Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life

Be Small and Love Big {Part Two: Christmas Letter Aftermath}

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How do you count your life?

Big, small, meaningful, wasted, successful, incomplete?  How do the days add up?  How do you add up?

Do you ever wonder?  I do, and though I finished Part One with a nod toward meaning found in daily acts of love, I am unsteady here.  I sway when I consider that my part-time job pays less in a whole month than my husband makes in a single real estate transaction (which isn’t even his main job).  I waver when my friends get promotions in jobs that they actually went to school to do.  I topple when the Christmas letters come and I learn that someone else’s preschooler is reading better than my kindergartner.    Or that they ran marathons.  Or teach Pilates.  Or just published their dissertation.

(You all know who you are.)

I sway, waver and topple; and though I tell myself that my own life has meaning that can’t be quantified, sometimes I feel like an over-indulgent parent complimenting a four-year old’s scribbling.  “Oh, honey, it’s beautiful… what a nice, uh, nice, uh…”  “Pegasus, Mama, it’s a yellow Pegasus with rainbow wings.”  “Oh, of course.  Let’s put it on the fridge.”

Sometimes I wonder if my life is really worthy of the fridge.

****

How do you count your life?  Here is the easiest way to count most things: numbers.  Let’s talk annual income, weight loss, or likes on facebook.  How about debt, doughnuts eaten, or hours wasted in whatever way you like to waste hours?  How do the numbers add up?  It’s like a word problem on a standardized test, “If Suzie spends two hours watching Downton Abby (which, if you’re wondering, is a positive value), works for six hours at twelve dollars an hour, and cycles three miles home; did she have a good day?”  “If Bill owes twenty thousand dollars in school loans, makes thirty thousand dollars a year, and just lost ten pounds; is he having a good life?”

Yes, I know that I’m being ridiculous.  Of course, you can’t count a life by numbers any more than you can compare one life to another.  But isn’t this our fallback position?  Isn’t it at least a temptation when you find yourself unemployed or overweight or in debt over your little graying head?  Or conversely, don’t we have a subconscious sense of security when the numbers add up in our favor?  Isn’t this why I’m obsessed with exactly how many miles I ran?

If life doesn’t add up in numbers, how am I supposed to know how I’m doing?

And now that I’ve said it, I can tell:  this is exactly the wrong question.  I ask it as if life is something to be earned, deserved or proven.  But when I sit here, when I fall into this place and wallow in it, I know:  I’ve gotten everything backwards.

****

Ann Voskamp spelled it out for me the other day on her blog, the blunt force of her words cutting through my hazy patterns.  “Doxology or drown.  Decide.”  We either live a life of thankfulness (doxology), or we will quickly find ourselves in over our heads (drown).

Doxology or drown.  Decide.

When I read this, I felt physically shaken.  It’s no wonder.  She was pulling up the roots of my assumptions.

Life is not an accomplishment(yank), but a gift.

Life is not something to be evaluated(pull), but something to be received.

Yes, yes, I knew all this.  In my head.  But do I really know it?  Do I live it?  How deep does it go?

I entitled this pair of posts “Be Small and Love Big” not knowing precisely what I meant.  I still don’t.  But it’s a place to begin.  Be small.  Doxology begins with the small, with noticing how the raindrops slide down the electrical wires (thank you).  With hearing a child downstairs whisper much too loudly, “Go away.  I’m hiding” (thank you).  With feeling the tap of computer keys as words come and another blog post goes out (thank you).  Another new morning.  Another list of responsibilities.  Another influx of blessings.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Doxology begins with receiving each small piece of your life.

Noticing.  Receiving.  Saying thank you.  Again and again.

It’s another way of counting life, and I have decided to give it a try.

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3 thoughts on “Be Small and Love Big {Part Two: Christmas Letter Aftermath}

  1. I definitely quantify my days events in this way… Sometimes, it helps me stay on track with doing good things. If I didn’t think “okay, went on a jog, helped a friend, read a book, I’m doing good…” I fear I might just sit on the couch and watch Netflix all day. But maybe that’s not true. There’s something about the type of gratefulness you described, and using that to perpetuate your life into a healthy, happy, place. I certainly can’t see praising God that I sat on the couch and watch Netflix all day! But I can see praising him for positive interactions with neighbors, being healthy, etc… Thanks for something important to think about!

  2. I have noticed thorough observation of myself and others that we tend to think little of our own lives. But we’re not called to compete with others for more/greater/better/life but live the one we have the best we can. There is no competition.
    Great post Jen! =)

  3. I miss being your housemate and having more opportunity to talk about stuff like this with you!

    I’m becoming increasingly convinced that its only by the grace of God that we can find a sort of balance and freedom in being thankful for where we are at AND open to the calls to move into new places…whether socially, professionally, emotionally or spiritually. I do not want to miss what I need to learn in the moment because I’m so fixated on this image of who I think I should be or a future self I have not yet been able to attain. At the same time, knowing myself, I tend to not go for the things that burn in my heart (that I’m convinced that God put there) because I’m afraid of breaking the status quo or perhaps, don’t trust God’s way of getting me there. It’s a strange and unique situation to all, but we all can benefit from letting go of our own egos and living into the great Love that the Father lavishes on us and being thankful for, perhaps, both the current reality and whatever future reality that God’s plan holds for us. Aspiration and achievement in itself is not bad, but I believe our strong-willed and self-reliant approach to them is where we go wrong.

    As Paul said in Philippians: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

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