“When You Fall for the ‘Too Busy’ Lie”
by Caroline McGraw
Even though I have a full list of tasks to accomplish today, I just spent twenty minutes writing thank you notes. This sounds entirely counterintuitive; why would I ‘waste’ precious time on a workday? Why choose a task that could just as easily wait for the weekend? I ask myself that same question multiple times, and the only answer I can come up with is this: it felt like the right thing to do.
To be sure, the thank you notes weren’t urgent. But this morning, they were necessary. As I journaled and prayed, the Holy Spirit gave me a nudge – a sort of gentle, loving elbow to the ribs…
Wordlessly, the Spirit said: “Let’s start the day with gratitude. Let’s take a few moments to give thanks for the people who have blessed you, the ones who have been so generous to you and your husband. It may not make sense ‘logistically,’ but you know better than to think that logistics are the best measure of a successful day. There’s another level, another layer of reality, and you know it. Honor it, and I will honor your work as well.”
And somehow, I’m not surprised that my fingers are flying across the keyboard now. Listening has that effect. When I take a step in faith, I am met more than halfway, always.
To be sure, I miss God’s guidance far more often than I heed it, because heeding it takes work. Tuning in means slowing down a little, which isn’t easy for my inner perfectionist. She’s a drill sergeant; she expects every minute of my workday to be visibly productive.
“What’s with all this ‘quiet time’ stuff?” she screeches. “You don’t have ten minutes to pray or meditate – I mean, come on! Get back to work!”
But I must find the strength to disagree with that frightened, agitated voice. And in order to do that, I need to be still and listen. If I don’t take time to hear what Spirit is saying, I won’t know where to begin. I can’t just follow a formula, because obedience looks different every day. Yesterday, for example, writing thank you notes might have been an act of procrastination and distraction, not honor. Tomorrow, obedience may look entirely different; in fact, it may very well take the form of getting down to work first thing. That’s why it’s vital that I listen anew each day … because honestly, I never know what I might hear.
As I wrote in my second book, Love’s Subversive Stance, “Really, the secret of sufficiency and the secret of success are one and the same. Both arise from an internal compass, from an inchoate knowing. They cannot be predetermined. They must be lived moment-by moment, in the grace of the now.” We cannot tell what’s really needed until we pull up the chair in our souls’ living room, sit down, and listen.
But the amazing thing is, when we do listen, we get directions. Apparently, Jesus wasn’t joking around during the Sermon on the Mount: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matt 7:7-8, NIV).
Yet no matter how many times I ask for guidance and receive it, I am still stunned by the process. One might think that, given the reliability of the information, I’d remember to tune in on a regular basis. Would that it were so! I’m making progress, but I still go off on tangents and forget to tune in. And that means that I often move through the day haphazardly, as though I’m setting off on a road trip without a map.
When this happens, I am always surprised to find myself a hundred (metaphorical) miles from where I wanted to be. I wonder why I feel lost, and then – light-bulb moment! – I remember: I forgot to get directions. Abashed, I pull over to a ‘fueling station’ (the nearest window or secluded corner). With my head down, I ask the invisible attendant – scruffy, unshaven, looking like Jesus did when He walked the earth – which way to go.
In the moment, I feel so guilty about the imposition, upset that – once again! – I made a mistake. So much for being a recovering perfectionist; I’m still terrified to fail. But then He smiles at me, like He’s so glad I stopped by. He doesn’t mind the interruption. In fact, I get the feeling that He’d rather be talking to me than doing anything else.
And once He offers a few easy directions – the only kind I have the capacity to follow when I’m frightened – I feel a sense of buoyancy. A bubble-thin belief arises: maybe, just maybe, I might make it home.
Caroline McGraw is a would-be childhood paleontologist and recovering perfectionist turned writer and speaker, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. Watch her 4-minute TEDx talk, “Perfectionism doesn’t protect us,” and be sure to visit her at A Wish Come Clear to download her three free ebooks!