Grace in the New Rhythms. Part 2: What’s Your Real Motivation for Wanting to be Awesome?

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This is Part 2 of a series as we begin a new season. Here’s Part 1.

When you decide to write a series like this, one that’s about managing your days with grace, take into consideration that your days may completely fall apart in the process.

I spent several hours last Saturday morning working on this series. Knee-deep in big thoughts and notes and highlighted sections of text, I was feeling rather wise and pleased. In fact, I was so deep in all of my big thoughts that I kept writing at least an hour after I’d planned to stop. And when I noticed the time, I realized I needed to throw some brownies in the oven and get a shower because we had a party to attend at 2:30.

Except that the party began at 2:00 and not 2:30.

As I flew around in a panic, foregoing a shower and lunch, bossing everyone around, hating myself for writing down the wrong time, a certain child suddenly realized the whole family was going to this party and commenced to have a meltdown because we are “embarrassing.”

Another child, who had felt sorely mistreated the whole day and deemed that particular Saturday as “utterly cursed,” commenced to running away from home.

The third child was just trying to find a bathing suit that fit because all the suits had been thrown in one big bin and this child often comes out wearing clothes that don’t actually belong to him.

And I, the illustrious organizer of the whole troupe, commenced to dropping the glass pan of hot brownies onto the concrete driveway on my frantic sprint to the van.

As my husband pulled into the driveway after retrieving the runaway, he surveyed the mess — the glass, the mountain of gooey chocolate, the bewildered wife standing speechless and motionless over the scene — and decided that the party would not be a family affair after all. He would clean up the mess and deal with the other two kids. I would take just the one child to the party. Without the “embarrassing” siblings. Without brownies. Without my wits.

Without much grace, if I’m being honest.

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{Here’s proof.}

And just like that, my approval rating plummeted. I was no longer pleased with my big thoughts and big words. I was no longer sure of myself. I wanted to scrap this series altogether because who am I to write even two words about establishing new rhythms and managing my days and being upheld by grace? I cannot even manage the correct time for a party. Or a pan of brownies.

Friends, I need this series more than anyone. I’m in the trenches of trial and error. I am my own Exhibit A every single day. I’m the living, breathing definition of a non-expert and that means I take nothing for granted. I approach this issue with a heart that is desperate and days that are messy.

Maybe you’re in the same place.

Originally I’d planned to talk about our “real motivations” at the end of the series. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that we need a framework first. Corporations and institutions craft vision statements and then the particulars of what they do flow out of that vision. It’s just as important for us as everyday people juggling homes and careers and families to think through the whys and the implications before we walk around in the real.

I’m not going to tell you to write up a mission statement for yourself or your family, though you can if that’s your thing. I’m going to ask you a simple question:

What’s motivating you to manage your day, your family, your life with more finesse or “success” than you currently feel you’re bringing to the table?

Think hard and honestly about this. I’ll wait.

It’s only fair that I go first. These are not the answers I “should” provide; these are my real and true motivations. Ready?

1. I want to feel like I’m doing a fine job running my life. I want to be awesome at this. I’d like to feel successful. I want fewer dumb and embarrassing mistakes.

2. Productivity. I’d like plenty to show for my day and for my life. Plain and simple.

3. Less stress. We moderns are used to living stressful lives. At times we even communicate that we’re rather proud of it: I’m so busy! Life is crazy! I’m exhausted. In a way, we are saying to the world, I am so busy and juggling all the important endeavors in my over-scheduled, important life and yes it’s stressful and exhausting but I. am. on. it. We want the world {and ourselves} to either by impressed by us or feel sorry for us. Either way it’s about stress and it’s about us and therefore problematic.

4. Simplicity. I complicate things. And by “things” I mean almost everything. I find that life is better for everyone when I don’t do that. Whether it’s meal-planning or clothes or our schedule, simplicity breeds margin, less physical and mental clutter, and more overall peace. Complication breeds crazy. I’ve noticed a movement toward intentional simplicity. Blogs about simplicity. Shows about simple, smaller houses. Books about minimalism. I’m drawn to all of that. But then the implementation of it feels like its own sort of complication and I’m right back where I started: stressed and guilty and crazy and binge-watching Scandal. Because that feels simple.

