Years ago I attended a larger church. We had moved to our new town and a neighbor asked us if we had found a home for our Sunday worship. That was his clever way of discovering whether we followed Jesus. He sent us to check out the church where he had grown up. The pastor preached right through the bible verse by verse. We made that church home after the first few visits. In my personal walk with God those days, I was busy. We had a foster daughter, and an infant son. I ended up working in several church ministries. I also volunteered in the community, and held a job. Whew.
In hidden recesses of my heart I held the belief that my work and performance earned me bonus points with God. If God’s grace were a swimming pool, I was gingerly dipping my toe into the shallow end instead of doing a cannonball off the high dive. I could tell you all about grace, but I didn’t have a clue how to live in it.
I had attended lectures and classes led by Dallas Willard for years. He used to have this saying, “the Christian burns up grace like a jet burns up fuel.” I heard it hundreds of times, but never really got the gist of what it meant. I mean, yes, we live by grace, whatever that looks like. I didn’t have time to figure it out fully. Instead I went on burning something up like rocket fuel, but I wasn’t sure it was grace. I was dog-tired, often inwardly disillusioned, and distant from the God I claimed to serve.
I did all the things, and I did them well.
Kudos for the Overachiever
People asked me “How do you do it all?” and I would feign a bit of humility, while secretly basking in the fact that they noticed my super-girl powers. I figured somehow, if they thought I was amazing, they would want to be around me more. Fear of rejection kept me going, going, going. I didn’t even realize I was busy proving my own worth – to them, and to myself – through a habit of the heart God calls striving.
An Invitation to Cease Striving
Be still and know I am God, He says. That word, “Be still” is one word, Raphah in Hebrew. It gives a picture of someone desisting, or giving up, letting go, ending their striving, and surrendering. God isn’t just telling us to pull up a chair here. He isn’t saying to sit, like a child in time out, or a nun at vespers. God, our loving Father, invites us to drop the rope. Stop tugging; quit trying to make it all happen; give up exerting to make others see you or to make life go your way. Just drop it all and fall into Him. Know He is God. He is the beginning, the end, and everything inbetween.
What’s Driving Our Busyness?
For us worker-bee, achiever girls, this can be a harder pill to swallow than you might think. Are we weary? You bet. Do we long for some genuine rest? There aren’t enough pillows in the world to answer yes to that question. But, we keep on keeping on because the fear of not being seen, or the fear of not being known eats us up in deep places. I’m not pointing fingers at you. I’m sharing the hard truths I’ve learned and walked through. These are the places in my heart that tempt to rear up again when I feel vulnerable or lonely. The anecdote always seems to come in the answer of performance.
Our world of posting and liking, following and filming, doesn’t help us out in this much. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good Instagram feed as much as the next girl. I enjoy connecting with people on Facebook, and it tickles me to know that someone watched one of my YouTube videos on motherhood. All that’s good and fun, like a nice game of Monopoly Deal, or an afternoon drinking lavender mocha with my bestie at our local coffee shop. All good. But, when my soul is empty and aching, all that flips in an invisible moment and the likes become way more important, and whether you read this post or not starts to seem like a number on a scale telling me whether I matter as much as the next person. That’s what can happen. And, if we aren’t careful we fall into a frenzy of flurried activity to help ourselves catch up with something that fills our void. Yet it never really does.
Leaning Into Grace
It’s on those days, before that oh-so-special time of the month (ugh), or when my heart is hurting from an especially challenging situation in motherhood, or when all my friends seem to be busy and forgetting about me, that I have to step back and watch myself. It’s then I burn up grace. I lean into it. I swallow it deep. Because grace isn’t just the stuff that saved me. It’s what I live on. The knowledge that God does it all, that He holds it all – including me, and my children, and all that is precious – that’s what fills me to overflowing. If I get busy, I miss the grace. Proverbs 3 tells me, lean not on your own understanding. Lean not on my own anything. That’s more like it.
A friend told me this weekend, “Put your head in the lap of Jesus, and stay there.” That’s grace: Knowing I don’t hold the universe together. Heck, I can’t even find my glasses and my car keys in the same five minutes some mornings. I am being held. And you are too. The God who fashioned your children in your womb (or in someone else’s and then brought them to you) has a very hugely vested interest in the outcomes of their lives. And what He says to you and to me is to come to Him when we are weary and heavy laden (even when it is by our own hands that we fashioned a heavy yoke) and learn from Him. He reminds us He is gentle and humble in spirit. He invites us to walk with Him in the easy way and promises we will find rest for our souls as we do.
If that’s not grace, I don’t know what is.
If you want to dive into more practical support about living with intention, my book, Slow Down, Mama: Intentional Living in a Hurried World is available on Amazon. In it, I share my story of going from crazy-busy to purposeful. I help you identify what keeps you busy, and then we go through learning life-giving habits you can apply to make real change that lasts.
