So, I’m a pretty creative person.
I tend to have a lot of ideas. I’m not easily bored.
I think of myself as a resourceful person who can find solutions.
I used to say to our kids that if they were bored it was because they lacked imagination and I still think that people with a good imagination are not likely to be bored. Lately, however, I’ve begun to lack imagination. Or, put another way, I’ve begun to exhaust my creative resources.
It’s not exactly the same as burnout, because I’ve been there. It’s more like ‘dry out.’ I’ve squeezed every drop out of this sponge of creativity or imagination or resourcefulness. I’m in the, “just put one foot in front of the other,” stage. Methodical.
This has its merits. At least the things that need to be done, still get done.
I’ve been here before, in some measure, maybe not exactly to this extreme. I recognize the territory. I tell myself this is not permanent. It is a phase. I will emerge, once again, and there will be creativity and passion.
When I feel this way, I tend to ask if there is a cause. If I can identify a cause, maybe I can find a treatment or an antidote. There are things I can pay attention to, like getting more sleep, eating better, relaxing, lightening up.
But this is about a deeper need.
I remind myself to delight in the little things. This adds sparkles to my day. Sparkles are beautiful and distracting and they make me happy.
Are sparkles enough?
And there is the constant rub. That word–enough. That sense of something missing. Maybe even a latent guilt over the very fact that I question whether I have enough, whether I am enough.
I’m not pursuing happiness, exactly. It’s just that happiness and contentment is a byproduct of something greater. It’s how I feel when my cup is full.
So, what goes in my cup?
And when do I know it is full?
It might also be helpful to ask, how do I know it is not full?
And why is it so important for my cup to be full?
Is it really necessary for me to always be concerning myself with having a full cup?
Can I live, fairly contentedly, with a less than full cup?
The last question is one I can answer and the answer is, yes.
If there is one thing I have realized during COVID-19 it is that I can do with less than. I can adjust my expectations.
My husband just brought me coffee in a fancy cup. His response when I asked him, why the fancy cup, was, because it’s Sunday. I asked, what flavor is it? Coffee.
COVID-19 has caused me to distinguish between the things that nourish and the things that add flavor to my life.
I like flavor. I like pretty things. I like stimulation. I like entertainment. And these are really important and even necessary. But they can be delayed. I can wait for them.
What makes me really sad is when people have to wait a very, very long time for ‘flavor’ in their lives. I don’t live in a bubble. I feel the pain of humanity. I think about what others are suffering, not in order to compare and rationalize, and console myself by telling myself my situation could be so much worse, but simply because I have compassion.
One of the most meaningful things in life is knowing we are making a difference, however small or great an impact it is that we are making.
My mother is in her eighties and recently when I have spoken to her on the phone she has frequently alluded to the thought that she is no longer making a difference. I say things to her like, “As long as you can smile and speak an encouraging word, you are making a difference.” Or I remind her of the things she has told me she has done recently.
Her days stretch long before her and I know that what makes the most difference for her is if her time is punctuated by visits from others. These are the highlights of her life. I remind her that she bakes muffins or cinnamon rolls or pies and this is a special thing she does for the people who visit her. In our family we have used common sense and not cut off visits to our mother during COVID-19, since the place where she lives is not on strict lockdown and she has a patio door, so people do not need to walk through the building when they visit her. Staying connected fills her cup.
It is something that fills the cup for most people. We are designed for connection. I think about the many people who cannot go to their place of worship, the place where they meet their extended “family.” This is a difficult time for them. Others connect by going to clubs and parties. Some connect by going shopping. A senior friend told me, during the strictest COVID-19 lockdown period, that she would go grocery shopping almost every other day, just to be around people. Unfortunately my mother no longer drives and barely is able to walk, so she depends on people coming to her house.
Visits with my grandchildren fill my cup like nothing else does. They expose me to so much spontaneity, so much personality, so much unconditional love, so much amusement.
It takes a lot of work to remain connected in this world. I come from a family where we easily back away from others when there is a slight altercation. We don’t like conflict. But even more, we don’t like the sense that our views or our person is not respected. I have to keep going back, keep trying to connect again, keep believing in the importance of maintaining the path, not letting it become overgrown with weeds. This requires courage and sometimes humility, but most of all faith in humanity.
Without these connections, I think we dry up. Without the sense that we are able to make a contribution, even a smile or a kind word, I think we dry up. It is not unreasonable to expect and desire this nourishment in our lives. I have not seen my grandchildren for months, or my mother. COVID-19 means we cannot travel to see one another. But a phone call helps.
I can spend my life employing all my creativity and all my resourcefulness and still come up short, lacking, feeling a need. For me this is not always about having enough, but about being enough.
In my life I have had periods when I have not lacked for friends and meaningful relationships and then there have been other months and years when friends seemed to be impossible to find. As the apostle Paul said, ‘I have learned both how to be abased and how to abound.’
