The Whole Thing is Just Too Much

Heart and Wires

I remember, in college, reading a pastor who suggested an exercise. List everything we’d ever heard in a sermon and everything we’ve ever read in a Christian book or picked up from spiritual mentors and friends. Pile up everything we’d been told a good Christian would do better, every discipline we should take on, every sin we should confess, every motive we should question, every spiritual practice we should rework. Catalogue all the evils within us. Reassert all the doctrines we are to cling to with our very life. Line up all the “shoulds” and all the “ought-tos,” heap on top of this teetering mass every time we were told more steps to holiness or more methods to spiritual success, more reasons to feel guilty, more ways to please (or appease) God.

I had heard many, many sermons (thousands). I had read many, many books. My pile was massive, heavy. It was my rock of gibraltar. I was exhausted by the exercise. I was exhausted by my life.

Now, in my 40’s, I could add a second exercise. List every cause I’ve ever been told should be mine, every injustice I am personally to right, every issue I am to have a passionate word for (or against), every way I am to prove that I am thoughtful, intelligent, evolved. Mark every way I am to be certain not to provoke or offend (even though these ways, often, stand at odds), every social moment I am to make certain raises my ire (or does not raise my ire).  If I allow myself to continue this exercise, to follow this rushing tidal flow, I find that I am again exhausted by my life.

We have a penchant for laying burdens on one another (or maybe laying burdens on ourselves). We seem to miss that we are all to do what is given to us to do. We can not fix our own life, we can not fix the world. We do that one thing, maybe two things, that has been given to us as a unique responsibility, and then we live well. We seek to be faithful and true to what we see clearly, to what good light has made clear to us, and then we release the expectations and the demands. We love and trust that when we need that next bit of light, it will be ours.”You do not have to be good,” writes Mary Oliver,

You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting…

No, we merely need to see the truth and fulness of our life, to see what beloved beauty and responsibility God has placed within us. And then we live, with boldness and delight. And we trust that God is doing the same with everyone else and then, somehow, when the Great Story finishes, love has won the day.

14 Replies to “The Whole Thing is Just Too Much”

  1. Love this line: “We seek to be faithful and true to what we see clearly, to what good light has made clear to us, and then we release the expectations and the demands.”

    Thinking now of the closing of Wendell Berry’s “Wild Geese”:
    Geese appear high over us,
    pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
    as in love or sleep, holds
    them to their way, clear,
    in the ancient faith: what we need
    is here. And we pray, not
    for new earth or heaven, but to be
    quiet in heart, and in eye
    clear. What we need is here.

    It’s incredible how hard it is to let go of all the ways I search for worth and instead just drop into the reality of God’s enough-ness. I’m thankful for your words reminding me to do that again today… now.

    1. Thank you, Kate. Those lines from Wendell release us in deep ways, don’t they? I followed over to your site. You are making beauty over there as well, keep it up.

  2. I LOVE this, Winn. I have often toyed with how to convey the idea you capture at the start of this post — about all the “musts” and “shoulds” that we feel laid upon ourselves. Thanks for capturing it.

    You would like a wonderful chapter in Robert Fulghum’s delightful book of short essays, “What on Earth Have I Done?” (available at our local library once I return my copy — even better in the CD version that the author himself reads).

    In chapter 87, he talks about trying to be somebody you’re not supposed to be (i.e. trying to be everything others think you should be). And he quotes the first-century philosopher Epictetus: “Why worry about being a nobody when what matters is being a somebody in those areas of your life over which you have control, and in which you can make a difference?”

    Appreciate you. As always.

    1. Ol’ Epictetus had some wisdom, didn’t he? Thank you, Diane. Now go finish up Fulghum and get him back on the shelf…

  3. Wow. Love. Thank you for articulating what so many of us feel – that all of the pressure from us, from our own people, from the us that lies within that really isn’t even us is striving and driving, neither of which reminds me of Jesus, Spirit, or anything like that. It takes a good measure of composure and space to realize what is mine, what isn’t, and how to rest in the space.

  4. Thank you so much for this. I have been badgered by both categories of things. I read on Facebook all the things I should become involved with. Hospitality is a big one that feels beyond me. There is so much grace in what you wrote here, so much grace. I too have believed that living the small life, doing the next thing–what you’ve been given–is the way of it. There’s a couple out east who have been our second parents who have raised a family, who were hospitable to us, and who have done volunteer work right where they live, but not so much they lost themselves. I like to think of them as truly and deeply holy and an example to live by. Blessings on you.

    1. Badger – now that’s the right word. It’s a real relief when we encounter the kind of hospitality you describe.

  5. My friend Katie A. sent me over. I’m so glad, as those words articulate what is in my heart, and the sentiments I share with my husband and child. You are blessed to recognize what is truly important and I truly look forward to reading more of your words. Author LB Johnson in Chicago

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