Tuesday, February 23, 2010

One Is Such a Lonely Number

© 2010 David’s Harp and Pen

Mood: Bordering on Rational


This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I better not hear from any self-help gurus or personal enrichment organizations. If I become any more well-rounded, I could pass for a globe.

The whole thing started out so innocently. I’d placed a call to a lady from church because I wanted to find a cleaning person.

“Sharon, you’re a single woman with no children,” the well-intentioned lady said. “Why do you need a house cleaner?”

“Well,” I replied, “house cleaning just isn’t my thing, so I’ve always paid someone to do it.”

“Oh, Sharon. Some day, you’ll be a wife and a mother. You can’t put off that responsibility forever. As women of God, we’re supposed to be good stewards of our homes, which means doing all we can to keep things orderly. I think this may be the time that God wants to instill this in you.” It sounded good. It sounded logical. It even sounded spiritual. I made up my mind, then, that I would take on the task of doing my own housekeeping. Little did I realize at the time the Pandora’s box I was about to open.

Then came the phone call from my girlfriend Marcie.

“Sharon,” she said enthusiastically, “church is starting up a women’s intensive discipleship class that’s going to run for the next 10 weeks. I’ve been assigned to be one of the small group leaders. Can I sign you up?”

“Oh, Marcie,” I answered, “it sounds like fun, but work is really busy right now, and I don’t know that I can really devote the time to it.”

“But Sharon, you’ve said in the past that you wanted to learn how to be more a girly-girl and have more female fellowship. Besides, the Bible says the older women are supposed to pour into the younger women, and the younger women are supposed to submit to the older women, so really, you have a responsibility to be there.” Again, she sorta sounded right, so I told her to put me down for the class.

A few days later, I went to Life Group, and the topic of discussion was physical health. When we were all done talking, my Life Group leader Joshua, who’s also a personal trainer at the local YMCA, came up to me and asked, “So, Sharon, when are you going to stop procrastinating and join the Y?”

“Oh, Josh,” I replied, “I really don’t have the money. I exercise when I can, which is usually at night after work, and I seem to be doing okay.”

“But Sharon,” Joshua said in a chiding manner, “the Bible says that we’re the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Studies show that everyone needs vigorous exercise for 30 minutes at least three times a week, and it’s always best to do it first thing in the morning so that you’re burning calories all day long. As for the membership cost, can you really put a price on the good health God’s given you?”

Now, around this time, I was having major health problems and was finding it difficult to keep up what was becoming an increasingly impossible schedule. I talked to a leader of mine, also well-intentioned, and very innocently told her that I wanted to hear from God what I should and shouldn’t be doing, what my limitations were, specifically in regards to my health. Then, she went there. I was waiting for someone to finally go there, and she did. She said, “Sharon, my Bible says that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. So, that means you shouldn’t have any limitations.”

Okay, then. I was supposed to be superwoman. I was glad someone finally told me so. Thus began my descent into insanity. I signed up for everything. Before long, I became completely unrecognizable as a human being. The following is an excerpt from my diary during that time (I like to call it, “The Week of Living Ridiculously”):

Day 1: I woke up at 4 AM because I was told that really spiritual Christians are all morning people. I can’t remember the Biblical justification for that, but it sounded good at the time. After my quiet time, I went to the Y and attempted to do the Nautilus circuit. I wasn’t fully awake, though, and I managed to not only knock over the machine I was using, but it caused a domino effect to knock over all the other machines in the circuit. The Y staff wasn’t too pleased with me, so I decided to try again the next morning.

After work, I went home and decided to clean. However, I got off to a very rocky start and suddenly remembered why I had always hired someone else to do my cleaning for me. I wiped and wiped the bathroom mirror and surfaces continuously, but the streaks I created looked worse than everything did before I started to clean. I was about to try a second round of elbow grease on the bathroom, when I noticed my face, arms, and hands were now covered with giant red splotches from the cleaning products. This created another problem, because when Bruno saw me, he attacked, probably because my face now resembled a pepperoni pizza.

Day 3: I got up again at 4, but I had entered hyper-exhaustion. As much as I tried readjusting my system, I was finding it impossible, even though I was tired, to fall asleep before midnight. Therefore, I was beginning to go through life in a daze. I went through my quiet time, but couldn’t remember anything in the Bible I had read after I closed it.

