{Practicing Benedict} Nothing harsh or burdensome

Welcome to Mama:Monk’s weekly Wednesday series examining St. Benedict’s Rule and what it has meant to me as a stay at home mom. (Full disclosure! I’m no expert on Benedict or the Benedictine Order. I just love him/them and can’t seem to stop reading books that have “Benedictine” in the title.) 

“In the guidance we lay down to achieve this we hope to impose nothing harsh or burdensome. If however, you find in it anything which seems rather strict, but which is demanded reasonably for the correction of vice or the preservation of love, do not let that frighten you into fleeing from the way of salvation; it is a way which is bound to seem narrow to start with. But, as we progress in this monastic way of life and in faith, our hearts will warm to its vision and with eager love and delight that desires expression we shall go forward on the way of God’s commandments” (Prologue, St. Benedict’s Rule).

I first came to the St. Benedict’s Rule because I had read in Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk that the Benedictines have always believed there is enough time in each day for work and study, for rest and prayer. I was at a moment in my life as a new mom where I couldn’t imagine there ever being enough time for anything again, especially prayer, especially rest. I came to Benedict because I wanted someone wise to tell me the secret of time: how to have it, how to use it, how to believe it is enough.

Do you know what Benedict has been teaching me about time? Not better time management skills (though the use of bells calling me to prayer would be a welcome help in my world). Not how to fit more good stuff into less time.  Not why I ought to do more.

What I’ve been learning is the gentleness of “nothing harsh” and “nothing burdensome.” I came into motherhood as a taskmaster of the Christian faith. It was supposed to be hard, it was supposed to hurt to follow Jesus. After all, it was the narrow way, right? I was taking up my cross, right?

I’m not denying that following Christ is difficult. Jesus said it would be. He said we’d face persecution for his name’s sake. It should hurt to give our money away, to choose generosity over accumulation. It should hurt to give ourselves in relationships, to give up comfort time in order to love those who are lonely, in order to value those our society fails to value.

But I lived in a different realm of following Jesus. I made myself hurt by scheduling my time away in unhealthy ways. I committed to too many things. I failed to savor the time I had with my husband. I told myself in the midst of tears, of aching for more time to rest, that I was doing what God wanted me to do. The truth is that sometimes I was doing what God wanted of me. But sometimes, I was just doing what I hoped would make God like me more. Prayer was not a loving pursuit of God’s presence, it was burdensome appointment.

St. Benedict shocked me because he was first ancient I’d ever read who seemed to recognize our human frailty in the midst of our commitment to Jesus. I had lived my life believing that knowing Jesus ought to have made me super human. The reality was that I often felt just as broken, just as tired as the world around me.

Benedict wrote this rule for his monks, understanding that to put something in writing for them—something to shape their relationships with one another, something to mark them as Christ followers under a monastic-vow—meant that his role was to help them be pushed into their best, without being pushed into unhealthy discouragement.

So what does this have to do with time? It’s this: Does Jesus keep track of how long I pray in the morning? Does he get angry when I fail to praise him as often as the fellow believer in a totally different phase of life? Does Jesus roll his eyes at my legitimate exhaustion when my son screams “no!” at me all day I feel completely worthless at correcting him? Does Jesus say: “Micha, it’s 5 pm! Why aren’t you stopping your work with these kids and giving me some time?”

No, he doesn’t. He knows what’s true. He knows what I need and he knows what I can give: right now, on this day, in this moment. He has never stopped calling me. He has never stopped asking me to listen to the Spirit. He has never ceased to direct me toward the people in my life who need to know he loves them. It’s just that what is demanded is demanded with love: with a deep understanding of my reality.

So…nothing harsh or burdensome. That’s my time management. Because there is always enough time in the day to work and study, for rest and prayer, as long as we carve our days in the knowledge that we are loved, that wholehearted in a few things is a lot more life-giving and God-ordained than weak-hearted in many.

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