“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Life has kicked into gear around here. No more sipping iced tea on the porch. Summer is over, and September calls for organization and productivity. It can feel like a shock to the system after months of an easier pace. Do you have so many balls in the air that you are afraid one is going to drop? Are you hustling through your day, yet in the evening, doubt that you have done enough?
We live at a time in history that is more productive and efficient than ever before, yet so many of us are walking around (rushing around) accompanied by a strong sense that we fall short of who and what we are supposed to be. If this describes your life, how long has it been like this? Weeks? Months? Years?
We can so easily fall into the habit of just existing. Of measuring the value of our lives by our productivity, by whether or not we get the job done, by how far we climb up the ladder. But none of those things can give us joy. I was talking to someone about this pace the other day. She said it sounded to her like I was treading water while trying to keep a bunch of balls in the air, which sounds pretty much impossible. That description wasn't news to me. It didn't feel particularly insightful, just observant. But then she went on to say something that really stopped me in my tracks. “I think that at the same time, you are kicking your heart away from you. Not because you think your heart doesn't matter. You just don't have time to stop and take care of it.”
I haven't been able to get her words out of my head. I know that, above all else, I need to guard my heart. I believe wholeheartedly that everything I do flows from my heart. The heart is the essence of who I am, not what I do. It's where joy is found.
Joy does not reside in a life that is all about checking the boxes, even if the boxes are for really good things like spiritual growth, service, and loving your family. When most of what we do is preceded by “I should” or “I must,” then there's a pretty good chance that we are lacking in the joy department. But this is a tricky thing. God asks us to obey Him, and so a ton of things get put on our “I must” list. People around us need to be actively loved, and that makes the “I should” list a million miles long.
I'm committed to wrestling through this paradox. I want to continue to be sold out for Christ. I want to love people tangibly, and I want to obey God completely. But I want to figure out how to do those things in a way that doesn't feel like one enormous should. Not just because it doesn't feel good—it's because the motivation isn't right. And when we operate for too long simply because we must and we should, we become robotic and a little bit dead inside. I want to avoid this at all costs, and I'm sure you do, too.
I want to fight for joy, because “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). If I don't have joy, I'm weak—prone to burnout, discouragement, and frustration. I believe “the joy of the Lord” comes from knowing we are God's beloved daughters and living out of that reality. As a loving father, God wants us to experience getting lost in pure delight. He wants us to be replenished. He wants the blinders off our eyes so that we can see all that we have to be grateful for. He wants us to take time to rest. In fact, He's commanded that we rest (Exodus 20:8). He knows us completely—we are the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8). He wants us to take the time to figure out what truly brings us joy. Not what numbs us, distracts us, or just keeps us busy.
There will always be many things that simply need to get done. Laundry doesn't fold itself, and the bills need to be paid. But let's make sure that we lift up our hearts each day and give them a little tending. That we hold them up to our heavenly Father and ask Him to pour out His love and grace over them. He never withholds that request. And let's look for the little things that bring us joy, and give ourselves permission to lay down the uncompleted to do list and do something that simply breathes life into our hearts.
May we truly LIVE EVERY DAY of our lives and continue to fight for JOY.
This post originally appeared on the WWP blog on September 1, 2015.
This October feels good. I feel awake and full of hope even while I'm a little bit afraid to breathe in my own house. Let me elaborate.
As many of you know, I have seven kids. Since most of them change their clothes about three times a day, and a piece of clothing coming into contact with my children's skin means said piece of clothing is now contaminated, our laundry piles are large and in charge. So when my washer or dryer doesn't cooperate, it really qualifies as a full-blown crisis for me. After being without a dryer for a month (I will not bore you with those details), and after discovering that no one wants to be my friend at the laundromat because I hog all the machines at once (therefore it is not the ideal opportunity for me to evangelize), I decided my entire life would change if I revamped my laundry room and had not one washer and a broken dryer, but two washers and two dryers.
Unfortunately, when we started the remodel, we discovered mold and all sorts of nastiness in the walls. I am now sniffling and having allergic reactions to these little toxins…hence my current fear of breathing deeply when I'm at home. My hearing has gotten funky because there's fluid behind my ears, and overall, it's a very annoying situation.
But here is what I know to be true in the midst of the crazy:
I had a speaking engagement the other night, and the topic was putting God first. My allergy symptoms hit a crescendo just before I needed to be there, and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed. But I decided to count on the fact that the material in the talk was actually true. I chose to bank on the truth that “I can do things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) All I could do was get my body to the Church-to show up. The Holy Spirit would have to do the rest. I was about as limp as a glove on a table could possibly be. But God was faithful, as He always is, and gave me strength that was not my own.
Sometimes the best we can do is just to show up, but that is enough. Every single thing we do does not need to be worthy of a Facebook post or a Nobel peace prize. Small acts of faithfulness, done when we least feel like it, are collectively powerful.
A friend is going through a hard time and you don't know what to do or say? Just show up.
Are you feeling spiritually dry and going to Mass feels like a drag? Just show up.
Do your children's needs seem never-ending? Just show up.
Showing up is when we just say, here I am. I don't have much to offer, but what I've got is yours. There you are. I see you. I'm not here to fix you. I'm just going to be with you. That's how I'm going to love you today.
Here's the other thing I'm learning right now:
Being real and authentic is messy but it wakes up your soul and lets you feel alive and present.
When life is out of kilter, our ability to hold it all in and be perfect goes out the window. We end up being real and authentic whether we intend to or not.
I really like being in control, and my go-to preference has always been for people to see the best side of me at all times. But lately, I've been trying out saying what I really think. I've been quicker to admit that I don't know what I'm doing. I've been slower with dispensing advice. I've been doing more sitting in the disappointment with people than trying to fix their problems.
This feels messy. It doesn't feel like buttoned up, tidy living, but with each authentic conversation, each time that I venture out past what feels safe and into what feels more honest, my soul wakes up a little bit more.
I am feeling more alive and more present than I ever have. Instead of trying to rush to a solution that brings everything under control, I'm pausing and thinking about the fact that my fix might not be the right one-that I should listen for a little longer before jumping in with my words. And like I said, this doesn't feel nice. But I'm letting myself feel that and sit there for a little bit.
While this waking up of my heart is causing me to feel the hard stuff a little longer and more acutely, it is also waking me up to joy. I feel joy more than I ever have, and I'm sitting there a little longer, too. Instead of rushing past it, I'm grabbing hold of it and remembering that this is why we are here. This is what it means to really live.
In Galatians 4:15, Paul asks, “What has happened to all your joy?” This month, I've found it and embraced it, right in the middle of the crazy. It was hidden underneath all sorts of feelings and emotions, and I had to take the time to feel each one in order to get to it.
So this October, let's let ourselves off the hook and just show up. Let's be real and authentic, even when it feels messy. Let's breathe deeply, just not in my laundry room.