I then headed to the Y, this time to try water aerobics. My thought was that maybe this would be safer because there’s no equipment for me to break. Twenty minutes into the workout, I got terribly nauseous and threw up in the pool. Again, the Y staff was not pleased, and had I been more awake at the time, I would’ve taken it harder when they asked me to go the Y across town.

When I got home from work, I feverishly rushed to finish a dessert I was supposed to bring to my women’s class for an assignment. As soon as I took the dish out of the oven, I got a text message from the children’s church pastor asking if I would teach the 3 year olds’ class that Sunday. I replied with a wholehearted yes. No sooner did I hit send on the reply when I got a call from the singles’ group leader to ask if I would spearhead food for the Valentine’s Day dinner, which just so happened to be right after church on the day when I agreed to teach the 3 year olds’ class. Again, I said yes, because I was under the impression that to say no to anything remotely God-related was a sin. I was starting to feel very empowered, almost superhero-like, when, to my horror, I turned around to find Bruno eating my dessert. He didn’t even leave the foil pan in which I baked it. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to use the excuse, “Well, my dog ate my homework,” especially since I made it all the way from kindergarten to college without ever having used it.

I came back from the class, feeling good that I had not been too terribly chastised for the whole dessert debacle. Even though I should have, at that point, been trying to go to sleep, my house really needed to be cleaned, so I was going to make another attempt. This time, I was going to try these environmentally-friendly cleaning products that would be tough on dirt but easy on the ozone layer. Again, the streaks that I produced on everything made the bathroom look worse and this time, instead of big red splotches on my skin, I began to sprout big, eco-green splotches, similar to something I saw in “The Toxic Avenger.” I had to keep trying, though, no matter how tired or frustrated I was, because if other women could do it, why couldn’t I?

I was about to collapse into bed when I remembered I needed to do laundry and feed Bruno. Unfortunately, I was so tired at the time that it wasn’t until the next morning that I realized I had fed Bruno with laundry detergent and ran the washer using dog food.

Day 5: I was now barely functioning on 4 hours of sleep a night. I didn’t know if my system would ever convert from nocturnal to morning person. I was convinced the very fate of my soul depended on it, though.

I went back to the Y, this time to try the indoor track. I didn’t like being there that early because the place was packed, but I was determined to make it happen. However, three laps into it, I became horribly light-headed. Now, I don’t remember what happened next, but according to eye witnesses, I passed out on the ground, which caused all the other runners to trip and fall on top of me, causing a 20-jogger pile up. When I came to, I was lying face down on the hood of my car, and lying next to me was my Y membership card, which apparently had been run through a paper shredder.

I felt so bad I called in sick to work, which made my boss really angry because, since I’d started this insane schedule, I was about as productive as a pet rock.

When I got home, I decided again to try to tackle the housecleaning thing. I bought some cleaning products that were advertised in an infomercial as being the same cleaning products used on all the space shuttles. I thought all the dirt, germs, and streaks lying around in my house had finally met their match. However, because I was so tired, I failed to notice the directions, which said, don’t mix bottle A with bottle C, as toxic fumes may result.

Day ?: I wasn’t sure how long I had been unconscious, but it was long enough to miss teaching the kids class and cooking for the singles’ dinner. I woke up to my cell phone dinging with voicemails and text messages. The children’s pastor said in his voicemail he was very disappointed in me and it would be better if I had a millstone tied around my neck and I was cast into the sea. The text message from the singles’ group leader said I better be dead, because that was the only excuse she would accept. Another text message from Joshua, my Life Group leader, said he had been fired from the Y, and when he asked them why, they told him to ask me. If all that wasn’t bad enough, though, poor Bruno, who didn’t know what was going on all that time, had nothing to eat while I was in a coma except the two smaller dogs.

So, as was just previously demonstrated, I made a horrible superwoman. Instead of doing it all, I had accomplished nothing, and I felt like a failure. I’m sorry to say that I went through several stages similar to this in which I felt a spiritual obligation to do and be everything. It doesn’t help when it’s preached from the pulpit, either. Several years ago, some of the local churches came up with a theme for the year: “simplify and intensify.” Now, I distinctly remember the intensify part, but the simplify part completely escaped me, and I know I was not alone in feeling that way, either.

Shortly after I moved to Tennessee, I was going through a crazy phase of trying to do and be it all, and was being very down on myself because of my perceived failure. I would pray nonstop, “Lord, please change me.”

Finally, one day, God replied and asked, “Why do you keep praying that?”

I answered, “Because, I don’t like myself. I know I’m not doing enough for You. If I could just do more and be more, I could be so much useful to You and I would be so much happier with myself.”

