for every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. — Hebrews 3:4
Here at the cottage we spend a lot of time dithering…Trying to figure out every angle before we start, so we won’t be surprised. It never works, and we usually end up with a work stoppage.
Yesterday, after a morning of spectacular dithering, I wondered to myself why we don’t discuss these problems in the car on the way back and forth from house to house. We’ve got plenty of time; the drive is at least an hour, and that’s if all the cars and drivers are behaving. (And the cat; when the cat misbehaves we end up with a conversation stoppage.)
But then I realized that we don’t discuss these problems because they are unforeseen, unexpected, unknowns. While we were dithering about the project, before we started, we never thought THAT would happen, even though we thought that we had thought of everything; and then the dithering begins again.
When the cottage first became ours, it was rather like a new romance. We wandered around thinking of possibilities — how grand it would be if we could put in hardwood floors here; and maybe we could raise the roof there; and perhaps if we enclosed this part of the back porch it would make a lovely guest bedroom…
The basic plan was to bring the cottage back to the way it looked originally (as close as we could get it, at least…) That wasn’t dithering; it was dreaming, and wondering, and expanding possibilities. But the honeymoon is over now because we have spent almost every spare moment of the last year working on this cottage. Nothing can surprise us now, and some of the charm has been lost in the reality of sweat, blood, finances, time, arguments, discussions, and just plain exhaustion. Reality always invades fantasy, doesn’t it?
It’s an old house. Suddenly we have to move to Plan B because the furnace blew up. Or suddenly we have to leave Plan A to fix the roof because it is leaking. Or suddenly we have to change Plan A because the new siding isn’t quite the same as the old siding. Can we just be done already and get on with life?
No? Then, let’s at least stop dithering and get on with the plan. (Was that Plan A or Plan B?) Troubles come when glitches occur in the actual plan. Like life, glitches abound. And are we going to dither; or are we ready to accept the problem, embrace the setback, and make the delay part of the plan?
One of my mistakes when we first started working on the cottage was thinking that after the construction part was past, we would get moved in and the dithering about incidentals would mostly get incorporated into daily life and wouldn’t seem so overwhelming.
So what happens when one finally gets settled into a routine at the cottage where one has spent three years preparing to live?
Yes. Life. Happens.
There’s a new job. There’s a volunteer commitment that was made before the new job happened. There’s cooking to do, gardens to plant, flowers to grow, cushion covers to make, Bible to study, VBS to get ready for, neighbors to visit, friends to talk to, firewood to haul, and, yes, there are still boxes to unpack, files to organize and a room to paint. As well as the bathroom to gut and redo, the back porch to finish, and the spare room to think about.
It’s the rhythm of life. Suddenly there is much going on, but it is the routine of day-to-day, interspersed here and there with a gorgeous full moon, the bloom of a new starburst flower, the scent of peonies, a gentle sunrise.
But that is life, isn’t it? Making the most of those boring bits of life in-between the great, amazing stuff that, if we are honest, doesn’t really happen all that often.
It’s what we do with the routine, the interruptions to our routine, and the ditherings that follow that are important. Read this C.S. Lewis quote and put it on your fridge.
The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “real” life. The truth is that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s “own life” is simply a phantom of one’s own imagination.
(Lewis, C.S. Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis, edited by Paul F. Ford, Harper One, c2008, p. 97-98.)
I try to practice this — you know, the Keep Calm and Carry On philosophy — but I’m not often successful. Imagine if we could just always think of those interruptions, disruptions, intrusions, ditherings… as our real lives. Forget about our own plans for that perfect day, that perfect week, that perfect life, for those plans (and those lives) don’t exist. Just because our plans are perfect in our imaginations, does that mean it’s real life? Lewis calls them phantoms.
Our plans are phantoms of real life, not the real thing. The real thing is the unremarkable, the humdrum, the commonplace, and the bumps — that’s the life God is sending us. And do we sing on the way to work, or grump about the trucks that are making us late?
