I meant to write this sooner, but I’m glad now that I couldn’t fit it in. I’ve felt from the start of this series that this was the most important part–the part where suddenly, stumbling under the weight of the relentless round of duties large and small that accompany my calling, feeling tired and overwhelmed and inadequate, knowing the distance between my efforts at obedience and what I ought to be, I see Jesus. Come to me, he says, my yoke won’t choke you and my burden is light.
One disadvantage, if there are any, of “growing up Christian” is that profound scriptural truths can become clichés we take for granted before we really understand what they mean. One such phrase is “do it in God’s strength, not your own.” We’re on sound biblical footing with this: “. . .whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–” (1 Peter 4:11). ‘Tired?’ we ask. ‘Well, you’re trying to do it all on your own strength, just rely on God’s strength.’ (If I had an hour for every time that’s been said to me concerning my duties I’d have time to do them all and bake bread from scratch.) But increasingly I’ve had the question what does that mean?
I’m not being simple, this is my serious question. I’ve written how the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 is relevant to me. Mary chose “the good portion”, I begin to understand that. But Martha was the one who “welcomed [Jesus] into her house” (Luke 10:38) and she is the one who made the dinner. (Sound familiar, mamas? I think we all know that someone has to make the dinner. In fact, the only reason I can sit and ponder God and duty right now is because we’re visiting family and my mother is making the dinner.) Recently a good friend and I were discussing poor old Martha and she said, “Why did Jesus get after her like that? She was just doing her job!” (That’s the part of the story that’s harder to chew.) Some things just must be done. What does it mean to “do it in God’s strength” when I’m exhausted? Because I still have to be the one to get up and do it. When is the last time God disciplined my toddler? When has he made the salad?
Recently when my gallbladder (needless and vindictive thing) began to gall me and complications ensued, I had some glimmers of insight on how the mechanics of God’s strength and my work play out. I had just returned home, still in pain, from one of my unexpected hospital stays to a messy house, an empty fridge, laundry everywhere, and four needy, fractious children. I was holding Wally, Hugh was clinging to my legs and crying, and the girls loudly calling me to arbitrate an acrimonious dispute that had arisen between them. Suddenly I sank to the kitchen floor and cried, I can’t do this, God, please help me. I waited for him to answer. Nothing happened. Then slowly verses came to mind . . . Jesus never leaves us or forsakes us. In everything give thanks. The promises are still ‘yes’ in Jesus on the bad days. I stood up, gave pretzels to Hugh, took a couple of Tylenol, and started in. I was cleaning with Wally in the baby carrier when the other three children marched in, all wearing backpacks and singing, headed off on an “expedition” together. As I turned off the vacuum I saw Harriet give Norah a gentle little hug and say softly, “I love you, Norah.” I looked at the clock. Just one hour since I’d asked God for help. He helped me with his promises. He helped me start doing things even though I didn’t have the energy to finish–and then he helped me finish. He encouraged me with fruit.
The reason I’m glad I couldn’t write this sooner is that day-by-day I’m continuing to learn more about how God helps me. I attend a Bible study where we were discussing a verse I’ve heard so many times that I forgot to think about what it means: “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). What joys do I have in the Lord? The durable joy, the joy constructed of all that is mine because God’s promises are true. How does this make me strong?
To have my joy in the Lord means, for one, celebrating all he gives to me. Have you ever noticed how gratitude gives us the zest for doing the tasks before us? This is why it helps to stop and thank God for our children when we feel annoyed by them. This takes us from “It is so noisy in here my head hurts” to “noisy, happy house”. I must clean my house . . . I have a house to clean. I help my husband with something . . . what a gift he is to me.
Additionally, if my joy is in the Lord then I don’t need to look for joy from my duty. Sometimes doing it is joyful, but when it is not I can persevere because my joy is fully supplied elsewhere.
We are helped in our duty by God. Help comes in remembering that, if Jesus is (my) Lord, then my only real duty is to him. Far from being scattered and pulled about in different directions, I am following him. He is my one bright, particular star.