"Remember this -- that very little is needed to make a happy life."
My Kimberley had a theme last year on her blog. Abide. I learned a lot from it. This year, her new theme is He Knows. Mind-boggling. Already learning a lot from it.
Last week, my Kiersten announced that she has a theme, too, for this year. Prayer. Yay. I want to pray. Good theme. And while I'm at it, how about a big shout-out to people who have themes that I can glean from vicariously. I totally support that.
Then Kiert asked, "What about you?"
Well. That's another story. I can't be tied down by themes, Kiert. No theme for me, thanks. He Knows. Prayer. I'm good to go.
God disagreed. He, apparently, thought a theme would be a great idea.
For cryin' out loud. That made me cranky.
Cranky. Cute way to put it. But underneath it was the ugly side of Becky, shaking her fist at a loving God, in an entirely un-cute way. Hence the theme, as you'll see.
Okay, so here's how God showed me what my theme is to be. And I'm warning you now. This is a girly post. I usually try to keep my posts to 1,000 words or less, but this one was hacked from an illustrious 3,000 words down to a whopping 2,360 words and will take you about 10 minutes to read. I don't get to the point until the very end, and in no way does this follow Jon Franklin's rules for writing. It is totally random and your eyes might glaze over. Just sayin'. You've been warned.
Okay, anyway, so here's what happened. A couple of weeks ago, it came to my attention that I am a bit of a thrill-seeker. I tend to get bored easily, and I avoid boredom like the plague.
Because if I'm bored, I feel purposeless.
If I feel purposeless, I feel worthless.
If I feel worthless, I feel reject-able, and that makes me scared at the core of my being. I don't want to be rejected. I want to be love and accepted.
So... I mask my feelings of purposelessness by being a thrill-seeker.
Did you follow that?
And did you follow that it's a pack of lies?
The truth is that I have purpose. The truth is that my purpose is to be wanted by God. He created me because He wanted me. He created me to be by Him (1 Peter 2:9). That's all. And that's... good... but it doesn't give me anything to do. I want something to do.
It's like Jeff. He just wants me to be by him, and He wants to know me. Ah, but he also wants something else. He wants to be known by me. And God wants to be known by me (Jeremiah 9:23-24, John 17:3).
Eden Ahbez said, "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."
That's almost true... Flip it around. The greatest thing you'll ever learn is to be loved and to love in return (1 John 4:19).
Aha. My purpose is two-fold. To be wanted by God... and to want Him back. To know Him. To seek Him (Jer. 29:13).
Yay. My purpose is to seek God. Well, that's happy. Now I don't have to seek thrills, because I will never learn enough about God to get bored with seeking Him.
How do I seek Him?
I seek Him through prayer and Scripture and fellowship and accountability and obedience and worship and by His grace.
I also seek Him in everything I do. In my writing. In what I read. In what I watch. In my friendships. In how I spend my time.
In... my chores.
My chores are boring. Everyone knows that, according to James, who yesterday complained to me that he was bored.
I replied, in an annoying sing-sing mom voice, "I have chores for you to do..."
He shot back, "Everyone knows that chores don't help!"
I decided that's why I avoid chores. They're boring, and boring things make me feel purposeless and worthless and reject-able. Poor Becky can't do the dishes because her brain might have a quiet enough moment to look her own perception of her value straight in the face, and that would hurt. Let's all pat her on the back and tell her we feel her pain and if we were faced with that type of emotional desolation every time we picked up a broom, we'd avoid our chores, too.
So how could I seek God in the chores? I came up with a brilliant plan. I would pray for people while I folded the clothes. Oh, that is so spiritual. Wow. Spiritual Becky. Seeking God. Praying. Wondering if the halo atop her head is visible to anyone else yet.
As soon as I decided to pray, God overwhelmed me with huge prayer requests. Major crises and life-altering transitions. Widow. Liver failure plus pneumonia. Macular degeneration plus early dementia. Recent divorce. Sudden, violent displacement and loss of friends, family, hope, dreams. Nine months pregnant. Husband in prison. Husband out of work. House robbed twice in two weeks. Loss of a cousin. Loss of a father in the same way I lost mine. The list went on and on.
I knew all of that stuff was outside my circle and my main job was to pray about it, but I also felt just sort of sheepish that the big events in my life were the blackberry brambles in my front yard and my pot roast efforts. My life just seemed... shallow... in comparison to the depth of the crises around me. I felt embarrassed and, once again, purposeless.
I mentioned as much to a friend. "There are all these hurting people around me, and all I've got going on is blackberry brambles and pot roast."
My friend's response shocked me. I'll just paste it here:
You have enough on your plate with prayer, maintaining your house, the blackberry bushes and your children and husband and relationship with Jesus (not in that order). He has called you to a mighty purpose and is preparing you for the next step. Your house and the acreage may be part of it, who knows. I do know this: He will not give you a 'greater' truth and mission until you can handle and are mastering the ones He has already given you. Take care of what is on your plate and walk in humility and service to Him; then you will be given the next instructions. We are called to be content (1 Tim 6:6-8). What you have in a husband and family is beyond wonderful and hundreds of women would change lives with you in a second. There are some very hurting people out there. I am praising and thanking God that He has blessed you so wonderfully. For to whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48).
