Knowing When to Quit

exhausted
Photo Credit: “Exhausted,” posted on Thayer Memorial Library’s Website

I can talk a good game about living proactively, being productive, and striving for new heights; however, I’ve also found there’s a time to back off. The time is when you’ve made commitments that are not needful, helpful, or healthy for you to keep.

For a few weeks I’d been feeling stressed because I wasn’t finding enough time in my day to work on my memoir. I entered the fall planning to work on my book at least twenty-five hours per week. As I looked at my records for the past month, I saw that I was logging closer to ten. And because my baby’s due date was approaching, this was making me nervous. Could I still get my manuscript done by the time Baby Sam came?

My hubby has often said I tend to keep my plate full to the brim; he’s always known me to be stressed over what I’m not getting done. But since my unexpected breakdown, I had been trying to pare down the helpings on my plate. What had gone wrong?

As I’ve been learning to do when I get in a pickle, I prayed. But this time as I started to pray, my brain felt too scattered to even stay on track (this is a good sign you’ve got too much on your plate, or you’re pregnant, or both). So in my prayer journal, I began with a list of my current commitments, hoping to see a pattern or pick out something I was unnecessarily stressing over.

 

Let me fill in the background for you about the housecleaning item. In the past two months, thinking I needed to become a better homemaker for the baby, I picked up two books on housecleaning (three, if you count The Happiness Project), and started to try to drastically change my habits, per the books’ suggestions. I had started to feel positively weighted down by the thought of keeping my kitchen sink clean, de-cluttering a little bit every day, and deep-cleaning my kitchen.

When I made the list in my prayer journal and saw the housecleaning item mixed in with everything else, though, I realized something: Cleaning/organizaing my home doesn’t have to be a top priority right now. Especially since I’m not a dangerously messy person (i.e., my dust bunnies are not causing us physical health problems or my clutter creating safety hazards, like some people referenced in my cleaning books).

I asked the Lord to help me set some goals for what I actually needed to do for the time being. He told me, “You can stop reading the housecleaning books right now. If you want to focus on your own book [and I do], read stuff that inspires you to write [books on writing, or memoirs].

“Continue the habits of keeping your sink clean and purging your clutter when you can. But you don’t need to add anything else.”

This was making me feel lighter already. I was next able to list out some new, more manageable goals for my writing each week; although I had to admit it wouldn’t amount to twenty-five hours. This was because my unexpected teaching job had come up at the last minute, and it takes time to create curriculum when you’re teaching a brand new class. This was an item that was not negotiable.

The baby registry and choir cantata were pretty easy to resolve: I’d let them become overwhelming when I saw I couldn’t get the registry done in three sittings (but one more should do it), and the cantata piano music learned in two weeks (hopefully four more will do it—but if not, I have the out of purchasing the performance CD).

While my hubby had told me I shouldn’t feel bad about cutting back on my memoir work, I did feel bad, because this was the single most important thing I’d identified to get done before the baby came. I knew I wouldn’t cut back anymore than I had to, but God did help me see that I was worrying too much about getting the book done in my projected time frame. He helped me resolve this by reminding me that if I got the first section revised and a proposal written, I could start shopping the manuscript to agents/editors even if it was unfinished. This is how non-fiction publishing works, anyway.

Then, God gave me this list of do’s for my guilt:

  • Lighten up
  • Lessen your expectations
  • Give yourself a break. Unpredictable things (like the class and the puppies) have happened lately.

Finally, I realized that God would accomplish his work in his time. I didn’t need to worry about what wasn’t getting done, because he was seeing to it that everything that needed to get done was getting done.

When we are walking in God’s will, or doing our very best according to the light we have (based on reading his word and listening to his voice), we can “quit” certain good things with a clear conscience—and sometimes, to continue walking in his will, we must.

