Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Why I Quit My Life (And Started Over)

Last year, I didn't have any resolutions. 

After the devastating loss of my first pregnancy, saying goodbye to my Ugandan home, my dream, and the day to day management of the non-profit I'd built over the last seven years, to move from Africa to America, I think my resolution was merely "to survive."

I did this with an acute sense of lostness and an oozing red eye from pneumonia which I proceeded to get a week after leaving the Tropics. But I did choose a "theme" for the year. 2013 was the "year of health." It was my goal to become "healthy." This was more out of desperation rather than choice. I knew something was missing. 

I had begun to hate my own life. 

It had been a long road of saying yes to things that I felt I had to do, but didn't want to do, but that I was now responsible for. Sound familiar?

But I was afraid to have other people think I hated my life, so I put on a good front, like every good missionary/leader/wife/girl is supposed to do.

The fissures kept widening and every once in a while I would notice that without really paying attention, most nights I could throw back close to a bottle of wine by myself like it was a glass of water just to numb what I was feeling: mostly the burden of being completely overwhelmed, like I was drowning with an audience looking on from the shore. (A year ago I could not have admitted that.)

I wouldn't say I was depressed really, but an online questionnaire certainly seemed to think different.

When we are building something or are in service to others, looking outward, and experiencing many different levels of life's tragedies and endless emergencies, it's easy to stop focusing on ourselves or even thinking we matter in the equation because we're so focused on what everyone else needs from us.

We can get so focused on saving the world, that we often forget we need saving too. 

In the developing world people have lots of needs. Which is almost a disastrously perfect combination for the person who wants to meet needs. (like most missionaries/do gooders)

The being needed part in a sense became it's own reward, gratifying proof to the world that I was in fact, necessary.

Even in my time alone or with God, it was difficult to be present or connect because of all the ways I'd become separated and fragmented from myself because I had to in order to fulfill all the roles I felt responsible for.

My quiet moments were filled with desperation and a long list of things I needed: Money. Volunteers. More hours in the day.

In the beginning I had no idea how unhealthy I actually was. It was easy to make excuses for my constant sicknesses, or the feeling of being overwhelmed all the time, or my own ego's desire for a pat on the back, because I didn't feel I had any choices---people needed me and I couldn't let them down.

I couldn't see how I could stop. The show must go on.

It was easy for me to focus on our society's outward misrepresentation of success---changing the world, building a thriving ministry/business, becoming well-known and well-liked, rather than the true success of internal peace, whole-heartedness, and alignment with one's self.

When I tried to contemplate if God wanted me living my life this way--depleted, exhausted, anxious, overwhelmed, sad, angry, and feeling alone and abandoned--I chalked it up to the fact that ministry, and especially missions, requires sacrifice and that denial of myself, and my heart, and a life I actually wanted to live, was worth the price.

But all the wonder had gone out of my life.

I had neglected my spirit and my soul because I had stopped listening to them, had ignored what they needed.

I had told them to shut up and tossed them aside like an illegitimate child. 

There was a part of me that knew it wasn't supposed to be like this, that God hadn't designed me for this, but I didn't know how to change it. I was too afraid of the albatross,

"What will people think?" and "I don't want to let anyone down."

Instead, I would sit out on my little deck and cry out to God, "help." Expecting him to fix things and magically send people, without realizing that maybe it was up to me to make choices to fix things.

The breaking point for me came after a series of events which I now see as Divine Providence.

First, I did a course called Storyline by Donald Miller and realized that if I was truly honest, there was no way for me to meet my goals by the way I was currently running my life. I was constantly feeling like a failure because what I was asking of myself simply wasn't accomplishable in the time given to us every week on this planet. It was in fact, impossible.

And I wasn't actually getting to do the parts I loved. 

Secondly, I went to see an incredibly awesome, fearless, leadership coach who pretty much told me like it was. She taught me to listen to myself, and understand my personality type and what were healthy and unhealthy choices for me.

Thirdly, as part of an exercise with her, I emailed a bunch of friends a questionnaire to fill out about what they saw me doing when I was most happy. Another brave soul had the courage to say something which literally rocked my world:

"The truth is, I haven't seen you happy for a long time."

Ouch. Ok, so if that's not an invitation to change your life, I don't know what is. 

These "Ah Ha" moments were compounded by the fact that around that time we discovered I had fertility problems and that if I wanted to get pregnant I was going to have to radically de-stress my life and make myself a priority.

This felt wrong and selfish. And not very....Christian-like.

