Last night at book club, we were discussing a book by Sue Monk Kidd, The Book of Longings. This book seems to polarize people. You either really love it or hate it. How wonderful to be with a group that can handle openly such diverse opinions and reactions and emotion without taking it personally or disagreeing. It leaves you free to be real–to see and be seen. To explore deep places. To challenge your own thinking in ways that are interesting and potentially helpful.
“It isn’t the largeness in you that matters most. It is the passion to bring it forth.”
–Sue Monk Kidd
What do you think matters most? What is within you pressing outward with consistent, pulsing desire–your art, your voice that is waiting to be born, develop, or fruit?
Our frustrations that last for years are nearly just as telling.
Our constant attractions and interests.
Our personal quests.
One of my personal quests is to understand myself so that I can choose well. I am absolutely passionate about living my life well as an expression of gratitude for the greatest gift God has given me. Does the best way to live include spending years researching the best way to live? It makes me laugh that in the very pursuit of this, I may be doing it “wrong.” But, I can not help it. I love these deep questions about life–the core of life–the questions of philosophers and believers throughout millennia of ages past. This is one of my endless attractions.
What I find in reality, rather than having some great knowledge of what is wise and best, is that I do what seems best to me and then retroactively learn from it and see what my feelings and beliefs are that reveal themselves in my actions. In some way I believe our choices reveal those beliefs that we are not aware of. This type of personal exploration and mining is also fascinating to me. So yes, by golly, I like to chase my own tail.
Today I am chasing the nuanced truth of what I choose socially and why. I explained that I am a “foul weather friend” and I am. I want to be there for my friends at their deepest, darkest night so that they are not alone. I want to be there so I can actually do something that would be helpful and meaningful. I said, “If life is good, send me a text. I will cheer for you.” It didn’t sit right with me. I also love to cheer for people. I love to be there for the top moments as well–the victories, celebrations, milestones, etc. of life.
So, what is the truth? Trying to narrow this down, I thought, well, I just don’t like the middle. The chit chat in the middle. The mundane and repetitive and surface talk is tiring to me. But, then I realized that that is also not the case. I do like talking about nothings and the normal, routine, frustrations and joys of life in certain circumstances. I love to do that while I’m doing something else. I like to work together while talking, fold clothes while talking, walk and get exercise while talking, supervise children playing while talking, etc. I multi-purpose while talking about things that are not emotionally intense and require my whole focus. This is a very strong preference to the point that I do not like sitting still and talking about surface level things. They do not take my full attention, and my attention is my scarcest, most coveted commodity. For this reason large, long parties are not my thing. Can you imagine if I showed up at a party with my mending? On the other hand, maybe that is a great idea. I might love it.
Ironically, I have historically been terrible at guarding my personal attention. I think that is because someone is in crisis at any moment, and I want to be there. I am interested in people and feel their needs are more pressing than personal time alone with my book or pen.
Imagine loving being the Good Samaritan in your heart and never getting to your destination. Maybe even losing or never finding your destination because you are so busy stopping to carry someone to the inn, and there isn’t just one person on your way who needs to get there, but rather an endless supply of real people with real needs. Plus, your destination is to be that person who takes them to the inn– so in a way, you are already there.
My destination is not a location, it is expressed in who I am. This is interesting and incredibly risky. What if, like the two who passed by, I need to limit my involvement in the humanity around me so that I can get somewhere and do something else of my own? What if I do have a personal destination or magnum opus or swan song that only I can give the world? How in the world can or should I choose who and what to ignore to make that space for me–just me? And, that doesn’t even work because even when I am alone or studying or writing, I don’t do it in a vacuum just for myself. I hope it will be useful to myself and others in some way.
I ran my life much like an ER room for many years. I kept my schedule flexible so I was available to show love. I would prioritize the most urgent needs. The needs of a stranger might trump the needs of my family in urgency. This matches my values that each person is a child of God and equally valuable. But, in practice, I would often rush about taking a meal to someone and come home to my family without one or run in to other time management problems because with my imaginative thinking I really thought I could get everything done in a day because I wanted to–hopelessly optimistic until I would collapse at the end of the day and cry about whatever was at the end and mattered but didn’t get done.
I am much less reactive now. I realize that there are other, less frenetic ways to show love and that of necessity, duty, and love, my family and my health have to be prioritized so I can do the other.
So, then maybe Nanny McPhee’s philosophy is more accurate for me. “When you don’t want me but need me, I will be there. When you don’t need me but want me, I will go away.” This is not a direct quote, but rather, how I remember it. This is absolutely true for me in many ways. I am most fully there when needed. This is one reason I am leaving my job. I love “being with” my student, but she no longer needs me. She can fly now, and I need time to fly, too. My son’s needs are pressing, and I must be there for him in these last critical years at home–my last months of mothering (not that it ever stops, but the duty changes).
How do you judge where your time and attention are best spent?
How do you choose which interests to pursue and which to sacrifice so the few can flourish?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, necessarily, but they fascinate me.
There is a time limit on this life. There is urgency to the matter–what to choose, what to sacrifice or ignore. I love this, and it is so frustrating. I might be in my cave trying to crack this conundrum until the day I die. So, go ahead and invite me to your parties. I do love to celebrate. However, I might not come, or perhaps worse, I’ll bring my laundry.
PS: I really disliked the book and did not finish it. However, I may read some of her other books to see what I think. I did enjoy her style of writing and some of the questions and thoughts it ignited.