I accidentally took a month long sabbatical from writing. Perhaps I should say it was accidental on my part, but right on schedule with the Lord’s plan. I see now that it was all in His perfect wisdom, because there was much needed work to be done in my heart that could not be accomplished while I kept on at the pace I was running.
You see, I wouldn’t have considered myself to be an idolater, not until this last month. But there was an idol in my heart that had grown to monstrous proportions unbeknownst to me.
What idol you may ask? My glory. That was the idol.
One definition of glory is this: “high renown or honor won by notable achievements.” I’d say that is the most accurate definition for the type of glory I had grown to love and prize above all else. It was a slow change in my perspective, or at very least a sneaky one.
What started out as a desire to read more books turned into pride of how many books I’d read.
What started out as a desire to share encouraging words turned into pride over the encouraging words I’d written.
What started out as a desire to help my family turned into pride over how much I’d helped my family.
What started out as a desire to serve at church turned into pride over how many times my name was mentioned in announcements.
What started out as a side account for book reviews on social media turned into pride over how aesthetic my pictures were and how many followers I was collecting.
The result of this gradual accumulation of tasks, glory, and pride was a frazzled, worn out, constantly racing, never resting woman who spent less and less time in prayer and more and more time crashing toward finish lines in the very last minute, out of breath with untied shoes.
I couldn’t keep it up, this race for my own glory with my own strength. I finally crashed, hard.
“You have to slow down. You’re going burn out. You don’t have to do it all.” These were the words a dear friend said as we talked on the phone one evening a few weeks ago. I was in the party aisle of Walmart getting decorations for a bridal shower I was throwing, and she’d try to call many times in the previous weeks, but I’d been too busy with one thing or another. I finally made some time while I was running errands. Her words were well-intended, but I answered with a snappy, “I can’t slow down. You don’t understand how many people are depending on me.”
She was a little less subtle with her next “iron sharpening” tactic. She mailed me $7 and a card that said, “Buy some coffee and read your Bible.” Again, another well-intended encouragement only to be stuffed in my purse and set aside for a time when I was “less busy.”
A week later and it was me who called her. Once again, in a Walmart aisle, this time trying to find toothpaste. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m exhausted, I’ve gotten nothing done, and I just can’t even think anymore.” She didn’t say “I told you so” she simple asked with a kind and gentle tone, “How is your prayer life?”
In that moment it all came tumbling down on me. Because my prayer life was almost non-existent. My Bible reading was sporadic. My heart was anything but turned God-ward and the evidence was scattered around me in the unfolded laundry, the last minute scurrying, the frustration over not finding time to write, the drive to read more and more books though I had less and less time, the need for nothing short of an A+ in any class, the constant volunteering, and the need for recognition. I was striving for an extraordinary existence with ordinary strength. I was craving glory and reaping weariness.
I was finding my identity in all that I did, all that I contributed, and how many people depended on me. I was trying to run off of “high renown or honor won by notable achievements” and let me testify, that fuel leads nowhere but empty weariness. The truth is, I’m just an ordinary woman, and that’s okay. I don’t have to be extraordinary when the God I serve already is. My friend was right, I don’t have to do it all. I just have to do the next thing He sets before me, no matter how mundane it may be.
Amy Carmichael wrote in her famous poem If, “If by doing some work which the undiscerning consider ‘not spiritual work’ I can best help others, and I inwardly rebel, thinking it is the spiritual for which I crave, when in truth it is the interesting and exciting, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”
That was the problem. I wanted what I thought was extraordinary faithfulness instead of the ordinary kind. I wanted to be know by visitors at church, readers around the globe, and friends and family as the woman who served, served, served. It was my renown and honor I sought, not the Lord’s, and that is what ultimately resulted in an inability to accomplish either.
I wanted an interesting and exciting life of faithfulness, I didn’t want the washing feet, folding laundry, answering a text request for prayer kind of life. That was ordinary and I wanted extraordinary.
But I’d forgotten Calvary love in my pursuit of an extraordinary life of faithfulness. I’d forgotten the One who called me His own, chose me before the foundations of the earth, and was, in fact, the One I owed faithfulness to. I wasn’t faithful to come before His throne, to sit at His feet and learn, to lay down my life, or my dreams of an extraordinary life, and follow Him. I was faithful to myself and my desires. I was my own idol, and it was exhausting and fruitless. Because I wasn’t made for that kind of faithfulness. I was made for Christ, and only when my faithfulness is rooted in love for Him will it lead to true rest and joy rather than frantic discontentment.
“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.'”Mark 12:28-31 ESV
Our hearts were made to be hopelessly devoted to someone. But not to ourselves. Rather, as Jesus said, to love the Lord with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength is the first and greatest commandment. Not only is He worthy of our every ounce of devotion, but only when He is the greatest treasure of our hearts are we living as we were designed to live, and can find the rest He promises us.
Living for myself, for my own glory was exhausting and empty. It was a constant cycle of more work and less fruit. In the end, it led to a weary heart, ever growing to-do list, and the death of many necessary habits like Bible reading and time in prayer. I’m learning, by the grace of God, that I don’t need people to be dependent on me to find identity and belonging, I simply need to be utterly dependent on Christ. Only in Him will I find rest as I work and belonging as I live like a pilgrim in this world. Only when I am fueled by Calvary love will a life of very ordinary faithfulness be one of extraordinary joy and contentment.
I’m less frantic now that it is the Lord’s glory that motivates me to write. I’m not concerned about how many people will read it, or whether or not it’ll result in more followers. I trust Him to use my words for His purposes, and in that there is a blessed rest. I’m okay with letting someone else volunteer at church in my place. I’m happy that my family appreciates my help, but they don’t need me to survive. I’m content reading a book for my own enjoyment without feeling like I need to tell everyone about it afterwards.
He doesn’t need me to bring His purposes to pass. He only requires from me every bit of love that I have to offer Him and a willingness to do all that I do in response to such a love that He showed me on Calvary and every day since. For His glory I’ll run, not my own and by His strength, I’ll reach the glorious shorelines of Heaven.
What a blessed comfort to be an ordinary woman loved by an extraordinary God.