This Christmas season, I have been reflecting on Light.
Light is the best part of holiday decorating, in my opinion. Every morning the first thing I do is pad around in my bare feet plugging in extension cords, and all day long I keep my houselights off and let the warm glow of twinkle lights and lighted garlands warm my soul.
So much of Christmas symbolism revolves around Light. The houses in my neighborhood are decked out from head to toe…glowing rooflines lining each street, sparkling trees twinkling in bay windows. I am reminded that the lights we hang are meant to mirror the Light of the World. I love this, and have grown to love it even more in Recovery. There is nothing like the darkness of addiction and trauma to make you really appreciate the beauty, truth, and clarity of Light.
Living recovery has brought a deeper understanding of what true Light feels like, in my mind, in my body, and in my heart.
It has also given me a solid distinction of where that Light comes from: it is always a gift from my Higher Power.
Try as I might, I have learned that Light is not ever something I can manufacture on my own.
A lot of people take the opportunity during the holidays to increase the good deeds they do in an effort to serve and get outside themselves. This can be a beautiful thing. There is no doubt that the spirit of giving and generosity brings us closer to one another and to our Higher Power.
But sometimes all that “doing” and “serving” can get twisted into something that becomes unhealthy, frenetic, overwhelming…leading us away from the God-centered holiday we were striving for.
Working recovery has invited me into a space where I try to ask the tough questions about really socially-accepted things. Questions like, “Why am I really doing this?” or “What is the fundamental belief system underneath this behavior?” “Is this a belief system that feels true? Where is it off?”
And the most important, fundamental question of all: “Can I feel serenity RIGHT NOW?”
For me, I have come to be very selective of the extra obligations I commit myself to, at this time of year especially. I know from my own experience that filling my life with a big long list of somebody else’s idea of good deeds to layer on top of all the other responsibilities of a busy life raising 5 little children does not lead to the peace and joy I seek.
When faced with the decision of whether to continue or begin Christmas traditions or service projects, I first dig into my own work:
“Why am I really doing this?”
Sometimes because I really want to.
Often because I feel like I should.
Maybe because everyone else is.
Sometimes because I want people to think I am a good person.
Frequently because I want to think I am a good person.
“What is the fundamental belief system underneath this behavior?”
Good people do things like this.
It is important to me that other people respect me and think I am a good person.
If I don’t do things like this, I am not a good person.
I have to prove that I am a good person.
If other people think I am a good person, then I must be a good person.
“Is this a belief system that feels true? Where does it feel off?”
Working the accountability Steps (Steps 4-9) has given me great insight into my belief systems around serving and helping. They have opened my eyes to the ways I have unconsciously used serving, helping, and even loving as a way to prove my worth, or manipulate and control the people around me.
When I am from this type of unhealthy belief system, I feel like I am on a never-ending treadmill where someone keeps slowly turning up the speed. I can’t keep up, I can’t breathe, I’m not going to make it.
Today I believe in a Higher Power who made me perfectly imperfect in His wisdom. My purpose is not to prove that I am good enough. My job is to awaken to the presence of God that is already within me. To relax into His care and allow His light and love to shine through me.
I have learned by going through trauma and living with an addict who was living a complete double-life, that other people’s perceptions of me based on the outward, visible things I do really have nothing to do with whether or not I am a “good person.”
Instead I am learning to trust my own heart to show me when I am in line with my Higher Power and when I am not… by the peace I feel, or the serenity I lack.
I am learning to let go of the “good person” label.
“Can I feel serenity RIGHT NOW?”
When I am trying to find my worth and validation in meeting the expectations of others, I feel anxiety and desperation. I do not feel serenity. I cannot feel God. There is a huge pavilion of fear in between us.
When I let go and choose instead to relax into His care and trust that I am enough with nothing to prove, I feel peace, love and gratitude. When I am in this space, then I am “available for loving relationships with others,” and I am able to truly serve when the opportunity arises.
This holiday season, and hopefully every moment of every day of every season, I want to live my life saying “Can I feel serenity RIGHT NOW?”
When I let that Light…His Light inside of me…be my guide, I believe that I am led to truly be His hands and do His will, instead of plowing ahead with my own agenda and perception of what His will should look like (which usually involves me fixing the world…and looking reeeeaally good).
Have you ever killed yourself trying to do something nice for someone else, barking at your children and husband all along the way, feeling completely overwhelmed, unappreciated, not-good-enough, and freaking out about getting every detail just perfect in what you are trying to accomplish?
I have. Many. Times.
As I look back at my old self, who was trying so hard to be good enough, I can lovingly put my arm around her and say,
“I see you. I see what you are trying to do. But there is a better way.
There is a way to do real Good without all the wreckage you create on your way.
Slow down. Breathe. Let go.
There is no crisis.
Your worth is not dependent on this.
You were never expected to fix the world.
Be willing to let go of what you think this should look like. Be willing to consider the idea that your perceptions might be off.
Be humble enough to accept that you don’t know what everyone needs.
Admit that you are not qualified to play God.
Be wise enough to believe that true joy won’t come from being perceived the way you are trying to be perceived.
Believe that true joy will come as you find Him within you and are willing to let go of anything that gets in between you.
Understand that you can always choose to feel Him RIGHT NOW if you are willing to surrender your will, your ego, your identity, your pride.”
As my life is changing through living recovery, I have learned that His Light is so much more than any brilliant twenty-million-watt display of earthly measure could ever illuminate.
As much as I love my Christmas lights, when I look up each night into the heavens and see the millions and billions of stars that Light up the world each and every night, I have to admit that what us humans can come up with always amounts to a cheap imitation.
He has hung real reminders everywhere I look…and everything denotes that He is there…that He is so much closer than I ever realized…and that I can feel Him any time I choose to. The price? Letting go of whatever is getting in the way.
I have learned that the only real Light in this World is His Light.
If there is Light in me, it is His Light.
If I do good in this world, it will be because it is His good.
This holiday season and always, I seek to improve my conscious contact with God and connect more consistently to His Light within me.
How will I know it is His?
Because it feels like peace. Because it feels like rest. Because I can breathe long and deep and slow.
What will I do when I feel that tightness in my chest and I am fighting the urge to scream obscenities at my kids and kick my husband in the shins?
I will let go. I will put down the Christmas craft. I will walk away from the neighbor gifts. I will surrender the fact that people might not think I am a fabulous or generous person.
And what will happen when I am in that Light?
He will show me how to do His work.
Sometimes that means He will bump me into the person that needs me. Sometimes that means He will help me set a needed boundary. Sometimes that means He will lead me to the hands that hang down that I have been specially prepared to lift up. Sometimes that means He will whisper to my heart that it is time to say no, find some stillness, and connect just with Him.
And it won’t matter if nobody sees but me and Him.
It will be His work.
It will be His Light.
And it will be Good.