Monday, January 25

Why our souls need a snow day

I've always liked to walk fast.

My husband used to joke that he could tell if I was coming to his office because he recognized my footsteps in the hallway.  

No matter how quickly I moved, though, it never seemed to me that I was moving fast enough.  It seemed reasonable to me that if I could move faster, I could get more done.  And if I could get more done, I'd be more valuable--to others, to the world, to myself.

Then I met Dallas Willard.  "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life," he'd say.

That's the advice Dallas would give people when they asked about how best to care for their souls.

Dallas was echoing the advice of saints through the ages.

"Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset," taught Bishop Francis de Sales in the early 17th century.  

In the mid-20th century, Thomas Kelly wrote:  "Much of our acceptance of multitudes of obligations is due to our inability to say No. We calculated that the task had to be done, and we saw no one ready to undertake it. We calculated the need, and then calculated our time, and decided maybe we could squeeze it in somewhere. But the decision was a heady decision, not made within the sanctuary of the soul. When we say Yes or No to calls for service on the basis of heady decisions, we have to give reasons, to ourselves and to others. But when we say Yes or No to calls on the basis of inner guidance and whispered promptings of encouragement from the Center of our life, or in the basis of a lack of any inward "rising" of that Life to encourage us in the call, we have no reason to give, except one--the will of God as we discern it. Then we have begun to live in guidance. And I find He never guides us into an intolerable scramble of panting feverishness" (A Testament of Devotion).

I liked to think that hurry was desirable, or at least unavoidable--that it was thrust upon me by the demands of life.  Then I'd listen again to Dallas's words, and I realize that hurry was often my choice.

I hate to admit it, but I still choose to hurry.  Squeezing too much into a given day makes me feel vital. There's so much to do!  No time to spare, no chance to dawdle, no opportunity to rest.  My head has learned better, but my feet revert to their old ways of rushing.  I want to move fast; after all, I don't want to miss anything.

Then it snows.  And like it or not, there's no way to rush out to do things.  Schools and businesses are closed.  Meetings are cancelled.  Events are postponed.  People must stay home.  There's no need to turn on the alarm clock, much less a back-up alarm.

A little stillness is enforced on me.

As I've reflected on my love for moving quickly, I've recognized an irony: in moving fast so that I don't miss anything, I've missed a lot.  My life is full of beauty and richness.  It's all there for me to enjoy and appreciate--if I don't miss it in my rush to obtain something else.

Heaven only knows the number of times over the years I've told my kids to move faster, not to drag their feet, to pick up the pace.  But this morning I just watched as my youngest son shuffled his feet as he walked slowly to his car through the leftover snow and ice.  Then I mimicked his steps as I made my way out to tell him good-bye.

"You were smart to slide your feet like that," I said to him.

"That's how I always walk on snow and ice," he answered.  "It's the only way not to fall."


As I shuffled and slid my own feet back to the house, I couldn't help but think that not falling is a good goal in a slippery world.

"Be still and know that I am God," says the Lord through the psalmist (Psalm 46:10). I reckon he knew what he was talking about.

Thank you, Lord, for the stillness of a snow day.

Wednesday, January 13

Lessons from a Washing Machine

I've often heard that experience is the best teacher.  And in my 52+ years of living, I've learned that lessons can come from some unexpected sources.

This week I've had both of those points driven home to me as I learned a life lesson from--of all things--a washing machine.

I never thought I would learn a valuable lesson from a washing machine, but I did. Here's what I learned.

Several years ago I succumbed to the allure of an impressive new washing machine.  I got rid of my boring old mechanical washer and invested in an expensive, electronic, high-efficiency model.

I was slow to join the party of high-efficiency washers. I waited until lots of the bugs had been worked out.  I listened to the experience of others who struggled with things like mold and mildew and bad smells emanating from new washers.  I did my research.  I bought wisely, taking advantage of sales and special promotions.

I finally ended up with an all-singing, all-dancing washer--one that would take all the guesswork out of laundry!  One that would turn a dreaded chore almost into a pleasure!  One that would reduce a job that used to take much time and used a lot of energy into a job that would be done efficiently, with minimum effort and little expense!

Cue the angels singing.

Except it didn't quite work out that way.

The first thing I noticed was that my white clothes weren't getting white any more.  Unexplained gray spots began appearing on formerly pristine whites.

I did some research and learned that I was using way too much detergent.  My new machine was designed to use a tiny amount of laundry detergent.  Aha!  Problem solved!

But even when I used a minuscule amount of detergent specifically formulated for my type of machine, I still had grayish clothes.  It was a bother, but not enough to make me take action.

Then I noticed that my clothes didn't seem to be rinsed well.  Often dark clothes would have soap smudges on them when I removed them from the washer.  So I began running most loads through an extra rinse cycle.  No problem, right?  It was only an extra 24 minutes for every load.

