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.
I am very human in the way I love to feel alive. See the excitement in life all around me. I love to find it for myself by trying new things, asking questions, searching for answers.
But, what I struggle with most, I think, is the very common, everyday life that is incredibly monotonous. Wake up every morning. Still need to make breakfast, dishes, laundry, whiney or fighting kids, dirt, sadness, meanness, decay, things that break and need to be fixed. The mundane. The predictable. The incomprehensibly never complete-able.
It is one thing to be out on a horse conquering some big dragon out in the universe. It is still another to stay home and fight ingratitude, boredom, and normal resistance to progress.
It is like fighting gravity. You want to be in outer space, above it all, doing something grand.
But, the fact is, life is happening on earth. That is where it is. Life is dirt. It is a cycle of dirt. It is hunger. It is a cycle of hunger. When you are winning, you don’t have something new and wonderful, you are just free from something distasteful.
It takes a keen sight to find the glory is working hard to get rid of something unwanted that relentlessly comes back. And, you know, if you quit, you will lose. But if you work super hard you can never win. It will always come back.
The weeds will come back, the dirt will come back, the hunger will come back, the bills will come again, the clothes will wear out, that thing will break.
Which war is harder, I wonder? They are both necessary.
But, it takes a very courageous person to carry on knowing it is a doomed mission. It will never be finished.
But, perhaps that is the glory of it?
The challenges are necessary to life, like gravity.
To win the war, we have to win the daily battle in Bedford Falls.
(I’m just noticing how fitting that town name is. Here is where we sleep. Here is where we fall down. Here is where we help each other keep getting up again.)
The quote above I attribute to my most awesome first pilates teacher, Annia Reyes. It is quite possible that others have said it before her and if you know of another the quote originally came from, you can please let me know.
I quote it here because to me it is such a perfect reminder of what we are trying to WIN at, and that often it is not what I think will make me happy that does.
Today I find myself overscheduled. Yet, I still try to fit everything in, including writing my poem today. In the big picture, I should have let it go, it is overstressing my life. But, I find, even knowing better I can not resist the temptation to try to get 100% of my goal to write a poem each day this month.
And so, I have determined in the future to write my goals more specifically and with a range of success that leaves room for honestly living my priorities and not over-stressing my self or my family. See my post Consistent for more thoughts on how it might be done. –dsh