I was talking with an acquaintance in ministry a few years ago. A very high energy, dynamic leader with great capacity, a lot on his resume and at the time, a lot on his calendar and metaphorical “plate”. He was ‘crushing’ it in ministry, with quite a few ‘trophies’ on the shelf to show for years of hard and dedicated work. I am confident that his desire was absolutely to do God’s will, to advance the kingdom, and to bless others. By any reasonable standard, he is a success at what he does. Yet, in the course of our conversation, I heard him, while not in these words exactly, pray this idea, “Oh God, help me sustain an unsustainable pace.”
I was so sad. And a little angry. Because this prayer crystallized for me so much of what is wrong with us, with our ministries, with our spirituality, with our culture. Busyness replacing relationship. The arrogance of thinking one is the exception to the limits we all have. Basing one’s worth on the product produced, the effort offered, the “trophy” to show for it all. Falling into the comparison trap with others. I know this from personal experience. Our calendars offer a remarkable window into the condition of our hearts. Into our thoughts about who we think God is. Into our thoughts about who we think we are.
Years ago, I was trying to find a way to juggle the responsibilities of full time ministry while living overseas, being a wife, and a mother of 3 under the age of 8, with one of them under a year old. I recognized the uniqueness of that particular season of life…and I was terrified of failing. FYI – whenever you are afraid, pay attention, because often, fear is telling you something on the inside of you needs attention. Another FYI – most of us do not operate from a place of freedom and security, in the knowledge that God’s grace is enough and we do not have to earn His approval. Instead, we do the tasks in our lives because we are afraid of something: failing, the disapproval of others, not being enough, being alone, of being still and quiet, of empty time on the calendar, rejection, insignificance, etc. My fear was/is failing.
So when I ended up at a conference with other women who were in the same field as me, I looked around for someone who was doing it well. Balancing the demands of the work, faith and family, staying sane, both cultivating a spirituality and depth that was not only healthy, but looked like something I might want to emulate. When I found her, (a very cool 50-something with a nose ring, by the way) I asked for a bit of time, to pick her brain about this: How can I do all that God has asked me to do? Because honestly, if I think about all the needs, all the possibilities, all the people out there who need Jesus and me…I’m a little overwhelmed. I was looking for some type of strategy to help me manage it all.
You know, Jesus was asked the same question. In Mark 12, a religious leader came to Him and asked, ““Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”. Here was a teacher of the law, very aware that, in his paradigm of the faith, he had well over 600 laws to obey each and every day. Imagine! I’m actually tired and overwhelmed just thinking about what his life and religious practice must have looked like. The guilt. The fear of failure. Of comparison to others. Of not being good enough. I suspect his internal monologue and mine, bear a striking resemblance, emphasizing inadequacy and judgment. Because…while I don’t have a quantified list of 600+ things-to-do-today-to-make-Jesus-happy-with-me…I kind of do.
And then there is the phrase “most important”. In Greek, it is the word “protos”, where we get our English word, “priority”. I think that part of what the teacher of the law is asking is, “Jesus, what I have to do is so much, I’m pretty sure I’m going to fail somewhere. So tell me, if I only get one or two things done, what is the most important? What should my “protos” be? What should get the first of my energy and effort, so that my priorities are not mis-ordered?”
Jesus answered Him with a surprisingly short to-do list. In fact, Jesus pretty much said, “Oh busy one, you are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking about task, you should be asking about relationship.” Jesus answered with, “The most important one…is to love Me…” Our protos, our most important task, above all others, that which should get the first and best of our time, energy and attention, is to be in a healthy relationship with God. That’s pretty much it. He isn’t the one asking us to get a lot done for Him. We are. His to-do list for us is a one item-er. Healthy relationship. With Him. And by extension, with others.
Flash forward to the women’s conference I was at, and the older woman’s response to my question, “How do I do it all?” She simply said, “I just figured out years ago, that what God wants me to do is almost always less than what I think it is.” She was gently telling me that I was asking the wrong question. Rather than asking how I could get it all done, she said, “Why don’t you ask God what He wants you to do. And then ask Him how He wants you to do that.”
I left that conversation changed. I’ve been attempting to purse better questions about my spiritual life ever since. Jesus seems to love a really good question, by the way. Right now, He and I are discussing this one:
What does my calendar say about the condition of my heart?
(Or if I really wanted to get brave, I could ask my family what they think my calendar says about how I feel about them.)
Because, how we choose to use our time, energy and resources says an awful lot about what is going on inside of us.