I loathed high school. I maintain that it was the worst, four, consecutive years of my life. I also forged some of the most important friendships during that time with some of the most outrageous memories. College was okay. Most of time I felt bipolar. One minute I was partying like a rock star, and the next I was anxiety-ridden over what I was going to do with the rest of my life. (As if I had to have it all figured out by graduation!) My 20’s were pretty awesome. My then boyfriend (now husband) and I traveled quite a bit. I got to do awesomely adventurous things like swim with sharks, climb giant, fierce mountains and cohabitate with a smelly boy for the first time. In between adventures, I battled depression twice. Thus far, my 30’s have been all about learning how to be a mommy which has been one of my life’s greatest blessings and challenges. So far this decade I’ve only had one identity crisis, but I’m also a thousand times more sure of myself. I think that’s pretty good.
The details of our lives may vary greatly but I’m convinced the patterns are always the same. Unquestionably, there are highs and lows and everything is mixed up into one big beautiful, heart-breaking mess. But there’s a universal rhythm; an elegant, undulating pattern that binds us to the collective experience of life. The ebb and flow of this ubiquitous current carries all the same joys and pains on its waves as each of us moves through the years and moments of our lives.
Bears hibernate in winter, salmon come back to their birth places to spawn and die every summer, trees drop their leaves in the fall only to birth them again in the spring. Everything that is living has periods of dormancy followed by periods of rebirth in perpetuity, including us. But it’s not just us, it’s every aspect of us that moves in this way; our relationships, emotions, years, days, the beating of our hearts; it all moves in a perpetual expand, contract, up, down, back and forth, rhythm like the two hands of a clock. You can’t avoid the down beats just as you can’t inhabit the up ones forever. You need both beats to create a rhythm because rhythms make songs; beautiful, unique, heart-breaking songs.
Sadness, depression, loneliness, they are down beats and even those came in waves. If you’ve ever felt loss you know what I mean. One minute you’re okay and the next you are lying on the floor in a puddle of tears unable to breathe. After the purging of tears, and heaving of chest, you release the heaviness and are stronger again. You fill up with tears and heaviness again until you need to release it again, and on and on until you are strong enough not to. It’s like climbing mountains. You have to stop and rest many times before you can reach the top.
Those times in my 20’s when I summitted those incredible mountain tops and stood in awe of God’s beauty were some of the most deeply spiritual of my life. Standing there, looking down, reflecting on the difficulty and distance I climbed while taking in the all-encompassing view is a moment when I know who I am and that I’m capable of great things. I also know that had I not stopped to rest, or lay in a puddle of my own tears unable to breathe, I could not have received that moment fully. I would not have been able to breathe in God’s air and know that I am enough had I not choked on my own air in a moment of pain. You can’t have rest and forward progress at the same time, and you can’t have complete joy with knowing complete pain. They are two parts of the rhythm.
They are two halves of us all that make us whole tethered by chords of grace and gratitude.
No one wants to feel horrible. On top of feeling horrible, we often feel guilty about feeling horrible. The more blessed the life, the guiltier we feel. But just as bears NEED to sleep in the winter to survive, we NEED the trough of the waves in our life to empty us out so we can hold greater blessings. We shouldn’t feel guilting about that. It’s a heavy enough load just being sad without adding shame to the pile.
Trust is what we need. Trust that while lying there, face wet, chest- heaving that we are filling up with all the things we’re going to need to crest that next hill. If we can remember that we’re just resting, not quitting, then maybe when we go to start again, the climb will be easier and we’ll climb higher than before until we reach another valley where we need to rest again. If we can have faith in this, then maybe life as a whole starts to look more like a steady, and undulating march onto higher and higher ground.
The valleys, the losses, the grief, the winters, they are necessary. They are not times of purposeless pain but for reflecting and recharging. A time for looking down the mountain on where you’ve been and how far you’ve come because when the time comes again to climb, and the time always comes, you’ll be summitting higher peaks and squinting out onto greater vistas, chest-heaving full of God’s air.