And then I noticed that, even with the extra rinse cycle, my clothes came out of the washer smelling strongly of whatever substance I used in the washer.  If I used scented detergent, the clothes smelled like detergent.  If I used bleach, the clothes smelled to high heaven of bleach.  And if I used vinegar, the clothes smelled just like the bottle of vinegar.

The big tip-off, though, came one day when I was removing clothes from the washer and realized that some of the items were not wet at all.  Not even damp.

Eventually it became clear to me that even with reducing the amount of detergent I used and running extra rinse cycles, my impressive electronic washer just wasn't using enough water to get my clothes clean. Unfortunately, because my washer was a super-fancy electronic model, there was no way to simply lift the lid and add extra water.

After talking with a number a people about my problem, I finally decided that I could outsmart my washer by selecting the "Bulky Items/Comforters" option on my control panel.  I could thereby fool my washer into thinking that some extra water was needed.

It took a long time, but finally I realized how ridiculous it was for me to be trying to outsmart a household appliance.

So as of this week, I am once again the proud owner of an old-fashioned mechanical washing machine.

It doesn't sing.  It doesn't dance.  It doesn't weigh my clothes and determine what needs to be done to them.  Instead, it sits there and waits for me, the human being in charge, to set the dial for the water level I need.

Now cue the angels singing: after years of struggling with a machine, my clothes are finally clean.

Maybe I'm getting too philosophical about an appliance, but with my new washer I've learned a valuable lesson.  What I wanted was not to have to think about the laundry.  I wanted the job to effortless.

But jobs like laundry aren't effortless.  They take time and energy to be done well.  To get the best results, a human being needs to exert some effort, make decisions, judge what is needed and choose the best way to proceed.

But the result is worth the effort.

Life is a lot like laundry, I think.  We want it to be effortless, or at least require much less effort. We're easily seduced by promises to make life easier. I wonder if our lives have been greatly enhanced by so many gadgets that we lose sight of the need for and the value of human effort. Quick! Easy!  Those are the labels that catch our eyes; those are the promises that turn our heads. But slow and hard is the work of building character.  Slow and hard is the work of living with integrity.  Slow and hard is the work of investing in relationships.

But once again, the result is worth the effort.

What do you think?  Do you learn life lessons from unexpected sources?

I'm joining these parties:

Sunday, January 10

Sunday soul food

It's been very cold here, with more cold weather to come.

Winter is just getting started, and already it's easy for me to grow discouraged by the grey days, the leaden skies, the frigid temperatures.

But then I am reminded:

To everything there is a season,
 A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain form embracing;
A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.          (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Although I may not understand precisely what the writer of this wisdom meant by all of theses words, I can discern that God created an order to things when He created this world.  And though I may not always appreciate the grey days, leaden skies, and frigid temperatures of winter, I can trust that all four seasons are necessary parts of that order.

With this, along with everything else, I believe I can trust the Creator with what is best.

So it's a good time for me to remember this:

How about you?  Do you struggle with the winter weather?  How is it with your soul?

Tuesday, January 5

Getting organized for your soul's sake

Happy new year!  Last year, one full of momentous events at our house, flew by.  I'm glad to have a nice new year stretching before me!

I've realized something about myself.  Year after year, I do the same thing.  Although I'm not a great goal-setter or maker of formal resolutions, every year I resolve to do a few things better than I did last year.

And pretty much every year, my greatest hope is to be more organized.

No, I'm not hopelessly disorganized.  We don't live in squalor.  I'm not dealing with total chaos.

But I am dealing with less than what is best for me and my family.  Less than organized, less than orderly, less than peaceful.

Every year, despite my hopes, despite scattered efforts great and small, I end up back in pretty much the same spot.  And I think I may have finally realized what I've been doing wrong.

Instead of confronting my problems with disorganization honestly, I look for ways around them.  It's easy for me to read one more organizing article, buy one more organizing book, acquire one more organizing tool.  Rather than addressing the underlying issues, I've been developing mechanisms for coping with the outcomes of disorganization.

Instead of getting organized, I've become a master of coping mechanisms.

Maybe you've done the same thing.  Perhaps I'm not the only one.

This year, I'd like to tackle the problem from the inside out.

Being disorganized is not good for my soul; of that I'm sure.  I'm going to explore what it means to be organized for the sake of my soul.  I'm going to dig into what my soul needs and what I can do to achieve it.

I'll never be an organizing expert; of that I'm sure.  That's not one of the gifts that God gave me.  But I believe that if I work on this issue with an open mind and an open heart, I can make real strides.

How about you?  Would you like to get more organized for the sake of your soul?

Sunday, January 3

Happy New Year

Here at the start of a new year, I am comforted to know that I really can start fresh this year.  Even if I am discouraged, I can begin anew--not because a page turned on the calendar, but because

God makes it possible.

My ability to start fresh does not come from me.  It comes from God's grace.  God acts in my life to enable me to do what I could not do through my own effort.  So this year, this day, EVERY day--I can start fresh.

Are you ready for a fresh start this year?