Archive for Lifestyle

Singles and Self-Care

Somehow, I got it into my head that “self-care” is a dirty word. Not for other people, just for me. I’ve always encouraged friends and family to take care of themselves: to rest when they’re tired, see the doctor when they’re ill, care for their injuries, be gentle with themselves when they’re depressed or grieving, and to say no to other plans when they’re overwhelmed. Yet, when it came to myself, I was relentless.

I’m the girl who sprained my ankle more than 20 times and yet never went to a doctor about it. The one who worked 70 hours a week, and still agreed to volunteer at church or help out with the school play. The person who always answered her phone, texted back right away, or responded to emails at all hours of the day and night. The teacher who edited student college essays via Google Doc even on vacation, or after they had graduated and were at community college, and who never said no when asked to write a college recommendation. The insomniac counselor who could always chat at 2 in the morning when my counselee was in crisis.

That’s who I was, mostly defined by my lack of self-care. And, in the Christian community, this was seen by most as good, godly even. I got Teacher of the Year and was constantly praised for what a great role model I was. I was commended for my commitment to my counselees and students. I was encouraged to keep up the good work, and expected to do so. And all the while I was growing more and more broken inside – constantly sick, frequently injured, always exhausted, emotionally drained, depressed, and forever worried I’d disappoint everyone.

I know I developed these expectations myself, that I am responsible for living my life this way for so long. But the thoughts that this is how a Christian single woman should live her life were planted and watered somewhere.

When you grow up in the evangelical conservative church, there is often an emphasis placed on one side of Christianity or the other: grace or righteousness, faith or works. If asked, the pastors and teachers I had would have said that the Bible teaches the importance of both; however, the culture of these institutions, and often the sermons and lessons, tended to highlight righteousness and works over grace and faith. My Christian school’s motto was “Excellence in everything,” and, little straight A student that I was, I took this to heart probably a bit more than I was meant to. In my head, the idea that I needed to sacrificially serve everyone in my life, do everything in my power to help those around me, even to or especially to my own detriment, was ground in.

I remember last year Googling “do all things with excellence” when I was looking for the verse that’s found in, since my church and school taught it so fiercely, and was shocked to find there is no verse that says this. The closest one, Colossians 3:23 actually says “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not men.” Some translations say “work at it with all your heart,” “do it enthusiastically,” or “work from the soul.” This has a very different connotation than doing all things with excellence. You can work heartily, or do things with all your heart, and still suck at it. It’s freeing, actually! I can work from my soul, doing my job and ministry for the Lord, and still not be the best one at it, and that’s ok! It’s actually God-glorifying! I can’t even find the word “excellence” as my school defined it as necessary for us. We are told to excel still more in many of the epistles, but the vast majority of them tell us to “excel” at love for one another and for God (Philippians 1:9-10, 2 Corinthians 8:7, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 4:1, 4:10). Nowhere does it say we have to excel academically, at sports, as missionaries, as wives and husbands, and in all other aspects of life. We don’t have to be superior in these areas, we just have to work heartily at them. We can and will fail, and it’s not the end of our faith. There is a big difference there, this is beautiful and freeing.

My mum tells a similar story, how growing up in the charismatic church as she did made her feel like she was never doing enough for the Gospel. Missionaries were held up as the gold standard for Christian living, and since she was merely a mother of 5 and a teacher, she didn’t quite make the grade. The motto at her parents’ churches was “burn out rather than rust out.” When I look at her life, I see nothing but service to her family and students, to her friends at church and her coworkers, but for her she still fights an inward battle of feeling like it’s never enough.

This weekend, I had the great joy of having afternoon tea with one of the young women I met in my term at English L’Abri last winter. During our reminiscing, we touched on this topic, remarking that many of the students ended up at the Manor House with similar questions: Is it okay to rest? What does that even mean? What is the balance between living a godly life of obedience and grace?

James 2:14-17 teaches about obedience:

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Ephesians 2:9-89 says this about grace:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The Scriptures are filled with verses about both of these sides to our relationship with Christ. I’m not saying I have the perfect answer to the questions listed above, but I do know it’s important to remember both the incredibly loving unending grace of God as well as showing our gratefulness to Him for his sacrifice by worshipping Him through trust and obedience, not just one or the other. While I do know there are some churches that emphasize the grace part without the works, I’ve always gone to ones that have done the opposite, telling us to glorify God without reminding us of the second half to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “and enjoy him forever.”

So here I am at 39 taking the time out of life to try to sort through what is actually expected of me, not by myself or what I think other Christians expect, but by God. And I’m realizing that the one thing God seems to want more than anything else is my love; for me to love him and love others (Matthew 22:36-40). And, as counter-cultural as this is for many in the conservative evangelical church to believe, I’m learning that one of the best ways for me to love God and love others is to be a bit less broken. This means that I am allowed to, even encouraged to, take care of myself.

I am better able to love God and others, to spend time in his word and prayer, to reach out and help my friends and family, if I am well rested, alert, and in as little pain as I can be. Getting rid of pain isn’t the goal of my life, but if I can rest my ankle by saying no to a few things the first couple weeks after I sprain it, then I will be able to say yes to more things later because it might actually heal for once. If I get more sleep, I can actually focus on conversations with my friends who are hurting or need encouragement, and I’ll be more patient with my students and more loving. My enjoyment of this incredible world around me helps me start to overcome my cynical views, and enjoy God even more.

Our culture in America today, especially in the cities where being overworked and tired is worn like a badge of honor, pushes us past what we were created to do. We were created with limitations and yet we think we can overcome them by working more. We work hard and play hard – even our free time is “hard.” The church seems to take this one step further with its obsession with the Puritan work ethic and martyr worship. And for singles, we get caught up in this without a partner to help us try to balance it all out.

Single people may die younger because of it – with no one to urge us to see a doctor, care for us after procedures, or give us companionship as we age, some studies have shown that singles, on the whole, die a bit earlier than our married counterparts. As much as married people struggle with this too – wanting to sacrifice everything for their kids or work more hours to provide for their families, they often have their husband to tell them to rest so they can be a better mother tomorrow, or to come home right away after work so they can spend time with their kids as a better father. It’s incredibly rare to hear Christians telling single men and women that they need to go home to take care of, well, themselves, that they should probably say no to this new ministry opportunity because they already need a break to just be alone. Yet, this might be even more necessary since the single person doesn’t have a spouse to pressure them into necessary rest.

Though I was taught that loving our neighbors as ourselves means we already love ourselves too much, so we need to work hard to get our love of others on par with that, I’m learning this might be the wrong view of Mark 12:31. I agree that we should not be selfish and make self-care more important than everything else in life to the point we stop caring about others; however, I do now think self-care is necessary and can actually be a beautiful part of our walk with God. It is humbling to admit we are broken and can’t do everything, to ask others for help, and admit we can’t be quite as active in ministry and work as we used to be. It takes a lot of reliance on God to follow doctor’s orders and sit on a couch, ankle on ice, instead of working overtime when finances are tight. It opens up a new kind of vulnerability in friendship when I, the counselor, tell my friends I need their help instead of the other way around.

I’m learning that I was not created to be Wonder Woman, as much as I yearn to be; instead, I am just me, a 39 year old single lady with foot problems and insomnia, a cynic who has struggled with depression, prone to sinus infections and back pain, whom God loves and cherishes and created for a community of believers in which we mutually love and help one another. In this weakness, there is beauty and true grace.

2 Corinthians 12:8-10 states:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So, my dear single readers, take care of yourselves, not the point of being unloving to others but to help you be able to love and enjoy God and others all the more. And my dear married readers, do the same, and try to encourage your single friends to go to the doctor when they need to, or go home to rest, or say no to some activities when they’re stressed, or just carve out time to be alone without some task to do. Remember, they might not have anyone else counteracting all the voices in their lives that tell them they have to do more and be more. Be that voice for them.

