The Gap

Nearly seven years ago, my family spent two weeks in a Minnesota cabin for our summer vacation. We had tied our new fishing boat down at the dock, where it bobbed gently, waiting for our nightly fishing outing. When the sun started to slip beneath the horizon, Dad would toss my brother and me our life jackets as we gathered our poles and descended the drive.

My dad was always the first on the boat, with my brother running a close second. But the gap between the dock and the boat frightened me. “Come on, Jessica!” they would groan together when I hesitated. But I would just stand there, staring at the gap and blinking back tears of frustration.

After we passed a few minutes in agitated silence, I would sometimes resort to a hop-fall into my cushioned seat on the right side of the boat. But usually I stuck one toe just far enough into the boat for my dad to roll his eyes, grab my hand, and pull me in. I’ve always had trouble finding the faith to deal with the place between where I am and where I’m going. Especially when the gap is cold and full of weeds.

 

But sometimes the gaps in my life are spiritual. God is on one side and I’m stuck on the other.

 

Prayer ought to be the simplest way to bridge the gap between me and the Divine—especially for someone raised in a devout Evangelical home. If I believe Jesus is in my heart, I’ve got limitless ways to talk with him. I could cross myself and close my eyes for a few seconds, weeping or laughing at life’s absurdity. I could kneel by my bed at night or fold my hands before meals. I could start off with a “Dear Lord” or “Heavenly Father” and finish with “Amen.” I could pray in poem form, essay form, novel form. I could curse at God, say “I hate you” as I did a few months ago when I left home. I could open up The Book of Common Prayer and flip to the appropriate section to fit my needs. My Catholic friends might suggest asking Mary or a specific Saint to intercede on my behalf. My Protestant friends would just pray for me on the spot if I asked them. The Bible says the Holy Spirit groans for me when I don’t have words. On and on the list goes. I know all of this. I’m not confused about the words I should say or the posture I should take. Prayer isn’t difficult. Not really. There shouldn’t be a gap.

When I was scared, my dad would pull the boat as close to the dock as possible until only a centimeter of emptiness was between them. But even then, I couldn’t even lift my foot off the dock. And even though the Bible says Jesus bridged the gap between me and God, I haven’t said a word to him in quite some time.

Whether we’re talking about the physical or the spiritual, my paralysis is irrational, absurd. Give me a to-do list: 1) Just start talking to God. 2) Say amen. I’ll forget how to speak. I’ll ask you what “Amen” means. I’ll make a cricket noise.

Model it for me, draw me pictures with instructions. Tag me in all those inspirational Facebook pictures about prayer. Tell me to just have a little faith. But I promise you—I’ll still just stand there on the dock, blinking and saying, “Just step in the boat?”

Or, just grab my hand and pull me in. I’ll catch on eventually.

 

 

 

 

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Breathing

I’m supposed to keep breathing. When I’m practicing yoga, when I’m climbing the stairs in Elder Hall, when I’m reading my essays aloud to the class. This is a good thing. I rather like breathing.  I just wonder why I’m having so much trouble.

I carry lots of books in my backpack. They hold all the ideas I’m supposed to understand, but do not. So I pretend and wonder if everyone else is doing that, too. One of the zippers on the inner pouch of my backpack is stuck. This makes me crazy.

I write lots of papers. Incomplete Word documents clutter my laptop. I save them with weird names like “actual essay” as opposed to all the “wanna be” essays I start and restart before giving up and staring off into space.

My life is a series of powerwalking to and from places that drain me, scribbling to-do lists I know I’ll never complete. And lately, I’m wheezing through it all. No one tells me why I’m having such a hard time breathing.

Last week in yoga, the instructor had us lean back as far as we could into some kind of backbend. We were supposed to relax, to breathe. She said we would want to panic and pull out, but that our sense of danger wasn’t reliable. We were safe. Our responsibility was simple: stay there, hold still and draw in air. But the pose was torture. Somewhere between stretching and trembling, I convinced myself of an imminent doom and stood up straight again. I was scared.

Running has taught me that breathing is as much a choice as it is a requirement. I have to plan it out, strategize until I’ve filled my lungs to the brim. Otherwise, what’s the point? Quick gasps won’t keep me from panicking, and shallow breathing is only an excuse for my inability to take a break and recover.

I tell myself I can handle my classes, my jobs, and all the pressure I place on myself. I’m convinced I can powerwalk, read, and write. But I’ll only bend backward until I feel all that weight and realize I’ve been holding my breath for way too long. Panic.