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!