Ten Days of Letting Go of My Need to Overthink
It starts with the strawberries.
I open a carton of strawberries, set them under the tap, and start washing them. But as I carefully rinse them with cold tap water, I think, “Wait—these aren’t organic. What are we eating? I am giving my children cancer berries.” I lay the strawberries on some paper towels to dry. Then I wonder if I should reduce paper waste in my house. The landfills are overflowing, and yesterday I threw a plastic cola ring holder in the recycling and therefore I hold a turtle’s life in my hands.
A few strawberries roll to the floor, to be snuffled at by my dog, Rey before I shoo her away. This past week, Rey has had an upset tummy, which is a really nice way of saying she’s constantly pooping. Perhaps it’s because she eats strawberries. I think, “I should get her to the vet. But I think we’re past due on her shots and then the vet will shame me,” which leads me directly to the “MAKE DENTIST APPT” on my to-do list. That reminder has been sitting there, sullenly staring at me, for over six months now.
Rey whines to remind me that she needs to perform more gastrointestinal Olympics in the backyard. I lead her past the laundry room, and I remember that I need to put the clothes in the dryer. They are already starting to smell like cheese, which is never what you want your laundry to do. I think, “I should put these on the line outside because virtuous, wholesome people do that,” but I eye the clock and realize that my day is running off without my permission. “I should ask the boys to help,” I think. They are unnaturally quiet which means they’re on screens and that I am a bad mom. Also, it’s a Sunday—the Sabbath. We should be playing Scrabble and doing family devotions or at least talking about what we learned at church. Instead, I am standing in my laundry room with my dog licking up an unidentified spill on the floor, and I want to scream.
That’s when my phone rings. It’s my husband. He’s calling me from inside the house.
My husband has been living in our downstairs office since last Monday. The door is shut and he calls me if he needs food, which is rather often, I think. Definitely up there with toddler status on the whole “I’m hungry” thing, and I can’t help but answer the phone with the voice of the martyrs.
“Uh. I am out of ice. Could you bring me some ice? And maybe my shaving cream?”
Worry points me outward, at my children and my husband. It points at my old house, which quite literally has a cracking foundation. But worry rarely nudges at me.
My husband has a breakthrough case of Covid despite being fully vaccinated. And as I hang up, I stare into space. My brain has reached capacity. Worry and wanting to do better have filled it up to the top and now it sparks out, like a blown fuse. I can’t seem to keep track of the next right thing to do. Is it to go get my husband his ice? Spray down the house with an entire can of Lysol? Or just eat some Twix candies left over from Halloween?
Oh wait. Should we have even recognized Halloween? I’m circling back to my sub-genre of worry called “Your Iffy Christianity.” I start to unwrap the Twix.
This is my brain on worry. It shudders and starts and fails to make traction. I pick up things and set them down, and fail to accomplish anything. I listen very, very hard to the voice in my head that is shrieking signs of doom, but I don’t listen well at all to my son asking for help on his homework. Or my husband asking for ice. I go big with my fears, and then I make myself very small, curl up in a blanket, and try to sleep.
It all sounds rather dramatic. If you are of my husband’s variety of person—a calmer less dramatic (boring) sort—you might be pretty okay with staying in a small office that has bad lighting and an outdated bathroom. He’s rather chipper about it all and calls me again to tell me he loves me. I mutter back that I do too. The emotions are not matching in this phone call at all, but that is pretty much how most of our marriage goes. And as I rather sullenly say goodbye, from literally across the room, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like staying in that office away from the rest of the family. It might be a reprieve from worry and laundry, the two endless cycles of my life.
Worry points me outward, at my children and my husband. It points at my old house, which quite literally has a cracking foundation. But worry rarely nudges at me. I could lose an arm and shrug it off. (You see what I did there?) In the sphere of things I ultimately cannot control, my kids and my husband are right there up at the top. It’s funny because you spend so much time with your little ones working on controlling their every move when really, it’s a bait and switch. All that control means one day, you will have to hand it over. The husband is a different story, but I did try, for many years, to train him up. It never worked. But because of this I think worry never even gets to start in on my life because it’s got so much other material to work with.
Recently, I attended the Breathe conference. I had a pretty high-stress level prior to the event, and as I was packing my bag to go I kept picturing myself sitting at the back of the meeting hall, just breathing heavily, which would be rather awkward but that’s what the conference told me to do. It turned out to be a great weekend, and I came out all tired and blissed out on breathing.
And then my husband got Covid and I felt duped. Where was the post-conference glow, now?
Ten days of quarantine seems like a long time.
So did 40 days, I’m sure. Or—I can’t even fathom it—40 years. So much of my faith seems like a stretch of time, an expanse that holds endless questions. All those questions seem to be most easily answered by worry. But in that space, there is the still, small, ever-present voice of Christ.
In the span of ten days, my life became very simple. It was ten days of making oatmeal and making sure to add fresh blueberries because Brian loves them. It was me standing outside of a door belting out “Happy Birthday” so loudly that I scared the cat, because Brian turned 53 while he was in the hole, and he deserved some out-of-tune fanfare. It was where I realized how very much I missed just hugging my husband. My faith, stretched thin by just ten days, figured out the next right thing, which always seemed to involve food and love. And we got through it. And we carried on.