Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tenacity


It was a hard call. On the one hand there were article deadlines looming, but then again, the boys were all out of underwear. Dinner? Oh, please; that wasn’t even on my radar screen and, oh yeah, I just remembered, I also volunteered to lead a book club for 4-7 year olds this Thursday centered around the riveting theme of “Apples.” What to tackle first? With so much on my plate, it was important to proceed wisely, making the most of what little time I had available to devote to each task. With so much at stake, I sat myself down and chose… avoidance. I caved in to my impulses. I wasted an hour researching digital cameras and reading articles while the mess got messier and my mood, grumpier. It’s tiring, stressful, frustrating to fall behind.

I grew up immersed in order, watching my mother fight clutter like her life, our lives, depended on it. My job was to clear the table and clean the bathrooms; my brother emptied the garbage and mowed the lawn. Sure, I resented it. I couldn’t fathom why my mom would get so testy about our lack of concern over smudged windows or a sink-full of dishes. I went to college and rebelled by throwing everything, including clothes, folders, and textbooks, on my dorm room floor.

I wish I could blame it solely on my environment - on cell phones, on the Internet. I’ve tried to hide behind a conviction stating women need no longer be held captive by domesticity. It would be convenient to claim for myself a free-spirited, unconventional identity and be done with it already but the truth is, I’ve wrestled for years and years and years now with feelings of guilt and anxiety due to my living by the seat of my pants and just barely getting away with it – because I’ve been permanently stuck in crisis mode. I’ve overspent, overeaten, overreacted and under appreciated my many, many blessings in response to that terrifying sensation of feeling out of control. For years and years and years, I chastised myself for a myriad of reasons including what I assumed was a lack of empathy and a limited amount of patience. I agonized over character flaws I was sure were deeply rooted in my soul.

Two weeks ago, my husband, Troy, went to town on our garage, installing hand-me-down cabinets and putting away bikes, tools and beach toys. Inspired, I rolled up my sleeves and got busy myself, tackling one room at a time while washing load after load of laundry. For eight hours, eight literal hours, I scrubbed, swept and sorted, pausing only to prepare meals for my kids. By that evening, I was sore and sweaty, and giddy with satisfaction. I’d given my all to a difficult task and the outcome was unbelievable fulfillment. For in the arduous process of bringing beauty and rhythm to our home, I forgot to check my e-mail, to long for stuff we can’t afford, or to dull my mind with stimuli neither relevant nor affirming. All those pesky “what-ifs” that often leave me shaking in my boots were effectively muted by nothing more than simple elbow grease and the thrill of accomplishing something I had started.

What my mother embodied while raising us, which as an adult I struggled for so long to emulate, was not superhuman talent or energy, but rather a solid sense of purpose uncomplicated by the lure of rampant escapism effectively stripping our generation of a respect for moderation, stick-to-itiveness and frugality. She was, and is, an excellent steward of the gifts bestowed upon her and has long understood that the quality of her life hinges solely on her willingness to make the most of her present circumstances. Whether she’s ironing, filing papers, entertaining guests or baking scones, she commits to that specific undertaking wholeheartedly and thus enjoys the many fruits of her labor, including relief from the nagging self-doubts that often accompany idleness and taunt a mind all wrapped up in itself. “Wow," my sister-in-law, Paige, once told me, “When my house is clean, I remember how much I like it.” And isn’t that true of anything we care for including jobs made more enjoyable by a tidy workspace, dinners more scrumptious because of a table set neatly, feverish babies finally resting on the shoulder of a parent willing to temporarily set aside their heavy workload for the sake of their child.

The more we separate ourselves from reality by way of living beyond our means, having an unhealthy preoccupation with instant access to stuff, entertainment, and information via our computers, Blackberries and DVR’s, and withdrawing from our communities in favor of keeping to ourselves and our self-absorbed addictions, the faster numbness and unbridled restlessness will set in until we forget, altogether, what it means to be truly, thoroughly, joyful. For the past fourteen days, I’ve endured a sort of technological detox, praying through the urges to flee the mundaneness of my responsibilities and surrender to the lure of on-line videos, healthy eating tips, and homeschool chat rooms. I exchanged irritability, seclusion and shame for a vested interest in the people and objects pertinent to my role as a mother, wife and neighbor. I tasted of achievement and it was far more delicious and nourishing than the unsubstantial, muscle-zapping sugariness of evasion.

Twice last week, opportunities to meet a need presented themselves – opportunities I would have never considered or even noticed had I been drowning in my usual ocean of chaos. I could be hospitable, volunteer to bring dinner or watch a child because for once I was being proactive, rather than passive. Just a bit of organization went such a very long way in allowing me the enormous pleasure of participating in Christ’s mission to sacrificially love others. There is no shortcut, no substitute for a strong work ethic when it comes to squeezing the most you possibly can from out these brief years spent on earth. I ask for your prayers as I continue to battle, every minute, for victory over my laziness and weak resolve. The faith of a mustard seed is what I’m aiming for, here, and confidence that God will pick me up and dust me off - will forgive me when I stumble. It’s not painless, my friends, all that unplugging and sustained exertion but nothing can compare with the elation that comes with freedom from enslavement to our barren whims. There is no time like the present to choose depth over shallowness and excellence over cheap and easy. Enough procrastination … let’s begin!

