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Do the Next Thing

Ephesians 5: 15-16 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

Galatians 6:Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

God is teaching me lessons about time management and the fruit of perseverance.   This dovetails with the reading I’ve been doing in Deep Work – the book provides some of the discipline, God’s providing me the “why”.

When you’re a housewife, the days all blend together.  I left a comment at Scott’s that the work that I do isn’t Herculean – it’s Sisyphean.  It will *always come back*.  The laundry stone (which I don’t mind too much) the cleaning stone, the dishes, the meals… they roll right back down the hill as soon as you get them to the top.  After a while, Sisyphus stops pushing too fast – why bother?  You’re going to be doing the same thing the next day.  And whoever said that work expands to fit the time allotted was entirely correct.  Look, housework is intrinsically boring.  It just is.  I can get excited about a clean floor.  I cannot get excited about CLEANING a floor – especially the day before yard-work day, when dirty boots are going to tramp over it.  (This is how we know that Hearthie does not have the gift of service.  I will serve.  I will do the work.  But it doesn’t bring me a shred of joy, it’s just something that wants doing).

But there are things that I do love to do.  And I have to fight to make time for those things.  How does that happen?  That happens by just doing the next thing until I get all the things done.  That happens by pushing back against my natural tendency to get in my own way by insisting on huge blocks of time, and taking advantage of the time that I have in front of me.

And that’s mental discipline.   Instead of taking a break, I can choose to take five minutes to correct some papers or write a blog post or sew a section on a shirt.   I can choose to make a phone call.  I can choose to sit quietly, waiting on the Lord.  I can choose to read my Bible – or read anything enlightening.   Instead of letting my mind wander, I can choose to pray for the folks to whom I keep having those imaginary conversations.  Instead of letting myself hit “repeat”, I can sit down and write out my thoughts.  Discipline.  Keeping every thought captive.

After a lot of years not doing that?  It’s tiring!  Really tiring.  “Can I go to bed, it’s 830pm” tiring.  It’s like going back to the gym after a period of inactivity.   Training yourself to mental and spiritual fitness isn’t a joke.

But if we persevere, sometimes we get the “why” for that “what”.   So, this week I had two days where I didn’t have a lot to do.  Monday, I’d been running around “doing the next thing” and I had very little left to do on my weekly chore chart.  I’d *planned* to dig in my garden… but instead, I got a call from a client.  And I got a chance to go out and make some money for my family.   I took the opportunity.

And that was answered prayer.  I’d been praying about “I’d really like to do this insanely long list of things – I  don’t want to give up anything on my list, how can that happen, Lord?”  And this is my answer.  “Do not grow weary of doing good”.  In other words – get up, do the next thing.  Discipline yourself.

This has been a heck of a week for that, my emotions have been all over the place and my stress has been through the roof.  Honestly, I let the discipline I’d just started go slack – do you know what happened?  I missed it.  I missed that clear-headed feeling.  I don’t like the old, sloppy me.  I like the new me, the one who gets things done.  And I like the me who is doing things in faith, not in her own strength. I’m learning things about this discipline business.  I’m learning that it’s very difficult to keep my thoughts captive if I’m letting my brain get soft.

It all works together.

Do the next thing and learn to get stronger in the Lord…. yes, you’ll be tired.  I’m exhausted.  But I didn’t get stronger physically by sitting on my tail, and I’m not going to get stronger mentally by checking FB every five minutes.  I want to make good use of every minute that God has given me, be a good steward of the opportunities that I have.  I can’t do that by being lazy.  So.  Onward!

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Celebrating Good Things is Not Wrong

A commenter rolled up on Mychael over at Scott’s place this weekend, saying that she shouldn’t brag on how Scott kicked butt and took names when she was at work, because that public  praise could induce envy in others.   I posted back a sneeze, and then went away and realized I had a lot bigger problem with that sentiment in general…

NO.  You don’t get to say, “don’t tell me about your good things, because it makes me feel bad.”

