I knew a woman once who always had a saga to relate. Dramatic events were constantly unfolding in her life and every second of her day seemed like a burden she did not know how to bear. She seemed to be saying, “Whoa is me,” as she would weave her tale of all the stuff she had to do and how life was not working out according to plan. I remember thinking that she only had herself to blame…This was a less grace-filled me obviously. At that point in my life I still believed that a person could bring, actually, should bring a sense of balance to their life, no excuses. My view was pretty naïve and lacked some understanding about how complex it all really could be.
It took me several years, the birth of our daughter, and a relationship with one of our faithful volunteers in ministry before I could begin to lighten up. This lovely lady was a mother of 4, all of who were teen-aged. It was close to Thanksgiving and my one child was involved in 2 performances to ring in the holiday season. I was a working mom, running all over the place, and all the while trying to maintain some semblance of sanity. I looked at this mom/youth leader and asked, “How do you do it?” Her words ring in my ears even today, “Kelsey, life is just crazy sometimes, but somehow you just learn how to make it work.” No judgement and no pride. My respect for her is solid.
As I ponder the lunacy that is life, I remember teaching full time, being a mom, trying to make time for my husband, calling my small group of girls, leading a bible study, dropping students off/picking students up, having family time, folding the laundry, blah, blah, blah… Whether you are married or single, I am sure you can relate to the drive to do it all, all the time. The fact that a light bulb had gone off in my mind made me do the typical thing: take an inventory of what is really important to me.
So I made a list:
I know what you are thinking, but “relationship with God” is like an umbrella over all of that, so I didn’t think it needed to be stated. The other thing you might be thinking is that maybe this list is incorrect. And you might be right, but let’s be honest-this list is ridiculous. At this point in my life I look back and laugh a little because I know that this list is impossible to keep in order. I can also tell you that I am not the same person in my 40’s that I was in my late 20’s. For example, most of the married folks I know never realized how much work a healthy marriage is. I am amazed when my husband goes out of town for a speaking engagement for a few days and how absolutely co-dependent I find I am. But by the time he comes home there is a realization that my time is no longer my own. Married ladies with kiddos all mistakenly think that life will get easier when the children are in school, but find that between homework sessions, taxi driving them to sports, and the more intense emotional needs they have to deal with, there is very little “umph” left in them. Single ladies are probably the most un-balanced of all- You all rarely have anyone telling you to slow down and care for your soul as you pour yourselves into your work and social life. God bless us all!
I have tried to find some Biblical examples with heroes of the faith living life in some sort of harmonic zen-like way and really could find none. They all worked too hard, worked too little, gave their lives away, totally lived for themselves, loved God, worshipped idols, ate too much, ate bugs, and so on.
Living in the extreme seems to be normal for most of humanity.
I don’t know a single person at the same place in life as me that hasn’t said, “Let’s simplify!” And we all endeavor to do it for a time, carving out time for certain hobbies, creating a family night, and pulling our kids out of lessons. I also know a single gal in her late 20’s who switched jobs so that she could be more consistently involved in youth ministry. Kudos to us all! But then your kid has not one but two sports and the other one is taking violin lessons and a student or two isn’t showing up to your program so you’ve got to have a Slurpee with them and the church is kicking off a second service that you are helping run and… and… and… It kind of makes you sweat just thinking about it!
So here is where I land - ”there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil-this is God’s gift to man.” Ecclesiastes 3: 12-13
I want that- joy in the toil and taking pleasure in my life. Recently my husband and I have talked at length about these things and I came away with three strategies that have been implemented in our family consistently, especially in how we raise our daughter, that I felt would possibly revolutionize the way we “do” life.
The first is being intentional with my life and our life as a family. You could look at this as “doing things on purpose” instead of letting things just happen. A big piece of this for me is to make lists of the things I want to see happen. If I desire friendship, I must realize that relationships take time and energy and plan for them. Maybe I am strangely inept at friendships and they just come naturally for everyone else, but I actually have a list of the women in my life that I want to nurture relationships with. I am building relationships ON PURPOSE, just like we plan activities for our ministries to connect students ON PURPOSE. Saying “No” to some things so I can say “Yes” to other things ON PURPOSE.
The second strategy is being fully present in the moment. Technology can be so detrimental to this. There is always something new, better, more interesting, and just plain distracting on those dang little gadgets. So, when I am intentionally spending my time with someone or my family, I want them to feel like there is no other place I would rather be. It creates memorable moments with people that, if I was unaware, would pass me by.
I remember a friend of mine had a meeting with a very well known actor. He told me afterward that the thing that most impressed him about this person was the attentiveness he was shown. As soon as the famous actor left the table he was back to business as usual, but the hour he spent with my friend was focused on that relationship alone. I find that rather lovely.
The third is this: I choose to take a few pointers from Jesus. I refuse to take on the burden of every kid that refuses to be in relationship, every parent that unfairly expects me to be the savior of their kid, and every pastor that places pressure on me to make them look good. Shame on me for ever placing that same pressure on myself. Yes, I am devoted to and love deeply the students in our ministry as well as their parents. Nothing thrills my heart more than seeing them walk with Jesus and being a part of that, well, is my delight. But for crying out loud, even Jesus took breaks, even Jesus said, “No, not today, not this week, not this month.” In Mark 1 and Luke 4, stories are recounted of Jesus not doing what people wanted him to do. “Everyone is looking for you!” they say, insinuating that he is disappointing “everyone”. He does not apologize or run back into the fray, but rather he says he has to go somewhere else. It’s humorous how many times Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him, in a boat no less. As much as he loved them, I am thinking he just needed a break. He said no often, he went away often, he disappointed people often. Yet somehow I think the world will stop spinning if I don’t show up at that function or take a break from calling all twelve of my small group kids or choose to pray instead of working on my talk for 2 more hours. When did sitting back with a glass of iced tea watching the sunset become a guilty pleasure? Shouldn’t that just be me receiving from God’s good and generous hand? Breathe, baby, breathe! Jesus came on the scene and offered a freer and lighter way. I receive it.
For now, that’s it for me. Life is messy and busy, but it’s what I can do to make life a little more honoring to God - fully taking pleasure in each day and doing good as long as I live. It isn’t simple or easy, but I sense God taking pleasure in me as I take pleasure in what I have been given. So take heart and be at peace with the knowledge that we are in this together - living in off-balanced freedom.
What are your light-bulb moments regarding your life priorities? Have you figured out how to find joy in the toil? What works for your family as you try to juggle your life?
We would like to know.