I’m wearing four layers of clothing: a bra, shirt, puffy vest, and coat — as if I’ve armored myself against what’s to come. On a chilly morning I step into a clinic for my yearly mammogram. As expected, I’m escorted to a tiny room and told to get rid of the layers.
The nurse holds up a garment and says, “When you’re done, put on this cape.” It’s covered in flowers and has a single snap at the neck. I have to admit that I feel a bit like Wonder Woman wearing it. And I might have put my hands on my hips and pretended to be her when the technician was busy looking at her computer screen.
I do not, however, feel like Wonder Woman throughout most of the procedure. As any woman who has been through this knows, I’m prodded and pinched, stretched and squished, twisted and placed in positions I did not know I was capable of achieving. The nurse is kind and tries to make the process less awkward. I tell her, “When I’m done, I’m going to get a treat. In my world, if you’re not a cowgirl and you have to be in stirrups or any body part must be compressed, then you get a treat.” She laughs.
I make my way to my favorite coffee shop afterward and order a latte. Then I open my laptop and take a look at my email inbox. Suddenly, I feel like I’m being stretched and compressed all over again — except this time it’s my energy and time that are getting worked over. There are several different requests, deadlines to be met, and messages from people with a variety of needs (all urgent). My anxiety immediately sky rockets, and I dive right in to getting things done. But in a few moments, I pause and realize I’ve had a relapse. Years ago, that’s the way I worked, the way I lived. It led me to the brink of burnout. I’m not going back.
Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism, says, “Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” It can feel as if we are at the mercy of our calendars and to-do lists. This is a hard way to live. What I’m learning to ask instead is, “What’s most important right now?”
The Apostle Paul said, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us (Philippians 3:13-14). It can seem to us like Paul did a lot of things in his lifetime, but he really just did one thing in many different ways.
How would you fill in the blank in Paul’s declaration, “I focus on this one thing . . . “? You might answer with words about loving well, serving faithfully, living with excellence, or practicing resilience.
Then you can ask, “What does that specifically look like in this season of my life?”
These are not easy questions, but they can bring clarity to our lives. They can help us say “no” with courage and “yes” with conviction. As Greg McKeown also says, “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” Personally, I’ll take inner peace over being pulled in different directions any day (except maybe the one when I have to get my mammogram).
Shelly D. Calcagno’s words inspire and challenge me, “Sometimes I think of the future, and I imagine this family looking at some old pictures. . . . And some sweet child whom I’ve never met but who is part of my family in generations to come looks at my face and asks, ‘Tell me about her.’ What will they say about me? I hope they will see the good parts of me living on in them because I decided to live with purpose now.”
My guess is you are living with purpose — even (and perhaps especially) on the days when you can’t see it or you don’t feel it. Putting words to how you’re doing so is meant to be an affirmation of what you’re already doing, not another standard or expectation to live up to. You are surrounded by grace, supported by love, and you are doing so much better than you know.
God, there are so many good things to do in this world that it’s sometimes hard to see what’s really best. When we begin to get overwhelmed, to take on more than You ever asked us to do, help us to slow down, bring it all to You and choose wisely what we pursue. We are not here to do what everyone wants but what You will. Whew. Amen.
The holidays can be stressful. Pause and take a deep breath, then whisper a prayer, and answer this question, “What is the one thing I most want to pursue in this season?” I’d love to hear your answer in the comments!