Last weekend I was away, serving as a trainer for a congregation development training for local episcopal leaders. It was draining and exciting, as these sorts of intensive learning experiences tend to be. I found my role as trainer to be almost a relief. I didn't have to acquire a bunch of new information, or try on new roles or skills. Other than a couple of presentations my main role was to observe my small group of ten people while they did all the work of acquiring new information and experimenting with new roles and skills. I needed to judge when to intervene, and how to coach, skills that I am still working on, but they did all the work. What they really needed from me as a trainer was to be anxiety free, relatively objective, and completely present to them as they stumbled through the three-fold task of learning about themselves as individuals, their roles as participants in this newly formed group, and a heap of new information about how to vision, strategize, and perceive their disparate congregations.
I love giving people what they need. It's one of my favorite experiences. But this time I received a gift, something that I really needed. What they gave me was some practice at being anxiety-free and completely present to something happening now. That's not a skill I'm terribly good at, and the many converging possibilities in my life right now - grad school, baby, work, consulting, training - make it even harder.
Last night I arrived home from my day feeling restless and out of sorts. I hit up the computer immediately - without even a hello to Andrew - and began sorting through grad school paperwork, financial forms, whatever.
"What's up baby?" My husband peeked around the corner from the kitchen. He's familiar with my tornado-like grumps, the need I have to obsess over details when I am in the grip of a mood that I don't completely understand.
"I'm behind, I am behind everyone and everything I know." I wailed in reply. "It's the time of year when everybody gets pregnant. All the postulants who are younger than me have degrees already. Nobody wants to pick us for a baby, everyone is moving faster than I am!" Being left behind is one of my worst fears, most likely born of being an annoying tag-along little sister, and a socially awkward adolescence where I was never in on the joke.
"Who cares?" Andrew replied with a gentle twinkle in his eye. "The dahlias are up, you know." And he put dinner, steamed artichokes and guacamole salad, on the table. These are two of my favorite things.
My funk evaporated. He was right, there were more important things to be interested in than how I compare to other people. I am lucky to be married to a man who actually doesn't compare himself to others in an evaluative way. This is a state of being I cannot really begin to imagine, but it benefits me all the time. I looked at the delicious food on the table, the familiar and beloved man I married, and took a deep breath. Then I wondered just how far up the dahlias were, and started to think about summer.
"Well after dinner we should go take a look at them huh?" I replied. He grinned at me. And we ate. I realized that the thing I was able to do for my group this past weekend is a skill I can employ for myself, for my family, for my own life. Looking at other people too much, looking ahead too much can stop me from reveling in and being present to my wonderful full and rich right now. I don't want to miss that.
Here's how up they are, by the way:
The dahlias are my special project, but our little green space is awash with blooms and that has been a group effort with others in our building.
Last night spending time in the garden was my now. Today there are other pieces of life to live into, most of them wonderful, all deserving my full, non-anxious presence. There are pregnancies to celebrate, new friends to know, seeds to plant, and artichokes to be eaten. The reality is that I have all the time I need, my life does not compare to others, and the only person likely to judge and find me wanting is, well, me.