Sharp focus in a dulling world

by Kristin on December 11, 2012

in Love, family & community

Photo by jenny downing

We tried to find a time when all five of us could go out to the Christmas tree farm—in the daylight, ideally—to cut down our tree. Finally, we settled on just four of us being able to go, during a small window of time Saturday morning.

After the tree was in our living room and I had put the lights on it, we began trying to find an hour or two when all five of us could be home to decorate it. Our original plans for Sunday afternoon—between lunch after church and youth group—had fallen through. I began to wonder if my whole life wasn’t ultimately about devising a Plan B (and C and D…at least Anne Lamott gets how that feels).

Finally, we sent a decree into the land: All children of ours shall be home for dinner Monday evening, to enjoy one another’s company, to light the Advent candles, and to decorate the tree, while festively drinking hot cocoa and eggnog (dammit!).

An aside: If you’re shaking your head and thinking that family schedules and calendars have gotten out of control, I agree. But compared to most of their friends, our kids (ages 16, 14 and 12) have fewer commitments; our schedule is just more complicated due to the time they spend with their other parents.

So there we sat last night, enjoying a meal together. Mostly enjoying it. There was a residue of Monday grumpiness at the table. And then there was a sisterly argument about the borrowing of a fleece jacket. One of the girls involved in the dispute left the table, and I sat there with a dullness spreading over me, looking at the Advent wreath which we had not yet—a full week into Advent—been able to light as a family. Suddenly, I lost it, internally. I lost the belief that these traditions and moments are so important, and I lost the desire to make any of these things happen.

Jason managed to hold it all together; we lit the candles, did the readings and sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” then we opened the boxes of ornaments, exclaiming and remembering the stories that so many of them carry.

After the tree was decorated, the festive drinks were drunk, and the girls were off to their rooms for studying and sleep, I sat on the couch to relax and catch up on Twitter. So many tweets and conversations! So many new blog posts to read, and so many Advent synchroblogs and free e-books and…and I hadn’t even managed to get a new post up on my blog since last Thursday. I sort of lost it, internally, again. A dullness spread over me, and I thought, “I can’t do it all. Why bother even trying to do any of it?”

I did recognize that I was tired—such thoughts are a sure sign that it’s time to put an end to the day and sleep my way into the next. But I also recognized what being overwhelmed does to us: It dulls the sharp edge of our expectation, and the sharp edge of our desire. It leaves us in an all-or-nothing world, without a sense of focus or a sense of what matters. And without our sense of focus, we’re likely to resort to a “just screw it” attitude. We can’t maintain a life where everything matters, so we accept a life where nothing matters.

For a moment, I sensed how temporarily freeing such an attitude could be. But almost instantly, I also felt its emptiness and futility. I don’t want to lose the sharp edges of the things that matter most in my life. I don’t want to let a thousand hard, rough pieces of the world leave me dull and careless. And sometimes even the things that seem loosely tied to what matters—like a family Advent tradition—can get in the way. I want to be able to recognize that, and to view each morning as a chance to see with sharp clarity what it is I value, what it is I’m seeking.

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  • sarah louise

    Oooo. I will have to think about this one for awhile, esp. since it is something that has been on my mind lately. Gonna print this one out and carry it around with me. Maybe I’ll even come back and comment again.

    • kt_writes

      I would love for you to come back and comment again! :) I need to think about this more, too. I never really said what I was focusing on! I know it has something to do with the true meaning of Christmas and true connections with people I love, but that feels too vague…

  • Erin Burke

    This is a great post. I definitely get this way sometimes: getting overwhelmed and therefore not caring.

    • kt_writes

      It’s sort of a frightening feeling, if you’re not used to it! But it also gives me empathy for people who go through life feeling like that most of the time.

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    I understand this deeply – this happens to me too. When I get overwhelmed, I reject the notion that it all matters, because then it will mean that I’ve failed. And then I sink into the “just screw it” attitude. Thanks for this honesty, friend.

    • kt_writes

      That’s such a wise observation, Katie—that we fear failure so much we’d rather pretend we don’t care. Thanks for giving me more to frame these thoughts with!

  • Caris Adel

    I’m such an all or nothing person too, which usually translates into nothing, which is just ridiculous!!! What is the point of that??? I annoy myself. We’re so haphazard about that kind of stuff. Like the Jesse tree. Last year we didn’t even do it at all, and this year, we’re only on day 4. And today is what, the 12th? good grief. And yet, even though we probably won’t finish it all, or we’ll rush it…..the kids still think of this as a tradition we do every year. So I think there is a lot of value in trying, and starting, even if we don’t finish well.

  • themoderngal

    I totally get this way myself, and I find once I get to that dull, ‘nothing matters’ place, it can be very hard to get out of it. I’m trying to ward that place off by giving myself permission to not do everything I feel I should and a mandate to slow down every so often and just be. It’s just so hard to do that sometimes!