Ruthlessly eliminate hurry
from your life.
~Dallas Willard, as quoted in
The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith, 183
Sometimes I feel like a horrible mother.
These are the days when I truly realize the power of grace, and these are the days when my thanksgiving for it is most earnest.
Sometimes I feel like doing homework with Riley is going to kill me, or worse, that homework will be the activity that paralyzes me in front of a window one day, rocking. Back and forth, back and forth.
In the afternoon, as I turn the corner in the carpool line, I could swear I hear The Lone Ranger theme song faintly budda dum budda dumming me into a frenzy, niggling at me like a bully. If I’m honest, it’s nearly every day at that exact time that I remind myself that I’m so thankful that Kevin has a good job (and I am) and that he’s such a fantastic provider (and I am) and that he goes out and works hard so that I can stay home and give our children my attention (and I am). But every day at that exact time I also feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and exhausted just thinking about the last hours of the day and the fact that some of the greatest blessings in our life also necessitate that homework and all that follows is mine to navigate alone.
In my quest to understand the way that epilepsy impacts Riley’s life, I found this very basic, helpful truth: “Epilepsy is the underlying tendency of the brain to release electrical energy that disrupts other brain functions. So the seizure is the symptom of this underlying condition.” When Riley was diagnosed with epilepsy almost a year ago, her neurologist told me that he believed that she has hundreds of undetectable seizures, known as absence seizures which make it difficult for her to process information properly. Explaining that it is almost impossible to manage absence seizures with 100% success, he prescribed some seizure medication that should, if successful, eliminate some of the seizure activity and help with Riley’s migraine headaches. And I have to say, it seems that the medicine has helped significantly. But even though I have a cerebral grasp on all these facts, I still struggle with patience in the midst of all the after school chaos. I’m sick with hurry.
One afternoon this week, while Riley stood in the kitchen with me reading her math homework out loud, I tried to remember the steps to fix supper in the right order and at the right time, so that everything would be hot at once and the kids would be on track for getting to bed at a decent hour. I kept starting over, thinking, “Okay. Where was I?” while washing and cutting vegetables and fruit to put in sack lunches for school the next day; checking Zoe’s homework; signing notebooks; cleaning out lunch boxes; unloading the dishwasher; washing dishes; folding laundry; peeking out the window to check on Adam and his friend on the trampoline; recycling mail; throwing away trash that somehow magically appeared on the kitchen counter; answering “Can I” questions; and…well, you get the picture. Riley had read the first math problem three times before I realized that she seemed stuck and waiting on me for direction. I turned toward her and re-read the question, realizing it required a process with which she is usually very successful. I expected her to be able to find the solution easily, thinking that the language processing issues inherent with autism were just tripping her up.
“Look,” I said, gesturing toward the paper with the paring knife in my hand, “it’s asking you to estimate this to the nearest thousand. So, just round the numbers to the nearest thousand and solve the problem.”
I turned back to that whole list of stuff I hurried to accomplish, leaving her to her work. Moments later, she said, “So is it…” and rattled off some completely ridiculous, random solution that wasn’t even one of the choices offered on the practice test that was her homework.
I turned back, trying to be patient. “No. Look,” I said, pointing again to the paper. “You need to round the numbers. To the nearest thousand.”
Back to work I went, sighing a little in the pivot. This time, she rounded the numbers, but to the wrong place value. Again, her solution wasn’t even on the list, and she seemed stuck, unable even to realize that this could not be correct.
This time, completely betraying the Spirit’s best efforts, I lost my patience. I don’t yell, but my voice comes out hard, like iron, smacking against my daughter’s already bruised confidence. I picked up her pencil. “Riley, you have to focus. I’ve said this three times already. You need to round to the nearest thousand before you complete the problem.” I said this while underlining the words nearest thousand twice with the pencil.
I looked up at Riley, and she stood there, with a hand on one hip, not making eye contact with me, blinking back tears. I felt lower than a roach. The expression on her face cut through all my hurry and impatience, slapping me in the face with the truth: Riley always tries. She is not a lazy child. She never chooses not to focus. This is a child who, despite the difficulty she faces with academics, refuses to use the homework passes she is thrilled to earn. She practices academics constantly in her spare time, asking for workbooks for Christmas. It is very likely that she is this tenacious because she feels the difficulty of her own struggle against the challenges she faces and is determined not to give up.
“Oh Riley,” I said, putting down everything I held in my hands. “Please don’t be sad. I am so proud of you. You do a good job.” As I said this, her tears poured forth, as if the words had unlocked the gates that held them back. I drew her to me, wrapping my arms around her shoulders. “I’m sorry, honey,” I said. “We can do this.”