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Alexis H. says
His grace is the only thing that is keeping me going! Great post
Thanks, Alexis! I’m glad you came and shared here. 🙂
DONNA MILLER says
Patty this really spoke to me. I was an over-achiever, hoping to do as much as possible for God’s Kingdom. I started feeling burnout about a year and a half ago, and a mentor told me if God tells me to let go of an area of serving and I don’t, I will get sick. It still took me another 6 months or so to let go, but wow those 6 months were hard, doing it all in my own strength. Because when God tells us to release something, He is lifting His anointing off of it too. I ended up stepping down from two areas of women’s ministry. I still am serving in one. But I had to take a good long look at why I felt I needed to carry all that, you know? My worth is in who I am in Christ, not in what I do. And when He does ask me to step out, it’s because His anointing is on that assignment. This year my word is ‘Blessed’ and my focus is to abide in Him and receive all that He has. Thank you for this beautiful post! ❤
Donna, I read your beautiful post on your word for the year this morning. I’m so grateful to know the backstory now. Yes. It’s so hard to step back. This year I have had even more relinquishing of obligations and ministry roles. It’s so hard. As soon as I step back, I feel like, “Nooooo.” I want to say, “Nevermind, I can do it!” But, I remember that God is the one leading me. A beautiful image from a devotion I read told the story of a man visiting a jungle area in the world. He was lost and needed a guide. The man asked a local,”Can you show me the way through the jungle to help me get out?” The guide said, “There is no way through the jungle. I can get you out, though. I am the way.” The man was saying He would walk the way and as he did (using His skills as a guide and His knowledge of the jungle) the lost man could follow and be led through. That is how our walk is. We follow Jesus because He is the way. Sometimes He calls us to come away, eat, and rest. We aren’t used to heeding that call. We can be prone to be like the disciples who said, “But, Lord ..” and went on to argue about all the ministry left to do. He knows. And He also knows that there are times to go out and serve, and many, many needs for those who serve to pull away and be filled, to rest, and to lean into Him in quiet places. Many blessings to you as you go out and as you pull back, Donna.
leslie atkinson says
Oh friend, what a fantastic read! You have such a gift with words. I treasure you, your friendship and wisdom. So thankful for His Grace! Xoxo
Leslie, Thank you, sweet friend. Your comment made my day. I sure love you and I thank God for bringing our paths closer in this season. You are a treasure.
Hey Patty, I enjoyed reading your post this afternoon. 🙂 I came to God because of his grace, it wowed me big time cause I was striving before and eventually gave us in a heap of despair because I knew I could never be good enough no matter how hard I tried. So his grace was what drew me into relationship with him in the first place. That being said, I have a hard time finding practical ways to enjoy his grace now that I am in the thick of the child-raising years. I have to do stuff. I can’t just lay down and bask in his grace and ponder my relationship with him when my 3 year old is learning the concept of her inside voice (kind of) and my other 5 kids have various needs for school, eating etc. I’m constantly interrupted and yet, I long for those quiet moments again. I get them early in the mornings and that helps, but I’d love to hear your thoughts about “laying my head in his lap” during the day, when I’m surrounded by everyone and feeling the need to be a Martha. Thanks for considering my question! 🙂
Lana, I’m so glad you chimed in here and joined the conversation. I have a few thoughts on your question (and some of them would be best shared for an hour or so over coffee!). I’ll try to share a few cursory ideas here. First of all, I want to distinguish grace from rest. Grace is the knowledge that I’m not in charge, God is. I don’t earn, He gives and supplies. In our salvation, grace is obvious. Sometimes in the “working out of salvation” it becomes more muddy. Charles Haddon Spurgeon called this a “recumbant relationship.” It’s not so much a matter of getting time alone with God (I will talk about that in a minute) as it is the attitude of our heart as to “who is this up to anyway? and who is supplying the power here? and who is determining the outcome?” I know you truly know God is at the heart and is the “engine” behind what you are doing. By walking in grace, we release the outcomes to Him and follow Him as we seek to do whatever we are doing, knowing we aren’t earning love or anything, but are responding to the gift already given, and cultivating relationship.
So, part of what you talked about here was getting rest and finding time alone to reconnect deeply with Jesus while your children are young, home for education, and needing you so deeply and constantly. We are going to all have challenges to getting time alone with God. Still, certain seasons are way more complicated than others. I think there are a few keys to this (that can be briefly shared here). Certainly solitude with Jesus helps us reconnect with him in a special way that awareness of Him while with others does not always provide. One solution is rhythm; the other is boundaries. By rhythm, I suggest you have a pattern of your day (roughly) and week that acclimates all your children in such a way that they know to give you space two times a day. One is early in the morning – either early before all are awake, or after breakfast, when all are fed and attended to. Set that aside. Have a place you go (I go to my big green chair in my room). The rule of the home is “If mom is in the big green chair, don’t bug her unless you are bleeding or the house is on fire.” The other time should be during nap for most of your younger kids (that is a good time for your older kids to do independent work while you retreat for 1/2 hour or 45min. That takes discipline on your part, but it will pay off. I know (yes I do) that it’s SO tempting to use nap time for 100 things – including science with an older child while the toddler isn’t around to dismantle or dump the science materials. I know. For this season, delegate science to your husband one evening and recapture naptime for yourself and God. It’s #1 – make room for it like that.
Lastly, I want to share the Brother Lawrence principle. You probably know his writing (Practicing the Presence of God). Here he was the cook in an abbey. He did all things to the glory of God. We all talk about that. We also all can continue to grow and grow and grow in being aware of His presence, leaning on His leading, talking to Him, listening to Him, seeking His input … in EVERY little thing. So, even when you can’t get those two times alone, practice the presence of God through it all.
I hope that reinforces what you know and blesses you in some way. I’m always glad to talk about this more – it’s my passionate heartbeat to help moms with stuff just like this – and you matter to me.