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.
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!