She pulled away briefly, but I squeezed her harder, not wanting to let her withdraw from me. I had hurt her, and I could’ve cried a river myself.
“I just try so hard,” she said through her tears, and it stung just to recognize the effort it had taken her over so many years to be able to articulate just that sentiment.
“I know,” I said, brushing her hair back with my hand, looking into her eyes, wiping away her tears with my thumb.
“It’s just so hard for me,” she said as a new torrent burst forth, pressing her face into my shoulder.
Like I said, these are the moments when I truly realize the power of grace, in the valley of my own inadequacy. “Oh Father, pour out grace to cover over my mistakes,” I prayed, apologizing to my daughter, apologizing to God.
That night, I asked Kevin to start praying for me every day during those afternoon and early evening hours. “It’s so hard,” I said to him, pressing my own face into his shirt. He promised me he would, and when I sent him a text on the way to school the next afternoon that said, Start praying, he sent back quickly, I will, with his love.
And that was the day, even before those hours came, that I recognized that my hurry had lately been stealing time away from my afternoon dates with God. Oh, I had been keeping my date. The Enemy has learned that with me, it pays to be subtle. It’s just that I’d been so busy, my list of work so full after the kids tracked back in to school, that every day had begun shaving off precious moments of Holy quiet. Each day there was one more load of clothes ready to fold at the time to be still, or one more room that needed my attention just quickly, if I hurried, before I turned my attention to listening.
And the thing is, when I forget to be Mary, I turn into Martha.
But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:40-42
I can tell you one thing: If the Lord of heaven and earth was sitting there, ready to teach me, I would not ask him to wait while I fold a load of laundry.
But He actually is, and I actually do.
The problem with hurry, and the reason it is such a sickness of our time, is that it confuses the most important issue. It isn’t that the things I accomplish while I am busy are bad things. Christ never told Martha she was doing wrong things, in fact, He spoke to her very gently. The problem throbs at the heart of the urgent request she brings to the Lord while He is sitting in her home, available to her.
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Martha doesn’t ask the Messiah to help her handle all the things that she feels—overwhelmed, inadequate, exhausted. Instead, she asks him to make another human being help her with the work. Uh, oh. There goes that blasted budda dum budda dumming again. Hurry-sickness feeds The Lone Ranger syndrome. The burden brought by hurry tells a half truth because it isolates me from what is most important. Hurry says to me:
- I am alone in my work. Physically this may be true, but spiritually it is false unless I am too busy to notice that the Messiah, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, inhabits my body and my home. I am holding out for a hero, when the hero of heroes is here with me and available to me.
- If Kevin could just do this last part of the day with me…It’s true that physically, it would help to have an extra pair of hands, another mind devoted to all that stuff that has to be done every afternoon after school. But just as Mary wasn’t truly oblivious to Martha’s work, Kevin is not oblivious to mine. He is doing something else, something equally important for our family. His heart is home with me, even if his body must be somewhere else for a while.
- Stillness, even before God, is not as productive as activity. It’s true, being unhurried and ruthlessly protecting my date with God might mean I get fewer items knocked off my constantly growing “to do” list. But it’s a complete lie that earth-bound activity could ever be more productive than spiritual transformation. The real truth lies in the Messiah’s words to Martha about Mary,
“…you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Only one thing is truly needed, and it’s not more hurry. When the Messiah sits teaching, it’s better to sit down and listen. In my inadequacy, all the hurry in the world will not minimize the work that is mothering, but eliminating hurry and being still at the Master’s feet will keep my eyes focused on the things that are truly important. He’ll push aside my hair, wipe my eyes with His thumbs, and say, “Give all those overwhelmed, exhausted feelings, all that effort, over to me. I can do this.”
So, that day, when the Spirit showed me my hurry and pointed out that I was stealing time away from Him, I sat down and opened my Bible and The Good and Beautiful God, a book that some of my sisters and I are reading together. I laughed at God’s way with me—that repetition makes me impatient with my children and yet is the very thing I need most to finally get His lessons. The chapter this week was about hurry sickness, and the fact that growing spiritually is a slow process, like soaking cucumbers in brine until they become pickles. In my heart, I hugged my teacher, the One who called me gently, “Elysa, Elysa you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.”
That afternoon, I felt no less encumbered by the hours that lay ahead. I still heard the taunting Budda bum budda bum in my head as I turned into school to pick up the kids, but with one important difference: Having just been sitting at the Lord’s feet, I knew I wasn’t driving into the afternoon alone.
When we got home, I felt a silent nudge to slow down. When Riley pulled out her homework, I stood beside her, ready, doing nothing else but making myself available to her. I was determined to be unhurried, to remember that it is a lie that so much activity is more productive than availability. And it was probably the best homework time we’ve had in a long time.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5: 22-25