Earlier this week, I knew that this was going to be a crazy weekend. I had an absolutely dizzying amount of things I had to get done before the baby gets here tomorrow and had carefully organized my list so that not a single minute would go to waste. I even took a friend up on her kind offer of help (shout-out to her awesome blog, Betty Beguiles) and asked her to come over on Friday and help me get started on the mountain of housework I had to do.
On Thursday night I started to get sick, a sinus infection that had been lingering for a while finally taking over.
On Friday, still feeling sick, in the middle of Betty and I trying to get some important baby clothes organizing done, my 18-month-old daughter LM started exhibiting some concerning symptoms (including screaming at the top of her lungs with no stopping) that made me think that she might have swallowed something dangerous. While Betty and I tried to figure out what was wrong with her, our kids (“our” meaning “my”) proceeded to take a basket of clean laundry and throw it on the stairs. We eventually decided that I needed to take LM to the hospital. As I was on my way out the door to take LM to the emergency room, my two-year-old daughter LC tripped on the clothes she’d thrown around and tumbled all the way down the stairs. Long story short: luckily everyone was fine (LM just had gas and LC was just shaken up), but instead of a productive organization session, I ended spending the afternoon in the ER while Betty had her hands full watching the other kids. Very little of the important housework got done.
Friday evening I was so sick I barely got through dinner before collapsing into bed.
Yesterday — the day that was supposed to be my power productivity day — I woke up to find that not only was I still sick, but my husband was sick too. Both of us could do little more than lie around on the couch.
I’ve been blessed with a ton of support and many offers of help, but unfortunately many of the most critical things that need to be done (bills that need to be paid, a deadline to be hit, going through inbox to check for urgent items) are things that only I can do. Almost none of it will be done before Monday.
It has been very tempting to let myself become overwhelmed with anxiety about all this, and I’ve been thinking and praying about my predicament a lot. Then, last night, something became crystal clear to me…
I was looking over my list called Things that HAVE TO be done before the baby gets here!, and thought to myself, “I could see trusting God with the outcome of three or four of these things that aren’t going to get done, but there are almost twenty important things here! How could this possibly work out?!” And I think the Holy Spirit hit me upside the head with a 2×4 because it immediately became crystal clear to me:
It’s a whole lot easier to trust God when you’re not overbooked.
Lately I’d been drawn to rethink the lessons I learned here and here about not putting too much on my plate. In particular, I’ve felt drawn to think about the guidelines that God gives us through the natural world and traditional Judeo-Christian work practices about how much we should attempt to get done in a week. I’ll save the details for another post, but the short version is that I realized that a good way to figure out how much God expects you to get done in a week is to attempt to do no more work than you could get done in a six-day week, during daylight hours only, allowing ample time throughout the days for prayer breaks and calm, nourishing meals.
I’ve been thinking about how much I use modern technology (mainly artificial light) to push myself way past these natural limits — how I abuse the fact that I can add more hours to a day or week simply by keeping the all lights on until midnight or blowing off Sunday as a day of rest — and I realize that I do it to keep myself from having to make painful choices about what I can and cannot realistically commit to. As I’ve said before, saying no and setting limits is difficult for me. I don’t like to do it. So I tend to say yes to everything and just keep pushing and pushing to find more hours in the day when really there are none.
As I think through all this, I see clearly how I got myself into the mess I find myself in this weekend.
When you live your life within the constraints natural, God-given work/rest rhythms of the days and weeks, you have buffer. There’s some wiggle room in your schedule when urgent, unexpected situations arise. Also, you’re forced to practice the discipline of placing your to-do list in God’s hands on a daily basis: you constantly have to trust that those things that you won’t get to because of praying and taking a day of rest will all get taken care of in God’s time.
This became glaringly obvious to me this weekend: the amount of work that I attempt to do in a week spills far over those natural borders of how much one should work, but it all turns out fine and I can maintain the illusion of control…as long as nothing goes wrong. As long as everyone is healthy and there are no emergencies, I can get it all done without too much stress. But, as I’ve seen this weekend, when the slightest thing does go wrong, like a juggler who’s barely able to handle all the balls he has in the air, it all comes crashing down. And just as I was too reluctant to trust God by living within natural human limits in the first place, it’s harder still to trust him when the zillions of things I insisted on cramming into my schedule all start falling apart around me.
I am sure that this is not a coincidence that this is all playing out during Lent.
On top of the to-do list flame-out, this unexpected illness has derailed my Lenten plans as well (as happened in 2007). Even the few practices I was planning to observe for Lent have fallen by the wayside as I just try to get by. But what was behind my big plans for Lent — the sacrifices I was going to make, the devotions I was going to add — was a sincere prayer that the Lord might show me how to get a little bit closer to making my life one eloquent sermon. I truly wanted God to use this season to take me one step closer to letting go of my desires and attachments and controlling ways, to show me how to better abandon myself to him in simple, powerless, childlike trust.
As usual, his plans were better than mine.
I’m off to rest up before the big day tomorrow and, after a beautiful Mass this morning, I feel great peace about all the stuff that’s not going to get done. Thank you all for your prayers, and may God bless every one of you this week.
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