Let nothing disturb the inner sanctuary of your mind. 

Source: Unknown

There’s something about finding out that you’re pregnant in the middle of a pandemic that can shut you up or keep you quiet.  

Or at least, that’s what it did for me.  

There was too much to process, yes, but even in that, I felt ashamed of my joy.  I felt ashamed to be happy or expectantly positive.  That doesn’t mean for one second that I wished it hadn’t happened.  It just means that when it did, I had even more of an excuse to rely on the old narrative of “there isn’t enough space for you here.” 

In my head, people didn’t have space for joy in the middle of the mess.  They didn’t have enough hands to both celebrate and mourn with me.  They weren’t ready for the uncertainty that I was walking through the door with.  Of course, when I say “walking through the door,” what I really mean is “picking up the phone.”  Y’all know what I mean.  It’s a pandemic.

For a while, I let my sadness lead me.  I hid my joy from people who were important to me for a long time.  The trials of the world and in my family took the wheel of the car and began to steer.  Joy was in the back seat.  Sure, I’d go and sit with her in the quiet moments or moments of relative solitude, but mainly I let anxiety drive us.  

With the few people I told about this new life, I’d force myself to say—as if coming from a stranger—“Yeah, I’m really excited,” and I was.  I am!  But that excitement wasn’t in the front seat.  Joy wasn’t driving.  Happiness was stuffed down until a more palatable time came along—until everyone was ready for it.

When I spoke and prayed with a prayer partner of mine, I had a vision of driving in a car with three passengers.  This image is very similar to the image that Elizabeth Gilbert creates in her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I was driving, and next to me was joy.  Joy was light and easy, sitting in the front seat laughing.  The anxieties I had were all sitting in the back.  I could have named them.  I spoke to them.  I could hear what they were saying back to me, but they weren’t navigating.  They weren’t sitting next to me, and they certainly didn’t have the wheel.  I did with the Spirit’s help.  

Happiness was stuffed down until a more palatable time came along—until everyone was ready for it.

Sometimes, to protect ourselves, we hide our fullest selves from others, or we pretend that certain worries or experiences aren’t that big of a deal.  We tuck ourselves away in the back seat and pretend that we’re fine with the setup.  That’s what I did.

Another option, one that “pop self-care culture” might present, is to cast out all “bad things” or to throw aside relationships with people who aren’t positive enough, who we don’t believe we can learn from.  We call it putting up “healthy boundaries” and then throw these things or people from the car as if we are all-knowing beings who know exactly what is good for us in each moment.  

But what if we approached it differently?  What if we instead said, “You get a place in the car, but you don’t get to drive” or better yet, “You get a place in the car, but you’re taking the back seat”?

Sunset at Coronado Beach

Then we don’t throw away the lesson.  We don’t cower from ourselves.  We don’t throw away the pain or the difficulty that is, at the end of the day, there for a reason.  Instead, we put it exactly where it’s meant to be.  After all, “Every event, no matter what its nature, if embraced and incoporated, expands, deepens, and enriches the dance” (Randall Huntsberry and Cheryl Varian Cutler in Creative Listening: Overcoming Fear in Life & Work).

For me, this needs to be a joyful season.  It’s important that I intentionally cultivate and make room for joy in my life because of what my body is doing right now and because it’s what God wants me to protect.  

In thinking of this, I’m reminded of a phrase that I swear I read in a book but cannot locate for the life of me (if you know who wrote this, PLEASE holler at me so I can give them credit): “Let nothing disturb the inner sanctuary of your mind.”  It offers an invitation to focus on what I’m called to focus on when I’m called to focus on it.  Each worry and each problem will have its time to speak, but it’s up to me to remember who’s navigating and to remember who’s driving.

This approach is not apathetic.  It doesn’t demand that I do nothing.  In fact, it causes me to develop an even stronger relationship with my God, myself, and my navigating force (in my case, joy).  It demands that I establish truly healthy boundaries by dealing with each thing in its own time.  It asks that I take inventory of what each moment needs and how much time I’ve spent thinking about something.  It tells me to go to my root, feel what’s there, and speak up about it.  It invites me into the question that I now ask you:

Who’s driving you?