A couple of weeks ago -- I can't remember how or when or where or why, though I'm pretty sure I may have been at work.
I have two jobs. I love one of them, the one I refer to as my primary job. I sit at the front desk for hours at a time, answering phones and doing clerical work, and somewhere in between phone calls it came to me, a gift, like a breath of wind on a still day.
Life isn't about efficiency.
It's about beauty.
And how often do I live as if the opposite is true? How often do we.
I can sense my own addiction to my to-do list. Really, it's more of an aversion to stillness.
My hands want to be active. My mind wants to buzz around. My body wants to move.
It is in the silence and the stillness that I feel that I am worthless.
I think that's why, in moments that are otherwise still, I reach for my phone and scroll through Instagram. I need to do something, because when I am doing nothing, then -- oh, then --
Then I am worthless.
I am not earning my keep.
As if my humanity was something I needed to earn.
As if grace was.
I am trying desperately to cram my days as full as I can -- to make every 24-hour rotation of the earth as busy as possible.
My daily routine goes something like this: Wake. Eat breakfast while listening to a podcast. Work out. Shower, then go to work. When I get off work, that's when, for me, the real Work begins. Because after I have lunch at 2 or 3 pm, that's when I get to do my creative work -- that is, practice.
It's audition season. I've been in prep mode for about a month or so, and I really feel like I exist fixedly in audition mode for the time being. I've sung two auditions, and I have three more to go. On the days preceding and following an audition, practice is probably not going to happen. That's a good thing -- it's better for the voice, not to mention that it prepares you to sing an audition and helps you to recover from one.
I sang an audition in Boston this past weekend, on a Saturday morning. On Sunday I was traveling, so I didn't practice. The following day, Monday, I was all set to have a "normal" practice session -- my usual ninety minutes of technique drills and repertoire practice.
I am not ill, and it wasn't uncomfortable to sing -- but something felt off. I also haven't been able to focus recently, or so it feels (I'm sure those around me would disagree).
I just need to take a second to say that it takes a lot of energy -- so much energy! -- to keep one's head in the game from January to mid-March, which is how long this audition haul is.
I got some things done during that Monday practice -- sang through an audition piece, a couple of pieces I'm taking to my teacher and coach this week, and a new piece that I'm trying to learn as part of a set (sidebar: French art song is marvelous). But the practice session itself was not what I wanted it to be.
I've said that here before about my practice: that it wasn't what I wanted it to be, wasn't what I wanted from myself.
And then I step back and marvel at the power of my expectations. At how high I have set my personal bar.
I expect myself to be a machine of productivity.
I forget that creativity is organic.
I forget that singing is a process of my body. My natural, breathing, walking-around body, made of skin and sinew and two little pieces of tissue in my throat that are the size of a dime.
Every time I remember that very scientific fact, I remember to be kind to my voice.
Oddly, though, when I have practices like this, I feel like I should be mad at myself. I genuinely want to beat myself up about it. I truly want to look at myself and say, "Sara, come on. You can do better."
It's not only my default, but I really think that this outlook, this mentality of being my own slave-driver, has served me over the years as I work to get what I want.
But what's odd now is that I can't bring myself to do that. It's where my mind naturally goes, but my gut, my intuition, the deep places of my soul -- they prevent it.
I am at peace, and I cannot bring myself to beat my soul into submission. My mind wants to, but my body and my soul will not allow it.
(Funny, that my body is my soul's ally in this situation. Haven't we been taught that the body is the enemy?)
I am at peace.
Jesus tells me that all I have to do each day is show up.
Show up, with my voice as it is.
I forget that it is a part of my body, like legs. Like hands. Like the little bony ridge that sticks up at the top of my shoulders. And that its condition varies from day to day.
How quickly my mind forgets that I have sung two auditions in two weeks. Well, my body certainly remembers.
I am not a machine. I am not made in a factory of mass-produced parts that can be easily replaced.
I have been designed. I am not produced.
And I myself am not meant to be a factory, a servant of productivity.
Did God only make me so that I could get things done?
Was I only created so that I could meet a quota?
My mama once told me that our real life comes in the interruptions. In the things we don't plan.
And I hear Jesus whispering to me that He made me for beauty, not efficiency.
He made me for Himself.
And I would not call Him productive. I would call Him -- I would call Him all the things. Creative. Beautiful.
He makes something out of nothing. When I am weak, He is strong.
When I am still, He is always active.
During this period of my life, when activity swirls around me and I am gone almost every weekend, in planes and on the road and singing for my life -- during this time, I feel God calling me more and more to stillness.
He is teaching me to listen to the cues of my body. To its weariness, to its elation, to its natural dips and sways of energy. And more often than not, what I notice that it needs is to just be still.
I am the wind and the waves. Active and frozen in motion.
Jesus is calling me to be unproductive. He is calling me into inefficiency, into stillness.
And in the stillness is where I meet Him.
In the stillness is where I encounter beauty and miracles and -- weirdly and perfectly all at once -- myself.
Because we are the most ourselves when we are connected to our Creator, and I am the most connected to Him when I calm the heck down.
When I am still.
I am learning to allow for margin in my day. I am learning to be comfortable with my own imperfection. I am learning the rhythms and rises and falls of my own body, and learning to just go with them.
I am learning to be kinder to myself.
I am learning to let go of my to-do list. I am learning to put less on the list than I think I can accomplish. That way, when I get to the end of my day, I have not killed myself to get things done.
Because if I get to the end of the day and find that I have only been productive, I find myself asking, in the depths of my heart and soul, Is this all there is?
This cannot be what life is about.
We have been given life so that we can experience beauty.
This is against everything that we've been taught, and it feels a little unwieldy to me. A little awkward. I find that my life is not small enough for me to hold neatly in my two small hands. It is bulky. It is heavier than I expected. It is expansive and expanding.
And isn't it a gift -- to have a life that is expansive?
Not big. Expansive.
And haven't I prayed for a spacious place?
Isn't it a gift?
It takes a little bit of courage and a lot of patience with myself -- but oh, it is a gift.