  1. That’s victim mentality, and it feels into the “submit to the victim’s whims” societal mess we’re all suffering through.  Take that silliness elsewhere.
  2. Taken to its logical conclusion, we end up with a world where no one ever discusses the good stuff, we only discuss the bad stuff.  We end up competitively complaining because we can’t enjoy each other’s happiness.  This means we focus on the bad stuff, even if the bad stuff is microscopic in weight next to the good stuff.  Oh wait.  That’s the world we live in.  Talk about a paradigm in need of destruction….
  3. Envy is a problem.  YOUR problem.  God is pretty clear about how we’re supposed to deal with riches (and make no mistake, having a good family means you’re rich).  The rich are supposed to understand that they’re stewards, and that they’re still only here for a  heartbeat, and to look after the poor.  As for those who are checking out the goods on the other side of the fence, I think, “Thou shalt not covet” probably covers it.
  4. I’ve repeatedly heard the men around these parts thank the women for indulging in public praise of their husbands, because hearing it blesses them.  One grateful heart connected to an open mouth can do a lot of good.  We live in a world that treats husbands like, “your biggest child” and we need more voices pushing back against that infection, not fewer.

Now.  I’m humane.  I’m not going to call my infertile friend up and squee at her when I’m pregnant, and I’m not going to call my single friend who just broke up with her boyfriend to tell her every tiny detail about my engagement.  That’s cruel.  But a general statement of pleasure?  Please.  Not everything is about you – we are to rejoice with the joyful as well as grieve with the bereaved.

Speaking of “general statements of good fortune”… it’s my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.   And yes, I know that I am rich beyond measure, and far so beyond my deserts.

 

Grieving

You get to grieve the way you grieve, and no one gets to tell you your way is wrong.  (Unless you’re being destructive).

There seem to be two sorts of grievers – the ones who like to keep the physical things around to look at and touch, and the sort that don’t.  My husband’s family is on one side, and I’m on the other.  This has caused hurt feelings from time to time.

So, since I’m in the process of grieving my dog (who I am putting down later today, and yes, I grieve before the moment of truth), let me help you into the head of someone who ISN’T the sentimental type.

You’re watching me clean and do laundry and put away the doggish things at mach 50.  I’ve heard you before, say that it seems so cold.  But I’m not cold. I’m agitated, and I’m hurting.  As I do this work, I’m calming myself, giving myself something to do.  I can’t do anything about the cause of the pain, but I can find a chore and do it.  So, I do.

As I pick up the dog bed and put it in the laundry, I think of when the dog started sleeping in my bedroom, and why.  And I remember.  And as I fold up the things, I fold up my memories, carefully laying them in a box to be taken out at leisure, and enjoyed.

Because I like to enjoy my memories, I don’t want them staring me in the face all the time.  That actually causes me more pain.   Do I want to come home today, fresh with the dog’s death, and step out of my bed onto the bedding?  No, I do NOT.  It will hurt more.    It’s not like I’m going to forget him… I just don’t want to wallow.  Let me rip off the bandaid, it’s better this way.

I am preparing myself for a time when I can curl up in a ball and cry and get it all out and rest.  And then I will get up, and I will go on.    That’s what I do.  This is who I am.  This is how I cope with pain.  I get up, and I do something.

And when you want me to keep my hands to myself and not start cleaning right away, because it’s your grief?  I’ll return the favor.

 

*The dog never sleeps on any of his bedding during the day.  I don’t know why, he never has.  So, no – I’m not taking away something he’s using.    And yes, I’ll wash it and put it away neatly for the next dog, if and when.

Mental Fitness = Spiritual Warfare

If you saw my blog from yesterday, you’ll have noted that one of the things I wanted to do was write down some verses that I’d remembered fragments of, so that I could remember them more correctly.

When I write down verses, I always look at the context.  Not so, with remembered fragments.  Well, today’s note-taking paid big dividends.  Have a look at what “Take every thought captive” dug up, will you?

2 Corinthians 10: 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,

So, um, when I’m “taking every thought captive” I’m actually ENGAGING IN SPIRITUAL WARFARE.  Well.  Hi.  No wonder it’s such a battle!

On being more efficient, and making better use of my time:

Ephesians 5:15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

Or:  Why Hearthie kind of has a headache now… but it’s been a very productive day.

Referencing Els’ blog today, particularly one comment, as it relates directly.

Mental Fitness

Deep Work was convicting… and dug up some old ouches.  But most of all, it gave me something to do about the sneaking suspicion that my mental fitness was disintegrating.   I had one of those moments this week – I reached for my concentration, and I found a bag of goo.  What.The.Heck.

I’ve had that moment in my physical body – the moment when you reach for strength or endurance and come up empty handed.  What you’ve always assumed was a given, suddenly isn’t there.  It’s upsetting.

Yes, some of what I have to do with life will hamper my mental fitness routine, just like some of what I have to get done in life hampers my physical fitness routine.  But I’m not a mom of littles any longer – I do have the ability to improve the place I’m at, even if I can’t maximize my potential in a perfect world – I can improve where I am.  So, I made a list to get started with (this will grow, but we have to start somewhere, and doing it all at once isn’t wise):

  1. Limit my surfing time.  I’m not really going to limit my internet qua internet – but I can choose to close my web browser unless I’m in a deliberate period of surfing OR using it for a tool.
  2. Practice mental hygiene.  This is coming up in my spiritual life too – “Take every thought captive”.   “Pray without ceasing”.  “Dwell on that which is good…”   This includes:
    1. No imaginary conversations (my chief vice)
    2. No repeating mental circles.  Write things down!
  3. Make lists – this will help with repeating circles, and release my mental processes to other things.
  4. Practice free-writing.  Again, releasing the inner chatterbox and getting it out and away.
  5. Decide on something NOT internet related for my breaks.
  6. Take up reading properly in the evenings again.
  7. Make prayer lists and post them so I can practice prayer without ceasing.

While I was sorting that out, another bit of mental hygiene occurred to me – I want to get more things done, because I don’t want to give up anything, and I want to go deeper/get better with the things I do.  That means lollygagging has to go.  So – again I’m at

  1. Make lists of things to do
  2. Calendar the must-dos (I do this already, have for years, it’s one of my Sunday prep-for-the-week-ahead things)
  3. Do the next thing – reduce hesitation, just do the thing.
  4. Make a personal schedule for the times I am able to have such a thing (which is, essentially, the mornings before everyone gets up and my days become little snowflakes of individuality).

That’s enough for one month, I think.  I’m expecting to be pretty tired and a bit achy when next you hear from me.  I got my feet wet a bit last week (before taking a rebellious wallow in distraction-land) and I could feel my brain tiring.  That’s okay.  Did you know your brain burns mad calories?  😀   Nah, I got this.  It will be work, but it’s worth doing.

ONWARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Conviction, Crankiness, and Deep Work

Magistra turned me on to Cal Newport and “Deep Work”.  I appreciate that… but it dug into an old sore spot – a REALLY old sore spot, and I wanted to talk it out a bit.  I couldn’t quite decide if this belonged on HRG where I go more personal/casual or here… but this gets a bit meta into gender roles, so here will do.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I was an Art major in college, my dad spoke dismissively of Frida Kahlo.  Not because of her aesthetic, but because she was a “dilettante”.  In other words, she split her energies between disciplines, and all of them suffered from the neglect.

I’m a married mother of two.  I homeschoolish.  Well, I have a kid here most of the time, and I have to annoy her into doing her schoolwork.  And correct it, help her along, etc.  And my work – all of my various creative disciplines – suffers because I cannot sink into the kind of uninterrupted focus that Newport describes in “Deep Work”.   I stop, I start, I answer the phone, I have a thousand very different things to do on a regular basis – my life is diverse.

Because I am someone who must create in order to stay sane, I’ve learned a number of creative skills along the way.   I’m decent at most of them – or was when I shelved them.  But am I as good at any of it as I would be if I’d concentrated?  No.  I am, therefore, a dilettante – and there is no getting around that.

Our culture is organized to value accomplishment in male patterns – you go out, you do the job out there somewhere, you are an expert, you bring in lots of money, you win.  Feminism, if anything, promotes women being as masculine as possible.  And that leaves us SAHM sitting in the dust feeling like less valuable members of society.   We’ve lost the value of a matron – someone who had a number of skills, and was expected to have them in order to run a home.

But that makes no excuse for letting the mind get squoggy – and Newport has some excellent (and convicting) suggestions for toning up the mental muscles.    The one that hit me the hardest was using the internet for entertainment.  Ouch.  Yes, I do that…. I do that quite a lot.  I also use it for those times when I’m in between tasks or waiting for time to walk out the door.  I’d be better served sitting outside and watching the butterflies dance.

