His bedroom was mostly dark, but I could still see the tears in his eyes, and I could hear them in his little-boy voice.
“Sometimes I wish you weren’t the managing editor of the magazine.”
He spoke the words tentatively, as if it were a heretical thing to say to his mother. (Even in his hesitancy, he didn’t stumble over the big-people words. He knew them well, too well for his age.)
I’d been frustrated with this child of mine, with the way he’d been dragging his feet all evening to do homework. I’d goaded him all day, but he just wouldn’t hurry up. I knew he was capable of so much more, and this was taking needless amounts of time—time I could be spending on the work I brought home. Now it was way past his bedtime. I was in a hurry to get him into bed so he could get a good night’s sleep in preparation for a full day tomorrow.
My anxiety for him was rising and the tension between us had been growing. Was he doing these things just to annoy me? Well, I was plenty annoyed. After he finally climbed into bed, I went in his room to say goodnight.
I sat down and pulled the covers up, my usual mother gesture, my end-of-the-day practice that said to my children, be comforted, you are loved, time to rest, you’re gonna be okay, you are safe and secure.
Instead my frustration spilled over. Okay, let’s talk about today. What went wrong? How are you going to do better? And on and on I went.
And then, those tearful words. Words that opened my eyes, there in the dark, stopped me short and brought me back to my resting place.
One of the ways in which I’m healing and growing in this season of my life is learning to identify, confront and correct errors I’ve had in my thinking and lies I’ve believed. Many of these come from what I’ve been taught and how I’ve been discipled, but I also see how my temperament (and sometimes my MK background) has laid the foundation for, contributed to, and also reinforced these errors and lies.
I want to say this right up front, because I’m not here to cast blame on any individual or group. And I don’t want to portray myself as a helpless, brainwashed victim either.
I’ve had the freedom to choose to follow, and sometimes I’ve followed the wrong thing, or a perversion of the right thing. And now I want to learn from these times so that I can recognize what was wrong and choose better in the future. (Well, there’s an example for you right there of correcting an error in my thinking! Bonus for you. 🙂 )
I also want to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, which, as one pastor at church so beautifully put it, can be defined as perfect love. Yes, I’ve navigated through some difficult days. And I don’t understand why He doesn’t respond in the way or according to the timetable I expect. But that doesn’t mean God’s stopped working. In fact, I see so many ways that He has been at work in my life, how He has provided and cared for me. Just not in the way I expected (which I envisioned would be some kind of dramatic rescue in which I would never have to suffer again on earth, and all the injustice done against me would be revealed, to the great humiliation of my offenders. Annnnd this is why I’m not God…).
Bunny trail here: I’m still really wrestling with all the injustice I see in the world, and I don’t understand why God isn’t doing anything about it. A better way of putting this is, I don’t understand why I can’t see what He’s doing. (Gosh, the audacity.) But I keep discovering that He is doing something, and that He is definitely at work—I just don’t always see it. Some days it feels like I’m hanging on to this truth by my fingernails, but I know He’s holding me and it’s not all up to me.
Okay, back to your regularly scheduled programming.
One of the errors I’ve been working through has to do with busyness. For many years, I was under the mistaken impression that to be busy (especially in a ministry or mission organization) was to be spiritual and therefore highly esteemed. I mean, if you had a full schedule doing God’s work, this surely must increase your level of spirituality.
Some say that God’s reward for faithfulness is more responsibility. Therefore, if you are busy, you must have been pretty faithful. And therefore you must be pretty important. Right??
I would look at others I admired and deemed important, and watch as they seemed to rush here and there, so full of responsibility that they didn’t have much time for the mundane.
Or at least that’s what it looked like. Now that I think about it, all I saw was the externals. I didn’t learn if and how these people rested and recharged. I didn’t have access to any internal wrestling they may have been doing with priorities. I just saw the outside, and I tried to emulate what I saw. Because if I can copy them, I figured, then I can admire myself for being just like them.
And so I made myself busy. It really wasn’t that hard; there were plenty of opportunities. I said yes a lot. I didn’t say no enough.
When I came home with armloads of stuff to work on after supper, I thought my husband and children would be impressed with me.
When I was asked to join a meeting and provide needed information for a decision that must be made, I felt pretty important.
When acquaintances asked what I did, I proudly began a litany of my many apparently significant tasks, waiting for that look of approval to dawn on their faces.
