When You Don’t Feel Successful

Isaiah had gotten the hang of walking and was delighted with his new level of freedom. When I decided it was time to sweep the floors of our tiny basement apartment, I would set up some toys for him to play with and rush over to the kitchen with my broom. About two seconds later, Isaiah would innocently (or not so innocently?) wander over and stand right in the middle of the pile of crumbs I had just gathered. Or he would want to help, and spread the dirt with the broom in a perfectly even layer across the floor again.

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With two kids now, tasks that I used to get done quickly now take at least three times as long (some kind of weird exponential thing, I’ve found).

One time, we had a couple Chinese international students in our home for a meal. They were surprised that I stayed at home and kept commenting on how clean our apartment was. (I guess clean is a relative term.) I wasn’t sure if it was because in some Asian cultures people don’t visit each other’s homes but instead go out to eat together, or if they were trying to validate my role as a wife and stay-at-home mom, or because they knew those words in English. But it made me think about how I spend my time each day.

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Sometimes it feels like I’m stumbling through each week, not even sure what is making me so busy. The whirlwind of Bible reading, housework, child care, training, email, writing, people interactions, budgeting, shopping, and food prep compete with the unexpected car repairs and “Honey-could-you’s” for the same 24 hour period.

When tasks don’t feel like they are running smoothly, it’s easy for me to get discouraged, thinking I should be using my time better. I try to convince myself that I should have been able to predict the future, with all the unexpected changes to my day, because doesn’t God want me to be efficient for Him?

Being Like God

Jen Wilkin, in her newest book, None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different From Us, wrote the specific words of conviction I needed to hear:

We must recover the truth that was obscured by the Serpent: rather than being like God in his unlimited divinity, we are to be like God in our limited humanity. (25)

It feels much more natural to spend my energy trying to predict my baby’s nap schedule, figure out how I should have spent my writing time, or run myself ragged trying to get tasks crossed off my to-do list, rather than asking God to work in me to reflect His goodness, mercy, holiness, and faithfulness.

Jen Wilkin puts it this way:

So it has been ever since [the Fall]: human beings created to bear the image of God instead aspire to become like God. Designed to reflect his glory, we choose instead to rival it. . . Rather than worship and trust the omniscience of God, we desire to be all-knowing ourselves. Rather than celebrate and revere his omnipotence, we seek ultimate power in our own spheres of influence. (23)

How often do I dismiss the requests of my preschooler to read him a book or help me in the kitchen because it doesn’t fit in with my time table?

How often do I get frustrated by the unexpected phone call that comes as soon as both kids are down for a rest? Or my husband’s vision for the evening looks nothing like mine?

Faithful Is Successful?

My mentor Natalie told me about a book she’s been reading called Faithful is Successful. When I told her that I wasn’t sure how to feel about my writing goals and ministry desires that I don’t have time for, she asked a question along the lines of, “What if God wants to grow a faithful heart in me?” (rather than being proud of the accomplishments I’ve produced). What happens when the success becomes old news?

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She reminded me that even in the church, it’s natural for people to value serving others as efficiently as possible, to fulfill as many people’s desires as possible, so that we can reach out to as many as possible. But what if God wants to use me for a task that would take someone else half the time or less?

In Exodus 3, Moses spent almost the whole conversation around the burning bush trying to convince God that he wasn’t the best man for the job. But God didn’t respond with, “I chose you because you are so gifted and will make me proud.” He tells Moses that He will be with him. He gives him His name, “I AM.” He shows him signs of His power. And he gives him his brother Aaron to help.

In her chapter on God’s infinite mystery, Jen Wilkin reminded me of the way God sees me. 

Apprehending with complete accuracy the best and the worst of me, he is neither impressed nor horrified. He accepts me as I am because of Christ. Nothing is hidden before the One who formed my inmost being, and because I am fully known, I am fully free to love the God I only know in part. (38)

I may not understand everything about the way God’s kingdom is coming, but I can trust HIs leading and get excited about what God is doing with and without me. But the details need to be left up to Him. When I move forward and bump up against my limitations, it is a way for God to bring about His timetable in my life.

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As I’ve continued to edit and re-write my novel, I’ve been discouraged when I’ve felt like I didn’t get much done before the dishes, laundry, and little voices started calling loud enough to pull me away. But as my mentor said, “What if the process of writing creatively is to bless me right now?”

What if writing is something God is providing for me? Something to let a completely reckless part of my brain dance around and try something new? A chance to enjoy reflecting the Creator, who is the only One who can create something from nothing?

What if, rather than pursuing a feeling of “I came, I saw, I conquered” by the end of the day, I laid what did happen at Jesus’ feet, inviting Him to redeem it–even my unkind words to my preschooler or the living room that didn’t get picked up–according to His good plan for my life? What if Jesus freed us from the illusion that we could accurately measure our level of success anyway?

Or, as Jen Wilkin puts it:

“Praise God that his plans do not rely on my faithfulness, his joy doesn’t hinge on my good behavior, his glory doesn’t depend on my performance. I stumble along, chasing my own agendas and plotting my own ends, occasionally offering him the reverence he is perpetually due. He is unruffled and unharmed by my inconsistency. He is pleased to be glorified either through me or in spite of me, but he does not need me in the least. And yet he loves me, deeply and eternally, for no other reason than “according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:3-6). (60)

Echoing Moses

Moses, the man who asked God to send someone else, wrote a song filled with what he had learned about God and about himself as he saw God deliver the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness, toward God’s promised land.

What if we began our days, echoing his words?

Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (
Psalm 90:2)

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What if we numbered our days, remembering that we are dust?

What if, in the same breath, we asked Him something that He longs to do for us? “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (90:14)

What if we asked Him to help us see His splendor and share it with our children?

What if we started and ended each day with the last verse?

May the favor[a] of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)

When God is the One establishing our work, it is enough. Maybe He’s preparing us for opportunities we could never imagine. Maybe the desires we do have to host a Bible study, or visit sick people at the hospital, or go on a trip to encourage missionaries overseas, are desires that God planted but wants to grow into reality in a different stage of our lives.

Can we trust that what God is doing in our lives now will connect with what He is going to do in five, 10, or 20 years? Do we need to see how He’s connecting the dots? (so that we can approve of it beforehand?)

When I am seeking to be faithful, it helps me to see how my family is a part of what God is establishing, rather than an interruption of it. I won’t be trying to yank everyone around me into the swirling funnel of my plans so that we’ll all fall out the bottom into my desired outcome.

I’ll be able to help my children and husband be who God created them to be. To welcome others into a home where it’s okay to make mistakes. To talk of God’s faithfulness and what He is teaching me over the dinner table (or changing table), rather than the number of times the potty was remembered too late.

Father, would you forgive us for trying to establish ourselves without you? Give our hearts a desire for faithfulness. Please establish the work of our hands today. We are Yours.

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5 thoughts on “When You Don’t Feel Successful

  1. Loved reading your thoughts this morning down here in FL. These reflections are valuable for any of us at any stage of life. We had a good meditation yesterday from Steve Swartz, reminding us that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God. It was a powerful reminder to me to remember to keep that focus. Out of that comes effective work to help others. Hope you have a super-blessed day! DAD

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alicia I love your writing and always look forward to reading your blog! Thank you for the reminder that God has a plan even when we do not see it or feel like we are going anywhere in life. Being home with a little one is a challenge. Even though it can be challenging there are Lao rewards for being home with little ones!! Thank you for the encouragement!

    Like

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