Finding a new direction when life is uncertain
|At the request of several readers, I’m posting my first November newsletter here so you all can read it, in case you’re not on my email list (which you should be!–go subscribe in the side margin or on the home page). Some of you are wondering how to change direction–how to find a new way to exist (and dare thrive) in a life that’s gone sideways.|
Everything feels uncertain and wonky right now. We are crazy-emotional and irrational. We’re focusing on the minor things and not even seeing the major things. We’re in an emotional PTSD period, in my opinion. Too much of everything that’s upsetting: loneliness, politics, spiritual wilderness, up-ended schedules, illness, disappointed dreams and expectations, death and violence every day.
It’s a lot. But you can overcome. You might, however, need to change direction and head someplace you’ve never been before.
Finding a New Direction
When I was trying to come up with an inspiring theme for this newsletter, I couldn’t seem to land on anything that didn’t ring of exhaustion, discouragement, and trauma. (Can I get an amen?)
And so I wrote about the opposite, even though I didn’t feel like it. I changed direction. This week, my topic is finding a new direction, which requires endurance, perseverance, and emotional health. We’re going to talk about doing the hard thing during a hard time. Moving forward when we want what used to be.
The hard thing right now, in my opinion, is to embrace a new reality and push into it with optimism. For most of us, that doesn’t feel authentic or even possible.
We’re all a little beaten up right now. Our emotions are whacked. Our psychology is skewed. Our expectations are deflated. Call me a liar, but I bet you’ve gone to pieces over something this month that has no significant bearing on the rest of your life.
You’ve lost it on someone. You’ve spent too much money. You’ve blown up a friendship. You’ve up and moved, quit, or sold something you might need later. You’ve picked a fight over something silly.
*You thought an election would bring you peace of mind—that some candidate who claims to cherish your values would actually function in politics as person of integrity and responsibility.
*You thought that months of mask-wearing or emergence into some new version of normalcy would erase the anxiety over COVID and decrease the number of people contracting it.
*You thought that race wars would die down as people reduce their enflamed rhetoric on social media platforms.
*You thought we could all go back to being friends.
But nothing has returned to normal. I’ll bet you’re grieving that, whether you realize it or not. I am. It’s why I feel immobilized and why I have to force myself to choose a direction and step into it.
After 30 years of ministry, teaching, and writing, I’m growing cynical about all of it. I’m drifting away from myself, and I’m struggling to have the emotional bandwidth to care about anything. Living is just a lot of work right now. Being yourself–or finding yourself–is even harder.
I have to find a new direction. I have to lean into myself without expecting to be my old self who does what I’ve always done. This is the genius of the human experience. We have the God-given ability to adapt, learn, and triumph. We aren’t animals with base instincts or evolving skills that will take a billion years to change into something else. We can pivot right now and begin something new. We can embrace the new routines we don’t even like.
How to move in a positive direction
Here are a couple of suggestions from mental and spiritual health professionals:
1. Re-orient yourself. Fellowship with friends; rebuild bridges, go to church, go back to the office. In order to experience spiritual and emotional support, you must grab it (it doesn’t happen alone at home).
2. Re-direct yourself. Break your fearful or lazy routines by charting a new direction toward positive momentum. Boldness is empowering. What new thing could you try that you’ve never tried before?
3. Re-new yourself. Since schedules are more fluid than ever, plan getaways and working holidays. Get outside every day and take frequent trips to places that soothe and renew you. Engage in regular physical activity. Read and watch positive books and shows.
4. Re-examine yourself. Your biggest problem is probably you. We humans tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect, to conquer things, to solve problems. There is a richness in leaning into the spiritual ache and letting God fill the hole he created in us, the designed dependence on his love and power. That’s the most positive direction of all.
New Directions for me (as of late)
1. I’m teaching American Literature and LOVING IT. I’m attempting to foster an atmosphere of discussion and friendly debate without revealing my personal convictions too much to my students (very hard for me!). We’re working through religion, politics, race, freedom, and government control. I am inspired by my juniors and seniors’ perspectives. It turns out, when give people permission to think about new perspectives and express themselves, life gets clearer, not muddier.
2. I co-wrote two children’s books this fall with the brilliant Crystal Bowman. They are under review right now at a major publisher. Don’t worry about an announcement–you’ll hear me screaming if they get purchased.
3. I’m taking time to paint furniture, rotate pictures, and revamp some areas in my house that desperately need attention. I’ve cleaned out all my closets and repainted trim. I’m selling stuff I never use anymore. The house feels fresh, which makes me feel fresh. Plus, I got stuff done. (Big win-win.)
In a weird time like the covid/election/racial injustice situation where we currently find ourselves–finding something NEW (preferably that’s free) is positively liberating.
Explore a new normal. Then embrace it!
At long last, the week ahead will reveal if Soulspeak has won a Selah Award for new non-fiction in 2019. The event was postponed until this month, so you’ll hear the news in my next newsletter. (If it’s a bust, hopefully, I’ll embrace that direction, too.)
You can hear me talk about Soulpeak and my journey towards a more prayer-filled life in a recent podcast with John Snyder called “The Walk.” You can find it on John’s website Theology Mix or his Twitter: https://twitter.com/theologymix/status/1326567126832979969?s=27
What do you desire to do right now? What new direction would re-invigorate you? Take it!
“Desire often lives next door to grief inside the soul. Access the grief, and you wake up the longing as well.”—Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing
I’ve recommended Emily P. Freeman’s books and podcast before, but it seems particularly fitting for this newsletter. Check out her podcast called (not surprisingly) The Next Right Thing Podcast. It’s about decision-making and decision fatigue. I don’t know about you, but this is where I’m living right now. Our decisions are directly related the state of our souls. Our emotions affect what we do, so let’s make sure we’re staying healthy!
Have a blessed weekend and weeks until I write you again, somewhere around Thanksgiving. That will be an email brimming with hope, thankfulness, family, and the Christmas spirit. I’m already excited!