When the World Expects Too Much

I decided to take last week off blogging since it was the first week of school. Always a hectic time, it was particularly insane this year as I was opening a school library for my first time ever, getting out consumables (workbooks) for every kid in the school (4-7 books per kid for over 1,100 students), and I had to do it all on my own as my partner had transferred to a different school and they haven’t replaced her yet. I’m trying to give myself permission to say no to things more often, but it’s still a struggle.

The thing is that I care . . . a lot . . . about a lot of things. I care about my students and teachers. I care about my family. I care about my friends. I care about my community, especially the poor and underrepresented, the voiceless and the weak. I care about my fellow Christians. I care about my country and my world.

But it’s just not enough.

As much as I tried, I didn’t have time for a kind word to each and every one of my students, many who really needed to be seen and appreciated in the first week of school. Even though I worked for hours and hours on the schedule, I still made a mistake and was unable to accommodate a couple of the teachers right away. Even though I prayed for energy, endurance, and patience I still complained more than I should have, still struggled not to cry at the end of a rough Friday. Even though I wanted to spend time with my brother and his son, I sat out their zoo trip on Saturday and stayed home instead because I felt like a giant walking bruise. Even though I followed the news all weekend and posted condemnation of the racist violence of the alt-right and the equivocating weak rhetoric of our president, I couldn’t actually make anything better. Even though I wanted to try hard to get to know people at my old/new church, I felt closed off and defensive Sunday morning at a church which seemed to act like nothing had happened, like America hadn’t just experienced horrible sin and violence.

It’s just not enough. I’m just not enough.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much our modern world demands of us and how much we demand of ourselves because of these expectations. As work got more and more stressful this week, I thought of every single person I know and realized not one of them has a job which is not frequently stressful. This brought up the question, are all jobs stressful? Is it a requirement to our survival (financial, physical) to be constantly stressed out?

Since Genesis 3 promises post-Fall humanity pain, sweat, and toil just for us to be able to eat, I suppose the answer to this is a resounding “Yes!” Which I find utterly depressing. I get that we can find rest in the Lord and all that, I even wrote a previous blog entry about that sort of thing, but some days I just can’t figure out how to practically do that in this difficult world of ours.

When I think about what the world expects of me and what I expect of myself, the only logical response seems to be feeling overwhelmed. Let’s break this down.

Expectations of the Awkward Spinster:

As a 39 year old, educated, Master’s degree carrying single adult woman

  • I should be doing quite well in my career by now.
  • I should be earning a decent wage with a retirement fund, savings account, and health insurance.
  • I should be either finished or almost finished with paying off my school loans and car.
  • I should be a leader or mentor at work at this point, helping newer younger coworkers find their way.
  • I shouldn’t just be writing a blog, but should be also working on my book and speaking career to go along with it.
  • I should have close relationships with the women in my church and be a vital part of a weekly Bible Study as well as my biweekly global prayer group.
  • I should be an involved aunt, a role model to my little loves, a reliable help to their parents.
  • I should be a helpful daughter to my mother financially, physically, and emotionally.
  • I should be a mature Christian woman who reads her Bible and has a significant time of prayer every day, memorizes scripture, journals, and processes it all.
  • I should somehow be both strong and meek, quiet and confident, submissive and yet a teacher.
  • I should be a dedicated biblical counselor, helping my church to set up a counseling training program, mentoring newer counselors, while counseling as many people as I can for free.
  • I should be active in my community, helping those in need with donations, volunteering, etc.
  • I should be an involved friend to those who’ve poured into me throughout my life, keeping up with them by writing e-mails, letters, text messages, social media comments, inviting them over, and talking to them on the phone.
  • I should be an involved member of the human race by keeping up with the news, being aware of what’s going on, and finding ways to help.
  • I should continue to be a passionate advocate for my former students and clients, encouraging them as they go off to college and careers and families, letting them know they are still loved and supported.
  • I should be an expert in my fields, keeping up with the latest in literature, writing, education, and biblical counseling.
  • I should be creative, writing poetry and journaling, blogging, and creating.
  • I should be a student of the world by traveling each year.
  • I should be a patron of the arts and news, things that matter to me and the world.
  • I should help around the house with cooking, cleaning, & maintenance. 
  • I should support my friends in the mission field through letters, prayer, and finances.
  • I should visit my friends and family out of state at least once a year.
  • I should spend time with my friends in LA by visiting once a month at least, and yet still be able to make new friends in my current town and invest in them too.
  • I should be a good doggy mamma and take him for walks and to the park.
  • I should keep up my geek cred by watching the latest Marvel or DC movies, reading the latest comic books, and going to a convention or two.
  • I should try online dating again and be open to possibilities.
  • I should lose weight, eat healthy, go to my doctor, and exercise daily.
  • I should march against white supremacy, protest the cruel regime shaping America today, stand up for the little guy.
  • I should, I should, I should . . .

