If you have not read Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection then do everyone and yourself a favor and go to Amazon right now and order it. In fact, let me give you the link: click this! I’m not kidding. Forget reading this post, go now. It has changed what I believe about myself and my lifelong battle with perfectionism and anxiety. Well, this book along with a very helpful therapist and learning about the Enneagram have helped me start to find the root of my anxiety and panic attacks. I hope you read that correctly that this is just the beginning. I still have a long way to go and will always probably struggle with both perfectionism and anxiety. But I have felt so much freedom in several things that I want to share.
First of all, the highlight of this book and the main thing that I learned from my counselor was simple but huge – I need to love myself more. I need to be kind to myself. The root of my panic attacks is my anger. Anger at myself. It’s not the root of my anxiety. I’ll talk about that more later, but it is the difference between feeling overwhelmed and entering into a full blown panic attack. I just get so mad! I’m talking hysterical ANGER. I scream and want to hit things and just hate who I am in that moment. I cannot logically pull myself together. I feel like a burden and like I’m letting everyone down around me. I feel like I’m wasting time that could be spent sleeping or resting or pouring into all of these people that love me daily. I start to spiral into pure shame and guilt. Shame that I am not strong enough. Guilt that I again have failed. Brene is an expert in shame research. It’s amazing the way shame and perfectionism are tied together. I feel so ashamed that I can’t be the person that I want to be. Which causes me to be so angry. It’s also amazing how I think it’s ok to call myself an idiot (and much harsher words). I would be so upset if my kids ever spoke those words about themselves, or if they ever heard me speak those words out loud. In her book Brene says, “I don’t want my level of self-love to limit how much I can love my children or my husband…loving them and accepting their imperfections is much easier than turning that light of loving-kindness on myself…I know that I can talk to myself in ways that I would never consider talking to another person.” Why is it so much easier to beat myself up?
In an effort to train my brain in self compassion and to lavish grace on myself and others, I have started meditating in the morning. I always thought that just sitting and breathing was weird and a waste of time. (I don’t know if you can tell, but I really hate wasting time.) I started though with an app that my counselor told me about called Meditation Studio. I have also tried the app Headpsace. Meditation studio uses mindfulness meditation which I like a little better. Both of these talk you through how to be gracious even in the quiet. It reminds me to not be angry when my mind inevitably drifts or when I spend 5/10 minutes daydreaming or nodding off.
The main focus of meditation is breathing and giving grace in those moments of quiet. Following along with an app when you first get started is so helpful. It’s like having a personal trainer when you are trying to get in shape for the first time. It helps keep me accountable and really instills the grace over myself that I desperately need. And most importantly it is teaching me how to breathe. I know that sounds weird, but breathing in meditation is an artform. I have always been an athlete. In sports, especially in running, I was taught different ways to breathe to best enhance my performance. Meditation breathing is similar. If you focus on how your body reacts to the breaths and on how your mouth and stomach and nose respond to each breath, it helps your muscles to slowly relax and your mind to focus. I have to be intentional about relaxing my legs and toes, my arms and shoulders and fingers, my jaw and head. With each breath, I release a little more guilt and pent up pressure and relax a little bit more.
It was really hard at first for me to sit still and just breathe for 10 minutes. Now though, I can’t picture starting my day any other way. That small amount of quiet breathing changes and shapes my mind the rest of the day. I often still get overwhelmed because I still have triplets and life is still messy, but I subconsciously start taking deep breaths and am more apt to give myself grace. The breaths bring me back to those 5-10 minutes of peace that morning. I am reminded of what calm looks like. I have a reference point of how to relax. I remind myself that it’s normal to get overwhelmed. Brene talks in her book about how to identify an issue or problem without over identifying it. I tend to do that a lot. I am really good at over identifying my weaknesses instead of just naming them, owning them, and moving forward. Meditation gives me the space to practice identifying a weakness and moving on. Even if that weakness is not being able to focus that morning. I simply say “wandering” and refocus without beating myself up. Learning to let go of most of that anger has been so freeing.
