I look at the clock again. How is it that time already? Where have 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, ignore my prompt to brush their teeth to fight over a ninja turtle action figure instead. 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 glance at my watch.
Headache pounds a little more insistently.
Have I had any water today?
Help me, Lord.
A little while later, I find a few minutes to check my school email. I’m knee-deep into my online 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 and senior 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-long 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 assess 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 generic-brand cellophane concentration. Help me, Lord.
It is precisely at this moment that I ask myself a familiar question–is this worth it?
There are times when studying comes easy – when I can 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 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 the long-term effect on my character development. Like when someone asks me the dreaded question (“So what do you plan to do once you’re done?”); or when I have three big papers due and 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 (Ugh! Why does this bother me?); or when I’d rather be doing pretty much anything else.
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.
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.” 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 Spirit-led clues from our life 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 ambiguous goal or finish line, or even to a great and promising project, because a “prize” like that will always allude me. The temporary goal post will move with every new achievement. That sort of accolade will lose its luster. Whether gained or lost, any prize from this earthly existence will eventually turn to dust.
As I pressed on with the work of my hands, something deeper was shifting within me. 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…” (Phil. 3:10a)
Of course! My shoulders relaxed as I realized that this has always been the true goal. Not a tangible merit, but a person. God himself, embodied and given to the world. Continually shared by the Spirit, even with me now.
“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.” (v. 12-14)
I breathe out a sigh of relief and think about the apostle’s exhortation. Paul is reminding me that 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.
“…They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (v. 19b-20)
This is good news for a weary mother and student; perhaps it will be for you, too. In our working and our waiting, we can be sure that the time spent pursuing the perfect Son of God, Christ himself, will always be worth it. He is the goal of every hopeful citizen looking heavenward and He is the One who sustains our pressing onward. Whether we find ourselves folding another load of fresh laundry or finishing up a research paper, we can trust all the moments of our life to be in service of the great prize, Christ our Lord.