Did you feel cheated by the idea that help to do our duty comes from doing it? It’s like a greeting card my college roommate sent once: “My cookbook tells me if I don’t have an egg, I can substitute two egg whites . . . I don’t think my cookbook understands my problems.” What if we haven’t an egg when it comes to duty? Starting to do it (whatever it is) would perhaps prove helpful but that’s the trouble.
Then it’s time to have a look at the heart. Like the father in Proverbs admonishes his son, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23), the life we live is the outworking of the heart we tend. And if, as Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45) then surely from that same source the feet tread (or don’t tread) doggedly on. When it becomes hard to do my duty, I learn something about my heart. . .
I am a stay-at-home mom. There are days when I am at home in my job, rocking the comfortable clothes and cuddles and cookies in the oven. But there are days (or perhaps times in each day) when it’s sheer hard work. It’s constant interruptions (even the interruptions are interrupted). Sometimes it can seem like an endless round of thankless menial tasks. A precious friend of mine, a wiser woman than I, once described motherhood in a comment on this blog as a series of deaths to self. (My Self wants to write this right now. My Self has been interrupted by my Duty (and his big sisters and his baby brother) seventeen times since I started this paragraph.)
I have those moments where, suddenly, I don’t want to be here right now. I don’t want to do this (whatever it is). I’ll start feeling like I’d rather have my husband’s job (there’s peace and quiet in his office) or my neighbor’s (her kids go to school, she goes to Starbucks). This is when questions like these start to rise inside us: Is what I’m doing even important? Do I add any value here? Or the smoke-screened version: Are my gifts really being utilized?
In these moments we need to take our hearts by the throat and look them in the face. However blessed I am, however much I may enjoy some of my duty some of the time, if my heart is not quieted, submitting to God, “duty” does become synonymous with “burden”.
Years ago I stumbled on this matchless quote by Elisabeth Elliot: “This job has been given me to do. Therefore it is a gift. Therefore it is a privilege. Therefore it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.” She nails me to the wall with “not in some other”. It isn’t rocket science to figure out what duties God is giving me to be faithful in today (they are right in front of me).
We are helped in our duty by quieting our hearts. What is a quiet heart? In the words of Jeremiah Burroughs, “A [quiet heart] is opposed to an unsettled and unstable spirit, whereby the heart is distracted from the present duty that God requires in our relationships; towards God, ourselves, and others” (from The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 1648).
The “God of seeing” (Genesis 16:13) knows where I am. He “prepared beforehand” the duties he created me to do (Ephesians 2:10). I can rest my heart in the knowledge that I am not doing the choosing. A last word from Elisabeth Elliot: “God is God. Because he is God, he is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in his holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what he is up to.”