I’m tempted to throw my hands in the air.  I *want* to be very good at things.  But now, after so many years, I feel sorrow at the thought of picking just one to master.  Regardless, hours and hours to concentrate sounds like bliss.  Well enough – I can do better at the diversity of my to-do list if I make use of Newport’s suggestions about how to keep your mental muscles in tone.

Convicting?  Yes.  Cranky?  Also yes.

And very rambly.  But I wanted to get this out of my head so it would quit babbling at me when I was trying to get real work done.

 

 

Developing Wisdom

Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from making bad decisions.  – KB

There are two sorts of wisdom, the gift of the Spirit, and experiential.  Excepting when you’re serving and God whacks you upside the head to give you insight into a situation, it’s hard to sort the two out, at least in the life of someone who gives full credence to the Word of God.

Wisdom is part of the suite of gifts that I was given as someone who counsels.  I asked for it when I was just out of high school, with no idea what that would mean, other than that when Solomon asked for it, it greatly pleased the Lord.  I wanted to please God (and I wasn’t opposed to the goodies that Solomon got for being a good bunny).  Well, I didn’t know how some of the wisdom was going to show up.  Asking for wisdom is about like asking for patience, really.  **

You gain experiential wisdom by paying attention to what life throws at you, how it works out, and all the introspective stuff around that.  If you’re me, and people tell you their problems on days ending in Y, you also get to gain wisdom from the data they give you.  And there’s reading.  And listening to good teaching.  Even fiction, from time to time.  Pretty much any input can increase wisdom, so long as you’re paying attention and integrate it with the whole.

(Integrating with the whole means you have to sit quietly and be patient while things filter and sift sometimes, which means you can’t always instantly analyze a situation or expect yourself to come out with new insights at the speed of social media.  You have to use wisdom to develop more wisdom – by giving yourself the space and time to sit on things and wait.  Wisdom and patience are intertwined).

Spiritual wisdom comes through reading the Word, learning about God, trusting and obeying Him, and increasing in faith.   It also comes from listening to and obeying His Spirit.   I’ve never not been able to feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit.    (This makes me terrible at apologetics, by the way).  Paying attention more and more of the time is a learning situation, but on the big stuff?  Always.  I’m not saying I’ve always obeyed, but I’ve always known.  (It also means I’ve spent a lot of my life arguing with God, as ridiculous as that is).

The gift of wisdom is integrated with that listening – sometimes I’m told to do something or say something that isn’t my idea.  Or to shut my mouth/take no action, which is more often the case.  Sometimes I get feelings or images or insights.  Not all the time, very much on an as-needed basis.  But it happens.

And the gift of wisdom is integrated with the gift of faith.  It is wise to trust God and have faith in His promises.  But it takes patience to wait on His timing.  It takes practice to learn to trust.  It takes obedience to put any of that into shoe leather.  And it never stops.  The process of spiritual maturation increases wisdom, giving more opportunity for experience, more opportunity to grow closer to God.   The process of physical maturation gives one the strength to hold fast.

Wisdom is, by the by, not the same as knowledge.  Whereas one must have a great deal of knowledge to grow in wisdom, those with the gift of knowledge organize their information so as to disseminate it to others.   My mental encyclopedia looks like a Chinese medicine cabinet organized by drunken butterflies.  *I* can see how it’s all connected, but trying to explain it to someone else?  No.  Usually they run away screaming before I even get warmed up.

It’s always a little weird to write about your own gifts, but I needed to write this for myself – I organize the drunken butterflies by forcing them to cough up some text.   Hopefully it helps someone else, or at least gives you some information for your own Chinese medicine cabinet.

 

*KB is one of the coaches at my gym.

**All of y’all who have been around the church for a lifetime know about “never ask for patience!”.  I did, actually, under the counsel of one of the ladies at my church, with some trepidation.  I don’t know that I’ve gotten it, but I have more than I started with.  That’s not saying much.

***Credit to Pastor Dan Leitz for putting together a set of sermons on the gifts of the Spirit, which started me chewing on the difference between wisdom and knowledge.  If you’d like to listen to that set of sermons, it’s here:

http://subsplash.com/ccoceanside/s/ef6fjcx/