Shadow Boxing

(Originally Published in the Redbud Post)

 

Too many nights, in the quiet of my bedroom, I’m an unwilling actor playing a part in my own private drama. It’s like a movie set where the raucous din of the beer-swilling ringside crowd fades away and the bright arena lights dim, leaving a solitary, naked bulb suspended over the ring. And there, trapped by a square of thick, dark ropes, two figures dart and punch, advancing and retreating as blood and sweat fly. But as the camera zooms in, there is a moment of confusion. The cameraman squints and rubs his eyes, wondering if he’s seeing things. It seems he must be seeing double. Because there I am, this short, straining, blonde woman locked in a death grip with none other than…myself.

My worthy opponent delivers her first blow, capturing my attention by listing off everything I should be worried about—any possible gut punch she could land on my newly-widowed, single mother self: Is my grieving daughter going to be okay as she navigates college life so far away? Will the money coming in be enough to sustain me through this season and into retirement? Should I keep the house? Sell it? And on…and on… My breath comes faster now, and my head spins. She’s thrown me off balance with this one, and it takes me a moment to find my legs again.

By distracting me with these anxiety-powered jabs, I think she fancies herself to be my savior. She wants to spare me the worst possible thing: to be alone, in the night, with myself. You see, she believes that the aloneness would certainly be too lonely. And loneliness is pain. And pain must be avoided. So in her simple logic, distracting me every evening is the heroic thing to do. But what she doesn’t know is this: I need this quiet, undistracted hour to take stock, breathe, put pen to paper and process the day. Many days, this is the only time I’m still enough to listen to the stirrings of my heart or to feel the gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit. This is where I recharge and recalibrate, reconnecting with God and myself.

Truth be told, sometimes I just stare at the walls while my warm, sleeping pups model simple rest.

But my determined opponent is never happy to see me here in this solitude. So when the anxious cacophony circling my brain fails to thoroughly distract me, she ups the ante, trying a new approach. She shoves me off the bed. Then, grounding herself down and leaning into me, she slowly and steadily slides me across the floor into my office where my computer awaits. Once there, she’ll prompt me with a dose of shame, hissing, “Any responsible person would check her emails!” If this tack fails, she’ll click on my favorite store site, swinging some lovely, shiny new thing in front of my face, artfully convincing me that I need it. “It’ll make you happy!” she promises, her smile as oily as the lying Grinch’s. And then there is FaceBook. Ah, FaceBook. That ever-ready, endless supply of opportunities to peer into other people’s shiny, flawless lives. And on those nights when I let my nemesis bully me into worry or distract me with the bottomless pit of technology, I feel my soul sucked dry, an arid landscape.

 There must be some necessary soul training for me here at the end of the day, where I encounter myself. Because God could step into this ring wearing a referee’s black and white striped shirt, blow his whistle, and call this fight anytime. But instead, like a seasoned ringside coach, he patiently watches me duke it out, offering his best advice from just outside the ropes, reminding me of all he has trained me to do, of all the rewards awaiting me if I prevail. Some nights I focus in on his voice, listening well enough to avoid stepping into the ring at all. But tonight I’m sucked in, surrounded once again by those four rope walls. And as my sparring partner moves toward me, looming large, I’m struggling to hear his life-saving words.

And then, in a moment’s pause between the blows, his voice reaches me over the roaring crowd, bathing my heart in grace, giving me the courage to do what I know I need to do. I throw my padded gloves down onto the sweat-stained floor, stretch the ropes apart, and climb out of the ring, ignoring the taunts and catcalls of my opponent and the disappointed crowd who came to see a good, long fight. My coach is right alongside me now, covering me with his best satin robe, leading me out of the noise and chaos, transporting me far away. He opens a thick door, and as I take in the tableau in front of me, my breath begins to deepen and slow. There it is: my private sanctuary, looking just as if I’d never left. Under the warm glow of the bedside lamp, my pups sleep on my favorite bedspread, thumping their tails in greeting. And there on my pillow awaits my journal, open to the page I had just begun to write.

So for tonight, at least, I will breathe…feel…pray…listen…sit in the quiet. Will I find pain there? Possibly. But there are worse things than pain. Will I be lonely? Sometimes. Lonely, but never alone. And as I review the day, will I feel my spirit lift with gratitude for all that is good and right in my life and the lives of those I love? Most surely. And in this mix of emotions, my steady coach will be present, whispering his healing peace, gently prompting me to let him hold all the colors of my heart. And then I will lay down, drifting into the sweet rest of a well-loved woman.

And what of my cunning opponent? Tonight she has stepped away from the ring. But I don’t expect her to be gone for long. Tomorrow night, as the bedside clock reminds me it’s time to climb in, something tells me she will want a rematch.