Arrive empty.

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Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

I don’t know about you, but everywhere I look these days, I am running into the “Self-Care” craze. It seems to be the backlash to the busy-ness of today’s culture, in the same way that slow food is the backlash to fast food, or the KonMarie method is the backlash to our rampant consumerism. This craze has leached into the Christian community as well, the idea of “putting on your own oxygen mask first” running rampant through the blogs of Christian culture.

In the midst of the saturation of this message, I came across an idea the other day: “Arrive empty.” I wish I could remember the source. I believe they meant giving it all in their endeavors, exploring the world, finding themselves, and so forth, but my brain latched onto the saying in another way.

I have been given the Spirit of the Living God, and I am not meant to be a hoarder of love or light. I am meant to give, in His power and grace. No where in scripture (that I can find) did Christ instruct, “Make sure that your own cup is full first. Then share the water with everyone else.” He commands us, in words and in example, to love, give, live sacrificially.

I am so conflicted in this area. It sounds wonderful! “Taking care of yourself so you can take care of others.” Many Christian writers cite Christ’s example of withdrawing from the crowds to rest. But Christ’s time of rest was always still centered around His Father’s work. He withdrew to pray (Luke 5:16).

I think this is what we as Christians miss when we buy into the “putting your own oxygen mask on first” mentality. It smacks of the American gospel (which is being shouted from the hilltops right now), not of the gospel of Christ. Christ withdrew to rest in the presence of the only One who fills us up, who gives us true rest: His Father. We are not meant to seek out rest, or self-care, as our source of peace. As Christians, we already have this source, with us and within us.

I think it is so important to listen to the callings and joys God has given you, and to not be so busy doing that you don’t have time to listen to His still, small voice or notice the green shoots of growth the Spirit is cultivating in you. But I think it could be so easy to slip into the mindset of, “I am owed Me Time. I am owed The Little Shiny Pretty Things of Life,” while forgetting that Christ says, “Come to Me, and I will give you rest.” 

True rest isn’t found in clinging with iron-tight grip to my time, my needs, my my my. It is in trusting God to give you the rest you need.

I have to concede that I speak from a place of extreme privilege. Other than my job, my home, my husband and our almost two-year-old marriage, my responsibilities are few. I have lots of kids running around at school, but I get to come home to quiet. I’m not exactly lacking in the “me time” area.

But hearing this message in so many places, I started asking questions. Where is the line between needed rest and indulgence? How much of this is biblical, and how much is our culture, trying to sell one more cup of “restful” coffee, one more candle needed for “relaxation”, one more self-help book trying to help you find your “best life”?

So here is my prayer for today:

Lord,

Let me see what is truth and what is a bill of sale. Help me to find true spiritual rest. Help me to have time to rejoice in listening to your voice, to use my talents, and to be filled by You.

Help me to distinguish what is indulgence, oxygen mask, you-are-owed-this culture. Let me not be one of those surrounded by a nest of shiny things and plentiful time while others are left in the cold. Let me be one pouring out so the Spirit can pour in.

Let me arrive at heaven’s gates, emptied but filled.

Amen.

P.S. As I continue to puzzle and pray through my thoughts on self care culture, I’d love to hear yours!

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To Sarah, Autumn 2013

On October 18, 2013, B took me on a quiet autumn walk and asked me to be his wife. In the days and months after we got engaged, I was joyful and excited and humbled and honoured. But I also encountered an emotion I did not expect: fear. So, two years later I’m writing a letter to that fearful girl. I wish someone had told me it was okay to be afraid.

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To Sarah, Autumn 2013,

Hey, girl. I know you have a lot of feelings these days, most wonderful, one unexpected and bothersome: fear. None of the movies or 19th century novels you love show the heroine questioning her choice in marriage. Charlie D never shows Esther wondering if Woodcourt really is as wonderful as the papers write, or if they’re right for each other.

I know it seems surreal and unearned. I want you to enjoy the whirlwind of being a bride, but I  know that the weight of this decision is pressing you down. I know it’s not like the movies. That you weren’t expecting life to go this way, that you had hunkered down in your heart to wait, not planned the perfect wedding. Trust your judgement. Trust (even more) the prayers that have been bathing your life and his life from the beginning. Know that fear is okay. “Doubt does not mean don’t.” Feelings are wonderful and interesting companions, but they are nothing to build your life on. Instead, look at truth.

Kindness will carry you far. That way he can make you laugh will carry you through storms small and large. A heart willing to learn is the rarest gold in marriage, as my 1 1/2 years have taught me. Warmth of character means much more than checks on a checklist. A man who values your heart is a prize never to be released. And love for God? Marriage is big, larger than your fears or fancies, and only Someone bigger than the two of you can sustain it.

Welcome to this roller coaster ride of wedding planning. You will laugh; you will cry. But please, don’t let fear be the leader of this journey. Hold on to Hope, and the greatest of these, Love. But for the days when fear does win, know this: the hardest and most beautiful days of your life are ahead. Love is like a tree, different in each season, but always reaching up and growing deep. Be of good courage. You have made a brave choice, and the Lord will bless you for it.

Here’s to faith and the unknown future!

Mrs. Sarah Doolittle

P.S. We all have our own brave choices. Sometimes that’s staying single, or saying no when the “red flags” are waving, or moving on from heartbreak. All require trust and a brave heart, and stepping into an unknown future. I pray God meets you wherever you’re being brave today. 

Bye-Bye, Baby Car

IMG_8007When I was in middle school, I had things planned out. When I turned 16, I was going to have a light blue convertible Volkswagen Bug. I was going to work at Borders and drink lots of coffee. My boyfriend – because of course I would be dating by 16! – would work at Borders, too. And he was probably going to be a werewolf (I probably loved Remus Lupin a little too much).

When I turned 16, I drove a green Altima with squeaky hubcaps (but don’t knock it – that Altima is now on its sixth driver and is lovingly named Forest). I worked summers helping at my father’s military surplus company. I was still 8 years away from my first boyfriend. The dreams that 14-year-old Sarah had planned for 16-year-old Sarah hadn’t quite panned out.

But eventually things worked out. In college I worked in an education library, which was like working at Borders (R.I.P.) except 1000x better. That whole boyfriend thing took a couple of tries, but worked out exceedingly well (high five, B!). And I never drove that light blue convertible Beetle, but I did drive a deep blue hatchback affectionately known as Baby Car.

Lots of times when I’d look at that car, I’d think about the plans I made for myself, and how things turned out, in such different shades and ways I’d never have imagined at 14 or 18 or even 24. Late bloomer, I imagined myself with a house of cats and the companionship of books until close to 30. And I was content. But somehow I ended up a bride before ever being a bridesmaid. Life has turned out so differently than what I imagined.

This isn’t a post to show how well things have turned out for me. I am so grateful for where I am now, but there have been times when things aren’t going as imagined. I’ve been that girl, watching the years tick by, wondering when the job, or the boy, or the whatever it is that was supposed to come along by now hasn’t. I cultivated an attitude of waiting, of anticipating, like a child on Christmas Eve. Soon, I would tell myself. Soon soon soon. It became my mantra.

Meanwhile so much was happening. Good friendships forming, trips of a lifetime taken, life lessons being learned. One thing is certain in life: time will pass. Things will happen. But sometimes when the things happening aren’t what we had planned, we feel suspended, stuck.

1 Corinthians 7:3-11 was brought to my attention by the study we’re doing in our small group, “The Illumination Project”. The author, quoting her ESV study Bible, paraphrases the verses: “For now, stay put. Be content in the situation where God has placed you. If you’re married, don’t seek to be single. If you’re single, don’t seek to be married. Live God’s way, one day at a time, and He will show you what to do.”

What I didn’t know while I cultivated this attitude of waiting is that even when things happen, the big plans that suddenly come sooner rather than later, when you have trained yourself to live like it’s Christmas Eve, you always live that way. Even when the plans come through, no matter how they come through.

Only in the last few months have I realized how I am still living like it’s Christmas Eve, even though I’ve had my book job, and my boyfriend, and my Beetle. I’ll still live like it’s soon soon soon. But my library job has come and gone. My boyfriend is gone; he’s now my husband. And last Saturday I said goodbye to my Beetle. Eight years passed with Baby Car. Eight years of plans and dreams and becoming. I didn’t think I would, but I cried when I gave up the keys.

So, to you I say: don’t live life thinking soon. No matter what you are waiting on, cultivate an attitude of contentment now. I am just now beginning the slow and steady process of living now now now, knowing I am exactly where God would have me.

IMG_8008So now I have Scout the CR-V. She is reliable and has a lot of space. She has the room the Doolittles will need to grow at some point. And I know eight years with her will pass. Quickly. Until then, it’s summer and I am content with now. Not because it’s exactly what I had planned, but because it’s better. It’s where God’s loving and imaginative hands have placed me.