Not Avoiding Forests, Though They Have All Those Trees

I sometimes (daily?) get overwhelmed by the minutiae of life. I often feel amazed at what others seem to accomplish while I feel like I’m drowning in dishes, dirty clothes, to-do lists, e-mail, and piles of papers. I’ve even been known to turn down a vacation because getting organized for all that just sounds like too much work.

This is particularly relevant for me this year as I take a year or more off from parish ministry to focus on caring for our baby. When I imagine going back to work as a full-time parish minister someday, somewhere, and continuing to care for our child, family, and household, I quickly find myself turning to either hysterical laughter, droll sarcasm, or the all-too-present devil, comparison. The conversation in my head or between me and a confidant usually goes something like: “So-and-So manages to do this, that, and those 3 other things.” “How does So-and-So do all that?” “I have absolutely no idea, but it makes me tired even trying to imagine it.” And also: “You mean people who have one child and know what it’s like go on…to have…another one?!”

Now I’m well aware there are a half dozen articles, blog posts, books, columns and probably cartoon strips as well circulating about how women juggle their professions and parenting, and I’m not particularly interested in stepping into that muddy swamp at the moment (who has the time?). I’m more interested in my own mind. I’m curious to understand how my own mind works to keep me from doing things because I seriously think “that’s just not possible.” Is there a way to embrace the minutiae and just be okay with it, so as to get to experience the living that is working, parenting, and playing?

I am someone who has dealt with the demands of parenting an infant by “dialing in,” eliminating any extra responsibilities or commitments as much as I am able, and focusing on finding a sleep-eat-nap routine that worked for our kid. I am fully aware that we as a family are blessed and privileged to have been able to do this—we have lots of extended family support, amazing local friends, and we had some savings to enable me to not work this year. We’ve also chosen to live in a small apartment to keep our housing costs down.  My taking a break from working enables us to not have to wrestle with daycare costs and not working has been a blessing for me…and a time of discernment.

For the six years I served as a parish minister in Central Oregon, serving that congregation was my primary focus. As I told them in my departing sermon, “Let It Be A Dance: Some Lessons Learned in Six Years of Service”, that congregation was “my baby,” the commitment and responsibility to which I gave my all for those years. It’s hard for me to imagine serving a congregation as fully while also caring for a family. And yet, more balance in our lives and leadership is something we all need and crave.

I’ve been thinking lately about how the minutiae of any task can keep us from enjoying the beauty of the work, whether it’s ministry, parenting, personal relationships, gardening, even tending to our homes. It is too easy to let the inevitable “dirty work” of any job or task distract us from its overall value. We say “he can’t see the forest for the trees” when we mean “he’s lost in the weeds, he can’t see the big picture.” I don’t want to live my life avoiding tasks or work altogether in some effort to avoid weeds. When it’s literally a garden we’re talking about, I know that weeds come along with the beauty of the harvest; there’s a balance that I accept and even embrace. As I weed, I know I’m creating space for the beets and lettuces to grow and flourish.

photo by Jenna Starr

I’m honestly not sure how to orient my mind in such a way as to get less frustrated or disheartened by all the minutiae. Dishes, laundry, e-mail, meetings, tasks, housecleaning, babies crying, bills, disgruntled congregants, disagreements that need to be sorted out, to-do lists, and did I mention dishes?: these are all realities of living. Living less won’t mean fewer tasks, it won’t mean that there are suddenly more spacious days on the beach soaking in the sun and reading novels. To get to the beach takes work. To have a happy, healthy, thriving child takes work. To serve a congregation and watch it flourish takes a lot  of work, meetings, conversations, and a lot of e-mail. To grow vegetables requires weeding. To be in the forest, to see the trees, requires setting aside the time, packing a bag, figuring out the directions, dealing with D.C. drivers, paying the bills, and so on. This is life, all of it: the minutiae and the magnificence, the crying and the curious smiles, the incredulous grin on our little girl’s face and the worn-out face covered with dried pureed yams that desperately needs a clean washcloth and a bath.

Today, on our way home from a quick lunchtime outing, our Little Bean feel asleep against her Mama C and slept through getting on the Metro, the noisy jarring sounds of the subway, walking home, street noise and the banging of our building’s front door. I said to Cathy in amazement: “Well. This is one of those occurrences I’ve seen in the movies, and on Other Parents, and thought, ‘wow.’ How do they do that?” Our kid fell asleep on 11th Street NW, near Pennsylvania Avenue, and made it all the way home on a warm sunny busy Friday afternoon in the city without waking up. That’s magnificent. And it’s the sweetest bit of minutiae in our day so far. It’s both, and it’s beautiful.


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