Why I Need Boxes

I am not the picture of mental health. Not that I’m out of control or in need of medication or anything like that. I’m just always two weeks away from crazy. 

Sometimes I feel proud of that, as if my mental instability were proof of my genius. My great grandfather was nuts, and he won a Hugo award. Of course when I read a little of whatever I’ve written most recently I realize maybe the proof is in the writing and what the writing’s proving isn’t genius…

Anyway, I’ve found that for a brain like mine, the kind that resembles a teenage boy’s room or a hoarder’s garage, order is important. Otherwise, everything gets messy in there and soon I’m messy on the outside, too, in the crying too much and eating too much and not taking enough showers sort of way.

Lately, I’ve been taking lots of showers. So, I think things are going quite well.

This week I made myself a “chore” chart including empty, sticker-wanting boxes under categories like clean the house, read my Bible, and intentional quality time with each daughter. I’ll hand it to my husband tonight and ask him to give me shiny, sticky rewards when I do my chores. 

This may sound ridiculous. In fact, I think I’ve probably written blog posts about how stupid it is to approach our relationship with God like a checklist—read my Bible, check! 

But, as I always say, truth is complicated. 

I’ve found I need a grid. I need boxes and lines and lists. Not because they’re who I am. Not because they come naturally. But because they don’t come naturally at all. Because I hate them and bristle at them. 

I like to wander, and sometimes wandering leads me to the very gates of heaven, but sometimes wandering leads me out into the middle of nowhere and I’m lost and confused and I’m not sure how to get back. Grids help me get back.

My friend Amanda painted this series of paintings about truth. I have one. It’s very abstract with colors, blues, greens, white wandering across the wood canvas. I think of the sea, the mysterious unmapped sea, when I see it. But on top of those colors is this grid of perfectly square boxes. She wrote in her artist’s statement that truth doesn’t always fit neatly into boxes. I love that. And I love that the boxes are still there, helping to chart even what defies measurement or containment. 

I make boxes for myself, because what the boxes measure is important, and while check marks in those boxes can’t fully articulate the depth of my relationship with Christ or my love for my daughters, the act of checking those boxes pulls me deeper and makes possible the messy, lovely spilling over I crave.