My kids know that lights out is at 8pm. Every night I try to give them plenty of time to get ready for bed, and still have enough time for a story and a song before lights out. Last night they got a late start, but were still getting ready by 7:40pm. Twenty whole minutes to do what only takes them 5 minutes when they really focus. Shortly before 8pm my daughter told me she was ready, so I went upstairs. My son was still in the bathroom, and informed me he had not yet brushed his teeth, and I could see that instead of jammies, he was still wearing his clothes complete with pizza sauce stains from dinner. I reminded him of the steps he still needed to complete and told him he only had 5 minutes left to complete them. Since my daughter was ready, I read her a couple pages from her “Little House” series, sung her a song, and turned out her light. My son was still in the bathroom. He had closed the door and I could hear him playing. I asked if he was ready, and he emerged, clearly not having done the remaining steps of his bedtime routine. He tried to hide the toy he had been playing with. It was now past 8pm, so I took the toy and told him to get in bed, and reminded him that he would not get a story or song that night because he wasn’t ready on time and being rested for school is more important. He was very upset and started to argue saying he’d do those things really quickly right now. Next thing I know I hear myself gently saying these words:
“Buddy, you need to do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it, or you miss out on the good things that you want like a story and a song. If you choose to do whatever you feel like doing right then [in this case playing], you won’t be ready on time. When you listen and obey, everyone is happy because you get what you want most, and I get to read to you and sing to you, which I really enjoy doing. I’m sorry you’re upset with your choice. I will read to you and sing to you tomorrow if you are ready for bed before 8 o’clock.” I gave him a hug and a kiss and turned out his light.
Have you ever heard yourself disciplining your child and suddenly realized how everything you’re saying completely applies to you? So many times God has used my role as a parent to help me understand the way He relates to us. As a parent I want my children to be responsible and trustworthy, but I also want them to have fun. Sometimes my children’s choices require consequences that limit their fun. Not being able to give them all of the wonderful things I want to give them truly saddens me, and I try to explain to them that I don’t want to withhold good things, but I have no choice when they choose to be disobedient. As I heard myself talking, this is what I heard God saying to me:
“You need to do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it, or you will miss out on opportunities and blessings and other good things I have planned for you. If you choose to do whatever you feel like doing right then (your to-do list, wasting time on the computer, watching a movie, etc), you’ll miss my timing. When you listen and obey, everyone is happy because you get what you really want, which is my A-plan, best life for you, and I get the joy of blessing you with all of the things I have for you.”
Ouch! I needed that! Sometimes thoughts come to me in the middle of the night and I grab a pad of paper and pen I leave on my bedside table and attempt to quickly scrawl down the thoughts in the dark. Several months ago, I wrote these barely legible words – “My life is a list. If all Satan has to do is keep me from accomplishing the tasks on my list to keep me from focusing energy on things of eternal significance, then he has an easy job.”
Last night as I was talking to my son, I was again convicted of how true this is in my life. I have felt the call to write. Here and there I manage to write a little, but by and large, I have not answered the call to the extent of which I have felt the calling. I always have an excuse. It’s not a good time in my life right now. I only have such a short time before both kids are in school full-time, and I need to focus on my main role as a mother. There will be time for writing later. My youngest started full day kindergarten a month and a half ago. This is the first post I’ve published since then – why? Many times it is items on my to-do list that feel pressing. We started this huge landscaping project, the weather is now turning cold, and I need to finish it. When the projects are completed, and I have more time, I’ll spend more time writing. I’ve been spending so much time in the garden that everyone’s socks and underwear drawers are empty! I need to catch up on the laundry and other housework, then I’ll have time to sit down and write. Can you see me chasing the carrot on the end of the stick? And they’re all good things – being a mom, gardening, fulfilling my duties of running the household.
There’s a chapter in one of my favorite books, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff” by Richard Carlson, Ph.D. entitled “Remind Yourself that When You Die, Your ‘In Basket’ Won’t Be Empty.” The belief that the To-Do list or project list will ever be finished, and that someday life will feel relaxed, un-rushed, and no longer busy is a lie. If I continue to believe the lie that I can “catch up” and then I’ll have all of this space for following my purpose, then Satan has won. He’s kept me from being obedient to doing what God told me to do now. He’s kept me from being effective. He’s kept me from living my A-plan life.
As I contemplated these things, and fought the overwhelming urge to head directly out to the garden this morning to try to beat the forecasted rain, God wove into my thoughts another concept we are starting to teach our children, which is to tithe. In this case, instead of the tithe being financial in which we trust God by giving him back 10% right off the top, it occurred to me that the same could apply to time. The Time Tithe. With tithes of money it is common to hear people say that they will give to the church what they have leftover after meeting their other needs. Of course, there is rarely anything leftover. This is exactly what I’m doing with my time! I’m saying, “God, I want to be a writer, and I want to live my purpose, but I’m swamped and behind on things right now. In a few weeks, when I catch up, then I’ll have time leftover, and then I’ll write.” That’s why it hit me so hard when I heard myself say to my son, “You need to do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it.” It’s not a “do it later, when you feel like it, when you have time leftover” kind of thing, it’s a “do it now or you’ll miss your window” kind of thing. I’ll be honest, it took a lot of will power to sit down at the computer this morning and write this. I might get rained out, and not get any gardening in today, and then I may run out of decent weather to complete my project. But I need to be obedient, and I need to give God the first fruits of my time, and not just my money. I need to trust that he’ll bless my time, just as He does my finances when I’m obedient to Him. And I need to keep the perspective that all of those things on my ever-so-important list, are meaningless and insignificant from an eternal perspective. I mean, really, would I rather miss my calling and purpose in life, yet be caught up on laundry and have nice landscaping? It sounds utterly ridiculous when I put it that way.
Lord, forgive me for chasing the lie of a perfectly checked-off to-do list instead of listening to and obeying YOU! Forgive me for putting off until someday what You have called me to do today. Help me to see the truth, and change my perspective. Please free me from my compulsive need to chase the carrot on the stick, and teach me to chase You instead. I want to live a life of purpose, not a life of busyness. Help me to have peace with the fact that there will always be a list that needs to be done, and to know that’s ok. As I try to give You the first fruits of my time, and not what’s leftover, please bless and multiply my time, and help me to use it wisely. Thank you for never giving up on me, even when I haven’t chosen obedience so many times. Thank you for using things like my interactions with my children to get my attention and point me back to the right road. You are Good. All the time. And I love you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.