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Leaders, Followers, and The Mob Mentality, Part 2

Read Part 1

While I hold to my convictions (and sometimes snobbery) on certain movements (I will never understand waiting in line for hours to see any movie at midnight), I find an abundance of examples proving that mobs can sometimes follow exceedingly good and worthwhile things. For instance, I’ve been simultaneously reading Marla Cilley’s Sink Reflections and Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, both of which are enormously popular, but also, I think, pretty valuable: they offer advice, support, and coaching for improving one’s life.

flylady

Thanks to the “FlyLady,” Marla Cilley, I’m learning more effective ways to de-clutter my house, and because of Gretchen Rubin’s chapter on aiming higher in one’s work (chapter 3), I woke up this morning with ambitions (which I promptly wrote down) to start an actual author website in 2014.happiness project

The Downside of “Good” Mobs, from a Leader Perspective 

There is something funny that happens when I find a guru I admire, though, and maybe this is because I am a leader-type, not a follower: I get jealous of him or her. Rather than just taking the advice for what it is, I wish I had been the one to give said advice. Rather than just browsing Gretchen Rubin’s website and rejoicing over all the great tips she’s giving me, I start to feel pressured to match the greatness of her website. This is a particularly insidious part of being a leader (or the type of leader that I am) because I feel this insecurity not only when I observe “greats” in my lines of work (writing, teaching, blogging), but I feel it when I see almost anyone doing any job well.

This tendency to lust after other people’s talents hurts me more than I’m sure I want to know: Chiefmost, and rather ironically, it derails me from carrying out any task well. When I start admiring someone else’s work too much in the context of wishing I had done that—or thinking, “Maybe I should go get training for that”—I get distracted from what I’m really supposed to do.

For Example…

When I was newly married and trying to decide on a career path, my older brother came to visit us. I hadn’t seen him for almost a year, but when I saw him that time, I was struck with how “religious” he had gotten, and a what a great life path he had taken—he had attended a Bible college that trained him to lead Bible studies and prepare the way for evangelistic series—and I started to feel guilty that I needed to be doing the same thing. The problem was, I was a married woman now, rooted to a definite geographical location: I wasn’t a single person who could just up and just go anywhere for college, or, for that matter, be an itinerant traveler for my work after college (like he had become). As confused as I was about my career options at the time, my brother’s path should have been a clear “no” for me. But because of my personality, as soon as I saw what a good effect taking Bible training had had on my brother, I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing the same thing, and I carried that guilt for years.

Doing The One Thing We’re Meant to Do

The fact is (and what I’m learning as I read “follow-worthy” authors such as Cilley and Rubin and others, such as Bible writers who urge us to find our unique spiritual gifts), we can’t do everything—and we shouldn’t try to do everything. Rather, we must figure out what it is God has called us to do, and then do it. But how do we figure out what we’re supposed to do?

The answer came to my mind almost immediately (God is funny this way):

If you would be a leader in anything, first of all, you must submit. It’s there, all over the Bible: “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” “  (James 4:10; 2 Pet. 5:6; Luke 14:11; Matt. 23:12, just to name a few references). And let’s not forget that those of us claiming to be Christians are, by virtue of taking that title, also claiming to followers: We are followers of Christ.

So for those of us with leader personalities, we must first learn to submit to the Greatest Leader who ever lived—Jesus Christ. After that, I believe, is when we really start to find our path. As Isaiah chapter 30 puts it (and this is a great chapter to read if you’re struggling to submit or find some direction), only after we have submitted to God and allowed Him to direct us, will we hear “a voice behind [us], saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (v. 21).

I can’t tell you what you’re meant to do; sometimes I can’t even tell myself. But I know this: when I take my eyes off Jesus and start looking to the world for my example (as in, I start thinking I need to become Gretchen Rubin, and not just glean some advice from her book and blog), I become frustrated, dissatisfied, and unfulfilled. I believe God has a specific calling for me that only I can do, and while others may give me some useful tips along the way, I must always, ultimately, go back to the one who can not only lead me, but live in me to help me carry out what I’m meant to do. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).