Striving Stress to Relinquishing Rest-Lessons from Mary and Martha

I love organization.  I love having the sense that my life is in order and therefore I am able to serve.  I love having the sense of peace and calm that comes from being in an uncluttered environment.  I love that God is a God of order and even in the creation story we see His deliberate order.  I love order.  I have always loved order.  I have to admit though, that often, and especially in my early days, order was a means of control.  I worked so hard to have order, keep order, because I was striving to please, to be good enough, to succeed.  Those aren’t in and of themselves bad reasons, but they aren’t the best of reasons.  I often hid hurt, sorrow, frustration, disappointment behind my order.  I often let keeping order keep me busy so I didn’t have to participate or deal with some things.  Isn’t it funny how things in our life that can be really good things can become walls, keeping others out and keeping us from living abundantly and freely?!  Striving to do something in an attempt to get something really does nothing more than exhaust us.

There are days when I look back over the course of my adult life and get discouraged, saddened by the course of events, most out of my control.  My parents divorced, an array of hardships resulting from that for all of us.  Financial strains of family members and my husband and I trying to fix those or provide, often beyond our means.  Getting married to have two different family members live with us in the first year and half of marriage.  Paul’s mother being diagnosed with brain cancer and passing on within our fourth year of marriage.  Six years of infertility.  A difficult and complicated pregnancy resulting in the loss of a set of identical twins and the live birth of beautiful fraternal twin girls.  My husband facing the suicide of two good friends.  Mixed in with that the normal ups and downs.  Losing grandparents.  Beginning new businesses.  Having those not so great days in marriage and in parenting.

Sadly through most of it I spent a lot of time striving.  Striving to get through it the way I thought all good Christian girls were supposed to.  Striving to keep myself from falling apart.  Striving to keep others out of our business so as to avoid the inadvertent harsh remarks.  Striving.  This same striving often led to my rushing decisions and trying to work “ahead” of God.  This same striving often caused me to lose focus on what was most important and even caused me to lose my compassion for others.  Striving stress became a way of life.

It is a long story, over the course of about 6 years, but God has shown me that relinquishing rest comes only from Him and comes ONLY when I quit striving.  I can’t rush God’s work.  I can’t fix things for others, and often I can’t even fix them for myself.  My life is intertwined with others and at times their choices, their decisions, their God given direction changes the course of my direction, my life, my plans.  I don’t understand.  At times it seems unfair.  But this I have learned-no amount of striving, attempts at putting everything in order, creating order out of chaos will change anything.  It may serve as a band-aid for a moment or a time, but it will always lead to exhaustion.

I don’t know if it is this way for you or not, but when God has a message for me and I am slow in taking it in, or need the affirmation of hearing it over and over, He does just that.  I find myself daily running into the message, the story, the characters-whatever it may be.  Mary and Martha have been that for me the past 7-8 months.  A common story and one women often read, but seldom really understand.  The scripture isn’t about comparing these two sisters.  It isn’t about making one more right than the other, but gosh do we women love to go there.  This story is about striving stress and relinquishing rest.  This story is about two sisters, who when living life together, embracing one another’s strengths and weaknesses, were able to serve our Lord in their home, trust Him for their brother’s healing/resurrection and accept Him as Lord before most even understood who He was.  Martha was not chastised for her preparations and her organizational skills.  She was gently reminded that there was a time to stop.  There is a time to set aside the “doing” and rest in the moment.  I have no doubt Mary had been helping Martha.  Now, I don’t doubt Mary was the baby sister and didn’t give her housekeeping and organizational work the same effort big sister Martha did, but I still believe she helped her sister.  However, once Jesus arrived, Mary decided that what had been prepared was good enough and it was time to take enjoy her company, to learn from the Master.  Martha couldn’t let go.  She couldn’t quit striving.  I think her motives were pure-she wanted Jesus to have the very best.  She wanted it all to be just perfect.  But that is where the truth lies.  We are not perfect.  We can not strive enough to become perfect.  He knows.  He sees.  He created us.  He wants us in our less than perfect state.  He wants to spend time with us teaching us, encouraging us, growing us, changing us, bringing our image closer to His image. Mary got it.  She knew when to let go and let God.

I love these sisters.  I love that God is using their story to alter the course of my story.  I love that even now, thousands of years later, I can learn from Mary and Martha.  I know I would have been drawn to them.  I know I would have love being in their home.  I am working on my striving.  I’m still in love with order, with organization, but I’m working really hard on doing it for the right reasons.  I want to manage my time, so that God can order my days.  I want to be faithful with that He has placed on my plate today, so I am ready for the task He gives me tomorrow.  I want to relinquish control and use my gifts and talents to draw others to Him.  My home plays a BIG part in that plan.  Letting go plays a BIG part in that plan.  From striving stress to relinquishing rest.

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Average: Perfectly Acceptable to Me

Average:   a level that is typical of a group, class, or series : a middle point between extremes.  

The above is “average” as defined in the Webster dictionary.  Nothing extraordinary.  A simple word.  Why then do we as a culture, as parents, gasp at the very utterance of the word?  Why has “average” become something negative, looked down upon?  Why this drive to excellence-not just for ourselves, but for our children?  There is this never ending push, striving for excellence.  One can no longer just play ball in the backyard and make the school team.  One can no longer take instrument lessons from the sweet lady down the street and expect an opportunity in the school orchestra or a chance to obtain a scholarship.  One can no longer take “regular” classes at school and even dream of getting into the best college and receive financial aide.  Everything, everything seems to be about achieving excellence, being accelerated.  A 4.0 GPA is to be frowned upon. Now we demand or expect a 5.6 GPA and our 18 year old children to enter college as Sophomores!