This list never ends. I’m sure if you make a list for yourself, it will be just as long and overwhelming. Now, many of these expectations come from the world around me, what people expect of me, while some of them are what I expect of myself. It’s hard to parse through this list and separate them as many are intrinsically linked; I expect things of myself because I think others expect them of me.

It’s too much.

Wonder Woman #15 art by Terry & Rachel Dodson, story by Gail Simone

After a weekend like this one, when I wish I could just chuck everything else and go be a freedom fighter for a few months, I don’t even know where to start.

Which things are the most important of all? I am a finite human and cannot do everything. So where do I begin? In Mark 12:28-31, a scribe approaches Jesus and asks him,

“Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Since many, if not most, of the things on my list of “shoulds” are related to trying to love God and love others, I’m still struggling my way through these top two commandments. The practical application of theology is rarely straightforward. This is not one of those blogs where I post a question and then answer it at the end. I’m still scratching my way to the surface on this one, still overwhelmed, still confused. Just thought I’d put this out there because I’m pretty sure there are a lot of us in this predicament.

So, if you’ve got any answers for me, please comment away. In the meantime, I’ll be looking through this list of mine trying to figure out where these expectations come from, which ones really matter, and which ones take priority. Prayers, encouragement, British chocolate, and scotch are appreciated along the way!

Teach Us to Number Our Days

From before I was born until I was out of college, my mother made scrapbooks filled with photos of all the major and sometimes more minor events of the year. In her lovely calligraphy, surrounded by stickers, she began most of these tomes with Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

This week, I turned 39, entering the last year of my 30’s. Many single men and women I know panic at this point, ashamed of how old they are, refusing to reveal their age, downplaying birthdays, and sometimes even experiencing bouts of anxiety and depression around this annual date. They see the end of their 30’s as a closing door on hopes of marriage, family, and whatever other milestone they think they should have accomplished by now. For a celibate single Christian woman, these ages do have biological significance as the likelihood of us being able to have our own healthy biological children decreases with each year. And we get to that point in our lives when every time we meet up with friends we’re comparing medical issues and talking about how tired we are.

And yet, I still love birthdays, they may be my favorite thing to celebrate, my favorite kind of party. Not a fan of baby or wedding showers (those games are seriously torturous, you guys), and a firm believer that some weddings are just way too awkward and long (and if I hear one more horrible toast about how “relieved they were that the bride FINALLY found her man and now maybe they’ll get grandchildren” I might smack someone), my extroverted introvert self can look forward to celebrating birthdays with minimal to no dread.

Psalm 90:12-17 gives us part of a prayer of Moses which influences how I see marking a new year in each of our lives.

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

I grew up with this refrain ringing in my head, maybe that’s why I’ve always loved birthdays no matter how old we all get. Each year I wear the new number like a badge of honor. I survived another year. God has granted me another year. I have learned more about life and myself and God in this year. I pray that my heart has grown more wise this year. My dream is that I’ll just get better with age, like a fine wine, or Maggie Smith.

“Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!”

Yes, the past year of my life has included some incredibly tough things as well as joyous ones. So even in the midst of celebrating another year of life, I do still desire the Lord’s return – more for our stricken planet than just  me alone. I grow weary of this world and the sin in it, affecting all of us from the little ones to the oldest of my loves. I have lost people that meant something to me. I grieve the state of our nation, its attitudes toward the poor, weak, and broken. Rejoicing in another year of life does not mean we have to ignore or forget the hardships we’ve had in that same year. As much as I celebrate another year of life, I do long for the redemption of the earth and God’s children.

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

I can rejoice and be glad no matter what has happened in my last year because my satisfaction comes from God’s steadfast love above all things. The unchanging, eternal love of my heavenly father is where I seek my contentment, and out of this spills joy and celebration.

“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.”

In the hardest years, the ones filled with more loss and pain than others, only God can make us glad to celebrate more days. If you read Psalm 90 in its entirety, you’ll see that it actually starts by comparing our limited time to God’s eternity and emphasizes God’s anger and wrath at the sin of man. It’s actually a pretty pessimistic prayer, which might be why it appeals to my cynical realist heart. As much as I am grieved by the sin of the world, my own included, God sees all of it and is angered, and he will bring it to justice. And yet, Moses prays for God to “make us glad” for all of these days and years! We are meant to be both heartbroken over the sin of the world, and joyous for each and every day of our lives. I think only God can give us that joy.

“Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.”

How can we be glad for more days in which there might be suffering and evil? By seeing what God is doing. Each year, we can look back and remember God’s work in our lives and those of our friends. We can see his power and mercy, his love and beauty. This is why birthdays excite me so, I can look back and see God’s presence in my life over an entire year! There is so much for which to give thanks even in the toughest of years. And, if we are having trouble seeing this, like Moses we can pray that God’s work and glorious power be shown to us, that we may celebrate.

“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

My favorite birthday wishes end in blessings, and that’s how Moses ends this Psalm. He prays for God’s favor to be upon us. He prays for everything we have worked hard for to last. I love this. Each new year of my life, I hope for the favor of the Lord to fall upon me and those I love, and I hope that the things that mattered, the work I put into my relationships, my jobs, and trying to help those around me, I hope it endures.

My birthday wish this year is for all of you to be able to celebrate your lives and the lives of those around you. May the favor of the Lord be upon you, and may the work of your hands be established.

Just Another Manic Morning

I wake up each morning to the chimes of my cell phone alarm, roll over, and hit “cancel” (which always takes 3-4 tries to turn off in my not-yet-functional state). In those few seconds, when my brain is not yet awake, I see news alert after news alert – tweet-sized headlines that appear on my lock screen – causing my first thoughts as a sentient human to become “Damage Report!” Because I’m waking up on the west coast, it is 3 hours later than Washington DC, New York, and let’s be real, Florida, whence much of the news that concerns me these days emanates. It’s amazing how much can already have happened in those 3 little hours. Ten minutes later, still lying in bed staring at a screen, my brain struggling to string words together into reality, I realize I’m well on my way down the rabbit hole and that, if I don’t shut my phone off now, I’ll be late for work.

The tone of the morning is now set as sadness, anxiety, and often anger seeps into my consciousness. As I shower, the morning’s headlines race through my mind. As I make my coffee and down breakfast, I’m pondering the possible ramifications of the latest article or blog topic. On my drive to work, it takes all my self-control not to check headlines at the red lights and stop signs. And then, there I am, in a library full of my fabulous little children and I have to somehow immediately switch my mode of thinking into work mode.

When my insomniac self goes to bed at night, instead of reading a novel (I’ve been ⅓ of the way through Belgravia for weeks now) lately I’ve been back on social media and news sites on my phone. I think it’s good to be informed and know what is going on, even taking part in the online conversation here and there to try to help push forward justice and overcome evil. Still, my poor anxious brain is having trouble winding down so I can actually sleep (something my body already struggles against).

This is not okay. I know most of you have probably already figured this out, but it’s pretty new to me. You see, for years I was a teacher, which meant I got to school in the morning before most people were even awake. There wasn’t much news yet because, well, it was often still dark outside. Then, during the election season of last year, I was staying in a tiny English country town which had little to no internet connection so I had a bit of a buffer. But now, having 3 part time jobs, my day starts later and I have bits of time here and there throughout the day. Into those minutes goes my smart phone, always ready to tantalize me with the most recent shocking thing, always ready to grieve this non-Republican heart disgusted by the greed, hatred, and lies permeating America today. I find myself missing the days before our president could tweet his every thought multiple times a day, missing the times when I used to have to actually turn on my car radio on the drive to work before I knew what was going on. Missing having to wait for the newspaper or news hour after school or work for a recap (yes, I’m older than many of you, and thus didn’t have a cellphone until after my undergrad years at university).

I have to admit that the accessibility of news and the particularly extreme and divided nature of politics and society today is testing my faith. I am often worried. I am often heartsick. I am often devastated. There seems to be no escaping my ability to get news anywhere and anytime!

And then, at the end of this week, I had an epiphany. Again, one many of you have probably already had, but what can I stay, I’m stubborn and cynical and things take me awhile. I realized that my 10 minutes of online news binging here, 15 minutes of Facebook there, and 30 seconds of Twitter there is adding up to drastically more time than I’m spending in both Bible reading and prayer put together.

This brings me back to some of the passages of scripture so common to biblical counselors, ones I should remember and apply more than I have:

Philippians 4:4-9.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me [Paul] – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Psalm 1:1-3
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

I have not been rejoicing in the Lord as often as I used to, nor delighting in His law. I’ve been withering a bit, to be completely honest. So, how do I find a way to still be aware of what’s going on in the world, still be engaged in the important global and national conversation, still do my best to give voice to the voiceless, help the weak and poor, and champion justice, without becoming overwhelmed by it all?

Here are some of the intentional steps I am taking to change my focus a bit and give Christ and his teachings prevalence:

  • Join a global prayer group – Twice a month I meet with a small group of Christian women who pray for the things going on in this world which concern us. Instead of feeling like we are outsiders for being some of the rare non-Republican Christians in our area, we decided to band together and bring our concerns to the Lord. This is not a space for us to rant or discuss political issues at length, but to present our concerns to each other, then pray together, “letting our requests be known to God.” We also drink tea and have snacks. We actually started out meeting once a month, but doubled it when we realized how much these nights were helping us.
  • Set an actual alarm clock – I just now took the time to figure out how to set the alarm on the speaker I usually use for my phone. Though it was harder than assembling IKEA furniture, I think it will be helpful for me to no longer wake up to a screen. My goal is to do what all the sleep studies say, to plug my phone in across the room so it’s inaccessible, and not use it before bed or when I wake up. I hope this will allow my mornings to be filled with prayer and worship, as they used to be.
  • Put my phone in a different room when I’m reading my Bible – It’s just too easy for my mind to be fragmented the minute an alert pops up when I’m in prayer or in God’s word. I want to be single-minded for once in my life, not multi-tasking while studying and meditating on my Lord’s teachings.
  • Reassess all of the alerts on my phone – I do want to know if something serious occurs so I can keep my students safe, pray for what is occurring as it happens, or know to look into something further when I have time. I do not, however, need to read every single tweet by our president as it’s posted. That is a recipe for madness.
  • Carve out time and space for meditation on God’s word – This was so much easier at L’Abri, where 3 hours a day are set aside for study. I need to apply this to my daily life, to actually put on my calendar and schedule time. To figure out a space where I can truly be alone for a few minutes with God.
  • Pray in my car as I drive to work and drive home – I used to do this as a teacher, pray for the specific classes and lessons I had ahead of me that day, for specific students who were on my heart, for coworkers and the school in general. By the time I got to work, my heart and mind were already engaged with the tasks I had before me, with hope. Praying on the way home instead of listening to the news allows me to lift up any concerns from the day to God, and prepare mentally and spiritually for my next job, or for spending time with family or friends. I need to get to that place again.

These are just a few of the things I am trying or will be trying in order to try to calm my manic mind and spend more time with God and His Word than my news apps or Facebook linked articles. If you have any other ideas that might help me or others like me, please share in the comments!

