In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.
The Old Poets of China
Wherever I am, the world comes after me,
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.
I don’t know about you, but I have a lifetime of breaking promises to myself. Of telling myself one thing and doing another. Of agreeing on a course of action only to face the unpleasantness and lack of novelty of follow-through and fizzle out.
Last summer, I was made aware of this while listening to a podcast by Rachel Hollis. She talked about how so many people are in the habit of starting and stopping things, about the lack of commitment to our own priorities, about how breaking promises to yourself makes you not trust yourself. And how no one would flake out on another person the way we often flake out on ourselves. That idea–of keeping promises to myself–was one I hadn’t really thought of before. I don’t know why.
Although I neither blame my parents or the Christian culture I was raised in, my life–the way I think and live– has been affected. Sometimes it’s been very positive, sometimes not. One of the “nots” would be this rather irksome saying my mother used to quote to me when I was a child: “Jesus first, Others second, and You always last. That spells JOY!” Sorry, Mom, but it ain’t necessarily so!
The whole concept of living to serve God and others is a noble one and I am not suggesting that now I have seen the light and only serve myself. I believe that a human who lives only for self winds up feeling empty and dissatisfied, lonely, and worthless. We all need to be investing part of ourselves in that which is greater than us, in that which may not serve us, but which will benefit others.
But in the past few years, I have begun to see how damaging the above concepts can be for women who think that God wants them to spend their entire lives putting aside their needs and/or desires, because someone else’s needs or wants must always come first. And as much as I hated to admit it, I had done a good deal of this as well. Until age 39 when I fell apart. My experience is not so unusual, really. As Brendon Burchard says, “Living incongruent to what you believe is the greatest form of unhappiness.”
So after I had my mid-life crisis, as it’s aptly called, I reassessed everything. I began to catch myself when I would say yes to something that I really didn’t want to do. I had to remind myself often of the Jen Hatmaker quote, “If it’s not a Hell, yes, it’s a No.” And this past year, I have begun to deal with my lack of consistency in many areas of my life and make myself do what I told myself I was going to do.
Commitment to myself is tough, but I know it is right! That means if I have time scheduled to write or work or exercise and one of my kids wants me to drive them last minute, or a friend wants to come over, I have to say no. It’s hard to disappoint people–I hate it!!! But I’ve had plenty of practice disappointing people in the past few years between leaving church, getting a divorce, getting remarried and living differently than I did before. (I am starting to warm up to the idea of writing more about this difficult season I’ve been in.)
If you have a habit of breaking promises to yourself, it’s going to be a process to turn things around. Begin with something small, but be on the lookout for places in your life where you constantly shove yourself aside to please others. You put things off, change your plans, let personal growth and wellness goals fall by the wayside because someone else is demanding. Again, I’m not saying live to please only you, but there has to be some place for you in this life. “Your one wild and precious life” as Mary Oliver says. I will leave you with her poem The Summer Day. Happy Monday, friends!
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand.
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields