My friend Lori once told me about herself, “when I feel something, I feel it strongly.” In nearly 10 years, I’ve not yet come up with a better description of myself in so few words. KLR, upon first meeting me, discussed with her father my “intensity.” I (naively) brushed it off as a veiled complement.
Truth be known, I do tend to emit a bit of energy. When in high school, one of my favorite teachers used to tell me that if she could just “bottle up some of that energy”. She was beating breast cancer at the time, so I assumed she was just tired. But as that comment seems to circle me frequently – I’m always awed by the exact wording – I’m guessing she meant something different. (I actually try not to think about it too often or I get a tad self-conscious. “Bring it down a notch, Michele” I try to say. To no avail.)
So one might accurately guess that the reoccurring dispute in our household might be in regards to the extreme to which action is required. My answer, roundabouts 90% of the time, is full throttle. Simply put, if change is needed, then worthwhile change it should be.
This introduction should serve as the “fair warning” to the rest of my thoughts.
I’ve been struck lately with just how easy I could allow myself to buy into the “fulfilling life” of regularity. While I feel no need to ensure that my years are filled with African safaris, summers at the Cape or hitting the social scene of the big cities, I doubt Saturdays at the soccer fields* and the newest Touring model will meet my inner longings. Mothering stands at the top of my list of “most worthwhile ways to spend my time” but it fails to fulfill the depths of my soul. There. I said it.
Life as a mother (and wife) fill the bulk of my time and energy, but if I’m not careful it could claim more than its share. I’ve been eavesdropping with a critical ear the many messages culture feeds to us in regards to what is required of good parents. I don’t like what I hear.
The song the
world Middle-class America seems to be singing goes to the tune of trade in your time and money for “convenience” because you should be involved in 13 activities you’ve outsourced to “professionals” as it comes to making your kids happy and well-rounded. And maybe you can pick up a friend or two while you wait patiently on the sidelines. For your turn. With your kid.
Here’s where my “intensity” sets in: what if we were to say no? What if I took back all my commitment from pre-arranged meetings to show my kids that I value their childhood by centering them on something other than themselves? And in that space, introduce them to the many things in which they – we – might enjoy? We could trade in practices and drills for time in the backyard. We could trade in hours of youth group activity for praying with our kids, maybe even dusting off the Bible and telling a story. We could trade in Happy Meals for family dinners. What could life look like if we just. said. NO?
Perhaps we’d discover the depths of our relationships, familial and otherwise. Perhaps by being home more often and claiming time as our own rather than falling victim to its speed, we could be intentional about developing friendships out of more than shared circumstance. We’d be drawn to friends’ interests, passions and ways of seeing the world. You would spend time with people because you enjoy them, not because they’re the most tolerable of available options.
I know many people who live fulfilling lives making the circus work. They develop deep and lasting friendships from the bleachers. They happily carve out ways to make it all happen like a choreographed production. I’m thrilled for them and don’t see their contentment as a lesser version of anything. If you’re happy, I’m happy with you and want nothing else from you.
I’m just not much of a dancer.
I’m not advocating for improvements on something that works for many – I’m yearning for an altogether different option for someone who finds little luster in the current patterns. I’m not targeting youth soccer or math club or dance recitals. I’m talking about the entire landscape. Ahem. The American Dream. The idea that what we do trumps who we are veiled in the dazzle of participation ribbons.
But, as I commonly ask, what does that look like? And I beg the questions that I’ll be hearing later: how do you make sure your kids aren’t weird? What if it’s something they want to do? Someday your vote gets smaller – what will you do then?
I don’t know.
I have no freaking idea.
But something in me screams there must be another way. The more I read the words of Jesus, I believe. There’s always another way.
Narrow gates. Few enter.
Jesus asking, “do you want to leave me, too?” Everybody else did.
“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who build his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit – but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. [Who doesn’t want to be part of the beachfront property owner club?**] When a storm rolled in and waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.” (-Jesus, The Message, Matthew 7:24-27)
*I have no idea why I picked on the soccer teams. I’ve never played soccer and find no fault in the soccer crowd. Perhaps popularity makes it an easy target. Substitute t-ball or dance class as you read if it helps.
**Clearly my own commentary, not a part of scripture. But I think it’s a point to be examined.