good chunk of the last two years worrying. Worrying that I’d bring the virus home to my family, worrying that my boys who already lost their first mothers would lose another, worrying about patients who I knew would likely face death if they got infected, worrying that I wasn’t doing enough to help, worrying about my kids socially, worrying that the political divisiveness would continue to put people’s lives at risk, and worrying that I’d never find peace and joy again. Our culture and modern filters pedal false realities and expectations. They infiltrate our thinking with the lie of, “If I could only change or fix my job/body/family/church/social life then all will be well and we will all live happily ever after. Marketing and media have honed in on the fact that we are creatures longing for love and peace. For me, it became far too easy to feel like there was no hope to be found. I have often cried Waterdeep’s lyrics to the song 18 bullet holes: “Oh, God, it hurts so bad to love anybody down here, Why don’t You come and help me out? Cause I can’t even see clear.”
Recently my therapist reminded me of something I knew… but needed to know, the kind of knowing that seeps into your bones and soul. She reminded me of the concept of dialectic thinking.
Dialectic thinking is the ability to view something from multiple perspectives. I like to think of it as being able to hold two seemingly conflicting things as simultaneously true: I can strive to provide the best care and empathy for my patients while not being able to solve their health problems. Adoption can be full of grief and loss and also filled with love and strength. We are all flawed humans and beautiful images of God. What this means for me is embracing the fact that life is hard and difficult and overwhelming but is also full of grace and beauty and love- and these are not contradictory and mean much more than a cute sign to hang on the wall. Brene Brown reminds us that “There’s so much healing that’s accessible to us when we put down illusions of perfection and positivity.”
The author Susan Cain describes the human state of longing and being as joy laced with sorrow. She writes that life is a constant state of light mixed with dark, that unlike the cultural push to smile and move on, our brokenness connects us and that suffering is a reflection of how much we desperately care. Preston reminded us last Easter that if you’re crying in the shower at the end of the day it means you still have hope.
This balance of holding peace and despair is the work of life itself and as Richard Rohr teaches us, God comes to us disguised as our life. At the end of the song Waterdeep reminds us that no one knows this better than God: “Oh, God, it hurts so bad to love anybody down here. But oh, that’s right, you know so well, one thorny crown, three nails and a spear.”
In the midst of our fractured hearts and frantic lives, there is peace and joy to be found in pausing to acknowledge the wonder of creation, the beauty of community, and an ever present God in the sweet aroma of honeysuckle.