It’s been a rough summer and several weeks ago I hit a wall. As usual I had a task list ready and knew what needed to get done to reach a set of goals. There weren’t any outside meetings to get in the way of completing the list that Thursday. Yet, I couldn’t . . . push . . . through . . .. Most of the morning I just read and re-read the list. Some internal barrier was stopping me. I kept thinking that if I can just get through this list, then I could rest. But there was always another list.
The problem wasn’t so much in the lists, as in the thinking that I was alone responsible for accomplishing everything. Eventually the tasks had become so disparate that I didn’t see the larger vision of why I was doing them and I didn’t see the One behind it all. No wonder I hit a wall. For days on end these tasks became bricks that I thought I were adding to an expansive vision of life, when in reality I was walling myself into a solitary cell.
Gradually each task became a burden and I started living as if once I got through them I’ll then be good enough to connect with God or with others. Until then, it was just me on my own. In my mind I knew this was wrong and pictured the abundant life God promises, but my actions belied belief.
Fortunately, hitting the wall led me to see that I needed to somehow get out. Instead of thinking that I was building a life on my own, I needed to stand alongside others in its building. Nehemiah uses the phrases “Next to them” and “After” over 25 times in Nehemiah 3 to indicate a continuous line of people repairing the walls of Jerusalem, one next to / after the other. Here was a wall that was being built for a larger vision and drew people together.
And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. – Nehemiah 2:18
I needed to see that larger vision. So, I took a day off. No looking at task lists or e-mails. I slowly got ready and went for a walk then headed to the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky to pray in this space of quiet expanse. Afterwards I walked around the Cincinnati Art Museum for an hour. Not honing in on any specific work, but reveling in the beauty and craft of the paintings and sculptures. My breathing slowed and shoulders lowered. I could look and enjoy. Be inspired. Receive new breath from the work of others and from the beauty that God has created all around us. A quiet lunch and a stroll through Ault Park rounded out the afternoon.
Going home my trained mind wanted to return that list and find commendation in doing something. Maybe I would start cleaning. But I had to say no. This constant treadmill of trying to keep up with work was not life giving. I needed to think of other ways to fill time set aside for rest. Reading, writing, and organizing photos from a pilgrimage last summer took up the rest of the day. In these activities I found rest and started to again see a larger picture of the work before me, before all of us.
With a new view and breath, I am looking at these tasks differently. Not as a list to plow through, but as opportunities to serve God, one another, and enjoy life together.
I especially appreciate the comments from the Neh passage. Good stuff.