Being my best, being behind - let me tell you.
I told my mom the other night that I was feeling behind, and added "I think I'm starting to realize I always will be." She laughed. Get used to it! She joked with me in response. And she's right - in high school I thought I would be more on top of my schoolwork in college, in college I thought I'd have it all together when I graduated, and now that I'm at grad school I know I was just kidding myself the whole time. Too much to do and not enough time seems to be a fact of life - so why does it bother us so badly when we fall behind, and who even decides where we're supposed to be?
Here's what I think. We live in a world that promises to accept and honor imperfection, but simultaneously holds us to a perfect standard. While everyone knows that you learn from your mistakes, it often feels like success is only awarded to those who don't make them. Our society tells us that we move up the career ladder, make our families proud, and be the best we can be by doing and being all the right things for all the right people all the time. And we buy in with all we've got.
So we've become planners before we become dreamers. We make checklists before we write letters. Even sleep, as my friend Amy pointed out to me this week as we were studying Psalm 127:2, becomes "a gift that I can sometimes view as a curse because I have one more thing to do." Even when we do redouble our efforts to slow down and savor, we so often set goals and start striving instead. Emily P. Freeman calls this idolatry, and I think she's right. Our culture is prone to take things that are good and beautiful and twist them into goals and desires we feel like we have to work for. The very act of making them worth having takes away their true value because suddenly we want to hold the gift more than we want to know the Giver, and that makes us forget that it's a gift at all.
How do we escape a world that makes a mindset of perfectionism come naturally? How do we begin to accept that doing our best and being behind can coexist without shame?
Maybe we need to change the standard.
What if instead of looking to what the world promises, we look to what the love of God promises?
Sounds simple, I know. But when was the last time you started a checklist with prayer? When was the last time I asked what God wants me to prioritize, or what work He's given me purpose in today?
Back in the spring when I was cracking under the weight of a lot of heavy stuff, my dad said I was learning the discipline of holding things, and that phrase has stuck in my soul. The discipline of holding things requires us to be open-handed. You can't really look at what you're holding when it's clenched in your fists. I think that's what I do when I keep trying and trying to get ahead of my work and the weight of my circumstances, I cling tight to the things I think are important and I refuse to let God show me what I should be holding and what should be put down. We get to choose.
But we need help in choosing. We need a standard that doesn't require us to be all and do all, that doesn't force us to choice between doing well and living well, that doesn't measure our lives in terms of ahead or behind.
We need the standard that love brings to the table. We need something that is unselfish, that keeps its word, that measures us not by what we've done but by what we dream of doing. We need a standard that won't ask us to be perfect, only to live loved by the only One who is.
For me, this looks like a lot more prayer and a constant process of redefining work in my life. It looks like a lot of pestering God with questions. Where do I go next? Who am I supposed to be? Who amI called to come alongside in my community? What do I do with my time? People show up, plans are made for me, and work gets done whether I know it will or not. I may not know all the answers, but I know the One who does, and that makes all the difference in the world.