I look at the clock again. How is it that time already? Where had the last 45 minutes gone? I’m scrambling to finish the task I am doing, one of about a thousand that requires me to do it, my hands and my feet, and not anyone else. My pace quickens as I throw in another load of laundry, picking up items on the way to be distributed to their original places.
The small people in my home, my own flesh and blood and tears and laughter, fight over a ninja turtle action figure and ignore my prompt to brush teeth/make beds/etc. It is as if my house is spinning around me, tiny faces and random things flying through the air, and I can’t find a steady place to hang on to. I am Dorothy without her ruby red slippers.
A quick glance at my watch.
Headache pounds a little more insistently.
Have I drank any water today?
Help me, Lord.
A little while later, I find a few minutes to check my email. I have three inboxes: one for sales and discounts, one that I give out for regular stuff (like the doctors office), and one for my online education. I’m knee deep into my fall classes, which means that I’m on a steady diet of reading, writing, and inching towards the goal of graduation. This is my third year of working toward my B.S. in Bible and Theology, a program that is completed entirely online and paced on an accelerated timeline (and hinged on a wing and a prayer.) We get through a class in seven weeks that would normally take a semester to complete, usually (but not always) with a week break in between before launching another class. I am enrolled full time, which means two classes at once. Oh, and did I mention that we go straight through the summer as well? Excuse me while I pour another cup of *strong* coffee.
Looking over the responses from my classmates to an assigned discussion we are having, I try to asses the amount of work required of me this week. The gears in my mind and heart are straining to shift, as if a little rust has developed overnight without me knowing. This is the hardest part: the two-step movement wherein I switch from my mom-self over to my academic-self. Today, it feels slow, taught, resistant. Concerns of the domestic sort creep in between the lines of an essay that I am trying to edit. Loud and energetic voices break through my thin veil of concentration, today made of generic-brand cellophane. Help me, Lord.
It is precisely in this moment that I ask myself a familiar question–is this worth it? There are times when the studying comes easy, when I am able to slip into the zone without effort, and the work gets done. But those times are rare. Most of my days are steadily trying to steamroll me…from sunrise until well past sunset, the hours get eaten up by the responsibilities of my life. Yes, the duties are good and true and yes, the season that I am currently in (“season” being the nice word that people use for the gritty reality of having several small children) is a busy one. But it isn’t without a battle, either.
Sometimes I think that Amazon has ruined me. As much as I love the ability to order toothpaste at 10pm before I pass out for the night (and I do love that convenience), our capitalistic culture has so thoroughly catered to our lack of patience that I fear it’s long-term effect on my own character development. What I’m saying is this: even though I know that God has called me to this academic program -because he has confirmed it in so many ways!- I doubt my commitment to it all the time.
Like when someone asks me the dreaded question (“So what do you want/plan to do once you’re done?”) or when I have three big papers due or when the kids are sick and I’m not feeling great either or when the tuition money isn’t all there or when I remember my age (Ack! Why does this bother me?) or when I’d rather be doing pretty much anything else.
The battle, invisible and relentless, happens daily on the ground of my own heart. Do I trust the path that God has laid before me and lovingly provided for? Or do I follow the inclinations of my fickle disposition and weak faith? I want to trust wholeheartedly; I want to be a person that is faithful to the work that the Lord has put in my hands for today. But I am tired, I’m impatient, and my great lack screams out to know where this is all going.
I want to know if the goal is worth the struggle and sacrifice. Is it worth the waiting and trusting and hoping that has yet been spilled?
Wendell Berry said, “You can’t know where life will take you, but you can commit to a direction.” And this says a lot, especially coming from a farmer. None of us are promised a guaranteed outcome– not the student nor the parent nor the one tilling the cold soil in early spring. All we can do is gather clues from our life, those breathed on by the living word of Christ, about the best direction forward and then step out. The seeds of faith may be tested in those first few days and weeks, but our faithfulness is proved over the long haul.
And the honest truth is this: I will never be perfectly faithful to an unknown goal or finish line, or even to a great and promising project, because a “prize” like that will always allude me. That kind of goal post will move with every new achievement and that kind of accolade will eventually loose its luster.
But this time, when my heart cried out, “Is this worth it?!” I heard the words of the Apostle Paul echo back to me.
“My goal is to know Him…”
Of course! This is the true goal. Not a tangible merit, but a person. God himself, personified and given. Continually shared, even with me now.
Paul continues: “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”
What a relief! My disciplined effort isn’t without value, of course, but the most important thing is that Christ has taken hold of me, first. He has me, the prize and treasure himself, in his firm and loving grasp. It makes the work of today fade just a little, not to be diminished, but merely to put all things, everything, into an eternal perspective.