The world is full of good gifts - experiences, places, relationships, lessons . . . many good things.
We are full of good things, also, because a good God created us like that. We have gifts that are meant to be useful . . . so that we can be useful! And that's one of the great joys of living - being useful. Having an occupation, something to build or grow or do. But you can have too much of any good thing.
At some point being a practicing Christian and a churchgoing Christian became synonymous with overcommitment.
Haven't you ever heard somebody say, "Anytime the doors are open, we're there!"
Of course, this is not just a Christian issue. It's a cultural issue. We're surrounded by messages about rushing here or there. Advertising often suggests that a full life is a rushing life. A hectic life.
I heard a good speaker point out recently that we refer to ourselves as "human beings" . . . not "human doings."
I don't know about you, but I catch sight of more beauty in the world when I'm not hurrying to the next thing. Also, I tend to understand other people better when I'm not trying to plow through a conversation so that I can say whatever I need to and then get out of there! This sort of rushing through/past/over life . . . it's not good for us.
I'm a mother. It's been almost a year now since my life was permanently rearranged.
A new mother goes into the hospital as herself and comes out as somebody else's mother. You'd think 9 months of pregnancy would prepare a person mentally for this, but nothing really can.
When you become somebody else's mother you have to adjust the way you think and act - because the time is spread thinner, the energy is used faster, and there are no vacations.
If a caregiver wants to preserve any sense of well being he or she will need to cut back on some extra activities. Not all of them! But at least a few.
My son was baptized a few weeks ago and as I watched him begin this journey with God, I thought about my own journey and how many times God has redirected me.
When I was a freshman in college I placed in an essay competition by writing about the complicated life of somebody with artistic ADD. You know, those people who are kind of good at lots of different artistic pursuits, but not really masters of any of them. I'm one of those people. I always have been. A decent pianist. A decent singer. A decent conductor. A decent painter (nothing like my amazing grandmother, who is an expert). An OK this. A so/so that.
It's actually not an awful world to live in because a person who is so very diverse in his/her interests can usually find something to do. Oh wait. Yeah . . . that good thing is also the primary problem - too many choices, and none of them captivating enough to keep us occupied.
So after the birth of my son I started to do something crazy. I began saying, "no" to various people.
That's right. I started to self regulate and weed out some of these opportunities. And, by the way, it did not happen over night.
First, I had to say, "yes" to some things that were unrealistic for me and then regretfully back out of them when I discovered my mistake. The first time I did that I'd actually been asked to sing some beautiful art songs for a recital given by a good composer friend of mine. And I really wanted to go sing in a concert. It had been way too long since I'd done some nice art music. But the baby was sick that week. My husband was traveling for work. I was working my regular seven to five job. A few days before the concert I realized that my practice time had not been sufficient. It wasn't going to end well for me on stage. I backed out. And I felt bad about it.
I felt as though something had been taken from me. I was disappointed in myself and I was angry about the way my time seemed to disappear. Two or three years ago I would've stayed late at work every night for a few weeks to get the practice in. Then I would've treated myself to coffee after work and I would have gone home to do my lesson plans for the next few days. I would have led worship over the weekend, done the classical concert, and maybe even a songwriter gig. And then I would've started the whole process all over again!
That sounds great, right?
Because after a few weeks of my old life pattern, I would spend 3 days in a dark room, under the covers with a stress induced migraine. And rushing from event to event all weekend I would have eaten fast food meals (fast food is not real food, people). I would have given up lots of time with my husband to be able to say "yes!" to all of these other people and projects. For days on end I probably would have fallen asleep without praying, forgetting to be thankful for anything. And why? Because I'm every woman? Because I can do it all?
I was talking with a friend last week about saying "No" to a particular musical opportunity. It's an opportunity I've wanted for a long time, but it just was not right for me - too much time at the wrong time of day on the wrong day of the week - and I have this beautiful, vibrant family. They need me to be there for those special Sunday lunches, the birthday celebrations, the great aunts coming to visit, and picnics with the grandparents. It's important! And it's a gift from God.
My friend said, "I admire you for saying 'no' to things right now." She's younger than I am. And I know that someday she's going to face this, too. The choices - the artistic ones and practical ones. So I told her how it was - that I'd messed up before I'd figured out that "no" was something I needed in order to hear this good, faithful "yes" in my life. I'm sure I'll mess up again.
I love what Sara Groves says in her song, Expedition. She says, "Did you get the invitation to have nothing to prove? There at the end of striving, in the middle of something good? - when you finally see that you can't pretend that the dream of God is a dream of men."
"But, Sarah, does this all mean that you sit at home constantly and never do anything?" - um . . . no.
Life is not an "all" or "nothing" game when we're talking about how to spend our time.
Stop believing this lie.
Give yourself permission to pay attention to how you're feeling and how your family is feeling. And then spend a bit of your energy protecting your decisions and creating some safe time and space to be rather than do.
Yeah, when I'm home I'm still constantly cleaning something or chasing a toddler around. The family life is still a family life. The job is still a job. But I'm practicing this "no" word so I can be fully present when I am doing something artistic . . . and fully present when I'm not doing something artistic (and I think that parenting is artistic, peeps).
In other words, say "yes" when it is a choice you feel is healthy and happy for you. Don't say "yes" because you want to prove something or because you're feeling like you have to do more in order to be more . . .
Take a look at those beautiful spring flowers outside.
They are what they are. They don't try. They don't twist and turn to be something else. And they are beautiful. Beautiful and cared for.
You are beautiful. Beautiful and cared for.
Moms, Dads, folks looking after elderly or ill relatives . . . teachers who are staying up way too late making lesson plans . . . if you're in the middle of a part of your life that seems to be really limiting your other choices, I promise that it will be ok. You will be ok. Your sense of self will remain intact.
Of course, I'm promising that out of faith because I don't really know how it will all end - I'm just about one year into this mothering thing and that's not very much. But I'm fairly certain that someday I'll be able to choose more artistic endeavors than I can right this second. And I'm guessing that when I get there, I'll be wiser and I'll know myself better - so I will choose opportunities that will be better for me.
For now, I am choosing to focus on that gentle (and not so gentle) voice - you know the one. The one that speaks without speaking. When the Holy Spirit helps me to stop, I will try to be thankful for stopping. When the Holy Spirit helps me to move, I will try to be thankful for moving. It's the best any of us can do.
"No" can be a good thing.