That stung. Especially the line about hundreds of women who would change lives with me in a second. At first, I really wanted to believe that I had somehow been misunderstood. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized her comments wouldn't have bothered me so much if she hadn't hit the nail square on the head.
She said, "We are called to be content." That echoed around in my mind for quite a while. Not a nice, soft echo, mind you. More like a ricochet. Bang. Bang. BANG. BANG. We are called to be content.
Yeah, but... I am content... aren't I?
I don't complain... much.
I don't wish I had a different life. I like this one. I'm... happy. Right?
Wrong. I don't feel happy. I feel purposeless.
But the truth is that I am not purposeless. I have a purpose. And I know what it is. I am called to be loved by God and to love Him in return. To seek Him.
If I know the truth about my purpose and I still feel purposeless, the issue at the core of my being is not fear. There's no Poor Becky here. There is only Rebellious Becky. There is only the Becky who knows her purpose... and is unwilling to accept it.
Unwilling to accept my purpose? Displeased with my assigned tasks?
That is Discontent Becky.
It didn't take me very long to see that discontentment is manifested all over in my life, most clearly in what I don't do.
Basically, at my core, I'm crossing my arms, scowling at God, and saying, "I don' wanna." I don' wanna clean the floors. I don' wanna do the dishes. I don' wanna do the laundry. I don' wanna eat right. I don' wanna make a menu. I don' wanna wash the windows. I don' wanna make sure the boys brush their teeth every day. I don' wanna pray. I don' wanna monitor my facebook quantity. I don' wanna be disciplined. I. don'. wanna.
This realization came just after Kiersten asked her blog readers whether or not they had a theme for the year.
There weren't no goin' back. My theme for the year had knocked me upside the head, and no two ways about it.
Okay, so I should do my chores. Fine. I knew that already.
But doing the chores is not the same thing as being content with the chores. Content with the chores? That's an oxymoron! Who would ever want to clean floors? Not me, that's who.
I began to argue with God. He wasn't saying to do the dishes. He was saying to find joy in doing the dishes.
Don't just fold the laundry. Find peace in folding the laundry.
Don't just clear the clutter. Find serenity in clearing the clutter.
Don't just clean the floors. Enjoy cleaning the floors.
Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim 6:6).
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake (2 Cor 12:10a).
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (James 1:2).
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life (1 Thess 4:11a).
Urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home (Titus 2:4b-5a).
As God's Word continued to actively pierce my soul and reveal the intentions of my heart, the less viable became my yabbut.
I heard my mom's voice in my head, during one of the many similar exchanges we had during my long and gloriously argumentative childhood. She used to say, "No more yabbuts!"
I confess that my entire married life as a homemaker has been characterized by ten very long years of yabbuts. God is showing me that they are everywhere in my life. Today, He used a conversation with the boys to show me again.
JAMES: Did Dobby work in the kitchens at Hogwarts?
ME: Yes. Dobby worked in the kitchens.
JONATHAN: Was he a chef?
ME: Ummm... I don't know what he did, exactly.
JAMES: Maybe he did the dishes with his snapping power.
ME: Ooo... that would be nice. I'd like to do the dishes that way.
JAMES: So you want to be an ugly elf?
ME: No, but I want snapping power.
JONATHAN: Then you'll have to be an ugly elf.
ME: Mary Poppins had snapping power, and she wasn't an ugly elf.
JAMES: Mary Poppins had snapping power?
JONATHAN: Her snapping power made jobs into games.
ME: Yabbut the main thing is she got the job done.
JONATHAN: Right. As a game.
A few days ago, I resolved to write about my theme for the year, and I thought it would be handy to choose a quote from A Continual Feast to go along with it, because surely there would be something in there about contentment. I found two quotes. The first, by Marcus Aurelius, you saw at the beginning of this post.
When I sat down to write the post this afternoon, I knew it would be open-ended and confessional in nature, and I knew I had no idea how to end it, because I had no earthly idea how in the world to implement the theme of contentment in my life... to somehow enjoy cleaning the floors, which seemed impossible despite Mary Poppins' claim that in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. (Yabbut, Mary Poppins, you have snapping powers. Of course there's an element of fun in every job you do.)
In the middle of my internal argument with a fictional nanny, I took a closer look at the second quote I'd found in fictional Father Tim's book.
"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy."
(Father Tim adds, "Yes!")
Did you see it?
Right there in the quote!
The path to how on God's green earth I'm going apply this year's theme!
This immediately brought to mind John Cusak's character in America's Sweethearts. "I'm grateful for the sun," he intones disconsolately through grated teeth, "I'm grateful for the flowers, I'm grateful for this limo..."
I could just see myself, mop in hand, scowling deeply, muttering, "I'm grateful for the floors, I'm grateful for the muddy pawprints, I'm grateful for the dogs my boys love, I'm grateful for the boys..."
I stopped short.
I am grateful for the boys. And their dogs. And their dad. And our God. Who gave me these floors. And this house. And this acreage. And this life. And a million billion zillion other things to be grateful for. More than enough to fill a year of learning to be content with the tasks I do for a family that is beyond wonderful.
There may not be an element of fun, per se, in every job that must be done, but there is always an element of gratitude (1 Thess 5:18).
Marcus Aurelius was right. Very little is needed to make a happy life.
No more yabbuts!