5. I’d like to manage my life in such a way that it blesses those around me. Finally, a somewhat virtuous answer. We all have those whom we love. We each have a sphere of influence. We have families. We live in community. We are created for relationship, to love and to be loved.

When I manage my time and my tasks well, the blessing of that spills over into the lives of those I love. In practical ways, it means I may have dinner on the table in a timely manner or laundry washed and in the drawers. It means I’m not multitasking to the point of being distracted when my husband and kids are trying to tell me something. And when that actually comes together in real life, it feels so good and right.

Less stress and managing my time well means that I am available and listening. It means I’m a nicer, gentler, more attentive person and those gifts overflow into my home and my world. It’s a taste of “shalom.”

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All of my answers could be posts in and of themselves. But that’s not the point. The point is to think through the real motivations of our hearts, no matter how noble or unsavory they may be. Scripture reminds us of how influential our hearts really are:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. 

Proverbs 4:23

You don’t have to be religious to recognize that our internal lives have a lot to do with how to we live our external lives. Our fears, our faith, our ambitions — they are powerful internal forces that guide us in what we do…or choose not to do.

Back to our answers. Most of us probably agree that there’s nothing wrong with my answers. There’s probably nothing inherently wrong with yours either. What’s bad about wanting success? Fewer mistakes? Less stress? Blessing others?

On the surface, nothing. Necessarily.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll find some ugly.

You’ll find a whole lot of pride masquerading in surface-level virtues.

When I’m honest, I admit that every day, throughout the day, I am the gavel-in-hand, black-robed judge of my own life, issuing verdicts all day long like the ticker tape that travels across the bottom of the CNN news feed. Or I’m imagining that everyone else is the black-robed judge of my own life. Either way, I’m always on trial. I’m motivated by a host of unsavory characters: fear of failure, my performance, the praise of others, the criticism of others. And all of these flow out of the most insidious, shape-shifting bad guy of all — pride.

Several years ago I listened to a sermon by Timothy Keller called “Blessed Self-Forgetfulness.” He uses a passage from I Corinthians to teach about the human ego and how the Gospel promotes an utterly different approach than either ancient or modern cultures. The Gospel’s approach to ego isn’t about high self-esteem. It’s not about low self-esteem either. It’s about something that’s entirely off our maps. And that something is “the freedom of self-forgetfulness.”

That sermon has since been printed into a small booklet that’s been keeping me company lately. In The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy, Keller says this about the everyday courtroom in which we all live:

We look for that ultimate verdict every day in all the situations and people around us. And that means that every single day, we are on trial. Every day, we put ourselves back in a courtroom…That is the way that everyone’s identity works. In the courtroom, you have the prosecution and the defense. And everything we do is providing evidence for the prosecution or evidence for the defense. Some days we feel we are winning the trial and some days we feel we are losing it. 

I know what you may be thinking. Marian, I thought this was going to be a tidy little series with gentle strategies to manage my days and my family with ease and grace. You are going too deep, sister. You’re getting theological and philosophical about this. Can we just get to the part about time-management already?

We could. But I’ve found that until we take a long and squinty-eyed look into the recesses of our hearts and uncover the true motivations, we may accomplish some of our goals but we’ll still be striving. Constantly striving. We won’t find real and sustained rest. We’ll still have fear and performance and the black-robed judge nipping at our heels all the livelong day.

Because sometimes we really do need fresh and new ways of doing things. But more than that, we need honest ways of thinking about how and why and for whom we do all the things.

I’m a Christian and that means my motivations will be different from those of you who are not. I so wish I could write about motivations and verdicts in a way that’s for everyone. But I can’t. The practical hacks coming in the next post? Those are for everyone. But this part, for me, is deeply rooted in my faith and I can’t write honestly without it.