Do we gripe about having to fix dinner on the day when events conspire to make us not get home until 6:00, or do we look into the fridge and make it a game with ourselves to come up with the best we can with what’s there?
Do we stop and take time to visit the neighbor when we think we should be doing whatever is on our to-do-list for the day?
I have to admit that I’m only good at loving the uneventful life sometimes. I try to remember that God has given us this ordinary life to live for him. He has sent it to us whether if fits into our own inconsequential plans or not. He sees when we grumble at our husbands for no good reason except a mood; he knows when we choose to be in a funk, rather than pray; and best of all, He understands when we chafe against the boring bits of ho-hum pfhht that so much of life seems to be…and he graciously gives us new eyes to see beauty in the familiar.
The earlier we learn this in life, the happier we will be. The sooner we learn that every event in our lives is sent to teach us, the more joyful and purposeful we will be. Whether it was actually in our plans or not, God sent it to us to be a part of our lives. No Whining.
In times of boredom, ennui, or depression, Jesus can give us joy. Take those times to pray, to reread your favorite passages of scripture, cook a favorite meal, or do something that will remind you of the joy and hope you have. Do something for someone else, to forget yourself. God made us to rest in him. Do that and you will be able to forget your shouting inner self. (Sometimes…)
In times of disruption, leaning on Jesus can ease our anxiety. If we are trying to live life according to His plan, well then, it’s His plan — it’s not our plan. We just like to think it’s our plan and that we are in charge. And when we get too uppity about it, God will remind us. Most of the time He reminds us gently, and that’s when we are to say, “Oh, yes. God, it is yours, not mine. Forgive me for trying to take over.”
Sometimes it’s a big thing; sometimes we just see through the glass darkly and we fight and kick and struggle for weeks, months, years… until the glass clears and we finally get it — the fight belongs to Him, not us. “It is He who made us and we are His. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100:3) We dither because we are sheep. I know, it’s not a pleasant comparison, but there it is. Picture sheep running around the gated pasture bleating in confusion. Going nowhere and running in those circles cause agitation, befuddlement, bewilderment, and demoralization. Don’t ask me how I know this.
But we have a good shepherd to lead us — one who never gives up on us no matter how far we wander; one who loves each one of us not because we are good, bad, black, or white, but simply because we are His; one who rejoices when that one lost sheep is found; one who constantly cares for us if we would just allow it.
Note to self: Dithering is believing that your own plans might be better than God’s amazing plans! Embrace the delays and remember that you are being taught something important.
Note to God: “Yes, God, it is truly yours, not mine. Forgive me for trying to take over.”
Questions to think about:
- What are you dithering about that needs to be given back to God?
- Why is it so hard to give up control of our plans? We want to be the focus of our lives rather than focusing on God and his faithfulness and love?
- Is it easier for you to see God in the ordinary or in the interruptions to the ordinary?
- I don’t know about you, but I hate waiting. All of us have something that when it happens it makes learning from it almost impossible. I can say that God is trying to teach me, but I never seem to learn patience for waiting (and I have a husband who tests me on this constantly). I need a trigger or maybe a verse to say while it is happening? What derails you and have you solved this in your own life? How?
- “Busyness is moral laziness [because it is often a statement of our self-importance and our excuse to be inattentive to people] . . . But God has given us just enough time to do what we need to do moment by moment to respond to him. And his grace is there; it is eternally present. Every moment is a sacrament where time touches eternity and there is exactly enough time to do what God has called us to do.” This is a quote from Bruce Hindmarsh, who utilizes part of a C.S. Lewis quote inside it. There are two ideas I love in this quote: a) busyness is self-importance (!) and b) the idea that we have just enough time. So should we not worry about frittering it away? Or should we be mindful of how we are spending it?
- The other day I was blessed by this prayer in Tim Keller’s book The Songs of Jesus: “Lord, since it is you who feed us and you who meet our needs, ordinary human labor such as farming, cooking, and knitting have great dignity. They are means by which you love your creation, Help me to sense that dignity so I can do the simplest of tasks to your glory. Amen.”
How comforting that my knitting can be done for God’s glory…