Should I or Shouldn’t I?
My sister-in-law had planned the menus, pre-marinated, pre-cut, and prepared the food. My brother navigated our paths down dirt roads criss-crossing the brush to fishing ponds and sunset watching locations. My only decision was choosing between boots and athletic shoes. That was the extent of pressure weighing me for 42 hours. Luxurious rest.
The thought of driving twelve hours home and taking up the mantel of responsibility felt like donning one of those lead vests when submitting to an x-ray. I looked forward to hugging Mike, the warmth of Zebra (our cat) on my lap, and to vegetation, green with life, so why did I feel heavy with dread? My to-do list loomed like a nightmare-scroll of bullet lists unfurling into infinity. How did my list grow like cancer? It increased one task at a time. Though most of the items took ten minutes here or an hour there, they added up to an elephant in my backpack. In response, my eye has been twitching for weeks, I’m tired, and my joy has evaporated.
In Mike Mason’s book, Practicing the Presence of People, he writes,
How many hours do you need in a day? Would twenty-five be enough? How about thirty or forty? With enough extra hours, could you afford to stop rushing around? Or would you still crawl into bed each night exhausted with greed?”
“Can you watch my kids for two or three hours this week?”
“Can you help with this event?”
“Can you host our group next month?”
I scan the calendar and identify a few empty boxes, but my chest tightens with apprehension. Would it be sinful to say no? Am I selfish and lazy? Would it be foolish to say yes? Am I pushing my body, already treading illness? My decisions present a quandary, because the needs seem genuine and good, and I want to do them.
I am tempted to say yes, so that my friends won’t think less of me or be hurt by an appearance that I don’t care. Fear of reputation, rejection, misunderstanding, fear of dimming my witness or fear in any form is a weak foundation for deeds. Tasks motivated by fear are polluted with by-products of burn-out, anxiety, anger, depression, and resentment.
Several noble reasons push me toward saying yes. Yesterday, a woman in her eighties shared her wisdom.
We only have so much time, and we need to use it. If you don’t keep going, you’ll stop moving.”
She’s right, sinking back into the couch is too easy. Once I’m comfy, it’s harder to stand and move. If I walk a mile a day, it’s easier to make it two, then three.”
Besides my experienced friend’s advice, Paul exhorts with spiritual motivation in Philippians 3.
One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
When I read of the saints of old and observe my friends, I see a scale with their pan sagging with deeds, while my pan, sprinkled with gold dust, dangles high in the air.
On the other hand, we each have unique callings. If I say yes to a request when I should not, my response prevents someone else from fulfilling a calling. If I answer a call only because I think no one else will pick up the phone, maybe God’s not on the other end of the line.
Our capacities for service also differ. The boxes on my calendar are not necessarily available because they’re empty. I should consider the cumulative efforts of all my obligations. If I am overtired but squeeze until I meet a need, my joy floats away like a balloon, and I serve out of duty instead of love. If my schedule is crowded when the Holy Spirit prompts me to do something on the spot, I’m too tired or busy to respond. I don’t want to spend all of my time-budget and have nothing left for those spontaneous missions.
Since my return five days ago from my visit with my brother, four obligations were laid on the table. I’ve said yes to two, despite vowing I would not take on anything else. Tomorrow, the church ladies gather to decide on events for the year and who will comprise the committees. I’m afraid to go, afraid I’ll commit when I already feel overextended by activities outside of church, but not outside of Christ. I don’t know what to do and what not to do, but I know who does know.
Listening to the Holy Spirit is the only means of determining whether a task is for me. I sit down, turn off my phone, turn my back on chores.
Shush, you nagging noise in my head, I’m listening to my Savior’s whisper,
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, ‘Be gone!’” Isaiah 30:21-22
Be gone, you idols fed by fears, telling me to do more, more more. I lock you out while I enter this quiet place with my Savior. I override your needling with kinder and truer words,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
“Be still and know that I am God.”