It's Simplify Your Life month, and this week I want to talk about big picture ideas: how when we know what the purpose of our life is, and where we're headed, it's so much easier to feel organized and on-track in our daily lives.
We know where we're going, and we're peacefully heading in that direction; we're not living in chaos, heading every which way, just trying to escape the whip that we feel is coming. We're not under punishment; we're being led.
But that's not usually the way we feel.
Yesterday in church, our pastor was talking about sheep. Basically, we're all sheep. We're a little bit dumb, we're awfully vulnerable, we need help getting through life, and we're followers, not leaders.
The question becomes: who do we follow?
And Jesus answered that question when He said,
"I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep...His sheep follow Him because they know His voice." (John 10:11, 10:4)
The imagery I love in that story is that of a shepherd leading the way, and the sheep follow. The shepherd's out front, and the sheep are happily following right along, because they trust the shepherd has their best interests at heart.
In contrast, when sheep have been sold to a butcher, they don't peacefully follow the butcher, because they don't know his voice. The butcher has to stand behind the sheep and whip them into shape to get them to go in the direction he wants.
That's the difference between being called and being driven. Being called is peaceful, with God out front; being driven means you're not sure where you're going, you just don't like the feeling that you're being swept away into the abyss, and no one is leading you.
I don't want to live my life being swept away, but that means I have to hear Jesus' voice. Part of the answer to that comes from this post last week about how to snatch time with God and spend time reading His word and praying. But let's go a little bit deeper today and ask: what is it that God is calling us to?
In our society, we're being called in many different directions. Here are just a few:
1. Perfect Moms
We're told we have to be perfect mothers--and the criteria for being a perfect mother is always changing. It used to be that a mom could have a birthday party by sticking all the kids out in the backyard with hot dogs and a cake and some bubble wands. Now we have to rent out the rec centre so everyone can go swimming. The criteria for motherhood has changed, and we have to recognize this or we're going to be swept away.
2. Perfect Bodies
What about the criteria for what makes a good woman? We all feel pressure to be beautiful. But if you were to actually do all the beauty techniques we're supposed to do--from exercise to waxing to cooking special foods to snacking throughout the day to facials and manicures and hair treatments--we'd never sleep. Here's a video I did on exactly this subject of how silly we women can sometimes be:
3. Perfect Homes
We need perfect homes, which means that we need more and more stuff and more and more money to buy the stuff (and bigger homes to hold all the stuff). Think of how many TV shows and internet sites revolve around creating a perfect home that is more and more expensive. How much time do you spend ogling home & garden magazines, wishing you had just a little bit more?
We can drive ourselves crazy trying to have a perfect home, and yet if you were to look at the homes most people lived in during the post-war period, I think we'd be surprised at how bigger families often had less space--and yet they survived. Today we have more space, and we work ourselves to the bone trying to pay for it. We spend less time at home so that we can afford a bigger home. It's silly.
4. Perfect Kids
If you haven't gone crazy yet with the demands for a perfect home, and a perfect body, and being a perfect mom, how about perfect kids? To have perfect kids, you have to raise well-rounded, well-adjusted kids, which means that they need to be in soccer, and hockey, and gymnastics, and karate, and piano, and French immersion, and special pre-schools. And the list goes on.
For our children to succeed, they need to try everything, the theory goes. Everything, of course, except actual boredom. It seems to me that if children are never bored, they never learn to use their imaginations. If they're never sitting at home with nothing to do, they never decide to play with their siblings, or to make up games.
Perhaps the truly successful child is not one who has been in all kinds of activities where other people tell them what to do and they blindly follow, but instead a child who has had permission to play outside, to explore the world, and to imagine and create.
Last week our friend Logan came over to spend some time with my girls. He's now 16, and he's on a quiz team with my oldest, and they needed to study. Logan was telling us how that day he and his brother had been out searching for crayfish in the river near where they lived, and they were jumping from rock to rock, holding onto trees for support, to see who could clear the most rocks without falling in.
It doesn't cost anything. Mom doesn't need to chauffeur. And Logan and Orrin were learning about nature, and appreciating the outdoors, and getting exercise, and bonding together. What's wrong with that?
In short, many of the reasons that we feel driven is because we're giving in to what society says our lives should be about: bigger and better. And bigger is not better. The more stuff you have, the more you have to pay to buy it, pay to maintain it and take time to clean it. It robs us of our most precious commodity: time.
I don't think that God will ever lead us into any of these things. God isn't worried about appearances. God isn't worried about "riches" on earth, whether they're money riches or status or experiences.
God cares about character: are you and your family members growing to look more and more like Jesus?
And what did Jesus do? He cared about others. He stopped and listened and laughed. He loved nature. He loved children. He took time to talk. He took time to care about people.
Of course, He also wasn't married and wasn't providing for children, so He could afford to be a little freer with His time than those of us who have these responsibilities! We do have to care about housing for our kids; He didn't. So we can't be completely as carefree. But our hearts can be in the same place: that our primary aim is for us to look more like Jesus, and for us to take our family, our friends, our kids, our neighbours, along with us.
It really is that simple. I know many of you have all kinds of plans for building bigger homes, or putting your kids in more activities, or getting a bigger high-powered job. I know many of you spend your life driving your kids everywhere, and you're thinking, "but you don't understand how much my daughter loves gymnastics! You don't understand what a witness we are in that gymnastics club! You don't understand how much we need me to work!"
You're right, I don't. And some families definitely do need two incomes (though I think the number that do are far fewer than we commonly assume). It all comes down to this:
Money + Stuff = Time
The more stuff you have, and the more money you want, the more time you have to spend to earn it and maintain it. The less stuff you want, and the less money you're willing to live on, the more time you have for people.
We all have to find our own balance in this area, and you need to ask God to show you how you can provide for your family's legitimate needs without wearing yourselves out.
But I encourage everyone of you to take another look at your lives. Are you spending too much of it chauffeuring, or doing housework, or calling repairmen, or working? Are you spending too much of it away from your kids so that your kids can have the best opportunities? Maybe you're sacrificing God's best for what the world tells you you need.
And the best way to figure that out is to ask yourself this question: do I feel peace with where I'm going, as if I'm following Jesus' voice, or do I feel like I'm being herded somewhere I don't want to go? If you feel herded, stop. Step aside. Our world has a herd mentality, trying to get everyone to conform to the "bigger is better" mantra, that every middle class family needs all this stuff. It's not true.
If you're not at peace, you're likely not following the shepherd. Don't be hard on yourself about it. He's not angry. Just decide that this week you're going to try to listen more. Talk to your husband more about where he thinks you should be heading. Talk to your kids, if they're old enough, about whether they're happy with the pace of your life. Start journalling and asking if you are all looking more like Jesus, or if you're looking more like every other family on the block: busy, harried, and abounding with stuff.
Having less means you live more on faith, which is exactly what Jesus did. There's nothing wrong with deciding to live with less, and relying on the Shepherd to lead you. There's nothing wrong with deciding to forget about what society tells you should be your aim, and deciding as a family to strike out in a new direction; that's what our Shepherd did, too.
I'm going to talk later this week about how to make decisions about whether or not to work outside the home; how to make long term goals for your family with your husband; and how to make long term character goals for your kids. But for today, I encourage you to ask: whose voice am I following? And if you're not feeling peace, maybe it's time to get off of that road.
About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.