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Pains In My Chest

The date is Wednesday, May 19, 2010, and it is 8:32 in the morning.

We become creatures of habit and comfort, and our comforts become our habits, and our habits tell us our comforts are reason to stop any sort of forward momentum at all. And you don’t know how to breathe easy when you let go of your habits, even if your comforts left you gasping for air.

I’m sitting outside of my friend’s house in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He lives in the country, and it’s quiet here. I’ve been on the front porch watching and listening for a while now. I have a hard time being silent.

I don’t mean “not talking” – because in all honesty, I’m a relatively introverted person. I’m not very good at small talk and if you were to meet me it’d probably be a weird first, second, third, fourth, fifth interaction. Those “Let’s Get Awkward!” posters that I made extend beyond a poem. It takes a while before I feel comfortable opening my mouth, mostly because I feel like I don’t have much to contribute.

What I mean by silent is sitting still. Removing myself and watching. Reflecting. Watching a bird fly by and remembering that “they don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them.” The animals are loud where I’m at right now, and there is life all over the place that exists because it does and it isn’t breathing because it forces itself to, and the trees aren’t green because they strain to be, and the dogs aren’t barking because that’s what they need to do to keep themselves alive.

My friend said that his neighbors just want to “be”. They’ve had some financial trouble and it’s caused a lot of anxiety and now, months removed, they just want to trust and be.

I just want to be, too. I want to live. I don’t know if I think that happens out of all of my efforts anymore.

A few months ago, I revealed something about my anxiety to a few friends. It took me a long time to open up about it, because I thought that the only way I could describe it would sound dramatic and over-done, and I was sick of my complaints. But the chest pains started to get worse, and my functionality started unraveling. I couldn’t keep a train of thought. It was destroying any creativity I have. I would shake and my head would race and I couldn’t turn it off.

I’ve always admired my friend for his calm. He filmed these videos a while back about what a day in his life looks like, and they were quiet things like sitting alone and listening, and communal things like enjoying relationships with his friends, and God things like watching life happen. There was a contentment and a peacefulness about it that appealed to me because it’s something I don’t know how to do.

The last couple of months have been like going through the fire, and in the last couple of weeks, I’ve finally seen a bit of refinement.

I spent the last five days in Webb City, Missouri, with people that have made an effort to pour themselves into me. They do it because they love to love on people, and I thank God for the friendships that have grown out of our time together. Originally, I was angry about the last couple of weeks, because it was, essentially, time off away from home, where I would have less time off before I leave for tour again. Now, I feel like it was the answer to the prayers I’ve been praying, and the prayers others have been praying for me.

The thing about the last five days is that I didn’t do much except for hang out and enjoy my friends, and it made me realize how much my worry has affected my relationships with people in general, and especially with people back home. There’s something in my brain that tells me I need to be in front of the computer just in case I get an email that’s important, need to be near my phone just in case someone calls about a show, need to be replying to messages on myspace so people don’t think that Levi The Poet doesn’t care about his fans, need to make a tour happen right now rather than patiently waiting or prayerful direction, need to tweet, need to write the best prose I’ve ever written, need to please an audience, need to, need to, need to, as though the whole world is going to collapse if I’m not there to hold the pillars in place.

And I’ve forfeited valuable time in the valiant name of hard work, but it’s convoluted – it’s a justification for feeding my anxiety. It’s serving both God and money. It’s destructive.

“… aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? … and if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things… seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

I talked with another friend of mine during that time, and pain poured out of his eyes, which is not an artistic expression. I watched it happen. He’s close to twice my age, and he talked for an hour about brokenness and my heart broke for him, and his heart is still breaking into pieces. He says “screw the American dream” because it’s a lie he knows firsthand, and for almost two decades it’s come between relationships and callings and life in general. I feel similarities between the words that come out of his mouth and the direction my stress is leading, and I want to heed his advice and seek Christ over comfort and a calendar full of plans and a pocket full of money. I can say whatever I want to justify my sin, but in the end it comes down to these things.

It is broken people that are seeking the Kingdom of God, and I know that there’s hope for us.

This is not about devaluing hard work and progress; it’s about me realizing that I’ve neglected to pour into others, and let them pour into me, because I’ve been too busy trying to pour into myself.

I’m excited to get home for a while. If it took an extra week away for the Lord to reveal to me a few things that I may otherwise not have learned, to build a few more friendships, and to teach me what’s important, then so be it. I want to be around people, and love on them, and live with them, and know them just because we are people who are living.

So I’m sitting here watching these paintings go by in the sky and wondering how it ever gets into my head that I could paint a picture like that on my own. I’m not saying that I’m fixed, and that this won’t be a struggle, because life is a long process of change and transformation, but I am thankful for the lessons I am learning, and I am thankful for prayers and their answers, and, for now, I am breathing a little bit easier.

Just so that some of you know, I’ve also taken a bit of a step back from MySpace and Facebook and what-have-you. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve answered some of my emails in three or four weeks. It’s nothing personal, and I’ll be getting to some of them today. When I was out on the road with White Collar Sideshow, T spoke a lot of making sure that I keep my “gods” in check – and addiction doesn’t have to be some huge sin – it can be texting or twittering or feeling like if you don’t sit in front of the computer for every second of every day just in case someone might email you, the whole world might fall apart. Some of that just has to do with the fact that I want to make sure I stay in touch with everyone and let you know how much I care, and some of it is a self-created (and I believe, legitimate) problem that has fed my anxiety. So, for the sake of my sanity, I’ve been cutting back and remembering what it is to feed and cultivate tangible relationships with those closest to me, and to the Lord.  I hope that’s understandable.

I love, love, love you all. I hope that you know that Jesus Christ loves you more, and that he can take you in any circumstance and reveal true life to you – life that is miraculous in and of itself, and inexplicably beautiful.