4 Things I Learned in Time Out
Fake spring came out to play this week. It happens every year around this time. The sun warms things up enough for my trees to bud and my kids to put on last year's shorts, an inch too short now. We all know the sun is a faker, that she'll hide behind clouds again in a week or two, but who cares? We go outside pretending spring has fully arrived, walking our dogs and talking about mowing our lawns. We can fake it too.
I'm looking at my cherry tree right now. It's pink blossoms are a shocking contrast against the green backdrop of redwood trees. In just over a week, it has changed from bare-limbed to gloriously pink. It happened by degrees yet there's no mistaking the truth, it has blossomed.
A similar transformation has been happening in my soul. Over the past year, my soul has been stripped of so many life-giving activities, rested barren for a season, and now, little by little it is blossoming again. Like the cherry tree in my backyard, my soul is reaching toward the light and producing delicate pale blossoms.
Rest was necessary. God knew it. I think I knew it too, on some level. Because of that, I can look at the past year as a really bad health year or I can view it as a path toward deeper soul care. Like an extended time out for my soul. Perhaps some lessening of activity was necessary to truly rest, not fake rest. Or maybe a cessation from all activity was necessary to strip me bare of all the things that I thought were life-giving but in actuality were distracting, or worse, life-draining.
It is possible that a full stop of all activity was necessary for me to evaluate why I was doing what I chose to do. This is difficult to admit, but some of the things I spent my time on, and truly enjoyed, were feeding false truths to my soul. For example:
I teach and I'm good at it, therefore I have value.
I can multi-task like a boss, therefore I have value.
I can find and explain Bible truths, therefore I have value.
Sure, there are nuggets of truth in each of those statements. But none of those statements speak the full truth. They each contain a small twist of the truth. The twist was toxic for my soul. I could go on with my list. You could make your own list too. But the list isn't fun. I don't want to dwell on it anymore. Let's move on.
Being put in a long-term time out taught me how to look at that list in a new way. Your list will look different and what God will reveal to you about your list will be different. But, for the sake of learning from others, let me spare you the time out if I can by sharing what I learned. Yes?
I have value even if I don't do a thing today. I can say that because the One who created all things says to me, "You are mine." Period.
I can learn Biblical truth and grow closer to God by doing nothing more than sitting still and listening. Because he is with me always, he can speak to me always, no matter where I am or how close my nose is to written scripture.
I have God-given gifts and even if I cannot use them right now, in this season, it does not diminish their value in the past nor limit their value in the future. Gifts do not rust.
There is healing power in rest, both physical, spiritual and emotional. Rest doesn't have to have an end goal. Rest in itself has value.
It took time and space for my heart to hear God speak about each of the items on my list. In that space, he revealed the twists. Further, God taught me which things to let go of, for good. To move on. I learned to be ok with the truth.
I want you to imagine you were put in time out today. What is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it, what will I do if I can't do my job? Or, how can I be happy if I can't ______? Fill in the blank. If you can imagine yourself saying those things, can you take a moment to question if they are truth? Or is there some little twist in there that your soul has believed to be truth? How do I say this.... friend, please, take the time and space to ask God if those things are true. It could change your life.
Cut It Off
Moving on wasn't all that hard... for some things. For others, it felt like losing an appendage. I love teaching children. I love seeing their eyes light up when they recognize a piece of music. Or when they clap a rhythm correctly and know it! I will forever treasure the day I heard one student say, "This is the most beautiful piece of music my ears have ever heard!" as she stood up to twirl around the classroom, Waltz in A Minor playing in the background. (True story!) Or learn from a past student that he's acing his science class because he can fill out a Lab Report better than the other students. If I could fling test tubes like confetti, I would! So proud!
But I have to let that go. Gah! I remind myself daily that it's for my good. God still has beautiful plans for me, it will just look different from here on. And, if I'm being truly honest, I must admit that letting go of teaching children also means I'm letting go of a little pride in that role. When put that way, I say, "Take it Lord. I open my hands and let it go."
In my musings about the losses that resulted from my time out, I remembered Jesus' warning in the book of Mark:
"If your hand or your foot gets in God’s way, chop it off and throw it away. You’re better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owner of two hands and two feet, godless in a furnace of eternal fire. And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away. You’re better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell."
- Mark 9:43-48 (The Message)
Technically, Jesus was talking about people who make it difficult for children (or new believers) to walk in faith. To cause them to stumble. But I can't get the warning out of my head. It can absolutely apply to my soul if the things I hold onto (and the pride I have in them) are causing me to stumble along the path God has laid out for me. If they are making it difficult for me to live more fully alive for my friend Jesus. Perhaps there is a similar warning in those words just for me: Nicole, do not let your idea of what makes you valuable get in the way of how I truly want to use you in my kingdom. Don't stumble over your pride. Cut off these things like a foot or a hand. It will be better for you if you let them go.
I'm listening. Truly, I am.
So, I let go of my pride in teaching.
I let go of my pride in multi-tasking.
I let go of my pride in Bible study skills.
I let go with open hands and I wait to see what he puts in their place. For now, "nothing" in my hands frees me to just be with Jesus. Just be. And I love it.
Spring is coming, fake or not. Its power over winter will be victorious. With it, I am reminded that though my soul has seasons of its own, it never stays in winter either. Currently, my soul is coming out of its winter. My soul is transforming, reaching for light, blooming tender new blossoms that I hope will create beauty in the lives of those around me.
My time out is almost over. I think. Now, to live in constant awareness of the lessons learned. That is my prayer.
Has your soul ever been put in time out? What did you learn?