Starting Fresh

sunset-over-chesapeake-bay

You know who you are.

You already know that God brings us through challenges and difficulties that stretch our faith and perseverance. Your mind is full of words like discipline, schedules, diligence, work, and productivity.

Like me, you already know that there are times for pressing on and going beyond the limits of our abilities. After all, God meets us there and bridges the gap between our small showing-up and His great plan with His own strength.

But, maybe, like me, you aren’t so good at balance.

You recite endurance and success and good works to your soul, and then your soul whispers these habits back to you any moment that you stop to rest.

“You aren’t being diligent…” “A good mother wouldn’t sleep this late…” “You don’t have time to stop. You have to finish this now…”

Could it be true? Could you just be lazy or undisciplined?

I don’t think I can answer that question for you, because I don’t know your heart. I can just tell you about my discovery about myself. I hope that it blessed you and helps you “run the race set before [you,] looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of [your] faith” (Hebrews 12:1).


Over-analysis is my specialty, especially over-analysis of myself.

Even this week, my mental to-do list kept piling up in my head. Never mind the things I’d already done. Never mind how tired I was or how bad I felt. Never mind the things that I valued most were getting done. I felt like a failure, even if I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong.

This happens to me a lot.

It is a super-narrow logic, a short-sighted rubric, that I feel pressured to conform my life to. In this mentality, “the way I’ve always done it” and “the right way to do it” is queen. Success is a completed to-do list, so I can prove productivity to myself and anyone else who might wonder what I do with myself.

If you catch me off-guard and ask me how my week was, I will flounder to remember what exactly I did that sounds productive enough to mention. “Well, I’m not really sure what I did. Our routine just fills up the days,” I might say. My internal success meter drops a little as I reflect on the difficulty of encapsulating just what exactly I do. “I’m really busy,” I might say. “There are a lot of little things.”

Even though I’m incandescently happy with my real life, the moments are often deep, spiritual, and defy quantifying.  What often happens is a draining paradox: complete satisfaction with what I actually do every day, combined with the nagging internal fear that I am never doing quite enough.  

Even if I know that I’m doing the best I can, in the back of my mind something unsettles me. Maybe I could do more. Maybe I should.

But, oh sisters, this endless circle of restless work is so unhelpful.

How much better it would be to get half the work done with joy! How much more could we glorify God if we weren’t pushing, cramming, and otherwise stuffing the day with activities?

And since when did we get the idea that humans are supposed to be untiring production robots?

I think God knew that His humans would fall into this ditch. Perhaps that’s part of why He set the standard so early. The universe wasn’t even a week old before He took a rest. Since I know He didn’t need a nap personally, I highly suspect that the lesson was for our benefit. All through the Old Testament, the seventh day was set forward as the resting day. Scheduled rest wasn’t just part of the culture—it was one of God’s commands. And, I wonder, was it a coincidence that rest and worship intersected on that day? That the day of ceasing labor was also the day of lifting praise?

In the New Testament, Christians met on the first day of the week instead of the seventh, and they were reminded of Christ, their true Sabbath Rest. Although they were urged to be zealous in their faith, Paul also encouraged them to live “peaceful and quiet lives, to mind your own business and to work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Diligence is not the same thing as endless work.

Rest is not the same thing as laziness.

Success is not the same thing as production.

Abundant life is not the same thing as busyness.

So here’s what I’m learning.

When I get bogged down in the lure of unattainable productivity, I need to start fresh. You could call it a reset.

In the midst of life, balance is required and you won’t always be able to step out of the bustle and reset. But if you find yourself being your own slave driver, stop. Do something to quiet your soul and prepare you to step back into the game with grace. Take a few minutes in His word. Have your hands been busy? Fill your heart with something solid and true. Is your mind spinning? Quiet yourself before God, take a walk, sit down with a book you’ve been wanting to read, or brew a cup of tea and sit in silence. Don’t be afraid.

This is not the same thing as a selfish demand for self-indulgence. This is a thoughtful space where you can renew your body and mind so you can glorify God and love others well. This is a space where you discover that glorifying God in your body is not about how much you produced today, but about how much praise and honor your fervent love is bringing Him.