In all other religions and even for those who don’t believe in a god, our daily and cumulative performance leads to a verdict. We need the verdict to confirm all that we’ve been striving for. Not so with Christianity. And this leads us back to the Self-Forgetfulness book. Keller asks this simple but profound question:

Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance?

…In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into His Family. In other words, God can say to us just as He once said to Christ, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ You see, the verdict is in. And now I perform on the basis of the verdict…I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people — not so I can feel better about myself… 

This is the Gospel. This is how the life, death, and resurrection of Christ impacts everything from how I spend my time and govern my days to how I think about how I’ve spent my time and governed my days.

It’s simple. But don’t confuse that with easy.

Living a Gospel-saturated life begins with thinking through, praying through, talking through, and reading through Gospel-saturated truth. It is a Gospel-driven intentionality in all that we do. Because only the Gospel can spur us on to say and to live what the Apostle Paul was able to say and to live when He wrote to the church in Corinth.

I care very little if I am judged by you or by an human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear; but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.  I Corinthians 4:3-4

For me, for the way I’m wired with all of my neuroses and fear and people-pleasing, those six words — I do not even judge myself — are some of the most powerful words in all of Scripture. I need them emblazoned across my forehead and bathroom mirror and window above the kitchen sink.

This is Gospel-centered freedom. Jesus frees us from our self-obsession and our success-obsession. His great love and forgiveness frees us to live out of our gifts and out of our weakness. To live and to serve in our spheres of influence. To enjoy moments of great success and stellar performance, and to not self-destruct in moments of great failure and stinging criticism.

And this is the Truth and the Person that must ground everything from getting five days worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners made to juggling the weekly calendar for a family for five. This is the freedom that steadies me and readies me for the days that go as planned and for the days that come out of left field and leave me slack-jawed over a pan of brownies in my driveway and a runaway child. This is the freedom that can motivate me from a place of real, Gospel-centered love and also console me when I get it all wrong.

The days are both too short and too long. Our lives are tangled and complicated. We’re satisfied with too little and also too much. And in the midst of all, we hear a thousand voices tell us how it’s supposed to look. Most of all, we hear our own voice telling us how it’s supposed to look.

But Jesus speaks with a different voice. A voice that silences the others because the verdict is in and the judges can all go home. He speaks with approval and affirmation and forgiveness.

We are not any more loved or free or important on the days when we get it right than on the days when we get it wrong. Whether we forgot the baggies or forgot their soccer practice, whether we met the deadline or messed up dinner — the only verdict that matters is already in.

Yes, our work matters. It is good and sacred. It blesses our families, our businesses, and our world. But it’s not our true identity. That’s found in the One who has already performed perfectly.

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The next posts will start breaking things down. We’ll get practical. We’ll think through our individualities, talk about when our brains and skills are at their best, learn to compensate for the ways in which we are not so awesome, and hopefully see the beauty of trial and error. I’ll share some of the strategies that work for me and for my cuckoo personality type — strategies that are still very much in formation. {Strategies make it sound so very professional and legit. Let’s be clear. These are everyday hacks, nothing more.} I’d also like to share a few resources that have helped and would love for you to share some of yours too.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    I read a great Pin today….”Be gentle with yourself, you’re doing the best you can”….or something to that effect. I’m way too hard on myself, and that spoke to me. Btw, thanks for this today.

  2. says

    My real motivation? I’m am so controlling and want things to look just so because I’m afraid of what others will say when things aren’t just so.

    I’m gaining freedom in this area, thank God. I appreciate your honest words and the truth you bring-thank you.

    Looking forward to the next one!

  3. Kim says

    Ah, This is so real. A thorough and well rounded read. I have read and thought and keep coming back to dwell some more.

    My real motivation is pride. And control. Learning to trade those in for Gods love and grace.

    Grace is a major stumbling block of mine. I have trouble wrapping my mind around it, really truly understanding it. Thank you for the courage to continue with this series.

    • says

      Anybody can take footage of these sculptures. Getting a unnrnstaddieg of the above listed tips ought to give you a good idea on the way to find Stars while doing away with the humiliation of being put away by their bulky-bodied bodyguards.

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