I am going to let you in on a secret goal I have. I dream of being a “day reader.” I aspire to carve out a half hour a day to sit in my rocker on the front porch and indulge in a bit of fiction, or a lovely home magazine, or some breezy, funny biography. It sounds as luxurious as a day at the spa (almost). Oh, I read books constantly but I limit myself to Bible Studies (or the like) during my early morning quiet time, and any fluff stuff after the kids are in bed. I can throw a novel down sitting on the beach or driving in the car on long road trips like a starving person will devour a cheeseburger. But, here at home I just can’t do it. Summer is dangerously close to winding down with a mere month left and I am failing. I cannot “day-read.”
It should be simple right? I have all the necessary tools. I have books coming out of my ears. I have said rocking chair. I actually have the 30 minutes most days. I just can’t make the shift in my brain. I feel a bit like the character in the book, “If You Give a Pig a Pancake.” You know the one, Moms. I start out with the intention of a little porch time but then…. I go to grab the book and I realize the shelf needs dusting, I go into the laundry room to get the Pledge, I see the laundry is ready to be switched and folded, I take a clean pile to a kid’s room, I realize that the dresser is in desperate need of a good clean out, I head to the pantry to get a garbage bag and remember that I need to take the chicken out to defrost for dinner, as I am thinking about the meal preparations I realize I am missing an ingredient so I am off to the store….. And so on, and so one. See? I can’t just sit and read/relax/enjoy because there is always a shelf that needs dusting, a load that needs folding, a closet that needs cleaning out, a floor that need sweeping, a mouth that needs feeding.
I think what I need to confess is that I worship the god of productivity.
It can look like endless business, a cleaner house, another party thrown, the next week carefully planned, weeds pulled, meals cooked, forever…. I have to be productive. I’m not sure if I was always this way. Let’s face it, being momma to 4, part-time homeschooler, wannabe homesteader takes a lot of work, organization, and productivity. I have to run a pretty tight ship or mayhem will ensue. Laundry will pile up, the house will get out of control, the kids will eat crap, assignments will be missed, etc. I do it to my children too. The second I see one of them sitting down for a moment I inevitably ask, “What does your room look like?” I might as well say, “Why are you sitting, you lazy kid? You are not producing anything of value sitting there. I’m sure you could find something more productive to be doing!” I hate it but I say it every time. And I hurry. I hate that too. Like I am going to be put in “Mommy Jail” if every stitch of ironing isn’t finished by the end of the hour, or all of the meals are not planned and groceries bought by 10 am Monday, or if the yard is not Southern Living ready by dinner on Sunday. I continually sacrifice my peace to an invisible deadline no one knows about but me. I remember once when my oldest two children were babies and I was at the store with my dad alone. At some point he asked me, “Why are you running?” Ummm, I didn’t know that I was. But then all of the justifications and excuses started, “The baby will need to eat, I have to get back before she wakes up from her nap, I have to start on dinner… etc.” I mean, we have to hurry to get all the things done faster and more efficiently. We have to be productive! The justifications rolled but the conviction stuck. Anne Voskamp says that “only amateurs hurry.” Ouch.
At the beginning of every January, I pray for a word to focus on for the coming year. It’s a bit like a spiritual “New Year’s Resolution.” I study it, declare it, come back to it over and over throughout the year. It’s like an anchor for my prayer life, a filter for my attitude. So, for 2016, the word I received was “Selah.” Now, at the time I did not know that this was the name of a Christian band as well but my studies have educated me on this point. Selah. It is believed that this word was a musical term used by the Hebrew Psalmists. Although the exact translation is unclear, Selah is associated with a musical interlude or a pause in the voices singing while the instruments perform alone. When this direction was given in a song it meant to “stop and listen, pause and think, hang and measure, to praise and lift up.” Basically, take a breath. Relax. Chill out. REST. Here are a few of the scriptures the Lord brought me too in my quest for Selah:
His place of rest will be glorious. Isaiah 11:10
Anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Hebrews 4:10
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
My presence will go with you and I will give you rest. Exodus 33:14
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain, Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain, It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives sleep to His beloved. Psalm 127:1-2
So, toil. That has been my anti-word for this year. Or at least it was suppost to be. The definition of toil is: to labor, to work, to exert strength with pain and fatigue of body or mind, particularly of the body with effort of some continuance of duration. Obviously there is legitimate toil, worthy work, necessary labor. God called us to work before the fall in Genesis 2:15. It is not a four-letter word. But, something about the term toil feels fruitless. I picture a treadmill that takes so much effort but gets you nowhere. A toil of the mind is the worst. A toil of spirit. Honestly, this summer has not been my favorite. It has been a season of toil of the mind and spirit. Have you been there? Are you there now? Could you use a little Selah? Me too.
Remember my boyfriend Brother Lawrence from It’s Amazing What A Little Son Can Do? He refers to this idea of rest or Selah as “Holy Inactivity.” In adding this vocabulary to my filter of Selah and my confession of idolatry in regards to productivity, The Lord has taught me a couple of lessons. The first is that what may seems restful may really be more draining. Have you ever sat down to just “veg” in front of the TV, or for a good scroll session on your phone because you needed a break, only to look up an hour later not feeling rested at all? Feeling fitful? Unsatisfied? Irritated? Have you ever withdrawn to catch your breath only to find yourself feeling isolated? Have you ever given your morning to sleeping in rather than getting up with a quiet time or some exercise just to find yourself dragging all day? There is an aspect of Selah, or Holy Inactivity that is life-giving and restorative. It is not always about tuning everything out, but about tuning in more intentionally to what really matters. Can we produce peace rather than just activity? Produce margin rather than checklists? Produce a fullness of spirit rather than a fullness of schedule? Real rest and peace, true Selah, is found only with the Prince of Peace and the Author of Rest. For His “yoke is easy and burden is light.” (Matthew 11:20). Don’t look to the world for your Selah, look to Jesus.
The second lesson I have learned is without toil there can be no Selah. Without Selah the toil is in vain. It is a constant push and pull, isn’t it? Even within the very definition of Selah we find this tension: stop and listen, pause and think, hang and measure. There has to be a pause from something. A listening to something. A measuring of something. To those who land on the opposite end of the spectrum from me and tend to worship idleness rather than productivity I would say that “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33). We all know the disorder that comes when we lift leisure out of place as well. Proverbs is full of warnings to the “sluggard” about laziness. There must be Selah and rest from something, not just a general neglectfulness in disguise as “simplicity,” “calmness,” or “peace.” Ecclesiastes 3 is the classic scripture on seasons. It tells us that there is a “time for everything under heaven,” and then goes on to give us endless and wise examples of “a time to’s.” In verses 12-13 we are bestowed with this prize: “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil- this is the gift of God.”
So now I find myself back at that rocker on the front porch. It is freshly sanded and has just received a new coat of paint. The herb garden located on the porch is weeded. The floor is blown clear of leaves. The windows to the kitchen are clean. The lawn in front is perfectly mowed (by the hubs), and the potted flowers have been watered. The work has been done. What good is it if I never pause, breathe, listen, enjoy? The toil really will be in vain if it is not followed by the Selah. Can I stop bowing to the god of productivity and lay my toil down to appreciate God’s gifts? Can inactivity really be holy? These are the lessons I am trying to learn as the twilight of summer is on the horizon. I have a couple of extra rocking chairs… Are you up for a little Selah too?