God said gently, “Sharon, you don’t have to change who I’ve made you to be. You need to change some of your behavior and wrong thought patterns, but your personality, your insight, your perspective, your personhood—that’s how I made you, and you will bloom where I plant You. You have to be what I made you to be and do only what I tell you to do. Nothing more.”

This summer, I read the book “Strengths Finder 2.0.” What a burden-lifting experience that was. The book promotes something called “Strengths Psychology”, the heart of which says that, instead of spending so much time to try to compensate for our weaknesses, we should focus on flourishing in our strengths. The book includes a test which shows the reader what their top five strengths are and ways to build on those strengths. While I felt such freedom knowing that it was finally okay to not be superwoman, I was also angry. I was angry over all the time I had wasted trying to do things I was not equipped or even expected by God to do. I hated all the time I had spent trying to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.

When I wrote my first draft of this blog, Peter, my scholarly and astute editor, whose job it is to make sure my writing is theologically and grammatically correct, doctrinally sound, and that I come across at least mildly coherent, brought up some good points, which I must, of course, include, or he will hit me in the head with a frying pan. (Just kidding. He would never do that. He would just look at me with searing disappointment, which would make me wish he had hit me in the head with a frying pan.) Now, there will be times and seasons when we do have to do things outside of our giftings, skills, and talents. One of the ways we learn to trust God and grow in our faith is when we are in situations in which we don’t feel comfortable, because Paul said in II Corinthians that when we are weak, then He is strong. However, God should be the one Who leads us to do those things that don’t come naturally to us, because He has a special purpose to accomplish in us through those things. We should not take on extra tasks just because we feel the unnatural need to do everything. When God does tell us to step out in faith to do those things for which we have neither the talent nor the desire, His grace will meet us in our shortcomings.

After my multiple failures at multi-tasking, I decided to see what the Word really had to say on the subject, including the infamous Philippians 4:13. When Paul said he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him, he was speaking in the context of difficult circumstances and trials he had to endure, not ridiculously heavy burdens Paul had inflicted on himself. Even Jesus didn’t do it all. John 14:31 says Jesus only did what the Father told Him to do. So, where does this compulsion come from to do and be everything? Could it be a ploy from the enemy to keep us busy being busy and out of fellowship? Paul clearly states in 1 Corinthians 12 that not all of us have the same gifts, but each gift is important and a valuable part of the Body of Christ. When we try to do everything, Satan is tricking us into disregarding our need for community with other believers and communion with God. Self-sufficiency negates relationship. God is the only all-powerful One, and when we succumb to that hyper multi-tasking, we are falling for the same lie Satan gave Adam and Eve in the Garden: “You can be like God.”

Most Christians have heard the story in Luke 10 about the sisters Mary and Martha. Jesus had come to visit them. Martha was busy making dinner and entertaining guests, but Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. Martha was upset that Mary wasn’t helping and told Jesus to tell Mary to help. Jesus replied: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I had always wondered about what Jesus said here. I mean, after all, aren’t we as believers called to serve others, to be hospitable? What was the problem? The problem was Martha’s response to Jesus’ presence, namely service, wasn’t the appropriate one AT THAT TIME. Jesus was going to be crucified soon, then return to Heaven. Mary had decided she was going to use the time to soak up as much of Jesus’ manifest presence while she could, and that which Jesus imparted to her would be hers forever. Ecclesiastes says there is a time and a season for everything. My pastor, whom I love, says we can do it all, just not at the same time. Therefore, I am listening very closely to the voice of the Holy Spirit, because I don’t want to waste any more time doing things He hasn’t called me to or trying to become something God never intended me to be. I must be on guard against the temptation, because, let’s face it, I’m human. If someone pitches something to me to do or try, I am prone to do it, no matter how gloriously out of context the Scriptures are taken to justify me doing whatever it is. Now when I feel pressured from someone to do something I know is not God’s plan for me, I simply ask him or her “Are you trying to help me become more like Christ, or are you simply trying to make me more like you?”

The days are short. Time is precious. I would rather do one or only a few things well than many things poorly. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “ ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive.”

At this moment in my life particularly, Jesus isn’t calling Sharon the athlete, Sharon the Bible scholar, Sharon the singles’ ministry leader, or Sharon the super cleaning lady. He’s calling Sharon, part of His Bride and Sharon the Worshipper. I want to do that one thing well, so I can have that which can never be taken from me.

The End


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