I drove up to Boulder today, a nice little 30-minute jaunt from my house. I usually use that kind of prolonged time in the car to think out loud about issues I’m dealing with (which also helps me to not fall asleep).
Today, I was thinking about something the pastor said in the sermon on Ecclesiastes I was listening to this morning during my run. He said that God wants us to have pleasure – He wired us that way. Since I attended John Piper’s church for over 2 years, I had heard this before. But I heard it with fresh ears today because I realized – I don’t believe that.
For a while now, I’ve been questioning the point of doing stuff that I would consider “fluff” – things that are done purely because they are fun and enjoyable. Work, hygiene, chores, bills – these are not fluff because they must be done. Going to the movies, painting your nails, shopping, cooking new dishes, making crafts – these are fluff. They are done purely for enjoyment. I have not been able to enjoy these things like I used to because I have felt like Solomon – all is vanity, a chasing after the wind. At the end of the day, what do I have to show for these things? Nothing of significance.
And that’s just my problem. I had been questioning the value and merit of anything that didn’t contribute directly to the bottom line of Christianity (knowing God and making Him known). Praying, worship, reading the Bible, evangelizing, volunteering, serving the needy, working, maintaining a household – these are things that have either a tangible outcome or a direct impact on our eternity with God. But gardening? Running? Decorating? Shopping? Haircoloring? Trips to the zoo? Things like these are done for pleasure. What is the point of them?
Then I asked myself, why do I feel like I can’t engage in things that don’t contribute to the “bottom line”? I didn’t use to feel this way about everyday things so what changed? Guilt. I feel guilty when I do those things because I feel like I’m wasting time. And I feel like I’m wasting time with tedious, trivial little crap because I should be out there doing better, more productive things with my life. I should be doing more.
And there it is. The elephant in the corner. “I should be doing more.” I’m reading the book Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World right now and I tell you, the book couldn’t be more relevant to where I am in life right now. I just read this section:
“…While there are many things that need to be done, things I’m capable of doing and want to do, I am not always the one to do them. Even if I have a burden for a certain need or project, my interest or concern is not a surefire sign that I need to be in charge… Service was never supposed to be our first priority. Work is not our first order of business – even working for the Lord. In fact, our own efforts are so far down the line when it comes to what God wants that they didn’t even register in Jesus’ conversation with Martha… Only one thing is needed – intimacy with God.”
I have been so focused on doing more for God that I have taken my eyes off Him. I have focused more on my own contribution to His kingdom than on the price He paid on my behalf. And the ironic part is that the more I focus on being externally selfless by donating my time and money, the less I see how I selfish I really am on the inside. I was just confronted yesterday with a list of all the self-centered things I have done in the past 4-5 days. It was a reality check. I have been living in Kathy’s World. Everything is about me. And dwelling on my problems and cares just magnifies my already natural, sinful tendency of making everything all about me. I have been so busy thinking about me that I didn’t even realize I was only thinking about me. Imagine.
So to bring this full circle, I see that my cynicism about life has come from an incorrect belief that the only thing that matters and is worthy of my time is service to God and things that contribute to the bottom line of my Christian walk, like prayer and time in the Word. That incorrect belief stems from a feeling of guilt caused by the notion that I should be doing more with my life because surely (I thought) that is what God expects and desires.
But I have left out the idea of God wanting me to experience pleasure, to have fellowship with Himself and to become more like Christ on the inside. God wants me to know Him, to enjoy Him, to enjoy life. Living a selfless life grows out of a deep, intimate relationship with the Father – it doesn’t come from some divine ability to be the Incredible Christian Superwoman. Instead of trying to live an externally selfless life filled with service, I should focus on becoming less selfish on the inside through spending time with Jesus.
As for those things that I consider “fluff,” God created me and everyone else to have certain interests and hobbies – which are good things! He does not expect to sacrifice all things we enjoy for the sake of serving His kingdom. God is not all work and no play! He created these things for us to enjoy them (1 Timothy 4:4-5). It is good that God gave me a passion for endurance sports and reading and an interest in cooking, health and nutrition, and wine. I can enjoy these things by thanking God for them, by seeking to know God more through them, and by using them in a way that glorifies and magnifies who God is.
God has also given us all unique personalities and dispositions. He created me with a need for downtime and relaxation in order to maintain my sanity. I cannot go, go, go. And because of that, I know that I cannot take on any more than I already have on my plate because the only result would be me having a nervous breakdown. And that doesn’t serve anyone.
So instead of focusing on everything I’m not doing (and feeling incredibly guilty), I see that I need to focus on being faithful and the best I personally can be with the roles that God has called me to fill at this stage in my life (in order of importance): 1) a follower of Christ, 2) a wife, 3) an employee, 4) a church member, 5) a friend, 6) a volunteer. I don’t want to overlook how I interact with and serve the most important people in my life just because I’m too concerned with how I’m not serving the poor and needy, not throwing perfect dinner parties, not wearing the latest fashions (or even always changing out of my pajamas), not the thinnest or the prettiest, not a fast runner, not successful, or any of the other things I obsess about in the course of a day.
This has gotten to be a long blog post but I can’t say how much this revelation has literally changed my life. I have been stuck in a rut of joylessness for SO LONG, not knowing how to get out of it, nor having the strength even to try. I feel like the psalmist when he said:
“He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters…He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18:16,19).
“He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:2-3).
God has rescued me.