Hello, Ladies! I know you've been waiting for the next post -- which I appreciate by the way -- but I'm not sure this title is going to make you go, "Yay! Something to cheer me up!" And especially the day before Thanksgiving (for you U.S. girls). You might be thinking, "Okay, so you don't post for two weeks, Nancy Rue, and then you come in with THIS? 'Stress vs. tension?' Are you serious?"
I really am, but this is going to be more uplifting than you think, I promise. First of all, I hope you're already guffawing at this picture of Gunther, a blue Doberman puppy (yes, he's less than a year old!) who belongs to a guy who's like a son to my husband and me. Is he not the most adorable thing? This picture doesn't even reveal the most adorable part, which are his legs. They go, like, all the way up to his ears and remind you of a skinny teenage boy who wants to go out for basketball but can't get his limbs under control. (His owner was like that as a teenager, come to think of it!) Please look closely and notice the long strings of drool coming out of either side of his mouth like shoelaces. That will be important further down in this post.
Gunther, like all of us here on the blog, has some issues with stress. A great deal is expected of him as a pup. He's supposed to be on his best behavior at all times, and most of the time he actually is. He can handle prancing politely beside his "dad" when they go for their daily ten -mile run (who DOES that?) and playing nicely with the Yorky who also lives at his house. He gets A's in those things. But he breaks down when he's left alone all day at home while said "dad" is at work. The stress of responsibility gets to him and he chews. Everything. The rug. The table. The green leather couch that used to be ours and which we gave to his "dad" when we got new furniture because he had grown up with it and loved it. Poor Gunther just couldn't handle the pressure and acted out.
Enter my daughter, who now offers Doggie Day Care for him at her house. She already has three other dogs and a crawling ten-month-old baby, but what's one more, right?
Gunther's stress level has been significantly lowered by the fact that he is no longer lonely, that he has companions, who incidentally are also of German descent -- two Dachshunds and a white German shepherd. He plays hard all day and when his "dad" picks him up at night, he's ready to spend the evening next to him on the now-sewn-up couch with his head in his master's lap. All he needed was a little pressure release.
However, Gunther is not tension-free. He loves to wait expectantly for you to throw a toy for him. You can see it in his eyes, in the tautness of every muscle, and you can almost hear him thinking: "Throwitthrowitthrowitohmygoshthrowit!" Toward the end of the day, when he knows it's time for "dad" to come get him, he sits by the door, tail wagging -- pausing -- wagging wagging -- wait -- is that him? -daddaddaddad -- wagging wagging wagging WAGGING!
My personal favorite Gunther tension, though, is when my daughter is in the kitchen, cooking up something amazing (I often wonder where THAT talent came from -- but that's for another day, another post). Gunther positions himself where she won't step on him (he had to learn that through trial and error) and he sits as you see him in the picture above -- head up, ears at the ready, nose in full twitch-mode, eyes bulging. And, of course, mouth drooling in perfect ribbons of expectant saliva. Keep in mind that she never gives him so much as a morsel; that's forbidden because he has so many allergies. But that doesn't really seem to bother him. There is evidently great joy in the watching and the sniffing and the pure anticipation. If you touch him, you feel only smooth muscle, tight with attention. He is in tension, and that is a delightful thing for Gunther.
So I'm thinking that we can all learn a great deal from this long-legged, too-big puppy who chews the couch, and who knows the difference between stress and tension.
* None of us deals well with unrealistic expectations, whether they're placed on us by someone else or we put them on ourselves. No matter who we are, when it's all too much we're eventually going to chew something up.
* We need to eliminate at least some of the things that push us to the limit. We might think there's no way to get rid of anything that's currently on our plates, but we're wrong there. Granted, we may need help figuring that out. We need a "dad" -- and oh, what a concept, we HAVE one. The Big Dad.
* Without the unhealthy Stress, we can actually enjoy the Tension. The things that make us wag our metaphorical tails and drool in anticipation. Without the Stress of having to be the absolute best dancer in the studio, for example, you can delight in the tension of working to get it right, as right as it can possibly be for the unique you.
* Waiting can actually be half the fun. Or, in human terms, the process can be so much more joyful than we allow it to be -- or than other people allow it to be. For instance, you've got folks saying you have to make almost straight A's to compete for a scholarship, and yet there is so much satisfaction to be had in just learning, discovering, figuring out, and seeing yourself improve.
* We all need at least one ally who gets it. While Gunther's "dad" had to focus on the fact that he was quickly running out of furniture, my daughter could step back and say, "Let's look at what we're expecting of Gunther and change his circumstances so he can be happier." Our Lord is definitely that ally, often by providing the right person at the right time to stand up for you and say, "Enough. Let's see what's actually possible."
I know all of this is true, my loves, because I have experienced it myself in the last several months. I was so overwhelmed with Stuff To Do that I was ready to eat an entire sofa and perhaps a chair and ottoman as well. You bore the brunt of some of that, because I didn't even have time to post here even weekly, which is one of the things I find most delicious in my weekly round. Nothing was really very satisfying, even though I was doing it all for "Dad." Basically, I was no longer drooling. I felt more and more like the bad dog who wasn't pleasing anybody, including myself.
Then an ally came along. An odd one, actually, but, then God so often works oddly. I kept getting these waves of nostalgia for certain seasons in my life, times when I was happy and productive and felt like I was in the God-groove. Finally I journalled about them, daily, for about a week, and I realized that it wasn't that "things were better" in those past times. I simply did things differently back then. I didn't try to do the impossible every single day. In my workday, I put my book-writing first, and my personal contact with my readers next, and I took long periods of solitude to think and dream and listen to God.
So just last week, I got me some Doggie Day Care, as it were. I am back to writing 15 pages a day before I do any other business. I exercise before I Tweet or do a Facebook Fan Page post. I say no to answering the phone when I'm in regouping with God mode. I find myself drooling over the release of The Whole Guy Thing in May. I'm salivating over some new projects that have come my way which I'll tell you about later. My tail is wagging at warp speed because I'm planning an Advent series for you that will start here on the blog this Sunday, the first day of the Advent season.
I wasn't doing any of that before. I just wanted to eat the couch.
Now, before you say, "You can DO that, Mrs. Rue! You're an adult, and you're self-employed!" -- let me just say that my new/old way of doing things is not necessarily making everyone happy. I have disappointed an editor by not being able to get a project done on time. One or two of my friends are miffed because I'm choosing not to talk on the phone in the middle of the day. My Facebook "Fans" have moved on to other Pages because I'm not hanging out there. But my family is happier -- my writing is flowing again-- my body is moving better. And I feel like I'm paying closer attention to God.
Yeah, I'm an adult, but you have choices, too. If you want to give this a try, I'll walk you through it. And if you'd like to post, this should be good for starting the conversation:
(1) Name at least one thing that is making you want to eat the couch. (or has pushed you there already in the form of things like cutting, eating funkiness, pinching off the heads of people you love, etc.)
(2) Is there some way you could change that? Eliminate it? Make it less of a pressure? Look at it differently?
(3) Do you know someone who could be your ally in figuring out what God wants you to do about it? Somebody who gets you and might possibly see a new approach?
(4) What good tension are you missing out on right now because you just have to "get it done" or because you feel like you have to constantly compete to be the best (or you'll feel like a loser)? What would make you drool if you just had the time and could merely be in process?
As we focus in this Thanksgiving season on our blessings, maybe we should also think about the blessings we have that we might be missing out on because there's too much other Stuff in the way. I'm thankful for the waves of nostalgia that have washed me to a new/old place. And I'm thankful for you, to share this with and to encourage. I can't wait to hear from you.