11 comments:

paige maddex said...

This is wonderful, Molly. Heartfelt, vulnerable and a true picture of the struggles involved in being a Christian woman. What a tribute to your mother -I know her - and the description is dead on! In my observation, though, you are the furthest thing from lazy!

Lord have mercy on us all

Kelleylynn said...

Here, I've been convinced taht Tenacity is your middle name...prayers for you, friend as you endure the on-going struggle.

I am with you...although on the opposite side of the rictor scale, where I am preoccupied with my "supreme" organization, and lose site of what is truly in need of helping (my soul). None-the-less, your poignant thoughts hit me straight to the core!

Fr. Christian Mathis said...

Hey Molly!

Thank you for this post. It is wonderful that you are finding ways to get away from all the distractions that keep us busy doing everything but the things we most want to do. Since I have been back in active ministry I have been resisting the temptations to drown myself in the unimportant things that can easily find their way into my day. Thanks for the encouragement that we are not alone in the struggle.

Kelly said...

"Whether she’s ironing, filing papers, entertaining guests or baking scones, she commits to that specific undertaking wholeheartedly and thus enjoys the many fruits of her labor, including relief from the nagging self-doubts that often accompany idleness and taunt a mind all wrapped up in itself." Is not this the very essence of the Jesus prayer? To help us get through the mundane tasks of life with an enjoyment and a real cause of purpose.

Like always, you've told me exactly what I needed to hear. As I was sitting down to waste another nap with "me-time", you called me back to reality, and how important it is to balance our life and avoid laziness. It continues to amaze me how children and the tasks of "adult" life help to slowly fend off our selfish wishes and desires and allow us to focus on the truly important and thus lead us to salvation.

Jeanette said...

Wow, I wish you and I could meet. You SO OFTEN say (and so beautifully) exactly what I've been thinking or learning. This is an absolutely enormous issue for me, and a constant struggle. I ask every day for help with discipline and simplicity. I have a great friend who is completely unplugged- no internet or cell phone- and I am so inspired to follow suit. But even if technology isn't trying to suck me in, some other form of "the cares of the world and the deceit of riches" is presenting itself. It requires constant vigilance over myself and my children, and it makes me weary. Thank you for your thoughts... as always, they are such a blessing. -Jeanette

Marsha said...

I'm with Jeanette! I recently and after some agonizing "unplugged" myself from my favorite website. A website that was a wonderful resource and encouragement until it became an addiction. I call it an addiction because I got the same relaxed anticipation when I sat down at the keyboard, and the same nagging guilt and sick bloated feeling when I finally looked up , usually in response to some shouted need by my children.

I, too, am guilty of retreating from and avoiding my life by doing "research" on the web.

Right on, Molly!

Molly Sabourin said...

I really appreciate your feedback on this post. I hesitated tackling this subject as I am a big proponent of balance, understanding that too much order and not enough down time can be just as detrimental to one's relationships and peace of mind as procrastination and avoidance. I was noticing in myself, however, habits (even "addictions" as described so well by Marsha) that I needed to identify and explore in order to guard myself against the same old pitfalls that were consistently leaving me frustrated at the end of the day. And you are so right, Jeanette, about technology being a symptom and not necessarily a "cause." I agree, that if I pulled the plug completely, something else would quickly replace my computer as a means of distraction. The root of the problem, I believe, lies in my enslavement to impulses, curiosity. I am praying now for self-control and the discipline needed to think a moment before acting, speaking, web surfing or purchasing. I am discovering that it feels great to ride out the urges, stay attentive to needs of this household, and plan my time instead of running around in circles never sure of what to tackle next. Thank you, again, for your thoughts. They mean a lot to me!

Marsha said...

Molly, I read this paragraph this morning, and thought it apropos to this discussion. Forgive me for adding to the websites you are tempted to peruse :), but the text can be found in entirety here. http://strannik.com/watchful_gate/node/31
It's by Bishop Kallistos of Xelon.

"Resentfulness leads to a host of problems. The more resentful we are of other people, the more depressed we become. And the more we are consumed with the desire to have what they have, which is avarice. Often we'll then engage in the addictive use of the substance of the material world--whether it's food or alcohol or drugs or sex or some other thing--to medicate ourselves into forgetfulness and to distract ourselves from our resentments. On eof the most valuable and important things that we can thus do is look at all of the resentments that we have......"

I don't know if this applies to you, but ahem, it sure does to me!
Lord have mercy!

Monica said...

Molly, I listened to your podcast on AFR and decided how much I prefer to hear you, your voice, your inflections, etc., read them. And - I can knit while listening, which I can't do while reading. Anyway, just letting you how much I enjoy them.

Jenny said...

Hmmm . . . I totally agree about the joy of cleaning--or the way that order and cleaning bring the joy back. My house is in some choas at present and you've inspired me to set it to rights!

Thanks.

::Sylvia:: said...

This is so true! It's so encouraging to hear that someone else experiences these things! May God help all of us as we continue on this journey!