Embracing Being Human

When I stepped out of the taxi into the English rain, I took a deep breath to calm my nerves before walking through the front door of the manor house labeled with a small sign that said “Welcome, L’Abri Fellowship, Please Enter.” I was exhausted from so much more than jetlag. 15 years of working in industries that care for and help others, often in the hardest circumstances of life, had worn me down so much more than the jetlag ever could, and I was seeking rest. Leaving my bags in the front hall, I did as I was told on the phone and headed toward the voices I could hear floating from the dining room. I walked into the wood paneled room, shaking with nerves as my social awkwardness hit its peak (no matter how many times I enter a room all on my own, it still freaks me out), to see smiling faces look up at me, and multiple voices in accents from all over the world offer me a seat, a cuppa tea, and a bowl of warm homemade soup. This was to be the beginning of my self-funded sabbatical, a time for God to teach me how to accept help from others, how to rest, slow down, and how to find the beauty in being human.

Growing up in the church, we often look at our humanity with all its limitations as fallen, broken, messed up. We can spend our lives trying to overcome it, trying to be better than human. When we have the perfect God-Man as our example, asking questions of ourselves like “What would Jesus do?” can become more than inspiring, it can become a obsessive search for perfection. Verses like Matthew 5:48, “you therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” weigh heavily. Even when we’ve had it explained in a complete biblical context, it can be the refrain in the back of our heads, impossible and crushing.

We are taught that God came for the broken, that he loves the lost, that we can never be perfect, we will always fall short, which is why we need God in the first place. Yet, this is often not the way the church actually lives. There can be an unspoken pressure placed upon each Christian to somehow be more than human. The “Puritan work ethic” comes to mind, as we learn from youth that “all hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23). We’re taught the Proverb of the sluggard and the ant, which ends with “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come upon you like a robber and want like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:10-11). We are told by parents, teachers, and pastors alike “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Even in the best of circumstances, when we are taught these things in balance with the rest of scripture, it can be hard to not focus mostly on this part. The work hard part. The never rest part. The give 110% to everything you do part.

As a single person at work and in ministry, I expected to be able to work and serve non-stop. I remembered hearing “if you work in your own strength you’ll get tired, but if you work in God’s strength, you won’t ever get weary!” I remembered Ephesians 6:7-8, saying “serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does.” Paul, one of our examples of those in ministry, made sure to point out that he worked a day job while he preached, saying “we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8).

I don’t know about you, but after reading all of these verses, I almost despair because it seems impossible. I’m exhausted just thinking about them.

I think every Christian deals with this at some point, but the single Christian has a particular expectation. We are meant to minister. This is why Paul says, after all, that singleness is better, “to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). I sometimes felt I was expected to work longer hours at my jobs, show up to more things, always be on time, never leave early while my married coworkers had to race off to pick up sick kids, or come in later because their spouse had their car, or drop out of a weekend event because of family priorities. Instead, I had “free” time and everyone knew it. If we aren’t using every moment of our “time off” for work or ministry, we can feel judged, guilty.

So what happens when you already work with kids all day and just don’t have it in you to work with more of them on the weekend by helping in the church nursery? What happens when you are just exhausted? What happens when you really need time with friends or family or just to rest?

I realized during my time at L’Abri that a lot of these expectations were actually placed there by me. Somehow, after years of hearing in church and in staff meetings that we needed to work harder, this became the Main Thing in my brain. I don’t think my pastors and bosses meant for this to be the Main Thing. But I’m like the stressed out straight A student in a class of non-motivated underachievers, when the teacher chews out the whole class, it’s kids like me who will get anxious and feel they have to work even harder, even if that isn’t the teacher’s intention.

Some of us need to hear the “work harder” message repeatedly, but some of us need to hear the “rest in his grace and mercy and love” message every day. Every moment.

Last winter, I set out to study rest and discovered, to my surprise, that humans, limitations and all, were created that way Before The Fall. It seems that needing to sleep and eat, only having a certain number of hours in the day, and needing rest, are NOT actually the result of sin and death entering the world. We were, in perfection, created to need rest and community. We were created to be limited. We were not created to be little gods, but to be echoes of His image. We were created human, and it was good. Then, if we add all the new limitations to our humanity after sin and death entered the world – health issues like illness and injury, more laborious work, mental and emotional health struggles –  we need to remember grace all the more.

