She stood with one tiny hand on the doorknob, looking up at me. Small, thin, and big-eyed.
“I’m going out to do cartwheels,” she said, but I knew it was really a question. “Mother May I?”
I almost spoke, but stopped.
This morning, when I went in to wake her, I picked my way to her bed through a treacherous muddle of shoes, toys, clothes. At breakfast, I reminded, “You have to clean your room today. Before you watch a show, your room needs to be tidy.”
But regardless of that morning's advisement, I looked into those huge blue eyes and let her go turn her cartwheels in the yard while I went back to the dishes in the sink. The room can wait.
Moments later, she was back in with her sister. “Mom! We have a sickling!” In big sister’s palm is a blue and black butterfly. It sits calmly, gently lifting and lowering its broken wings. It will never fly again.
I wondered if it had any sense of being satisfied. Had it flown enough? Traveled adequately? Or was there longing and discontent? Did it wish for one more day? One more hour? One more flower to light upon? One more surprise breeze to lift it on a serendipitous course?
We gently placed it on a rhododendron leaf. The girls went back to cartwheels. The room and dishes can wait.
Yesterday, my beautiful friend quoted Mary Oliver:
Your clocks, he says plainly,
Which are always ticking,
do not have to be listened to.
The spirit of his every word.
“He” is the mockingbird in Deep Summer. He has a wisdom I’ve been grappling with long now.
This past spring, author-speaker-wife-mother Ann Voscamp borrowed my laptop to host her slides for a speaking engagement. My availability granted me a seat beside her on the front row in the convention hall. When she took the stage, she seemed to be talking only to me, and not the crowd of hundreds, when she held up a jar containing a few kernels of something. Corn, I think. Her husband is The Farmer. Each kernel represented one day she had left with her teen at home. She shook the jar. The paltry seeds barely covered the bottom. My heart sank.
My oldest is 17. I would have fewer kernels than that in her jar if I made one. She meant to be encouraging-- “You have this many days. Use them well!” But in my experience, those kernels get consumed far too rapidly by an entity I call “The Urgent.”
The Urgent is a Tyrant. He is voracious and omnipresent. He is behind the forces that work together to fill every hour of every day on the weekly planner--before the week even arrives! He has many tools in his arsenal for enacting his tyranny. He calls them necessity and generosity and propriety and many other wonderful-sounding things, but they are not all actually as noble as those commodities truly are. There are often counterfeits mixed in among the real. The counterfeits masquerade, but if we ever have the presence of mind to stop and lift the mask, we find we’ve been bowing to guilt and compulsion and people-pleasing and personal greed.
These are the guises by which The Tyranny of the Urgent is enacted and they are powerful.
Late this summer, my teens and I sat down together with a calendar. We know we cannot overthrow The Urgent in our lives entirely, but we have determined to make an effort. A concerted effort, as a family, to make the most of these days, redeeming the time, so we don’t look back like that broken and spent butterfly, wishing we’d had one more day, one more hour, one more adventure together when college takes one of us away and life alters forever.
I share this with you not to pass on a formula for victorious living. It isn’t like that at all. But we made a commitment and maybe it’s helping just a little. Maybe if you battle the same Tyrant, and he has you exhausted and spread too thin and missing the really important things because of the counterfeit necessities--maybe you can find your own path through the flood too.
We decided we would approach our calendar with a predetermined prioritization in mind. No event would go on the calendar in ink until it had been held up against our list of priorities. We set those like this:
Top Priority: Worshiping God as he has said he is to be worshiped.
What does that mean? We settled on Sunday corporate worship with other believers as a non-negotiable, and daily prayer and personal Bible reading--even if it is only a few short verses. Next, loving others in our daily lives as a form of living sacrifice that is our spiritual worship.
Second Priority: Family and School.
Here we are forced into something of a tie or at least a balancing challenge between family and school priorities. There are tests that MUST be taken for a senior in high school. Assignments must be completed. But family cannot be set aside either. Our relationships will change so much over the next few years. The dynamics are wide and varied. Every one of us has a bit of a breaking heart over anticipating the next step in the First’s life--even while we cheer her on, the hole she will leave is already gaping open near us. The suggestion of her absence is palpable.
Third Priority: Adequate Rest.
This will not be a time of leisure, and sleep may at times be too rare, too short. But an unrested person is a stressed and inefficient person. It is difficult to redeem the time when one is snappy, irritated, and anxious. We do not worship well, love well, plan or execute well. We are the people of rest. We are covered by grace for our failings. We are called to a time of Sabbath. We are trying to remember that God makes this a priority for us, and we need to believe him, that he is able to take us where we need to go and give us rest too. (This should probably be higher on the list, but this is where it fell for us. Help our unbelief!)
Fourth Priority: Extras.
Sports. The girls are committed to a team, but they are not essentials on that team in the way they might be if God had granted them superstar skills. Non-essential activities that are meant to bolster our worship. Volunteerism. We love to be about the church’s business, but for this season, we cannot do every activity that would fill all our spare time and take us from the opportunities in the community we live within to participate in everything else. We refocus on Priority 1, and remember the blessing of simplicity.
We had set aside tonight as a girls’-night out long ago with specific plans for the evening. As it turns out, those plans had to change. The event we had planned to attend together, anticipated, looked foward to, did not happen. But we kept our commitment to one another. This is how we’re battling the Tyranny of the Urgent. We can flex. We can change. We can adapt. We can remind one another what we committed to and keep the spirit of the commitment. We’ll still have our time together tonight. And that was what really mattered--not the what but the who.
And I treasure these things in my heart. The Tyrant has no place there. It is the home of Shalom, and today, I am pursuing Shalom over Desperate Urgency. A little at a time. One choice, one refocusing, one prioritization. Baby steps toward peace while seeking progress at the same time.
Love God. Love each other. Do the next needed thing. Open your hand and let go of what you cannot manage well. Redefine necessity. And know, every little thing is going to be alright.
"In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths."