dreams and visions

Reprieve is a Moment

After nearly three months of bite-sized reading, I finally finished Gerald May’s excellent work, Addiction and Grace. This book is among the best I’ve read on describing the human condition and why we behave the way we do. It took a great deal of time to work my way through because the subject matter is so weighty, and I found myself needing to be in the right mood to partake.

May describes addictive behavior as our almost unconscious cellular response to pain. The problem is that we have all become accustomed to believing that pain and discomfort must always be a sign that something is wrong with us. Often times, pain is just a symptom of our design. I’m not talking about the emotional pain brought on by trauma or abuse; I am speaking of the pain that we experience as a part of the void within us all. There is a deep ache we experience whenever we sense the vast spaciousness that is part of our creation. Because our reaction to discomfort is always to attempt to solve it, we tend to cram the void – this haunting if you will – full of activity and noise and addictive behaviors.

May explains the necessity that we eventually learn to embrace the spaciousness within us, learning to celebrate it as part of what makes us human. This idea makes me think of all the writing that I read and that I do – how so much of it is fueled by that void within us. I read this sort of writing all the time by many of you on WordPress. Thank God for the desert space, so beautiful.

The book goes on to describe what happens to us in rare moments, when we find ourselves entering the emptiness without the pretense of who we think we are supposed to be – times when we just are. These moments are unusual indeed – easier for children and become more difficult to find our way back to as we age. I had such a moment the other day, as I was trying to pack my things for the family’s trip to Disney World.

Before I go further, I need to get a little naked for my readers. For several months, I have been struggling with intense anxiety over just about everything. Things are extremely challenging at work and home; I stress. I’m experiencing confusion and indecision with what I’m doing at church; I stress. Worse still, when things are great – when my boss loves me, and my family is blessed during these tough times, when my son is the smartest one in his class, then I am most anxious of all, for fear that the axe is set to fall upon me and for fear that nobody deserves to have such good things – I unconsciously choose anxiety over enjoyment.

So I was packing for Disney, feeling anxious because I really need the break, and I couldn’t help but worry that I would spoil the time, forget to live in the moments and the memories, and a week later I would be back in the thick of my daily battles, more exhausted than ever.

My four-year-old walked into the room as I was digging for spare underwear. I had Pandora streaming, and the song “I’m Gonna Be” by The Proclaimers came on. Within seconds of the song starting, I was in one of those moments. Of course, it is in the nature of these moments of reprieve, that we cannot identify them as they are happening – this is what makes them what they are. Below is my description, as best as I’m able to make it after the fact.


happens without purpose
without planning, without hope
It just happens, but never so
accidentally, as it seems

Nonsense choruses blare
I smile; he smiles – I forget –
wonder if a guy like me is
supposed to smile or sing
unexpectedly, I forget enough
who I was – I forget I don’t dance
250 pounds of ridiculous
rattling the furnishings – he laughs
so I laugh – I haven’t a reason not to
This space is so fine
and we’ve got 2:16 left
Let’s make it count
Dance with me, son
Let’s dance
Let’s forget to think
Let’s forget to be cool
Let’s forget to remember
a little longer, please

*my dance partner*

16 replies »

  1. Yeah buddy, I know exactly what you’re talking about here, particularly the anxiety over feeling good. I felt really good at my recovery meeting last night, and it felt very scary, like I was afraid to feel good because something would be ‘coming around the corner’.

    I also really identify with the author of this book and the discussion about the void inside us. It’s going to sound weird but I’ll say it anyway: One day a few months ago God actually ‘showed’ me the void inside of me. It had an almost physical weight to it, a dark, spherical void like a black hole right in the middle of my chest. For years I’ve been feeding into that void things like pornography, religioun, control, and various other defects.

    I think the answer is not to try to feed these things into the void, trying to fill it up, but to surrender to the void and let it swallow me up…of course that thought terrifies me…

    • What a rare privilege that you were able to see that void. Most people walk around their entire lives, dominated by it, but never knowing it exists in them. Thanks for reading!

  2. I think I need to read this book.

    I have the void, open and empty. Decades ago, I tried to fill it up and realized that I was putting all the wrong things into it. I gave those things up. I now live with the void, and with the anxiety.

    The anxiety is always with me. I understand feeling anxious about everything, good and bad. It’s particularly vexing when anxiety tails along and shadows the good things; can’t I have a little peace here, please? But no, it’s the way I am.

    I agree that people try to fill the void with stuff – music, food, substances, material things. They then become shortsighted and cannot think beyond the end of the next activity, the next consumption of whatever, the next song, the next purchase.

    It is at the threshold of the moment of “just being” where we all want to live. I think these moments are described well by Virginia Woolf. They are the unexpected tiny moments of bliss which we want to capture and be in forever but poof, they go, and we are left with the memory and are back with our yawning void. But the moment came, and we know it will again. When it will come is the mystery.

    It’s interesting to read the comment above about someone who has actually seen the void. What a revelation that must have been,

    Thank you for writing this.

  3. What you describe—waiting for the axe to fall when things are going great—is precisely what my husband and I (both in Recovery) have talked about… We call it “waiting for the rug to be yanked out” from underneath us. Partly because that IS what used to happen in our lives, and it takes a lot of re-programming to stop behaving and believing as if that’s the Norm. It has lessened over time, but we still catch that response periodically, in ourselves or in each other, and have to take a minute to say a prayer and” recalibrate” again… I’ve just added May’s book to my list-to-read, with thanks for the recommendation! πŸ™‚ Peace, brother–Peace!

  4. “Because our reaction to discomfort is always to attempt to solve it, we tend to cram the void” I so identify with this in particular… And I, too, used to be overly anxious when good things happened but I always saw it as me being a realist rather than a dreamer. It turns out I’d been worrying myself crazy for most of my life and I didn’t really grasp the magnitude of it until I began noticing the same behavior in my son who’s now seventeen years old. That made me stop in my tracks and analyze myself and my motives and I began a very slow but steady process of straying from that behavior because I realized that ninety nine percent of the time the “ax never dropped” but I was too busy being anxious to see that before. It’s not easy to make that change but it’s harder living in complete anxiety for every little thing as I used to! πŸ˜‰

    Great post and awesome insight! I’m compelled to read the book! Thanks for sharing!

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