I’m guessing a lot of folks have such a reaction to “Stop striving, start trusting.”
It depends, in part, on what “strive” means. The etymology dictionary (or, if you like, the wayback machine for words) says that when “strive” entered English, it meant to quarrel or contend; it migrated from an Old French verb that meant “to quarrel, dispute, resist, struggle, put up a fight, compete.” It was a few hundred years before it also started to mean “to try hard.”
Now, trying hard is often a good thing. Of course athletes strive to do their best, to improve on their record times. Musicians practice for hours and hours to play a piece well. We can all think of examples.
But the kind of striving that is not a good thing is the kind where we are too worried about outcomes. Where there’s a thread of desperation because we just don’t seem any closer to something we think we want. Maybe it’s in our work. Maybe it’s in a relationship. We can all think of examples.
“Often those who are trying to force things to happen do not maximize the opportunities right before them,” Valorie Burton says in How Did I Get So Busy? The 28-Day Plan to Free Your Time, Reclaim Your Schedule, and Reconnect With What Matters Most, the book that prompted this self-care series.
I know this. Some of the best things in my life have seemingly dropped into it out of nowhere. Now, a good friend would note that some of these things came into my life because, in retrospect, I did the work, developed the proficiencies, and made the connections that made these good surprises possible. But they’re not things I chased. Not things I strove after.
This leaves us with trust.
Sometimes trust comes with surrendering impatience and learning to wait. In my reading recently, Annie Dillard told me, “You don’t run down the present, pursue it with baited hooks and nets. You wait for it, empty-handed, and you are filled.”
Sometimes it’s trusting that the things we think we so desperately want at the time are not the best for us. As Garrison Keillor has said, “Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.”
For some people, it’s trust in God: God’s presence, God’s providence, God’s timing, God’s choosing. God’s aerial view of where we are headed; God’s green lights or road blocks for our own good.
I’m going to stop striving, now, to nail this blog post, to say something brilliant about striving and trusting, to end this self-care series with a bang. I’ll leave you with an image of a door.
It’s such a clear, even visceral fragment of memory, but I can’t remember where this door was. Honestly, I’m not certain whether it happened or I dreamed it. Still, it’s my go-to visual metaphor for needless, fruitless struggling. For letting go of trying to control outcomes that are not within my control. For examining my assumptions and accepting that I might be wrong.
The door was old, sturdy, heavy, darkly stained wood, with beveled windowpanes across the top. I could see where I wanted to go. I pushed and pushed, but it wouldn’t open, though I’d seen others go through it. Frustration, anxiety, and maybe a little anger gathered with me in the room I didn’t want to be in anymore.
Then I realized, and laughed at myself: This door swings in, not out.
Previously in our self-care series:
Prologue: Make the bed
1. Assess your situation
2. Hurrying up is slowing you down
3. Make a heart-to-heart connection daily
4. Work to live, don’t live to work
5. Have fun at least once a week
6. Eat good food, preferably sitting down
7. Get good exercise, preferably standing up
8. Address your adrenaline addiction
9. Create deliberate daily rituals
10. Allow space for what you want
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