I wasn’t a part of taking care of her, talking to her about death or Jesus, cooking her meals or taking her to chemo appointments. Nor did I have a chance to say good bye. It never seemed appropriate, and now she’s gone.
I did pray for her many times… for her salvation, for her miraculous healing that would point obviously to God, for her peace in the unknown, for there to be many who surrounded her and let her know she mattered — she is loved. And I prayed that those who were with her would be given God’s words to comfort her.
Was prayer enough? Was it really all God called me to do for my friend? When I heard she had died, my eyes filled with sadness — and then I began second guessing myself, “Should I have written her (I had thought about it often)? Visited? Done something more? Anything? Do people think I didn’t care because I didn’t go?”
After giving the news of her death time to sink in, I am still very sad, but I am at peace with my role. I believe prayer was my calling for my friend’s final months. It was my privilege to pray for her. (For clarity, she had many other much closer friends caring for her, and she was surrounded by loved ones at the end.)
Sometimes I have said an enthusiastic “Yes!” to a worthy cause without asking God about it first. In fact, my adult life has followed a predictable cycle from over-invovlement… to overwhelm and exhaustion… to withdrawal, recovery and isolation… then feelings of guilt that I’m not doing my part (most recently at the idea that I was no longer a stay-at-home Mom, but only a stay-at home person — what value could I have in that?)… to over-involvement…
There have been other times when God has asked me to do something. I’ve hesitated — and the opportunity was lost forever. Like one summer when I specifically felt God leading me to take weekly trips to visit my parents 2.5 hours away, in order to write their life story. I talked to them about it, but never followed through. As it turns out, God’s timing (meaning my immediate response to Him) was critical. Isn’t it always?
My father was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Aphasia just months later; he has lost the ability to communicate verbally. My mom is consumed with her new roles. We visit, but we don’t talk much about their story or my writing it.
The book I felt called to write will probably never be written. The visits as I imagined them are certainly lost. I will never know how God would have used that time together with my beloved mom and dad. I was not His surrendered and available servant. I was too busy with my own ideas of what I should do for God and even my family, to acknowledge His will for both.
I still grieve (tears fill my eyes as I type), not only the unwritten story, but that I first believed God was speaking to me, then doubted it. I wondered if I was just giving God credit for my thoughts, in order to make them more legitimate. Was I the right one to write a book about my parents? And would anyone read it? Would they enjoy the process? Would they take me seriously, and was I up to the task? God seemed to see a purpose in my attempt (He never promised an outcome). Other things — important things like children, seminary, volunteering, Bible Studies — seemed more pressing to me at the time. I never said no to God, nor did I act right away. My delayed actions spoke louder than my prayers.
In a word I disobeyed what God wanted me to do, because of my own insecurities, the world’s opinion and the fact that my plate felt full with many other truly good things. Sadly, it’s not the only time I have ignored God’s quiet voice, because the world yells louder and I am more attentive to the crowd and my own well-intentioned agenda.
God is speaking to me about busyness. About conforming to the chaos of the world, when His way is quite simple. About the value of being still, quiet and available. About listening to Him, and responding.
Recently, I read a very pointed article by Randy Alcorn entitled “How to Plan Neglect: Saying No to Good Things So We Can Say Yes to the Best.” I’ve been collecting “resources” on busyness, and keeping the first thing (God) first — well above all the worthy second tier things of the world. But I haven’t DONE much about changing my life. I haven’t allowed God to transform and renew my mind.
I’ve written many times about how Romans 12: 1-2 is on my heart — The Message says it this way: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
There are so many needs in the world, so many good things to be done. The older I get (and I am fast approaching 50 — in less than two weeks), the more I need to say no to many good things, even if I’m disappointing people in doing so. My most basic commitments to God and my family (see the sandwich generation) need to be fulfilled first.
I’m learning the importance of living in such a way that I leave space. Space for time with God and space for knowing and obeying His will. As Randy Alcorn put it, “I must say no to people considering the vast majority of good things they invite me to, in order to be available to say yes to God concerning that small number of things He has truly called me to.“
I know what it’s like to live exhausted from doing good things, from trying to be all things to everyone — and knowing that nothing and no one is getting my best, including those few God-things I’m called to.
Alcorn went on to give this advice — taking things way further than I had ever dreamed. He said, “NEVER say yes without asking whether this is one of those exceptional things God really wants you to do. Tell Him that unless He smacks you on the side of the head and makes it clear, you will assume He DOESN’T want you to do it. This is planned neglect. We need to neglect the things that countless people want us to do, so that we will be available to do what God wants.”
Ephesians 5:15-17 “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
2 Corinthians 1:12 “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.”
James 1:22 “ But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
God really has given us a simple plan for living right. I want to be available to listen to God and obey Him — to follow Him — when he whispers or nudges me with His unplanned and unexpected divine assignments. If I’m booked tight, overwhelmed and exhausted with my leading moments, I will miss Him.
More to come on what I am learning and the world’s inevitable response to my upcoming “no’s,” as I journey toward allowing Romans 12:1-2 to become a reality in my life. What I know to be true is often slow in reaching my heart and actions. As I seek to give up living as it seems right and natural to me, I will consciously make room for a new way of quiet obedience in the everydayness of life. This idea of planned neglect is much different than what I have lived. It’s a little scary, but I feel God’s nudge…
Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”