They say you never stop learning. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what you’re learning while you’re learning it! Often I come away from a season in my life with the sense that I’ve just learned something. That my character has been shaped, that my knowledge has grown… but am unable to put into words exactly what.
That’s why I Iove reflection. Over the last few months there’s been an increasing pressure on my soul because I learnt something in 2017 that is important, and I don’t want it to dissipate as the calendar flips over. Instead I want to cradle this truth close as I march out into 2018. So here’s my attempt to put it down in letters on a white screen, so that the lesson might be worth the learning.
What 2017 taught me
2017 was full of projects
This is nothing new. I am a goal oriented person. I like having plans, steps and targets to reach. I can be flexible with them… but I still like having them! In 2017, I:
Ran a stall selling my artwork and cards to raise money for some friends and their work in a 3rd world country
Completed the draft of a novel, got beta readers and attended a writing conference
Organised a 60th birthday party
Ran a 14km trail race
Read/listened to 66 books
Spoke at a women’s gathering
and helped farewell some friends who were relocating overseas.
But my timing was off
I am glad I did all those things. I thoroughly enjoyed them all! But I was also eaten up with impatience. I wanted to do, do, do, many things all at once. I love everything and so I wanted to do all my loves simultaneously and bring them all into completion as soon as possible. The joy is in the journey, but it is also definitely the fulfillment.
This desire to hasten my projects, to do everything, ate into my peace. And my sleep. And my energy.
I wanted good things. So I thought it was okay to want them all immediately.
This year I learnt that is not the case.
It’s God’s work – but what does that mean?
It wasn’t that I thought reaching goals was the most important thing in my life. Intellectually, I knew that my reason for living is to love God and love others. I knew that often this means completing projects and using my gifts, but sometimes it does not. I was prepared to give up my projects – but I was not prepared to give up my timing of them.
I wanted my projects to be for God – but I wanted to complete them on my own terms (ie. as soon as possible)!
And yet, that’s not really doing them for God, is it? It’s easy to think that ‘doing something for God’ simply means doing it well. That’s what I thought, and I was prepared for that. After all, I like doing things well. I don’t want to do a sloppy job, if it can be efficiently avoided.
Then I met people older than myself
Near the end of 2017 I attended a writer’s conference. Most of the attendees were a lot older than myself. And I was struck again and again (in formal talks, in casual conversations etc.) by the reality that writing takes time. Writing is a journey. Don’t get me wrong – I knew that! But looking around at people 20 years older than myself, it really pressed home how much time it might take.
Was I prepared to work for 20 years without ‘success’? It was a question I had to ask myself. The Answer? Only if it was God’s work.
All of life takes time
That’s when I realised. Everything takes time. And it’s not healthy to be constantly biting at the bit. It’s exhausting for one, and impossible to maintain. The reality is I simply cannot do everything at once. Perhaps my constant chafing at how long everything takes, was not simply ‘part of me’. Perhaps it was sinful. Perhaps it exhibited a lack of trust in God’s timing, and a lack of acceptance of my own human limitations.
So this year I learnt: I can’t do everything in the timing that I would like.
I cannot pursue multiple side hobbies at once alongside full time work, friendships and spiritual disciplines. I cannot force goals into completion. I cannot live the life I would like to live. I cannot do all I would like to do, or all I know (or think) I am capable of.
And so I ask myself: can I live with that?
Can I be okay (in a joyful, not a begrudging way) with my limitations?
The answer: If it’s God’s work, then yes. Yes with all my soul.
But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. I suspect it may take me all of 2018 and longer to figure out what this looks like in practice! But that’s okay, even when it’s not, because it’s not what I do that makes my life meaningful, it’s what Jesus has already done.
// What about you? What did 2017 teach your heart?