To make this my own, I often combine meditation with breath prayer and lectio devina. I read a psalm and pick out one word or phrase that really sticks out to me. Then I set my timer to 5-10 minutes or I start my app, and I just sit. I sit up straight, keep the lights off, lay my hands out, close my eyes, and I breathe. I slowly breathe in and out (4 seconds in, 4 seconds out). And I focus on that word or phrase and focus on my breathing. If my mind wanders, I just gently say wandering, and gracefully move back into breathing in and out – in through my nose, out through my mouth. As I breathe in I picture that word or phrase. As I breathe out, I release everything else so that in time just that word remains. It remains on my heart and in my mind the rest of the day.
Sometimes, if I have a certain person pressing on my heart as I enter into my meditation time, I can spend that time focusing on breath prayer for them. It’s best to stick with just one person so you don’t spend the whole time jumping around. With each breath, I breathe in calm and breathe out a word that I want to pray over them. I breathe in peace or grace and breathe out strength or confidence to cover them for today.
I have also used meditation breaths at night if I can’t sleep. I have woken up several times in the middle of the night with my brain spinning about all the things that need to happen or a crazy dream. Once I start meditation breathing, my body is reminded to calm down, think logically, and to relax.
Other times I use my mantra or theme verse for this season in my life as I meditate. I spend the entire 10 minutes really placing the words on my heart and in my mind. I have it memorized, so I close my eyes and say one word with each deep breath. I slowly in the morning ingrain it in my mind, so that when I start to get overwhelmed in the day, I start breathing and that verse is on the tip of my tongue and in my head. It’s amazing what memorizing scripture and simply breathing will do.
My verse for the year that has spoken truth to me in so many ways is Exodus 14: 13-14. it says:
“Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the LORD’s salvation that he will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you must be quiet.”
“Don’t be afraid” – In the moments of complete exhaustion and when that long list of overwhelming things that has to be done all at one time is almost too much to bear, smile. Remember the way that God has already delivered you. Remember who you are. Remember who HE is. Know that you are enough. Give yourself grace. Don’t be afraid of what is to come. Don’t be afraid to be you. Don’t be afraid to say No. Don’t be afraid to say Yes. Smile.
“Stand firm” – Breathe. Be present. Stand in this current moment. Don’t drift into the past or let your mind wander into all of the things that you need to get done tomorrow. Don’t run or lay down. STAND. Stand FIRM. Be strong. You are strong. God is stronger. Be still. Breathe.
“And see the LORD’s salvation that he will accomplish for you today” – You are not the savior. You are not a martyr. You can’t save everyone or anyone. It’s the LORD who does the saving. He is the savior. He is the deliverer. Take that pressure off. He will keep His promises. You are not alone. He is with you TODAY. He is doing great things today.
“For the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again.” – The context of this verse comes right before the crossing of the Red Sea. The Israelites were escaping the Egyptians. The plagues had already happened. They had already placed the blood over their doorframe in Egypt as death fell on the firstborn son and animal of the Egyptians, but the Lord passed over the Israelites. They were protected, and then they were delivered. The LORD delivered them and led them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. All too soon though the Israelites forgot. The Egyptians had changed their minds and began to chase them. They were right on their heals and the Red Sea was trapping them. They felt like there was no way out. Surely this was the end? Surely God can’t protect us this time? But here Moses is proclaiming that this fear is formed from lies. The truth is that these Egyptians – this huge, impossible, demon that is chasing you and trying to devour you – there will come a day when you will never see it again. God will win. The Lord will deliver you. He is big enough. He is strong enough. He is a God of redemption. He is a God of deliverance.
“The LORD will fight for you” – I have been doing a lot of fighting lately…
Fighting for perfection.
Fighting to not be a burden.
Fighting to help everyone.
Fighting to be seen and known.
Fighting to be a good mom.
Fighting to be a good wife.
Fighting to be a good daughter, sister, friend.
Fighting to remember every detail.
Fighting to find myself.
Fighting for control.
Fighting to be worthy of love.
Fighting for forgiveness for my constant shortcomings.
Stop. The LORD will fight FOR you.
“and you must be quiet.” – It doesn’t say that you must fight with Him. It doesn’t say that you must complete a list of tasks before you are worthy of being fought for. It doesn’t say that you must look a certain way or act a certain way or be prepared. You don’t have to be perfect or have it all figured out. You just have to be quiet.
So today – may you be filled with all the goodness and measure of the Lord’s promise. May you allow Him to fight for you. May you be still and see His deliverance in your life. You are worthy. You are loved.