Break the Plate
Sometimes, when we pray, my kids ask me how they can hear God. They want an answer but they only hear the sound of their own fidgeting. It's such a hard question because hearing God takes practice and they are just at the beginning stages. We all wish for a big booming voice or a flashing neon sign from heaven. It would be easier. But no, He wants us to be still. To listen. And to do that often. It does get easier with practice.I said, "No," to a new thing this week. I've been moving forward towards this new thing for a few weeks but my soul felt heavier and heavier with each step I took. In the past, that would have confused me. Because, honesty, it would have been an easy thing to do. It was interesting. It would have been helpful. But I am learning to recognize God's voice in the subtle stirrings in my soul. Like fine tuning Hope's violin. The more I listen to the strings, the more my ears are attuned to the various differences of each string. It's subtle, but it's there. With practice, I have learned to recognize out of tune strings and how to fix them. How to bring the strings back in tune. I have to say, "Stop, Hope." And gently turn the tuning screws a micrometer to the left or right until the string is back in tune. It starts with listening. Then I stop. Then I make a small adjustment. It's just that simple.The first thing I had to do in this situation was listen to the heaviness in my soul. I felt God stirring, so I stopped. I just hit pause in the process. I had to look at it from a different angle. The truth is: nothing is ever ONLY easy, interesting and helpful. If I had continued down the new path, we would have had to juggle some family days. We would have had to put more things on Chris' plate. And it really wouldn't have benefited our family at all. So, I listened to what my soul was saying. I stopped to process the different angles with Chris. And then I made my move. I said, "No."
This year, God has been speaking to me, teaching me so much about me, Him, and what He truly wants for me. One thing stands out: Simplicity. Simplicity means allowing time for God to speak to me... and for me to hear Him. Simplicity means making space for God to direct me in new paths... and for me to take first tentative steps. Simplicity means focusing on small things, because that's where God is showing me beauty and miracles and grace. In my life, right now, Simplicity means doing less. PLANNING to do less. And doing it very intentionally.
"God made man simple; man's complex problems are of his own devising." Ecclesiastes 7:29, (The Jerusalem Bible Transl.)
Years ago, I listened as a young, passionate pastor explain his thoughts on Christian service and life. He used a Thanksgiving meal analogy."Everyone has a plate. And God wants us to fill the plate, just like you fill your plate on Thanksgiving. Every space is filled with good things. Different things. Different kinds of service. But it's full.But some people are serving more than others, you say? That's because there are different sizes of plates. Your plate may be larger than your sister's. Or your plate may be smaller than your brother's. But everyone should fill their plate to the rim."At the time, that brought me so much relief. Ahh, that explains why some people can do more than me. I always thought they had more energy or were more efficient with their time. Or flip it.... That explains why I can do more than my friend. I just have a bigger plate.I loved this analogy so much that I repeated it to friends. I lived it out, filling my plate with volunteer hours at church and school. Leading Bible studies. Mentoring young girls. And on and on and on.But life is a grand teacher. I'm here to tell you... that is a lie.A big Thanksgiving turkey-sized lie.There is no way that the God I know wants me to fill my plate to over-flowing. That only leaves me burdened and inflexible. I have no room to be silent. No room to meditate on God's Word. It leaves me inflexible for when a friend calls in need. Inflexible for when God whispers a new plan. He does not want me to fill my plate to the rim. He wants me to leave space to sit at His feet and be still.So, friends, this year, I learned to BREAK THE PLATE!I said, "No," to the new thing. And I'll say no to other things too. But the beauty is this: Now I am free to say, "YES." Tonight, I received an email from a dear friend requesting me to come sit with a sick friend for a few hours. And, of course, I said, "YES!" I can do that. I have space to do that. And I know I will have energy to do that because my heart and body will have been filled with His rest during times I've set aside for just that.
Simplicity Brings Freedom
Simplicity is more than just about making space in our calendars. It's really about looking at every single thing we own or control and analyzing how it fits into the kingdom of God. It's looking at everything not as something we OWN but as something we STEWARD. This has been the biggest shift in my heart after surviving my health crisis this year. That I am alive, despite the fact that things got completely out of control, is just proof that I do not own my own life. I only steward it. So, the question pounding in my head these past few months is: How do I steward my life from here?I'm looking at everything with new perspective. My calendar. My finances. My energy. My clothes. My work. My home. I want to make every thing count. Every second count. In the same way that I don't want my plate filled to the rim so that I cannot be flexible when God calls, I also don't want my energy level pushed to the limit. I don't want my home to be filled with stuff that I have to clean, fix, or move when we want to host a friend for dinner. I don't want my clothes to sit on hangers wastefully when someone else can wear them. Simplicity makes me see everything as either enabling me to do kingdom work or hindering me from doing kingdom work.
"Simplicity sets us free to receive the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others." ~ Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
So, I broke the plate. I said, "No." Chris and I also weeded out furniture and clothes this month. I've been emptying homeschool shelves and I've got my eyes set on the craft closet next. We made the intentional decision to limit our kids' activities, for now. That's another thing. Simplicity can look different in different seasons. Right now, our family is recovering from crisis. Doing less frees us to focus on healing. But it doesn't have to be forever. As we all recover, we can add things back. Or not. Our perspective is changing. Maybe those extra practices/lessons/classes won't matter so much to us in a year. I'm ok with that.
Take a Look
As we head into this busy holiday season, filled with more good things than any plate can hold, are you feeling heavy? Is your soul weary before you have even begun? There is hope, Friend. Sweet, life-giving hope.
“Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me.I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. Simply join your life with mine.Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. For all that I require of you will be pleasantand easy to bear.”
- Matt 11:28-30 (The Passion Transl.)
How will you make space to be still, to rest in Jesus during the next few weeks? What can you simplify? What plate can you break?