Fruits of the Day: Day of Peace

sunday03

Growing up, Sunday was the day we went to church, though we stopped going while I was still a teenager. The churches were obnoxious and the pastors were showmen. There was too much petty fighting between the denominations (Southern Baptism vs. Methodism seemed to be the worst offender, but most of my hometown also believed that the Catholics, The Church of Christ, and possibly the Presbyterians were going to hell). The seventh day is “a day of rest,” but when I was strapped for cash and my manager asked me if I would be willing to alternate Sunday shifts, I didn’t deliberate long. I try not to write on Sunday, because I consider writing to not only be my work, whether or not I’m getting paid for it, but also the work I most want to make into a career. Sometimes when I’m getting really into a story, I resent Sunday for forcing me to take a break.

The “day of rest” has always been a struggle for me.

Today, the “fruit of the Spirit” on which I directed my focus was “peace,” which seems like a message if ever there was one. Today, I need to put my work aside, stop worrying, stop planning, and just breathe and relax into the rest that God has offered. And you know what? I’m not fighting it in the way that I normally would. Maybe I’m just worn down. I’m working on projects I’m not passionate about, and neglecting the ones that I desperately want to be writing because of some inexplicable idea of “balance,” the reason for which I don’t even remember. I hate my day job…I always have. Even before this job. I know that it’s not just this job, it’s just me. I burn out on these office jobs too easily. After about a year, everything about it makes me feel like I’m going to explode. At the end of this past Friday, I felt a panic attack coming on. My boss had gone home for the day, and I locked myself in her office for a few minutes, hyperventilating and not-quite-crying. Nothing had even really happened. I was just so overwhelmed by the prospect of coming in every day and feeling this…heaviness, and the fear that I might never be a good enough writer. What if this is all there is for me?

I can do something about the writing.  I cut my list of projects down to the four I cared most about. (“But the potential!” I worry as I strike through one story that has some good elements but doesn’t really grab my attention. “If it’s meant to be written, I’ll remember it when the time is right,” I remind myself.)  I can’t do as much about my day job.  I don’t have the vacation time that I used to since we outsourced. I already have most of my time scheduled for the year, so I can’t take a day off just for the sake of my mental health (and get paid for it, anyway). And I can’t do as much about my fear of failure, which is always there, even if I’m not actively working. And there’s only so much I can do about the world around me, that makes me increasingly more discouraged and worried.

I get the weekend off, and I know I’m lucky, because many of my friends don’t have that.  But the weekend never quite seems long enough. I never come back to the work week feeling ready. But I’m taking advantage of the peace of today. It’s calming to know that I can just lie back, that if I watch TV shows about LARPers and eat pizza all day, it won’t be a failed day. God has everything under control. And tomorrow, I won’t be able to rest, but God will still have it under control. I just need to remember that.

A Reader’s Thousand Lives: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

count

I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it when I chose this book as the next for my Thousand Lives project. I have two rules when it comes to my reading project: 1) nothing that would be more harmful to me than beneficial and 2) nothing that would hurt other people. So to try to take life tips from a book about a wronged man who swears revenge on all his enemies without hurting anyone or myself seemed impossible. I’m a big believer in forgiveness over revenge, in part because I so often fail at forgiveness.  I don’t want to undo any progress I’ve made on that front because a bitter character in a novel did it.

But when I started to really get into this book, I realized it’s not about revenge. Not at its heart. The takeaway message in The Count of Monte Cristo seems to be in the famous line: “All human wisdom is contained in these two words – Wait and Hope.” At one point after years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the hero, Edmond Dantes, becomes suicidal. When he befriends the Abbé Faria, they begin to plot an escape and Dantes realizes the enemies that framed him. He becomes more determined than ever to live so that he can one day enact his revenge. Not the healthiest motive, admittedly, but it gives him a renewed drive. Towards the end of the story, he also encourages his young friend, Maximillian Morrel, not to give in to his despair but instead to find reasons to “wait and hope.” It pays off for Morrel, too, not in death and vengeance but in life and a renewal of joy.

To me, The Count of Monte Cristo is not about vengeance at its core, but perseverance. It’s about finding the drive that gets you through the day when everything else seems lost.

I’ve known my two main “reasons to live” for most of my life. I’m a Christian, so my ultimate reason to live is to try to bring glory to God in as much time as I’m given on earth. I’m also a writer, and in dark times, I remind myself of my goals to be published and to have people around the world that I’ve never met read something that I wrote. There’s a good deal of waiting in both of those things. God’s plans almost never develop as quickly as we humans would like, and it takes even longer to know whether we made any kind of effect on the world. The process of trying to finish a piece of writing that I want to publish and getting that piece of writing published and distributed is a long, painful one. And I’ve never been good at waiting.

Even though I know that I have these things, and they’re important, they’re so long in the making that sometimes when life gets me down (as it has been wont to do, especially lately), it can convince me that these things are useless. Not useless for everyone, surely, but useless for me, because I’m not any good at them. Sometimes the drag feels stronger than my drive and I need as much encouragement as I can get. So for this novel, besides renewing my commitment to focus on the things that drive me and be patient, I’m going to make a list (not exclusive) of some things worth persevering for.

Continue reading