To celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, John and I took four days off and traveled to Pennsylvania. We spent a day at Longwood Gardens (the largest botanical gardens in the United States, enjoying the immense variety of trees and flowers. Our spirits were inspired by the beauty of creation.
We made new friends at a fantastic B & B . Our bodies found comfort and strength through the generous and cordial hospitality of our host and her husband. We visited friends whom we hadn’t seen for over three decades. It was a very special time, and our hearts were greatly encouraged. Our entire frame –body, soul, and spirit, was refreshed.
Nevertheless, when we arrived home, we realized that we were tired and that it was not time to “gear up” but to “gear down.” That’s not something I’ve ever wanted to do. My motto for years has been: “naps are for children and old people and I’m not old, yet; so I don’t need one.” When I’m told by my physician that my vital signs are wonderful, it”s hard for me to accept the fact that I can’t do as much as I could when I was 30 years younger.
Even when I’m tired, I resist gearing down. Why? Because it includes reducing commitments–cutting out things that I enjoy doing. And I enjoy many things. It would be great if I did not have to sleep. Yet, if I want to live a restful instead of a stressful life, getting enough sleep and maintaining a schedule that fits the reality of my age and abilities is essential. This is true for all of us, no matter what age we are at.
I haven’t met very many infants, children, teenagers, or adults (of any age) who like to cut enjoyable activities out of their schedules. In fact, I can’t think of anyone. If we must cut some activities from our schedule, why can’t we simply cut out the things that we don’t enjoy and prefer not to do? That of course, would be easy. Easy, but deceitful.
We would not only become badly-spoiled narcissists, we would also end up addicted to our desires, We would exhaust ourselves pursuing brightly colored, soap-bubbles that contain nothing but air. I know, in my head, that this is true. Living it out is still difficult.
For example, at the beginning of this week I made a “Not-right-now” list. Items on this list included things that I enjoy doing, things not “bad” in themselves, just things that distract me from my main focus–which is reducing my commitments, in order to recover energy and lead a more restful life.
These are some of the things that I included in my “Not-right-now” list.
- Make a booklet with my blog posts on restful living
- Do extensive research on the DNA result that I got back from myheritage.com
- Arrange my song lyrics into a format such as youtube
- Get involved in another mental task before I go for my daily walk
- Take another interesting on-line quiz regarding some health issue
- Check Facebook for the umpteenth time each day and spend unlimited time there.
On the first after making my list, I was successful in following it. On the second day, I gave in to one of these distractions before breakfast.
Why did I give in to a distraction so quickly? I asked God. The answer he gave to me was that until our desires are in line with his purposes, we will not be able to reduce our commitments. That’s because pursuing desire, apart from God, is never satisfying to our souls. If we succeed in removing something from our schedule, we will replace it with something else. (But the word “reduce” does not mean “replace.” Reduce means ” doing less” not “doing more.”)
Success in reducing commitments boils down to doing only those things which our Abba-Father calls us to do. ONLY those things. NOTHING else. That’s the way Jesus lived. He delighted to do the Father’s will (Hebrews 10:7). That was his one desire.
This means he lived according to the wisdom of the psalmist, who said: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”(Psalm 37: 4 ESV).
I’ve often misinterpreted this verse to mean that God will give me everything that I desire if I delight in him. That is a misunderstanding of what it means to delight in God. To delight in God means that having a relationship with him is our sole desire. It means that we realize, like Jesus did, that any desire that’s incompatible with our Abba-Father’s will is a distraction and pursuing this distraction will leave us empty and unfulfilled.
To remain in a fulfilling relationship with Jesus, we must learn to recognize and manage our distracting desires. This is what it takes to effectively reduce our commitments and, consequently, lead restful instead of stressful lives.
As my following poem indicates, doing this involves conflict.
The world is full of many things that sound so good to me.
Like music of a carnival it cries, “Indulge yourself—break free!”
I spend my money and my time—how fast it disappears!
My head is tricked and I’m confused—like in a house of mirrors.
I’m pulled in all directions, consumed by passion’s fire,
Content with nothing that I find—enslaved by my desire.
Like cotton candy full of air is everything I buy;
At first it tastes so sweet; yet, soon, I find I’m dry—
Unsatisfied, yet turning not to water that would fill
My parched and aching soul. Can there be pleasure in God’s will?
I laugh just like a funny clown. Inside I’m full of tears.
Why do I cling to worthless things that bring me only fear?
I laugh and play but Jesus weeps. Life’s not a carnival.
He died to set his people free—to follow Him; He calls
Me to turn aside—desire him above my pleasure
And promises, within his will, a far exceeding treasure—
Thirst-quenching water, bread of substance (not frosted fable),
And a permanent invitation to dine at his table.
“Delight in me, my child,” he says. “Come see what I have planned.
I’ll satisfy your highest dreams with good things from my hand.”
@ 1997 Jane Ault
(from journal reflections on Isaiah 55: 1-3 and I John 2:15-17)