Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Irons in the Fire

I went walking with my girlfriend Denise last Saturday. In many ways, we are cut out of the same cloth: overcommitted, overachieving perfectionists. At the end of our hour-long trek, she asked, "What do you have planned for the rest of the day?" I replied, The usual, laundry, reading, ironing...

She was incredulous. "I can't believe you iron. I can't remember the last time I ironed. Why don't you take it all to the dry cleaners?"

Well, I just don't!

About every 3 weeks, I have to catch up on the ironing. I am quite a proficient. I can iron a long sleeve shirt in 5 minutes, 3 minutes for a short-sleeve shirt or pants. I think I ironed a combination of 20 shirts and pants on Saturday in a span of 1 1/2 hours.

Ironing is just one of the many irons I have in the fire (pardon the pathetic pun). I've been excruciatingly busy lately and I don't like it! I keep threatening to quit my part time job, but haven't done so yet; it doesn't appear to be up for serious discussion in my house. One girlfriend suggested I price myself out of the market, then no one will hire me. Hey ... she's smart! (Oops, I forgot my husband reads this!)

Two nights ago, I was reading a new Maxie Dunnam book (new to me, not to the world) entitled, "Christians Under Construction and In Recovery." I'm using it as my source book for the next month or so in the weekly Bible study that I teach to the rehab ladies. Dunnam quotes another author on the topic of being miserably busy and a bit overcommitted. This author says, "So you have too many irons in the fire? Then iron with the one that's hottest."

That's pretty good advice.

Sometimes life feels like a room filled with birds that have escaped from their cages. (In fact, that's exactly how yesterday felt.) Initially, it's utter mayhem. So many birds flying around your head and swooping down on you. The only way to restore the order is to put the birds back in their cages, one at a time. As each bird is placed back into the confines of its cage, dealing with the rest of them is a little easier. Slowly but surely, you regain control, but the overall process can be quite overwhelming.

Everyone is tearing off pieces of me!

I find that when there is too much to do, I take on that "deer in the headlights" look and become immobilized in terms of my efficiency. And THAT, for me, is excruciating.

When I think about the life of Jesus during his three intense years of ministry, I always imagine him doing, doing, doing all the time. Sure, sometimes that "doing" amounted to reclining at a table with friends, but still, the man was on the move. He was much sought after. The gospels all seem to cnovey that he never got a moment's peace, unless he snuck out by himself alone. Yet isn't it interesting what his reaction is to all this busyness -- all those birds let loose from their cages:

35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Matthew 9:35-38)

Notice that his viewpoint is not, "Ugh!! Help me, God, I'm soooo overwhelmed!" To him, it's not about too much work (focusing on himself) but not enough workers (focusing on the needs of others). In Luke's gospel, this same comment about there being too few workers is recorded while Jesus is sending out 72 disciples to the neighboring towns.

1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
5"When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' 6If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
8"When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' 10But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11'Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you.
(Luke 10:1-11)

How interesting that Jesus gives them explicit instructions to help alleviate the stress of their jobs, should their efforts become frustrated or ineffective. If someone offers you hospitality, accept it. If not, move on. If you can't accomplish what you set out to accomplish there, move on. If you aren't particularly productive, move on. If it just ain't happening that day, move on. And don't take any of it with you. No, shake the dust of that proverbial town off your feet and MOVE ON.

When all those birds have escaped from their cages, I need to realize that their effect on me does not go unnoticed by God. He is with me in the thick of it and he's trying to tell me that sometimes we have to learn to live amid the chaos and make the best of it. Sometimes we have to look hard for little things to encourage us. Sometimes we have to cut our losses. Sometimes we have to understand that there will be days when it just ain't happening ... and move on.

Iron with the one that's hottest.

Father, you know at times I feel like a tornado is raging in my head. At those moments when I should turn to you, I have a tendency instead to turn away. Help me, Lord, to look to you, the Lord of the Harvest, to supply my every need. Help me to stay focused on what you have for me today; to live in the present. Life certainly isn't perfect, not even close. But it is good ... with You by my side.

Copyright 2008 Just Enough Grace Publications

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