I hear it a lot, but I am a human being after all…not a human doing.

This is what the Gospel is about: our security in the identity of Jesus’ work, not our own. I usually remember that I’m not trying to earn my way into heaven…but I don’t always remember that I’m not trying to earn my way into happiness either.

As Gospel children, we don’t stop working when God rescues us, but we do stop working out of desperation. Our love powers our actions instead of our fear.

Author Sarah Young paraphrases the thoughts of God about our constant busyness:

“The world is so complex and overstimulating that you can easily lose your sense of direction. Doing countless unnecessary activities will dissipate your energy. When you spend time with Me, I restore your sense of direction. As you look to Me for guidance, I enable you to do less but accomplish more.” – Jesus Calling, page 252

That’s the beautiful paradox of rest. When we start fresh by refusing to give in to slave-driving fear and hurry, we go back to work with redoubled energy.

Don’t be afraid to slow down enough to actually enjoy God’s goodness and beauty, His “every good and perfect gift” as we travel through life (James 1:17). He really does give us all things to richly enjoy in this abundant life.

So stop. Take a breath. Remember why you work and Who you work for. Most of all, remember Who it is that accepts you because of His work, not yours.

And enjoy this beautiful, crazy adventure that you’ve been given.

It’s a marvelous one.

“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

 – Psalm 46:10, NASB –

The Measure of a Day

every-step-of-the-way

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan,as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 – Luke 10:25-27, NIV –

I measure days all wrong sometimes.

I like to be productive, useful, and successful–all very good, God-honoring things to be. The trouble comes when I start to think that one particular kind of productivity outweighs the others.

Countable things, particularly.

I like to lay out those responsibilities on a piece of paper, turn them into a to-do list, and check my way through the day. It’s very satisfying to make those check marks. So satisfying, in fact, that I can forget that there are other ways of measuring the success of a life.

When I get to a day when nothing seems to get checked off the list, it is easy to feel like a failure. To a girl who is tempted to measure her worth by her productivity, a list without checkmarks is a sure sign of inadequacy.

When my performance-driven soul gets tied up in knots about all the “important stuff” that hasn’t been finished, I have to remember.

Sometimes I tell it to myself. Other times, someone takes my hand and reminds me why I’m on this earth. Sure, Jesus tells us to do our work well. But what is our main work? What am I here for, after all?

To make sure my to-do lists are perfectly marked off, every day? Primarily to dust the furniture, exercise, clock time at my job?

Or to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:29-31)?

Some of the things on my list are important. They are even necessary to loving God with all of myself (Colossians 3:23). But do I really believe that, at the end of the day, they are the most vital parts of my life?

I don’t think I really believe that.

It’s possible to get so caught up in my to-do lists that I forget that the people around me are way more important than my agenda.

When I get discouraged about how little I’ve accomplished some days, I need to take a step back for a better look. Have I taken the time to look someone in the eyes while they tell me something important to them? Have I given out hugs and kisses, told the “old, old story” once again?  With my life, have I painted a living picture of the grace that I’ve been given? Have I loved, with all my heart and soul, mind and strength?

If so, my day has been undoubtedly full and rich and complete.

“Some think love can be measured by the amount of butterflies in their tummy. Others think love can be measured in bunches of flowers, or by using the words ‘for ever.’ But love can only truly be measured by actions. It can be a small thing, such as peeling an orange for a person you love because you know they don’t like doing it.”
— Marian Keyes —

There is something so compelling about a life centered around love of God and neighbor. Maybe it is the step out of “life” into “life abundant.”

I will probably always make to-do lists. God has given me jobs to do each day, and the little insistent voices of these lists help me remember my responsibilities.

But, when I get to the end of the day and inevitably find some piece of work that still needs to be done, I can set aside my notepad and pen and embrace the living to be found outside the neatly checked boxes.

I think I’ll call it “living outside the box.”

Or, better yet…

Loving outside the box.

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.”
― Bessie Anderson Stanley