We are taught to be good. We strive to be likeable. We earnestly try to make a “good life” for ourselves, protecting against all that we most fear. But with the realization in childhood and into adulthood that life is precarious and people are untrustworthy, we often invent what developmental psychologist Carol O. Eckerman identifies as “myths of control” or beliefs that only we can be relied upon and that only we have the power to ward off what we most fear.
I recently got to work with Carol on her honest new book, LESSONS IN SIMPLY BEING: Finding the Peace within Tumult (February 2012/ Circle Books / Paperback / 978-1-84694-723-0 / $16.95), a spiritual memoir for those looking to find meaning beyond themselves, a meaning that hinges on more than the ability to do and be “good.”
Although I don’t identify myself as a perfectionist, I am a worrier, worried that I am far too lazy for God’s taste, worried that I am an unemotional underling, worried that my dog has cancer or a tick or depression. I don’t expect to be perfect, but I want to be okay, make everything okay. Is that okay?
I was struck by Carol’s story of cataloging the life lessons that her upbringing taught her about achievement, worth, and love. It wasn’t until her life shattered around her in adulthood that her false sense of security broke apart and her “myths of control” were slowly replaced by a single new lesson to live by: Simply be.
I have no problem simply being – after the email is uncluttered and the carpet is vacuumed and the toenails are clipped. But that feeling of un-doneness that lurks under life just creeps me out. Gives me the skeeves.
Simply being seems more a man’s strength anyway. Yes, I just gender-stereotyped. I know, I know, it just seems like the hamster brain syndrome is one many women have inherited. And I want to get off but sometimes I worry (there it is again) that the only way to start afresh is to let all the scaffolding of control crumble down.
That’s what happened to Carol. It wasn’t until she faced abandonment and loneliness caused by divorce, a mother’s dementia and dying, her children’s’ bouts with cancer that she she discovered a mysterious loving presence that permeated even these dark places. She explored her new experiences with the same curiosity she relied upon in her work as a developmental scientist. And in time she discovered that she had what others called faith and came to trust her community of neighbors, mentors, and pastors.
When I was a teenager, I was watching Wheel of Fortune with my mother one evening when I turned to ask, “Will God disfigure me in a car accident someday because I’m beautiful?” (I know, to have that sort of brazen confidence again). She laughed at my vanity but there was something deeper to that question, a feeling that I would only have nothing to fear when there was nothing left to lose.
I think of Jesus and his words in Mark 8:35 – “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” – and I wonder if it’s okay to let go now, okay to lose my mind for awhile, okay to close the Google search window on “Does my dog have arthritis?”