“I would rather do the dishes, clean the house or any other chore than give our kids a bath.” That was me just a few months ago explaining why I wanted Mary to bathe our kids. I wasn’t lamenting bath time because I disliked the actual bathing of our kids. It wasn’t the crying and complaining that inevitably comes when I say, “it’s time to wash your hair.” I wasn’t avoiding it because I didn’t like washing, drying, lotion-ing up, and dressing them. I wasn’t trying to avoid bath time because of any of the tasks it entails. It’s the time right before all that. It’s the time at the beginning of their bath, after I’ve gotten them into the tub and I let them play for a little while. During that time, I do nothing. I just sit there. I can’t leave, because I want to make sure they’re safe, but I don’t have anything to do. I just sit their and let them play, and for me, that’s the worst part of giving our kids a bath. I hate siting still.
I’ve known that this is unhealthy for a while. There’s a compulsiveness in my doing that betrays my lack of security with who I am. It drives me to constant productivity as a way to uphold my identity. Over the last few months, I’ve finally gotten serious about working on changing that. I’m learning how to be still, and it’s freeing me from the compulsion to accomplish.
I’ve read a few books recently that are helping me explore methods of this sort of personal growth. The most powerful so far has been New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. I’ve read other things by Merton before and appreciated his insight, but this book has been revolutionary for me. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that has had such a profound impact on my spiritual life as this one. It’s the only book I’ve ever finished reading and immediately flipped to the front of the book so I could start reading it again. I’ll be sharing more about Merton’s thoughts and writing in the future.
I’ve also found Nouwen’s book, The Way of the Heart helpful. He discusses some of the same concepts in Merton’s book I found most helpful — like the false self and the True Self. But this book is simpler, more like a primer on the attitude and need for spiritual disciplines. And most recently I’ve enjoyed Keating’s Open Mind, Open Heart. This book is sort of like a how-to guide to centering prayer. I’ve found practicing meditation and centering prayer as he describes it very difficult and unnatural but also very enriching. At first, it’s like re-joining swim practice after being away for months and feeling the pain of using muscles that have been dormant for too long.
In all of this, my hope is to become better acquainted with what it means to live in the spirit, or in Christ, as opposed to living in the flesh, which is my false self. My compulsive doing is an activity rooted in a fleshly identity — one that is finds its worth, purpose, and hope in a false illusion of myself. I hope that as I learn to be still in God’s presence, I can rest in my identity in Christ. My doing will increasingly be born out of my being in an authentic way that is life-giving for others.