A few weeks ago, I wrote about how to have peace instead of a meltdown. I was on the verge of life overload, and thankfully, before it happened, I was able to cancel a few commitments, get help with a few projects, and talk through how I was feeling with my husband. By the end of the evening, I was calm again, recognizing that God knew not only my situation but also that I wanted to honor him in all I do. I could lean on Him.
Several people emailed me about the article or mentioned it in passing. They felt that way, too. They understood. The tips I gave were just what they needed. I felt thankful, confident, maybe even wise in the way I had navigated the situation and written about it so others could learn too.
That was Tuesday. On Saturday, I went ahead and had a meltdown anyway.
I could tell you about the thing that pushed me over the edge, the thing I was ranting about and throwing my glasses over. (I know. Believe me, I’m embarrassed about it.) I could tell you how every tear felt like acid running down my face, and how my throat hurt so badly from yelling. Actually yelling. But really, the meltdown wasn’t actually about that thing. It was about all the things … all the little things I had let pile up and load me down. All the things I felt responsible for and burdened by. All the ways I had let me and my disappointments and grievances and circumstances become the most important things in the world. I was Atlas, unable to shrug off so many burdensome cares.
Thankfully, my husband was the only witness to the meltdown, and also not the object of it, to his great relief. (He picked up my glasses for me as opposed to having them hurled in his direction.) When it was over, I felt drained but strangely relieved. Nothing could be done, but at least I’d “let it all out.” By the evening, though, I felt embarrassed, ashamed, even more overwhelmed that this was what my life had come to. An enormous temper tantrum.
Would God still believe I actually wanted to honor him when I was acting like a two-year-old? Did I even believe it about myself?
The post I wrote about how to avoid a meltdown is still true. Generally, I want to live my life proactively, regularly evaluating and reflecting how I can grow in holiness while also managing my life’s circumstances. But when I’ve blown it, when I’ve done the exact thing I bragged about not doing, I don’t think there’s a list long enough or a downloadable tip sheet pretty enough to get me through it.
The only thing I can do is this: repent.
The language (yes, did I mention there was swearing too?), the violence (my glasses somehow survived), the selfishness and self-centeredness: these are all things I need to turn away from. The anger, the bitterness, the complaining: these were on the list for confession, too. But the things I needed to turn from most are the self-reliance and pride that leave me feeling shocked that someone like me could act this way in the first place.
Father Francis de Sales, whom I quoted in the post about how to avoid a meltdown, says it like this:
“Peace is born of humility. Nothing troubles us but pride and the esteem that we have for ourselves. What does it tell us if we should experience some imperfection or sin, and find that we are surprised, troubled, and inpatient? Without doubt, it is that we think ourselves to be something good, resolute and solid; and, consequently, when we see, effectively, that none of this is true and that we have had our heads in the sand, that we were mistaken, we feel troubled, offended, and ill at easy. If we knew ourselves well, rather than being flabbergasted to find ourselves [or our glasses] on the ground, we would wonder how we managed to remain standing.”
Or another way to say it is this: You blew it, Charity. But what did you expect? Did you forget you’re human and a sinner just like the rest of the world?
But where we go next … perhaps even the very next thought … is the most important part of this process of repentance. Here’s what Tish Harrison Warren writes in her chapter on confession in Liturgy of the Ordinary:
“In these small moments that reveal my lostness and brokenness, I need to develop the habit of admitting the truth of who I am—not running to justify myself or minimize my sin. And yet, in my brokenness and lostness, I also need to form the habit of letting God love me, trusting again in his mercy, and receiving again his words of forgiveness and absolution over me.”
See, after that meltdown, it’s like the floodgates have opened and my true self has come out again and again. I haven’t had any more all-out tantrums thankfully, but I’ve been overly critical. I grumble as a matter of habit now. I use harsh words too often, and I’m more easily offended than ever. I can’t go on blaming my circumstances. But I also can’t go on condemning myself. There’s really only one person who has the authority to do that, and he’s taken a pass in favor of a better way, a way of redemption and love. “I didn’t come into the world to condemn it,” Jesus says in John 3:17. “I came to save it.”
As luck would have it, I happen to know someone who could use a whole lot of saving about now.