I can be good, maybe too good at setting personal boundaries. When things get hectic, I pull inward, zoning in on nothing else but the tasks before me. Being naturally introverted, my default reaction to stress or piling responsibilities is to cut myself off socially - no phone calls, no correspondence, no invitations, no volunteering to bring a meal, host an event, or clean up afterwards. I am not the type of woman who needs to curb for the sake of her household an excessive preoccupation with people, parties, or participating in anything other than in the lives of those living right here, under my roof, sharing my last name.
This would be fine and all, if my sabbatical from the outside world were a temporary solution to a temporary dilemma. The problem is that I'm always busy; I am always overwhelmed because, hello...I have four young children. My circumstances won't be changing anytime soon and I'm pretty sure it isn't healthy to keep burying my head in the sand without ever coming up for air - or reaching out.
A few weeks ago, we arranged a long overdue get together with two families very close to our own. They met at our house for an afternoon of barbecuing, beach frolicking, and uplifting conversation. All in all, we have fourteen children between us. I watched on with awe and fascination as these mothering friends of mine tended to the needs of their many sons and daughters ranging in age from four months to twelve-years-old. There was never a moment when their eyes were not scanning our crowded back yard for preschoolers known to wander. They moved fluidly from diaper changes, to nursing, to snack making to sunscreen applying.
They looked harried, much like I do right now, and stretched to their limits. There was no denying that motherhood has, at times, both suffocated and consumed them, has demanded more from them then they ever imagined possible. They talked honestly about their fears and insecurities, each of which sounded eerily familiar. They had more things and people to manage than I did. I had nothing on them in terms of workload or sleep deprivation. And yet, and yet they were able to step outside of it all and tune in to the quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) concerns of others, myself included.
I studied these women who never waited for a request to "hold my baby for a second,"or fill a plate, or pour lemonade into the cups of little ones not belonging to them. I observed as they asked questions of each other and really concentrated on the answers. I saw them laugh, embrace, and clean my kitchen. That evening, when only one of the families remained - the family with the longest drive home - I reached for a sweater in my closet and felt a gush of running water pouring down on all my clothes from out of a hole I had never noticed before in the ceiling. Without an ounce of hesitation, they decided to stick around and help to solve a potentially disastrous mystery that neither Troy or I felt capable of figuring out ourselves, especially at such a late hour. There was sawing in the garage, Home Depot runs, a toilet removal in our upstairs bathroom. Then at last, there was resolution. Even now I can't get over it, their thoughtfulness and generosity. It was all quite humbling, convicting, and very hopeful.
The other day, Elijah and I were talking on the couch. He had just finished reading to me from the July issue of a children's devotional booklet that several months back, he had ordered a free subscription to. "Shouldn't we be telling everyone in our neighborhood about Jesus?" he asked, and baggage I had buried years ago regarding "open-air" evangelism, scheduled "revivals,"covert operations involving plants with leading questions being placed in an audience gaping at mimes reenacting the crucification, resurfaced in an instant. I had to stop and collect my thoughts before I answered.
I knew that these were personal issues, irrelevant to my idealistic Orthodox Christian son. I know that I still have mixed feelings about "witnessing" and yet as followers of Christ we have been called to share our faith. Immediately I thought of our friends with their sacrificial offerings of time and empathy. I recalled how their natural referrals to prayer and Church were intermingled with the washing of my dishes, listening to my stories, and meaningful compliments about my kids. I remembered how after they left, I felt not guilty about my own shortcomings but rather thankful, thankful for all the goodness in my life; I felt not frightened about the consequences of my own selfishness, but rather inspired, inspired to pass along the kindness that had undeservedly come my own way via a hard working husband and wife. I remembered that our encounter with them had girded my soul.
"Well, Elijah," I finally replied, weighing each sentence carefully before proceeding. "Teaching people about Jesus, I think, should involve not as much telling as showing. If we keep our eyes and hearts open we'll see all kinds of ways to model Christ's unconditional mercy. Words by themselves, without a relationship, without trust that has blossomed within genuine friendship, can sometimes appear empty or inauthentic. An individual who has experienced first-hand the peace and love of God through us, will be much more likely to have a lasting desire to dedicate their whole entire existence to becoming like Him. Of course we should witness to our neighbors and we can start by making ourselves available to be of help to those in need."
He had long ago stopped paying attention - had lost interest approximately two sentences in to my lengthy soliloquy on evangelism. I fully realized that I was talking, talking, talking to myself but it was imperative that I come to terms with a commandment I was in perilous danger of throwing out along with the tacky religious t-shirt and doomsday-ish infused bathwater. There's no time, no room for cynicism; no possible justification for withholding from others the same compassion God bestows upon me daily. Let your light so shine before men, said Jesus in the book of St. Matthew, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
The whorish woman at the well received forgiveness and lost her shamefulness. She was literally overflowing with a gratitude impossible to reign in or keep to herself. To say there was something different about her since her meeting with the Messiah would be an understatement. She was motivated by joy, undaunted by naysayers; she was on fire.
I am good, maybe too good at protecting my own modest flame from awkwardness, from unpleasantness, from darkness. I'd be wrong to think what I haven't done won't matter.
Photo by MrLomo on flickr.