In his book The Spiritual Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives Dallas Willard quotes Carl Jung stating:
“Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”
Read it again: “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”
Clear as mud?
I stumbled across this line about eight months ago and last weekend when I was perusing my journal entries from the last several months I found it again.
I don’t know. Maybe it struck me because I was interacting with a few somewhat neurotic people at the time. More likely those people were simply holding up mirrors to the ways in which I can be neurotic in my own life. And oh my God, the longer I live the more I realize that I have more neuroses than you can shake a stick at.
At some point on this blog I am sure I will go into detail about how Ellie came onto the Beck family scene. Ha, well, not THAT much detail. you sick people. I mean the decision process that we went through (or more accurately, stumbled through) to start a family.
Of course, had I known we were going to have ELLIE I would have signed up for the first plane to Elianaland. God, I LOVE that kid. But when you’ve never had a baby before the ball of cells that will soon turn into a watermelon sized baby in your tummy might as well just be, well, a watermelon! I should probably be more sanctimonious about all this, but there’s no clearer way to put it. Pre-Ellie Courtney only knew the miracle of life in theory. Current Courtney will probably weep like its the last scene in Steel Magnolias should we meet an Ellie sibling some day. Clearly, I just didn’t understand something I had never experienced.
This inexperience uncovered a whole host of fears I never realized I had when it came time to step out in faith. And while the grace laden process that unfurled for us calmed many of my fears they didn’t just magically disappear once I jumped over the first hurdle and birthed a baby. Several of those fears stuck around and continue to stick around for this part of the race too.
Enter our first year of life with a baby. In many ways God was immensely kind to us. My pregnancy, labor and delivery were miles away from the worst I had feared. I was honestly downright blissful once the second trimester hit. Her delivery? A total dream scenario (bless you modern medicine.) But those feel good hormones finally settled down after several weeks and Ellie started sleeping through the night and we were starting to figure out a routine. I realized that those original fears of not being able to parent her would just crop up at the most random times. I’d look up at the clock and realize it was 6:00 and get hopeful knowing that my partner in parenting crime (that’s Andy) would be home at 6:30. Then when he’d get caught up in a late meeting or something at the lab or even just traffic I would, oh so neurotically, start fuming and preparing my remarks. He’d come home and I’d obnoxiously snap at him for not alerting me to his tardiness in advance. It was never completely the late night that bothered me as much as the reality that I was doing mental gymnastics with my own fears and concerns related to parenting a newborn and he became the target. His change of plans meant I had to stay on the monkey bars for longer than I anticipated and that, in those early days, made me, well, neurotic. For lack of a better word. (tho, honey, if you’re reading, there’s late and then there’s LATE am i right? well of course I’m right! Oh stop, we’ll talk more about this later.)
Can I be straight with you? 1. This is not the only thing I can be like this about. I can have neuroses about anything from personal time to relationships to global terrorism to travel (by plane, car, or train, thank you very much!) and 2. YOU ALL, faithful readers, ARE DOING IT TOO.
Secret’s out. But don’t worry. I’m not outing anyone publicly. We all out ourselves on a daily basis. There isn’t a soul I’ve conversed with for more than 20 minutes in the past decade who hasn’t in some way revealed to me a fear or anxiety. Its 2017 after all. 10 minutes on CNN.com these days and we’re all quite certain that the world will probably end by late next week. Which we internalize until the next news flash makes us realize that, no, it might actually hold together until next week but based on this new bit of information from the world stage it will MOST CERTAINLY be the week after THAT. And the cycle continues on and on upping our cortisol levels until we’re all running around ready to pounce on whatever threat might jump off of CNN’s home page and land at our front door. And when it doesn’t land there. Because lets be honest, it almost never does, our family members or friends become the object of our bottled up emotions.
So what to do…We’re neurotic and we know it. Carl Jung would say we have to suffer legitimately with the things that keep us in turmoil. Jesus put it this way:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In some ways I see this as Jesus calling us to condition our souls as we would condition ourselves in the gym. He’s teaching us spiritual technique here. One of the first things any trainer will teach you in a gym is proper technique. “No,” She’ll say. “Don’t put 10 pounds on the lat bar and pull erratically. Put 30 or 40 pounds on and slowly bring the bar down behind your neck. Now slowly raise it back up.” This is how you properly build muscle. First listen to your trainer. Then remember your training and repeat the exercise on your own. Call the trainer back over if you run into problems or forget the proper technique. The same is true of any other discipline or endeavor. Why would it be any different for the spiritual life?
Its easy to imagine that the yoke of a plow that Jesus speaks of takes some getting used to. There are going to be blisters and tired muscles at first as our bodies adjust to the weight on our shoulders. Yet Jesus is kindly reminding me to come to him when I’m scared as opposed to anxiously ruminating on a fear and then vomiting that fear in displaced accusations at my husband (so sorry, dear). You know what? I think for the first time I’ve actually got a shot at living freely. Freedom doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want to do when we want to do it. That version of freedom is still at the mercy of available resources. Once you blow the bank your right back where you started.
The freedom God trains us for is the liberty to walk confidently even as the ruts and rocks and weather threaten to derail the plow from its path. The ability to look out and know that you’re strong enough now. You’ll surely be able to plow this whole field before the rain starts tonight. And it all starts by coming to the plowman first, the Lord himself, and letting him fit us for the work. As good parents hope for their kids successes, the Lord has hopes for us too. Yes he wants to plow fields and produce a crop of justice and equity and righteousness that this world has never dreamed of. Yet he also looks with pride on the people he has bought for a price and says “You are mine. I want to produce something unbreakable within you too. We’ve got some training to do. I see what you can become and you’ve just got to trust me. Its worth the blood, sweat and tears. So here’s a burden I need you to carry right now. Steady on now, you can handle it. I’ll be right behind you. Not too much longer now and you’ll be fit for the King.”