I started biting my nails when I was four or five, maybe.
I’m sure my folks tried to encourage me to stop with talk of the pretty nails I would have if I just let them be so they could grow. I’m sure they taught me about better things I could do to keep my hands busy, or maybe my mama painted my nails with polish so they’d look pretty like hers.
They might have even told me to clap my hands when I felt like biting them, so I could make music instead of nail nubbins, as I’ve encouraged the newly biting Lala.
I do remember walking around the store as a young girl, focused on trying to bite around the bitter-tasting stuff that went on like polish and coated my nails so I’d stop the habit. After a few weeks, that yellowish coating disappeared, and I remained undeterred.
It’s hard to know if I enjoyed biting my nails back then. I tend to think it was a response to the intense people-pleasing and worry that traveled with me through my young life. And into my adult life.
The anxiety gnawed, and so I did, too.
The years passed, and I kept at those poor little nails (though a preoccupation with jagged and uneven cuticles certainly worked their way into the mix). Over time, it became much more subconscious, and I often didn’t realize I’d been biting until I looked down to assess the damage — hands peeling, nails breaking off at the slightest provocation.
Over the years, I’ve encouraged the girls and Michael to hold me accountable, calling out a simple, but firm, “Stop biting your nails!”
(I kept biting, just usually not when they were watching.)
This year, I decided again that I would quit, fully expecting that I might not, but allowing myself to hope. Just as I no longer let People Pleaser or Anxious One define me, I wondered if I could let go of this simple thing — a stronghold just the same.
January and February were a little spotty, and I doubted. By March, when I felt the urge to bite, I more often paused and pushed back cuticles instead. I was beginning to make some progress, though I wondered if I’d be mindful enough in my day to day life to fully break the habit.
By April, in the midst of a full schedule and lots of life pressure, I realized I needed more to help me with the anxious nibbling as my stress response was returning there without even thinking.
So when hands started to rise to mouth, I purposed to utter a little prayer instead. The simple prayer I’ve been uttering as a mantra when life weighs heavily since I chose trust as my word of the year: “I trust you, God. I trust you.”
A prayer of deep place surrender, really, but perhaps nothing, not even a nail, is too small for God’s keeping.
Instead of clenching hands in moments of worry and chewing these taut fingers, I’ve started lifting palms to the One who holds me and these anxieties, remembering that the good so often comes not in gripping harder, but in letting go.
And over these last months, I’ve begun taking joy in seeing the evidence of old ways continuing to fall away and these nails — growing.
It may be hard for lots of you to relate to this whole nail biting thing, but nail biter or not…could it be that trust might be part of your own journey — letting go to receive that which is better and desires to grow?