On the way out to the lake this past weekend, under gray skies and an indifferent sort of rain, I heard myself praying silently, “Just give us some sun, God, and some beautiful lake weather.” I learned a long time ago that God does not change the weather because I tell him to, but my habits are rooted deep, especially when I am feeling lost.
For reasons I cannot yet name, a wave of gray hit me last week: fatigue and sadness, overwhelm and fear. I have learned some practices for surviving the gray, including cancelling some plans, getting some rest, asking for help, and telling my people what is happening instead of retreating into isolation. None of these things come easily for me, but I do them anyway, even if I do them later than I should. The discomfort is better than the sinking.
For me, gray and lost are spiritual marathons, challenges to my endurance lined with ugly crying, nasty self-talk, and general irritability laced with indecision. The root problem shows itself in the prayers of direction; I prefer and feel entitled to blue skies and feeling found. I resent the gray, despise feeling lost, and expect God to deliver what was never promised.
Slowly and ever, I am learning that the gray dissipates on its own time, in any number of ways which I am fairly bad at predicting. Sometimes there is enough wind for it to blow over. Occasionally, the pressure systems mount into a spectacular storm. More often, the sun surfaces again after a long spell of overcast.
When I stop wishing for something other than what is, I begin to see the beauty in the gray. I see the duller shades of green that are hidden by the brightness of the sun. I notice that the shadows are not so scary, that the wind does not blow me over, and that the rain brings clarity and stops the dust. My body slows down and eases into rest. I make soup and buns, and curl up with my people on the couch with blankets and books.
Lost is a place too, that more closely resembles found than I readily admit. When my life is going the way I want it to, I cling to a false certainty, safety and permanence; I perceive that the sun is shining forever and that I am above storms. Until things change. Actually, lost and found are both just feelings, illusions of time and space in a world that is infinitely more powerful than I am.
But I am. I am even when I feel uncomfortable and afraid, sad and tired. I am not less loved or loveable when I feel these things. These emotions are cues and invitations, part of the inevitable weather systems in human life. I cannot change them, but I can surrender to what they offer, knowing that none of them last forever.
Then my prayers shift and deepen. “Help me to be lost and gray, God. Show me the beauty here. Give me gratitude for what is. Show me who you want me to love. Help me to feel and live in the gentleness you offer me here.” Laying down and letting go is so counter-intuitive to me. I have difficulty falling down, admitting defeat, taking shelter, but this prayer is also the prayer I need when I am found.
The scariest part of the depression I have lived is the fear that it will come back, and that I will be alone in facing it. The most amazing gift of that same depression is that it has taught me that I was never alone and never need to be, no matter how dark it gets or how many times it returns.
The gray days and lost seasons give me the chance to practice wandering and waiting, resting and seeing, reaching out a hand for help. Too many of us were taught that practice makes perfect, and now I know better: practice makes peace. I do not have to be good at surrendering to the storm. Practicing is good enough. Trying something different, choosing again when I have chosen wrong, practicing what feels uncomfortable. Practice brings me peace, even when the gray remains.