You Can't Have It All

Psalm 90
Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.
For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.
In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.
Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.
For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants.
O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.
Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.
And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.
There are only 24 hours in each day and we don’t know how many of those we’re going to get.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the choices we make in life. Particularly because of reading Ann Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic magazine, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” She wrote about how she had to choose between a very high level government job and being a good mother because of the insane hours required by her workplace. Positions of power come with a price to pay in terms of everything else in your life.

And then Tony Jones just wrote a brief blogpost about how he realized that he can’t read everything he thinks he ought to and also write everything he thinks he ought to. In fact, I think he probably could, but then he couldn’t also be a little league coach or a police chaplain or a decent father and husband, all of which he has done at some point. The ivory tower also has a price.

There are only 24 hours in each day and we don’t know how many of those we’re going to get. In my own life, I’m praying a lot lately about how to discern God’s calling in my life. Would it be better to dedicate myself to one thing, to the exclusion of all others? Is it better to balance two or three? Would it be better to do a little bit of many?

I think my husband is afraid when I talk about this that I’m going to leave him and the boys to follow God. I’m not. I’m just grateful that when Jesus said to me, drop your nets and follow me, that my husband and sons were willing to come to Philadelphia too.

I don’t think I’m designed for a single focus. I don’t think it’s quite Attention Deficit Disorder but I am interested in too many different things to be able to do just one. I think my variety of experiences has made me a better servant for God’s work. A better employee and supervisor in my office. A more interesting human being.

On the other hand, I really want to do well at my new job. I understand I have been given a great responsibility. I want to live up to my own and other people’s hopes and expectations. This morning, when I spoke about this in meeting for worship, someone else rose and said we don’t all have to aspire to greatness, or to be world leaders, it’s enough for the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts to be merely acceptable. Which is true. But some of us do aspire to more.

Like everyone else, I have to make choices. I have to balance the demands of my job with the responsibility of family life, but I don’t have to be a room parent or a baseball coach or teach first day school. I still sweep our floors and scrub our bathtubs but I have let go of making my own jam or sewing my own clothes or doing any gardening beyond watering my houseplants.

I work until 7 pm once or twice a week because it’s generally more productive to stay at the office than to try to take work home. However, I left work at 4:00 pm once or twice a week this spring to drive my younger son to baseball practice. I won’t attend any yearly meetings this summer besides my own locally because we’re moving house this month. But I expect to be away from home most weekends this fall.

Will it be enough? There are a thousand more things that I would like to do for work than there are hours in the day. How do we know what God requires of us more specifically than loving mercy and doing justice and walking humbly? And is it worth getting caught up in all this work and anxiety when our lives are so short in the grand scheme of things?

There are only 24 hours in each day and we don’t know how many of those we’re going to get. But as in the Psalm, “And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”

Not my will, Lord, but thine.

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Blogger Amy Ward Brimmer said...

I have been having a similar conversation with myself lately, as I take on a demanding new job with a high level of responsibility, while also needing other work to bring in sufficient income. My children are older, which is the only reason I could consider doing this, but the other things I need to let go of are many, and it can be hard to discern the balance sometimes. Sometimes it's not at all balanced and I overwork. Little by little I am breathing in and out, in and out, and getting better at moving with the rhythm and flow of my life. I too am grateful for a husband and children that are willing to journey with me. Thanks for sharing your insights and reflection.

7/16/2012 8:53 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Hi Amy - thanks for commenting on the blog! We should get together to talk about this one of these days.

As I finished writing this, I realized that I have the big scale discernment pretty together for now. I'm committed to my family and this one job, and that's it for now, and that's very okay. Howard Macy reminded me about Thomas Kelley's image of the internal committee vs. the Cosmic Patience of God.

But the real issue these days is discernment within that. Deciding between all the things that could be done in any one day at work. And trying to keep God's will as the signpost by which I navigate. Neverending process, I know.

7/16/2012 10:49 AM  
Blogger Hystery said...

I have been in an anguish of abortive discernment- a kind of suspended animation of personal calling for five years. In an attempt to be all things, I have found that too often that leads to me doing nothing. I appreciate the wisdom contained in your post. It is helpful to me.

7/16/2012 2:01 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Dear Hystery,

I'm glad it is helpful. Sometime I wonder if my writing is too self-centered to be worth publishing. But usually I decide it's better to be specific than to try to generalize.

I hope you find your path more clearly soon.


7/16/2012 4:34 PM  
Blogger Sarah D said...

Yes, yes, yes to all of this. The opening psalm is so lovely, and perhaps I needed to read that this evening.

I, too, feel a pull, a call, and I am unsure as to where that may lead. I work a corporate job in order to provide for my husband and myself, yet I am unmotivated by the flashy bonuses and promised trips.

I had a bit of a spiritual crisis that lead me away from Quakerism and into other, more structured forms of Christianity (namely Orthodoxy), and I feel like I am still a bit shaken from such an experience. I found I grew negative and pious, not to mention negative. So I am hoping to return Home.

As for the hours in my day, I see them as precious gifts; I am unwilling to waste them.

Sarah D.

8/07/2012 8:02 PM  

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