When I first heard about the exciting opportunity to write for Practicing Families, this new site focused on spiritual formation and families, I thought, Yes! I have to do that! Then I thought, Wait, when am I going to do that? Where in the schedule will that particular commitment go?
Sound familiar to anyone?
It seems like everything I want to do now has to go through a complicated matrix. Where will I manage to slot that into the calendar? Will it take time away from my kids? Will it require more babysitter hours? Will it mean that I have to drop something else or that I have to work on it late into the night? As a work-at-home writer, editor and mom of two small boys, it seems like working late into the night is how I fulfill most of my commitments. And every time I stay up late to work on something, I find myself wondering if I could have organized my time better or even if I should have said no to that particular commitment.
I hear a lot lately about saying no–glossy magazine-style advice that seems particularly aimed at Type-A mommies like me, such as: It’s okay to say no! Don’t do it if you don’t want to do it! Of course, these words can be a helpful corrective. So many of us juggling work and family try to do too much. For me, I remember how comforted I’ve always been by Thomas R. Kelly’s words in A Testament of Devotion about how we are all called to certain areas of ministry, but that no one is called to all of them. Thank goodness.
But then there is that Proverbs 31 woman. Ah, that capable wife. Not only does she stay up late like me, she gets up early too! In fact, she doesn’t seem to stop at all–from making and selling fine linen garments to planting her own vineyard to keeping her arms strong. (Apparently, strength training has been around for a really long time.) She seems to do everything. I kind of hate her, I have to admit. I’m certainly intimidated by her example.
So where is the balance between saying no and trying to live this full and godly life?
When it comes to that glossy magazine advice, the problem for me lies in that idea of just doing something if I want to do it. Honestly, if I followed that concept to the letter I’d sleep late every day, eat nothing but shrimp chow mein and cheesecake and read novels instead of write. I think I’d get a lot of pedicures. The kids? Well, I’d smile indulgently at them over my novel, but I suspect for the most part they’d be fending for themselves.
While that could be fun for a day, it seems pretty clear that doing what I want to do is not actually what will make me happy.
And sometimes the things I don’t always feel like doing or feel like I have the time for–making a meal for someone who is sick or had a new baby, helping out at school, or having a nice long visit with an elderly church member–are the things that do make me happy. When I do those things and when my children (whenever possible) do them with me, we have a great time. We walk away feeling connected to that person or group of people. I hope that I am also teaching my children some important things about life with God–that we’re all in this together, that we take care of each other even when it feels inconvenient. That a busy life is, sometimes, a more fulfilled life.
So here’s my new resolution. Instead of focusing on when to say no, I’m going to think instead about when to say yes. I’m going to start trying to view every potential new commitment as an opportunity to take another look at the time I waste. Now, I don’t think time spent doing nothing is wasted. Nor that empty spaces in the calendar are a bad thing. But I do know that the more I have to do, the more I seem to get done. The less I have to do, sadly, the more I seem to shop online and watch reality TV.
So when a chance to do something new comes up I think some of the more important things to ask myself are: Is this opportunity important? Is it fulfilling? And, most important, is it something God seems to be urging me toward? Those three questions can certainly eliminate a lot of reality TV and online shopping from my schedule.
I felt pretty confident that I could answer all three in the affirmative when it came to writing for this site. So here I am, looking forward to spending some quality time ruminating over and writing about spiritual formation issues for parents.
We parents often worry so much about spiritual formation of our children that we forget to focus on our own spiritual formation. I have struggled and continue to struggle with making time to pray and to study and to do all those things that seemed to come more easily before I became a mom. But while parenthood has caused me to change a great deal about the ways and hows I connect with God, parenthood itself is also the most powerful spiritual discipline I know. Nothing has brought me lower or made me more aware of my sinful nature than motherhood. And nothing has brought me closer to God.
I look forward to sharing with you in this exciting journey of Practicing Families.
Loved this – it absolutely resonates with my own life. Over the past few years I’ve tried to work on becoming more attuned to the movements of the Spirit when new opportunities arise and I’m trying to discern whether to jump into them. I notice that there is a difference between the genuine excitement/draw/fire I feel when a new opportunity fits right – when it matches my particular gifts, when it addresses a need in the world I care deeply about, when it fits with my primary callings to be a parent and a partner within this family. But other times even a good opportunity starts to make me more anxious than excited: I start mentally listing the reasons I should do it, I worry about what people will say if I turn it down, I stress about how it’s going to cut into the precious free time I already have. I find that those moments are invitation from God to sit back and relax and remember that it’s not all up to me, that others can step in and serve in this way too. Often the difference is not crystal clear and I have to wrestle in the grey of the discerning. But it’s always interesting to look back and see how I was or was not truly called where I thought I was. Thank you for helping to name this for me!