“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing.”
Mark 4:26, 27
That the work of God continues while I sleep is to me, immense relief. I’m not sure that much at all depends on me, not even the most basic and fundamental of my responsibilities. Today it is true that my husband does not know how to operate our washing machine or boil an egg, but should something happen to me, he would figure it out pretty quickly. Tomorrow, were I to wake up debilitated – or not wake up at all – the world would keep on humming and spinning, whirring and whirling.
It’s just that big.
And I am just that small.
When Jesus taught about the nature of the kingdom of God, He used all kinds of metaphors: it’s a seed, a pearl, a spoonful of yeast, and all these images seem to say something quirky and unexpected about the something so simultaneously grand and vast. We expect spectacular architecture for the kingdom and learn by Jesus’ words that it’s nearly invisible as it begins, starting so small and puny as if to be hardly noticed.
One of my chronic, recurring sins is the self-importance I carry into the responsibilities of my life. As if everyone might need me. As if I have flung the planets into orbit. And this is of course why the verse with which I began arrested me this morning, taking my imagination by the shoulders and shaking it with a fierce and firm grip.
The kingdom sprouts and grows as you sleep, while your head burrows into your pillow.
For years, the way I’ve been fighting this sin of self-importance (and its vaudeville performer, anxiety) has been to disengage. It hasn’t been a pattern altogether noticeable because it coincided with the (substantial!) increase in our family size. Four months before I learned I was pregnant with the twins, I hit a kind of virtual wall, signed up for counseling, and dumped the greater portion of my ministry responsibilities. I was simply taking on too much, failing to say no was because I feared sounding selfish. What I really meant was of course that people needed me and I was afraid I couldn’t meet those expectations. But shouldering all those lives on my little frame had become impossibly heavy, and I needed someone to help me process the exhaustion, the self-doubt, the fear, the anxiety.
I laid most of those responsibilities down. We stopped the short-term fostering we had been doing. I quit the school board of the start-up Christian school. I announced I would no longer lead the two women’s groups I had started. Those weren’t easy decisions, and they were not all well-received. Of course now I wish I could have preempted the crisis and avoided wounding the people I inevitably did. But the crisis may well have been the grace I needed to welcome the arrival of two more children into our family. When the news came that I was pregnant with the twins, I had the capacity for receiving it because I had already significantly downsized my life. I treasure that movement of God that prepared me for the unexpected and upending news that I would be the mother of five children. I’ll be honest: spending the bulk of the last five years of my life with fewer ministry responsibilities has been a great freedom.
I think it’s also given me the space to consider how I may want to begin again and begin differently.
You may not imagine it, but this blog is courage in the making. I much prefer my invisibility and my safe, manageable, risk-free investments. But the nudge from the Spirit has been to write more publicly, and now I’m expanding in some different (and slightly terrifying ways).
- I’ve joined twitter. (Look to your right: see the feed?) I’ve made loud pronouncements that this is something I would NEVER do, and now I’ve eaten my words.
- I’ve added social media icons. (Aren’t they pretty? Thanks, Fran.) I am reluctant to invite “followers,” for all the reasons I’ve given above. But there they are. You won’t ever hear much about them, but feel free to friend or follow. (ew.)
- I’ve been submitting some recent work to other bigger blogs. I’ve had some rejections that I’ve had to brave. But by the end of the week, you may see one that’s been accepted. It inspires some slight panic, but generally, I am grateful.
- More than a month ago, I added a “speaking” category under MORE at the top. See it? A friend asked if I would consider coming to speak at their Christmas tea and did I have any recordings of a teaching I had done in the past? I added that little page for her and the women of her church and have never breathed a word to you. And while this may be the last time I mention it, P.S., it’s there.
Peeps, this is my uphill climb. But by God’s grace, I’m NOT getting off this bike.