“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” -Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Do you ever wonder what your childhood self would think of you now? I’d probably be happy with some things: the purple in my hair, the man I chose to marry, and the fact that I can now order at a restaurant and eat in front of people (back in the day I would have insisted I was quiet, not shy). It’s fun to reminisce and think of that person you used to be, but perhaps the more telling questions would be “what would your childhood self want to change about you? Would they be happy with the person you’ve become?”
I’m confident a cursory view would produce a common theme of my adult life: overworked and stressed. I remember a day in my student teaching when I had done nothing but work on homework and lesson plans the night before. I stayed up late to get it all done, and the next day I struggled to keep my eyes open. It was the first time I had ever fought myself to keep from falling asleep standing up. You’d think that would be a sign to slow down or maintain some balance. Nope. I kept the pace up, believing anything less than that meant I wasn’t doing my job.
Before I had my son, work was life. People would ask me what I liked to do in my free time. I didn’t have a good answer. I worked. I brought it home every night and weekend. When I wasn’t physically working on it, it was on my mind- a constant self-reflection that looped in my head, and not just once and done but over and over critiquing every action and conversation I had that day. In fact, looking back on the years before my son was born, I don’t remember much outside of teaching. I have years of my life where I can’t remember living. My childhood self would wonder what went wrong.
I recently quit that full-time teaching position, and I have to say that my spiritual health has improved greatly. There’s something about being over stressed, over scheduled, and constantly busy that strains our relationship with the Lord. The writers of scripture didn’t live in our over stimulated, technological era. Life was lived at a slower pace, without the busyness and modern gadgets. Perhaps Jesus was closest to the stress and busyness that so many of us experience on a daily basis because he knew his time was short with so much to do.
Nevertheless, we still see Jesus taking time to rest and find that quiet time. Mark 6:31-32 says, “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” Jesus also stopped Martha in her tracks as she was bustling around preparing her home for him. Do you remember Jesus’ response to Martha when she erupted at her sister for sitting around listening to Jesus and not helping her? He said, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42) Jesus placed the importance on being instead of doing.
I think we need to set aside time if we ever expect to hear the still, small voice of God. How are we able to hear God when we can’t turn down the noise around us? There has to be balance for the modern Christian. Full-time ministry is great. Fostering and adoption please the Lord. But even good things can become not so great if it overshadows our relationship with God. God needs to come first, and not God through ministry or God through parenting… just God. If my life is devoted to ministry before God, then maybe I need to sit down and examine my heart. In fact, that’s exactly what I needed to do.
I was running myself ragged, and I had to assess where I was at. Am I seeking out the amazing things I want to do for God, or am I just seeking God? I have less in my schedule now. In some ways my day-to-day seems a little less glamorous. I’m wiping bottoms and doing dishes instead of putting together a challenging Bible lesson for middle schoolers. But strangely, my spirit is rejoicing that I’ve slowed my life down and have more time to focus on growing my own relationship with God.
When I started looking for Christian articles on stress, I came across 3 questions on Lifeway to ask yourself in order to determine if you need more balance in your life.
- Is the frantic pace I’m on worth it? Is my walk with the Lord improving?
- How will this continued pace impact my family, my health, my ministry?
- Will these things matter in eternity?
I would have failed the first two questions a few months ago. My busy, stressed life wasn’t doing me any favors spiritually. My home life and my own health took a back seat to teaching. While I never really saw myself as a stay-at-home mom, I was sad and anxious about the time away from my child. I absolutely loved the work that I did and the children I taught, but I needed to recenter on God first.
These are questions I’ll have to ask myself if I ever start thinking about filling my schedule to the max again.