Morning breezes across the one knee I’ve drawn up to my chest, across the bare top of the other foot I push against the floor so the rocker will rock. The messy bun on the back of my head bobs against weathered wood and woven reeds, and I find myself thankful for freedom, the freedom to sit on this screened porch and hear the birds with one ear and my friend with the other. I find myself thankful even for the slim phone that carries her voice from the someplace else she sits–on her own porch, maybe?–to my ear; thankful suddenly for the truth that we are not marking time here at all but loving people.
We talk of children, she and I. We talk of raising girls to women. We talk of prayer and community and love, and suddenly I am thankful too that somehow God gives an empty me something to give away. When I least feel in any way able, I can show a friend she’s priceless. Because an empty me that’s full of God is full of one limitless thing: love. Something another friend says to me suddenly wells up and slow-drips right down my cheek, right while I’m sitting there with the phone against my face: The only thing we ever have to give another person is love. Whatever I’m giving, let it be some shape of that.
I’ll tell you why it spills out this way, why I have to wipe it clear off my cheek with my palm, why the wet line left behind feels cooler when the wind blows: Because I fall flat over this one. And because just now, this feels right. This feels free. It feels better to count planks with my toes, tapping, listening to the sound of a precious friend’s voice, than it does to check off the things on my list. This feels eternal. It feels timeless.
Oh friends, let me lay the assurance over you God wraps right now around my shoulders:
It’s okay to linger over being there.
Last night, I heard Riley in the kitchen telling her Dad why she still hadn’t made it upstairs to the shower, and her voice broke and the words were sopping. I just have to, she said, and there’s a list. And see, the crushing thing was that she felt as though she had to finish the list to be finished. Real or self-imposed, these are her responsibilities, and she needs–she wants–to execute the whole of them perfectly. These are things she usually does in the afternoon, but today, for just a while, she did an even better thing: She loved someone. She spent the afternoon at a birthday party, came home flush-cheeked and towel-draped, smelling of chlorine, with all those wispy curls popping out around the crown of her head. And the time came full for her. Maybe now she’s sweetly empty, but the time came full. I heard Kevin’s voice from the kitchen too, soft and low, gently urging our diligent daughter to let go of these other things, to consider the day a success and rest, now. It’s not that he doesn’t understand Riley’s compulsion to completion, but that truly he loves her more than the sum total of what she can do with her time. And if she’s loved her way through this day, well, she’s finished.
Last night I listened to Riley shattering and I broke a little too, because I get it. I also have a hard time letting go of the unfinished tasks on my list. In fact, I feel as though I’ve spent half my life chasing temporary things that go un-done without counting the more lasting things I’ve finished. Word says the thief comes to steal, and I flat know he robs me blind of significance. He loves to point his wicked finger and yell, “not enough!” But as my friend says, love is not only enough, it’s all. Jesus only had the one thing on His list—to love us all the way to a cross, to give God full right from His own empty–and when that was done, do you know what he said? It is finished.
While I’m talking to the one friend, another calls, another texts, another face pops up in a bubble that layers over all the other applications on my phone. I resist the urge to stop listening, to think of time running out instead of coming full. I glance at my journal where I tossed my pen right in the fold, at the pages of my Bible lifting at the corner. So far, God has spent my day on loving people. How absolutely wonderful that such a thing can happen; that he would let me do this.
I’ve seen Riley spend an afternoon stopping everything just to reply to loved ones. I’m right here, she’ll say out loud–and happily, with the kind of fresh wisdom that understands: Presence takes precedence. But that same day, she’ll work until midnight just to finish off her to-do list, so compelled, in fact, that she’d rather be tired than feel incomplete. I love my friend all the way to bye now, I’ll see you later, and push myself rocking again, thinking. If only Riley and I could just learn that other thing about letting go, about time spent on love being not just time enough but time full. I want my daughter to be able to accept this, but the truth is that I’m not very good at it myself. The truth is that I’ll end this day so tempted to think on what I didn’t manage yet to do instead of giving thanks for what I finished—a meaningful conversation with a friend, a prayer with my husband, a car ride listening to my daughter on the way to school. But there has to be a way to turn away, a way to collect the truth and let it gather, because really the only truly finished day is a day given fully to love.