When I successfully rushed through a last-minute job, I thought to myself, People can see how dependable I am.
When a friend would precede an invitation to hang out with, “I know you’re really busy, but …”, I somehow felt superior to her. (This happened so often. It hurts me to think how often.)
When work piled up, I learned to caffeinate myself and bulldoze through my day. I got addicted to efficiency, to seeing how much more I could get done in the same amount of time. I started treating people like objects I could move around and use for my own convenience. I wasn’t that motivated to spend time with anyone “just because” unless there was some productive reason that would advance my work or benefit me.
Busyness actually meant “I’m busy at what I want to do,” and “I’m too busy to stop my life and help you.”
But this carefully crafted life of mine that was so focused on busyness and efficiency quickly showed its weaknesses.
I neglected my loved ones. I got impatient and frustrated with my children, and didn’t slow down to spend time with them. The time I did spend was often multitasking and not wholly engaged. (All for “spiritual” reasons, of course.) I hurt my family.
I found excuses to serve myself and to not serve others. I didn’t have time to drive a chronically ill friend to her doctor’s appointment. I was so up to my eyeballs with work that there was no way I could make a meal for a new mother, much less stop by and visit a while. I lost opportunities to find new friendships and strengthen existing relationships.
I gave myself permission to be unkind—all for the sake of God’s work, which really could be translated, all for the sake of busyness and efficiency and results.
Oh, and I exhausted myself. I burned out. There was only so much of me to go around, and it was just a matter of time before I just sort of dried up and withered away inside. There were physical manifestations, too: heart palpitations, fatigue, nausea, to name a few. All with no real medical explanation.
I’m still recovering. When you keep saying ‘yes’ in a burned-out state for years on end, when you keep trying to be someone you were never meant to be, you lose track of who God made you to be. It takes a long time to find your resting place again.
I can’t get those years back; I know that. I’m not saying this out of despair, that I’ve wrecked EVERYTHING FOREVER AND THAT’S IT, but rather more to fuel my determination to not miss any more.
I can’t change my past. But I can learn from it and Keep Moving Forward (and if you haven’t yet watched “Meet the Robinsons,” please do! Shameless plug. 🙂 ).
But I know this isn’t the final word on my life. My intention is to look all those poor decisions, failures and (yes) sin square in the face and let Jesus redeem them as I ask Him how I can learn from them.
So—here’s what I’m learning, and what Jesus is teaching me. I’m taking it day by day. These are in question form, because I’m pretty sure I won’t ever have the answers. Which is actually refreshing. 🙂
What would it look like if I slowed down enough to take care of my family? To make room in my life for friends who could use a visit, for aging parents, for children who need someone to read them the same book over and over (and over.) again? What would it be like to hang out with a friend and really listen, to slow down enough in my heart to ask the Holy Spirit if there is something He wants me to hear, or to say?
What would it look like if my work wasn’t centered on results, if I could just do what Jesus has given me to do and not worry about the outcome? What would it be like if I didn’t care how many views this post got, or whether my writing was published? What if I had peace, even if I didn’t have anything to show for my efforts?
What would happen if I stopped trying to rush through meal-making like an automaton, instead admiring the colors of the veggies I was chopping, or getting a good whiff of the blend of the spices as they heated up in my cooking pot? What if I gave myself enough time to actually enjoy (or at least appreciate!) the the ironing of shirts and the wiping down of kitchen cabinets?
What would it look like if I didn’t treat my correspondence like an assembly line, and instead was fully attentive for each note or email I wrote, taking time to visit, as it were, with each individual? What if I chose being present over being efficient?
What would happen if I simply rested when I was tired, rather than pushing through with a second (or third) cup of tea? What if I listened to what my body was telling me for a change? What if I canceled appointments when I didn’t feel well rather than pushing through my daily plan? What if I actually took a nap on occasion?
What if I slowed down enough that I could actually look around me and see evidence of God at work? And what if, in that evidence, I could realize that He’s actually giving me opportunities to join Him?
What if I saw my true self, that I am uniquely created by a living, loving God? What if I saw my utter dependence upon Him, my helplessness without Him? What if, like Job, I let go of my own agenda, lay my hand over my mouth and listened to what He has to say to me?
This is my confession. This is what I’m learning. And this is how God is at work in my life.