What happened to average?  Average is really all I want.  It is perfectly acceptable to me.  Especially as a parent.  I would love to think my kids are “a middle point between extremes”.  I want my children to be more focused on WHO they are, than WHAT they are.

As I pondered this thought, that average is perfectly acceptable, I turned to scripture.  What does God expect of us?  No place in scripture does God ask for excellence.  Not one place in scripture does God say we are to perform at a higher standard than everyone else.  Quite the contrary.  Repeatedly in scripture God says we are to be humble, “the least of these shall inherit”, and the last shall be first.  He told us the rich man was not greater than the widow who gave her one mite.  God didn’t call men of wealth or position or of education to be a part of the inner circle to walk with His Son on this earth.  And the few who did have some means or success in their “careers” He asked to walk away from it all.  God did not send His Son to be born in a five star resort, a midst the royalty of the day.  He chose a young girl, of little means, to bare His son.  He sent her on a donkey to a small village town, to give birth to her son in a stable, surrounded by sheep, goats and donkeys.

I think average is perfectly acceptable to God.  I believe He wants me and my children to do everything we do to the best of our abilities and “as for Him”.  But, I still think He finds average perfectly acceptable, in fact desired.  God doesn’t want me striving for earthly success.  He doesn’t want me to strive for position or wealth.  God wants me to strive for Him.  He asks that I yearn for Him, for wisdom.  He asks that I earnestly seek Him.  He asks that I persevere and run the race.  He doesn’t ask me to win the race.  He just asks that I run it and I run it with my eyes on Him.

That is all I want of and for my children.  I want them to be willing to spend more time seeking God than they spend seeking straight A’s.  I want them loving Him with their whole beings-heart, soul and mind (Matthew 23:37).  Secondly, I want them to allow that love to spill over into others (Matthew 23:38).

Does this mean I wont’ challenge my children?  Does this mean a C average in school is all I expect?  No.  I expect them to work hard, to give everything they do their best effort. But, if the choice is between making the team only if they invest 5-6 hours per week in expensive, private coaching, the answer is “NO.”  If taking AP and college concurrent courses means they can’t attend Wednesday night worship, work to sacrifice and save for a mission trip, or engage in missions in their community, then the AP and college concurrent courses won’t make the cut in our house.  Average will be just fine.

When I stand, when they stand, before Christ at the judgement seat and are asked, “Did you love me?  Did you really love me?” I want to, I want them to, be able to say, “Yes, Lord I loved you above all else.  I loved you so much your loved spilled over into others and they too learned to love you.”

More than ever I am convinced it is OK for me to accept average.  I challenge you to accept average.  What are you and/or your children missing out on as you chase after excellence/success as defined by the world?  Will it matter when you die?  Does it honor God?  Is it a means of loving Him, worshiping Him?  If not, could you give it up and refocus those monies, time and energy on Him?

Average-it’s perfectly acceptable.

Survival of the Fittest: Thanksgiving Style

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Hallmark version of the holiday emerged victorious in all our homes?  Instead, for many of us, it turns out a little more like “Christmas Vacation.”  The reality is, even with the best laid plans, executed with grace and efficiency, people are a part of the holiday and, sadly bring to the table emotions and baggage.  Maybe that is not your experience, and if not, I pray you know how blessed you are.  For me, the family strife seems to creep its way in, no matter what I do.  This year, proved no different. An ongoing volatile relationship exploded once again, and to round it all out nicely, the dreaded stomach virus has over the course of a week taken immediate and extended family out one by one.   It’s given new meaning to “survival of the fittest”.

I have a tenuous relationship with my mother. There are many reasons for it, most a result of life circumstances in and out of our control, her struggle with depression, and an innate desire as a daughter to want to fix things, do enough to obtain approval, maintain peace…  For years I allowed those desires to almost consume me.  I took on every need, every disconnect and feverishly sought to find a solution, a way to mend the fences.  In the end though, I did little more than take on another person’s anger and dissatisfaction. I was changed and in return able to do little to create change.  Last year, all things came to a climax-yes, at a holiday.  It was devastating.  It was painful.  It was terrifying.  It was the end of me, and the beginning of truly learning to let go of the things that bound me and learn to live freely in Christ.  I look back now and wonder why I didn’t let go earlier.  Why I didn’t realize that the struggling was not a part of my spiritual growth, but more a battle to hold on to “earthly ways” and a failure to trust God.  Beth Moore, in Breaking Free says “..the most debilitating loss for a Christian is not the loss of a loved one, but the loss of faith.”  It is hard to admit a loss of faith.  Too often we think of it in broad terms-walking away from a relationship with Christ.  If we look at it in broad terms we can protect ourselves from having to face the harsh reality of our spiritual condition-the lack of faith.  As a Christian it is heart wrenching to come to terms with a faith problem, yet anything binding us/oppressing us is just that.  So, while I hated last year’s events, they were the beginning of looking deep within myself and coming face to face with my lack of faith issue.  And so, this year, through much prayer, quiet reflection and pursuit of God’s word, He has begun to restore.  The relationship with my mother is not restored.  It may never be fully restored, for some of the work is hers to choose to do.  He has begun to restore me, free me to live abundantly as the person He created me to be.  He has shown me cycles need not be repeated.  He has shown me I must trust Him to see my mother through her journey on the path she chooses.  He has shown me I can not live “for” others, but can live freely “with” others.  And as happens when we let go, have faith, He grows in us the very image of all we have hoped to be.

As for the stomach virus, well, not much to learn from that.  Life happens.  Sometimes you just roll with the punches.  You get back up, you clean up and carry on.  In the end, we all survive.  Some of us may not grow or seek a new path, but some of us will.  We survive, but more importantly we chose the path less traveled, we get through it and we thrive.