Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal:
“Dust thou art, to dust returnest,”
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow
Is our destined end or way;
But to act that each to-morrow
Finds us farther than to-day.
~A Psalm of Life, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Throughout the ages, philosophers and poets have pondered the all-encompassing question of the meaning and purpose of life. A modern-day rendition of the above poetic sentiment might be summed up by the colloquial phrase: Life is what happens while you’re waiting for life to happen.
However it’s phrased, finding balance in the midst of a busy and dynamic life is always challenging. The very word “balance” has become trendy of late, as if achieving a properly fulfilling life can be accomplished most clearly and abundantly only by expertly identifying and organizing all of its component parts.
I’ve been wrestling with the concept of balance lately, as I pulled up my daily routines, summer schedule, and current priorities and motivations for periodic review in light of my over-arching objectives and goals. How far can I let standards slip in one area to accommodate a growing roster of responsibilities, and how do I judge which areas are more essential or mission-critical than others? Or, to get to the root of the question, what, exactly, is my purpose in life, and is everything that I am doing properly reflecting my mission?
Well, to cut to the chase, I would not hesitate to say that my chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. But in the context of what objectives should be a priority for me right now, there seems room for a bit of give and take.
Right now, one major task involves placing a high priority on my calling as a wife, mother, and manager of the home. So how much leeway do I have in the execution of that task to the best of my abilities, to devote time, passion, and resources to other crusades?
Of course there are always more good causes out there clamoring for my attention. But one can only do so much, much less do it well. How am I to weigh the competing interests and dismiss their claim on me? As an inveterate people-pleaser, and a lifelong sucker for answering the call of duty, I haven’t always done so well at tuning out the distractions. But I must remind myself that my presence is not required in the grand arena of human action as the final arbiter to save the world from itself; the Internet probably has enough to go on for now, without my searching out drama for the purpose of setting it right; the elections will sort themselves out without my interference; and so on.
Just doing the task that is before me, and doing it well, should be enough for me. As Elizabeth Elliot was fond of quoting, “Do the next thing.” And as Clarence Day (from Life With Father) mis-quoted Solomon, “Whatsoever thou findest in thine hand to do, do thy doggondest.”
A friend recently emailed me to chat; we hadn’t seen each other in a while, and it was nice to catch up. She had been going through some challenging times, which put my recent (and arguably minor) struggles with recalcitrant toddlers, current events, and lack of sleep into perspective. We were both confronting the notion of scaling back expectations without feeling we were settling, or selling our families—or ourselves—short.
I told her, “I’m wrestling with the idea of not getting anything productive done after all, not just this week, but in this whole season of life. For instance, just this week alone, with the older ones out, there is no one responsible to hold the baby, and I am left with two rambunctious boys into the bargain. I used to cope with this age grouping just fine a few years ago. Perhaps I wasn’t doing so much on the side back then. I think I’ll just plan not to get anything done in these mornings, but focus on spending intentional time with the kids. So now it’s ‘no’ to all those grand projects I thought I’d knock out in all this glorious free time. In other words, the constant story of my life: is my chief end and calling to be an intentional, present mother to my children, and therefore do I not get anything else done in life? Is the computer a vast trap and temptation, or a potential productive tool to be used wisely and sparingly to maximize my homemaking and business efficiency? Many questions of grave import…but I cannot spare the time to ponder, if I am to be up and doing!”
I was writing tongue-in-cheek, but it was a good reminder to scale back and practice saying “No.” Far from feeling frustrated at the reminder that no one can do it all, I found that deliberately clearing my schedule, tuning out outside distractions, streamlining the ambitions for school, dialing back the complexity of the menu, and ruthlessly cutting out computer time has been remarkably freeing in relieving my stress level and enabling me to enjoy the simple pleasures of a pastoral life. When several children were down with a case of the sniffles, I had ample opportunity to sit and hold them, and enjoy simply being with them.
The weeds in the garden continue to grow. Eventually, we will pull them. Sometimes slowing down and smelling the lavender is the best cure for banishing headaches.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images by Rose Focht.