Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How full is your plate?

I mentioned some things in yesterday's post that have been bouncing around my head for a few days, but I didn't want to put the effort into delving into them further. But several things happened throughout the course of the day that convinced me that this was something I needed to sit in and not breeze right through.

First, I read Jami's recent blog post on personality. She says,
I don't need tips and tricks on how to serve myself better and feed my personality label. I need to look at God and ask him to help me be obedient when it feels very uncomfortable. Even if it means functioning outside my natural bend... we all need to stop using our personalities as a crutch.

I must lean on Him and into Him for times when I think situations are beyond my personality capabilities and my energy level. I am learning to stop saying, it's just my personality! in order to avoid a challenge that leads to greater intimacy with God.

He is the source of energy that never runs out. He does not sleep and He does not get tired. He has endless patience and endless love. Endless courage and wisdom. When I find myself getting lost in my limitations, I look at the limitless power of our God. And that is good for me: to be weak and in my weakness find strength in Him.

Then I listened to a Mark Driscoll sermon about 2 Peter 1:5-15. The sermon, titled "Faith in Your New Life" was shockingly apropos: this spring, I learned a very harsh way that my plans are my idols. I didn't even have time to drop them-- they were pried out of my hands in a painful way that I'm not ready to blog about. In a series of twists that only God could've orchestrated, some of those plans have been restored in unexpected ways. I find myself feeling like "I have nothing I asked for, but everything I hoped for." And maybe even a little more than I think I'm ready to handle right now.

Today, life is relatively simple. Ross got a job this summer (praise. the. Lord.) and he works pretty typical office hours 5 days a week. I work three 12-hour shifts a week and run various errands, workout, cook, go to meetings, and whatnot on my days off. We go to church on Sundays. We're trying to be more social. That's it. But in two weeks everything changes. (Disclaimer: I really don't expect you to read the next few paragraphs. It's more for me to look back on and be amazed at what God does with this fall because left to our own devices, we're sure to mess up a good thing.)

This fall, Ross will continue working and he will also begin grad school again, taking several classes this semester so he can graduate (hopefully) in May. I'm also resuming classes. Because of everything that happened this summer, I had come to terms with not obtaining my Master's of Science in Nursing at this time. Then literally the day after I had come to terms with that, I was offered a Teaching Assistant contract for this fall. I was in a really confused place: hemmed in and then handed freedom shortly thereafter. So I agreed to the contract and since teaching also means resuming classes, I'll be taking 3 this fall (because, well, they're free).

So I have class Monday nights. I teach clinicals Tuesday and Wednesday. Ross has class Wednesday night. I work my usual shifts in the NICU on Thursday and Friday (and some weekends). Whew! On top of that, our small group begins a new study this week and they moved to Tuesday nights specifically so we could join again. I thought clinicals were from 0630-1630 on Tuesday and Wednesday, so those evenings would be free. I also joined a women's group at church on Wednesdays because I need to learn how to make more friends.

But this week I learned that my clinicals are 12 hours long. My understanding when I agreed to the contract was that they were 8 hours long. So, again, I'm confused. Yet I can't deny that this is a very clear answer to the prayer, "God, what should we do with our time this fall?" My initial reactions are that a.) now I really won't have free time to spend with Ross or anyone else, and b.) I was trying to reach out and make friends and now I don't have those opportunities. Both slightly exaggerated reactions, both reeking of control and pride issues.

I'm ashamed to say that I thought God would "reward" me for cramming small groups into my schedule. By making them unavailable he's either telling me that I made the wrong choice regarding clinical teaching (although it's too late to back out now), or that I'm overextending myself and I need to pull back and re-prioritize. When I overextend, I tend to under-commit and instead of doing a few things well, I do a lot of things poorly.

Which brings me back to the Mars Hill sermon I mentioned above. About a third of the way into the sermon, Mark Driscoll started talking about two obstacles to fruitfulness and I had to stop loading the dishwasher and sit down with a pen and my journal. The first obstacle is laziness: you don't do enough. The second obstacle is busyness: you do too much, but nothing of real importance.

In a sense, I feel like my schedule right now encourages laziness and busyness. When I'm busy, I'm busy. Gone from the house for 13 hours at a time, forced to be "on my game" and on my feet for hours and hours, unable to run any errands, struggling for time and energy to workout or make healthy meals or read my Bible. But when I'm off, I'm off. I have very few concrete plans and no daily itinerary. I'm really good at filling the time available for a task: if I have all day to do my Bible study or work out, why do it first thing, right? Wrong. But that's what I find myself doing. So maybe a more regimented calendar is what I need, even though it feels slightly overwhelming?

Then Driscoll said that to be repentant of this, you need better vision. To have your eyes opened, so to speak. As 2 Peter: 9 says, if you don't possess faith and strive to add it it the qualities of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love, then you are nearsighted and blind. Blind to Jesus' work in your past (trying instead to earn what Jesus freely gave) or nearsighted and unable to look to the future (overwhelmed by the present and needing a vision to live in light of).

Can open. Worms everywhere. It's like he's talking directly to me! He went on to spell it out: to be fruitful, you need to remember "plate, priorities, and pruning." First, be realistic and assess the size of your plate. Everyone is different. There is no one-size-fits-all. I was so relieved to hear this! I'm always comparing myself to others, thinking how can they handle all of this and I can't even handle these few things? I was suddenly relieved of that burden. How big is my plate? Driscoll said some people's plate is the size of a dinner roll and that's okay. Other people may have a plate the size of a serving platter. All that matters is that you're honest with yourself and realistic. What size is your plate? Right now, I think mine is about the size of a 6 or 8-inch salad plate. Bigger than a dinner roll, but smaller than a dinner plate. And that's okay.

Priorities, then, looks at how you will fill the plate God has given you. Those who are lazy don't fill their plate and waste space. Those who are busy overfill their plate until stuff falls off. Lightbulb moment. I am still reminding myself to remember that priorities are more than what "needs" to get done today. What's important in the short term and the long term? Eternally? Pick carefully.

Pruning, obviously, means getting rid of the excess so that the vine can grow stronger. Eliminate the scraggly branches so you can devote more energy to strengthening the roots and trunk. Priorities and pruning will take more than a few days for me to determine, but it was so great to hear these things spelled out so simply. It's not rocket science.

I learned this spring that sometimes you just have to do it. I was looking for devotionals, looking for mentors, looking for someone to tell me what to do to walk as a Christian. While all those things are good, the answer was right in front of me: pick up the Bible and read it. If you're in a rough patch in life, read the book of James or Psalms. If you simply want to grow in faith, it's okay to start on page 1. You don't need a complicated Bible-reading plan! (I say you, but I mean "me" just as much. I'm forever a work in progress.)

What a long winded way for me to say, Keep it Simple Stupid. I have a co-worker who likes to say, "you can do everything. Just not all at once." And when I was talking to a professor about dropping a class this summer, he replied, "the question isn't 'can you' but 'should you'." That makes all the difference.

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