Yes, we ought to implement the principles found in the verses above and work hard, but we must also embrace our limitations. Humans need moments of rest and relaxation, that ever-elusive “balance.” These are gifts to help us enjoy God and each other all the more.

Consider God’s institution of the Sabbath. I don’t think I really understood what a true Sabbath was until I spend some time in Israel with modern Jews who still honor this day wholeheartedly, preparing in the days before so they could do no work but spend time worshiping God and enjoying their families and friends. Exodus 10:9-10 says “six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” and Mark 2:27 tells us “the Sabbath was made for man.” Hebrews 4:4, 9-10 claims “for he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’. . . So then there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

The Sabbath was a gift to us, and though we no longer are under the Old Testament laws that require us to eat a certain way, celebrate a certain way on that day, the idea of one entire day of complete rest, without ANY work, is beautiful and good and meant for man’s good and God’s glory. True rest is necessary and good, not just a day we go to church, then race home to run errands, clean house, carpool the kids to 5 different activities, answer texts and emails, or in my case – blog or work from home, then end the day by plopping down on the couch to watch Netflix. I’m not saying doing these things is wrong, sin, but I am saying we need to reassess what is actually restful to us. And we need to realize it’s not just okay to rest, but it is good. We’re created for it. For lazy days of family conversations, reading books, watching TV with our roommates, taking walks, exploring the new eateries in town, and letting our minds wander to God.

I am a broken human. I am limited. I get tired, overwhelmed, and sometimes a bit lost. But I have a Father who says to me “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). I have a Savior who, in the midst of one of the busiest, most successful times of ministry, told his apostles to “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31). In fact, Christ himself frequently took times of rest alone, going to the mountains to talk with his Dad. And we often find him reclining at table with friends, eating, drinking, and discussing topics of the day. Much of his ministry seemed to be quite personal, just hanging out with people.

One of the best lessons we can learn by embracing our limitations as humans is that we need God. When we are busy every moment, it is tempting for us to think we have some kind of control over our lives, our futures. This can lead to arrogance and a ton of anxiety. Stepping back from it all to rest reminds us that we’re not actually the ones in charge, reintroducing humility and also the peace and joy that flows from allowing God to be in charge. Paul wrote of his limitations to the church in Corinth and, instead of talking about how awful they were or how he was trying hard to overcome them, he rejoiced. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 states “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So, no, we don’t have to agree to do every single thing asked of us. We don’t need to add extra pressure onto ourselves, expecting to be able to work 15 hours a day, 7 days a week and not wear down. We don’t need to feel guilty when we are sick or tired or just want to relax for a few hours. Yes, this can be taken too far and there are indeed those who are sinfully lazy, but the single people I know who live in LA and the surrounding area tend to be the opposite. We tend to work and work hard, with our careers becoming our identities. We can put pressure on ourselves to do more, be more, and our bosses and friends and families and churches can often play into this by adding more demands, more expectations. Since we don’t have to leave work on time to get home to husbands and wives and kids, since we live alone or with roommates instead of people for whom we’re responsible, it’s easy to feel like taking time out to rest is bad. But that Wednesday happy hour or coffee break with the girls or guys during which we discuss how we’re doing, hold each other accountable to living godly lives, and encourage and lift each other up is just as important as the married couple’s family dinner. We should be using up all of our vacation days, not buying into the workaholic culture that so often prevails in America today. We need to stop bragging about how much overtime we work, how many jobs we have, how many hours a night/weekend we spend on jobs and start encouraging each other to rest. To heal. To recover. To focus on God’s grace and glory.

Stop expecting humans to be more than we can be. And stop expecting singles to give everything we are to our jobs and ministries. Allow for rest and joyful times with family and friends. Eat great meals together. Actually get enough sleep. Remember, God created us this way – limited and yet somehow still beautiful.