Thursday, March 13, 2014


Sometimes we just give up. Occasionally it is of the sort where all at once we leave a half-finished project on the work table for months and months, until finally a new project or a cleaner spouse beckons us to do away with it. Other times it's the new workout schedule that we successfully implement for 2.6 days and then realize on day five that life has effectively continued on without any form of exercise, or any missing of its absence for that matter. 

Then there are times when quitting takes the form of a slow drip: consistent, rhythmic, routine. This is the kind of sub-concious quitting that comes about by a series of events, a build up of decisions - all culminating in a total release. A slow surrender. Bit by bit...gone. 

Brene Brown describes this in Daring Greatly as the "betrayal of disengagement". She talks about a jar of marbles, each marble representing connection or engagement or effort. Marbles trickling into the jar with each decision to say, "I love you" or with each day we stick to a routine. Then, the marbles just as easily spill back out with each decision to roll over without a word or to let life busy us out of our good intentions. We put marbles in or take them out, one at at time, our offerings of love or refusals to try again. 

I'd like to think I do a lot of marble-loading. I speak words of affection, I give thoughtful gifts, I serve, I listen. I work hard to help provide for my family, I give, I create. But I know swiping a marble or two is all too easy for me. I withhold a word of love to preserve my own comfort, I resist being the first to call or email a friend, I make endless lists of to do's and miss the bigger picture right in front of me. Sometimes I get so good at not speaking or just doing that I've emptied the marble jar completely. I've systematically lost connection. I've slowly quit engaging or trying. Sometimes, I find that I’ve lost hope or interest all together.

I don't like thinking of myself as a quitter. It doesn't fit my cultural or familial or personal definitions of a good person. I'd err on the side of irrationally "sticking to it" before I'd consciously let myself be seen as giving up. But the kind of quitting I'm good at, the kind of giving up I see all around, isn't conscious. At least, it's not a conscious decision about a total release of something. It's the slow build-up of decisions, the one-by-one swiping of marbles, the lifetime of small choices that move us further and further and further away from commitment and connection, from engagement and effort. Until one day we find that we have quit; we've squeezed our lips shut so many times that they are nearly sealed and relationships are broken; we've stuck to the to do list day after day after day and find ourselves empty and disconnected from the meaning we once saw on the horizon.    

When I find myself faced with the atrophy of heart that comes from this build-up of decisions, life looks too grim. It seems hopeless and I'm tempted to let the last little piece of connection just slip away. I don't feel capable of the effort it would take to be in good physical shape or to have an amazing marriage or to be content and connected spiritually. Those seem like far off dreams, too far for my feeble arms to reach. 

But then I think about the marbles, and all those little decisions that got me to this place - and I wonder if the reverse isn't also true. If choosing to say "I love you" today will eventually heal. If picking the apple over the cookie will slowly add up. If whispering to the sky Thank you” will, in it’s time, lead to something fuller. If putting forth just a little effort, opening up just a little more, will get me closer to the wholeness of life I long for. And then I'm hopeful - that marble by marble, one step today, perhaps another one tomorrow, dreams and relationships and meaning and life can be built again.

May your jar be full, friend. 

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