I watched my husband during the months when he had no work. He teaches children music–a very stimulating and emotionally rewarding job. He is the optimist who will always talk about the cup as half full, not half empty. But I saw the truth when he wasn’t working. He felt the emptiness. Life wasn’t enough and it made him come to the conclusion that he will never retire. He will teach as long as he is able.
I have seen doctors and teachers and caregivers become depressed in retirement because they can no longer help. My husband’s father has nightmares of being back in his managerial position. He, on the other hand, loves his retirement.
During COVID-19 I have thought a lot about addictions. Some of us are addicted to helping. We get “high” only if we are helping others in some way, whether that is through our job, making our boss happy, volunteering, cooking food for our family, creating something to bring joy to others, or any other ‘helping’ activity. We have to be making a meaningful contribution. And when that well dries up, and we are no longer giving, we become depressed. In some ways this depression is a good thing, because it signals to us that things are not as they ought to be, and we ought to be contributing in some ways with our lives, but it does not signal that our lives are insignificant if we are not giving in the usual ways.
Work, itself, can be a drug. A stimulus. We get that sense of accomplishment. That high feeling that accompanies completion, after the rigorous employment of our mental and physical resources.
During COVID-19 we have to find substitutes. Some people are more creative and imaginative in filling the gap. Others have more energy to burn and feel frustrated because of this. If ever there has been a time to reflect and to come to know ourselves, this is it.
I’ve been engaged in a number of self-improvement exercises in the past months, which I will not go into here. I’ve also looked at what brings me joy, what is life-giving. I’ve watched to see how I am impacted by the various things I do. I’ve analyzed why I do them. I’ve asked if they are helpful? Are they truly me?
So what do I do when I’ve exhausted my creative resources? When it becomes difficult to motivate myself? When I don’t seem to be able to fill my own cup?
When my children were young and used to get cranky I would ask myself if they were hungry, tired, or needed a diaper change. If these were all looked after, then I asked myself if they were in pain or some sort of discomfort. Sometime they were teething. Sometimes a bath helped to ‘refresh’ them. Sometimes they needed a cuddle and a lullaby.
These are still the basic needs we need to address in our own lives and the lives of others, young and old. We need self-care and we need comfort.
There is another thing we need as adults. We need to feel like we are enough, and like we are good enough. If we live our lives being less than kind, we will feel disturbed, understandably so. This is contrary to our design, which is to be life-givers. Because we are designed to give life, not doing so makes us feel like we are falling short.
There is a longing in all of us to have the sense of being really valuable human beings. If I live my life reasonably well, I might still come under a sense of guilt, a feeling of not being adequate, maybe of not doing enough. Often this is a false guilt.
I’ve battled these feelings and I think most people do. If not, then I would tend to question if there has been any real introspection.
I’ve been interested in why some people are so quick to reject Christianity, when Christianity, rightly applied, is really a very hopeful religion. Wrongly applied, it can result in despair, so maybe this is the reason for objections.
Probably the central unique and attractive feature of the Christian faith is the introduction of forgiveness. The Bible is full of stories of men and women constantly failing and falling miserably short of the ideals God has specified in the Ten Commandments.
God can look like a stern judge, condemning us, but in reality he is a shepherd, guiding us, trying to keep us from falling off a cliff, trying to keep us from destroying ourselves.
When Jesus came on the scene he essentially brushed away all the extra rules that were added to the commandments and condensed them into two laws–love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.
Jesus taught about the importance of having a good heart–keeping our heart attitude right. And of course, we all know that it’s impossible to keep our attitude right, so he introduces “redemption.” Essentially he tells us that we will never be free of the sense that we are failures, so we need some help. He offers forgiveness.
I’ve had to forgive myself. I’ve had to realign myself with the truth I know. I’ve had to learn to trust that I am enough. To believe that I am loved.
My mother has to embrace a new way of living in which she cannot derive her value from her ‘works.’ She has to derive value from her essence. The person she is. The person people meet when they visit her.
We are enough. I am enough. And when I fail, there is a remedy. It’s called forgiveness.
I still have resources at my disposal, even though they seem rather depleted now. My creative resources may feel like they’ve dried up, but it helps to remind myself that no matter what I feel, or what I experience, I, as a person, am still enough.
Even if I was paralyzed in a wheelchair, the very fact that I have life in me is enough to tell me I am worthy. I like to meditate on the miracle of life. This helps fill my cup.
This sense of worthiness, of knowing my life has value, restores my hope. It is a well from which I draw sustenance. So, when I feel like my creative flow is down to a trickle, I remind myself it’s not about doing. It’s about being. Everything I do flows out of the person I am and I am enough.
Things will turn around again. My strength will be renewed. This restful “nothing” phase is probably an important part of my recovery.