Lastly, I stumbled upon Brene` Brown's stunning book, The Gifts of Imperfection which sent me on a journey of self-compassion, and exploration of play and rest.

I knew choices had to be made. 

But I didn't want to make them. I felt trapped by the very net I had woven myself: people depended on me. It took lots of prayer, sobbing hysterically, some seriously gut-wrenching conversations, and several temper tantrums, but I knew the truth inside me, the truth I couldn't ignore.

I had to stop. 

Elizabeth Gilbert said,

"Everything good I've ever gotten in life, I only got because I gave something else up."

And I know this to be true.
It was not easy, this surrender to my truth.
It will almost always be the hardest thing you've had to do.

But somehow, slowly, I decided to say no. I decided to go part-time with my ministry, speak less, travel less, and gradually transition programs to a more manageable level, and those that I couldn't, I transitioned into the hands of other people who could do it better than me. And I stopped answering every email. Sorry.

In this whole culture of "Leaning In," I am finally putting my feet up and leaning back. I'm listening to myself, and in there somewhere, I find I'm listening to God too. And it feels good.

I'm learning if we don't take care of our soul, our spirit and our body, then we are not truly following God's commandment to love our neighbor "as we love ourselves." Sometimes we forget that last part.

The world can only change when we change. 

Several months in, I feel like a completely different person.

There are lots of trail runs and long walks, days reading by the pool, unhurried talks with God, writing the book that I've always wanted to write, dreaming about someday helping other leaders learn the lessons I've learned hopefully less painfully, and more time spent with my husband. And sure, maybe some people judge me.

But you know what?
I'm happy. I'm at peace within myself. And because of that, I have more to give.

Through rest, my creativity is resurfacing. 

But for now, I'm learning to steward it with the Divine being my only reference point of approval.

These days, there are other questions like, "Am I doing enough?" and other temptations to become busy again to feel more useful. But I hush them and tuck them away under the cover of this new peace.

This year, I did make resolutions and one of them was to put roots down in my own soil to see what would come up and flourish.

And it has made all the difference.


Carol Vaisanen said...

Thank you for sharing your journey, Sarita. You are a beautiful woman and I'm grateful for the work you have done and your testimony. We haven't met in person, albeit, we almost met last year while our team was in Uganda. Your healing process is like a beautiful, mountain flower--although fragile, it persevered through harsh environments to make its debut. I'm looking forward to reading your book someday--I'm sure it will be as amazing as you are. I had plans to come visit you and interview you for the book I'm writing about Uganda and would still love to do so someday. Even though you've been through a painful time, the lessons you discovered have not been lost and as you continue to heal, will bear much fruit. Jn 12:24. Bless you. You are in my prayers and I rejoice that this will be a good, healing year for you.

Unknown said...

Thank you Sarita for sharing this. I recently opened up about my own struggles, and I felt so much freedom that came along with it. I wish more people would be more "vulnerable" and open up. It would make all of the world a better place. You are such a beautiful person, and I am so glad that you are taking care of yourself first. You are going to shine so much brighter than you already do!

Lynne C. said...

Thanks for being so real and vulnerable. Many missionaries struggle with the same thing. You're amazing! You go girl!

Unknown said...

I feel like you're my soul sister!! I too changed paths this Fall and began a blog for a couple of months. Now I'm on a whole new path and loving it. Yes, there are many times I wonder how we'll make it financially for the long haul... but this walk of trust is much better than a life of striving and struggling to "survive" amidst the chaos and expectations of others. Lisa -

liz song mandell said...

lovely reflections sarita. my friend chris murchison shared your post with me yesterday, and said i'd appreciate it. i certainly did! i worked with diana chapman last spring and decided to leave my workplace (in calif) to pursue something else. i'm now in montana overlooking an incredible valley, mountain range, and huge sky. it's wild to think that once we take hold of our lives, and remove all of the "shoulds".... something beautiful emerges. love and joy to you in your journey!!!

Linda Lang said...

You are a wellspring of life! Being honest with ourselves and nurturing our hearts is necessary to live a fuller life in Christ. Many a times we don't rest with our heavenly father to reflect the needs of our own heart to better serve him and others. Your vulnerability and what you are doing for your heart is beautiful! May God continue to bring good fruit of the seeds you have sown in Uganda and may he bring a harvest of the seeds he is sowing in your heart during this season!

Unknown said...

Thanks everyone for all the wonderful, beautiful comments. It is truly amazing to see what can happen when we live from our hearts. Blessings on all of you and your journeys!