“Finish everything on your plate.”
We have all heard the phrase at some point in life, which usually carried the negative connotation of an undesirable item on our plate. Fortunately, as many of you can guess, “cleaning my plate” has not been an issue for me in a long time. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I have gained 60+ pounds since high school, and yet not even two inches around my waist. I am your classic example of a hyper-metabollic monster (although that characteristic is fading fast, yikes).
However, I have been faced with an issue since mid-August that continues to baffle me. This is the first time in my life that I am unable to clean my plate…and I am definitely not referring to food.
I am referring to the horrendous blunder that is better known as my schedule for the fall, and one that will continue through the spring. I am a full-time grad student with two part-time jobs…oh…don’t forget the four weekly small groups I am in (I lead three of them). This unhealthy and exhausting schedule is completely and utterly my fault. The fault is based in a deep fear I have had for quite some time: the fear to say “no.”
Mass media, pop culture, and social networking have defined the roadway to happiness for us. You travel the road by pledging your affirmation to the priceless opportunities that come your way. Seize the day, invest your life, live every day as if it were your last…any of this sound consciously or subconsciously familiar? Stop for a second, and think of all the decisions you make in a day. In a week. In a month. In a year. Think of your wants, needs, desires…things that are selfish, things that are done with good intentions, things that are meant to benefit yourself, things that are meant to benefit other people. Self-serving and pleasurable things. Fantastic and rewarding things. Selfless and kind things. Everything.
How often do you say NO to those things?
If you can honestly say that you have a majority of “no” choices, rather than “yes” choices, I would probably call you a liar. It does not matter whether or not the intentions we have for a given block of time is completely mindless and gratifying, or something that should be given recognition from the founders of the Nobel Peace Prize. Our culture has caught hold of something that has permeated the fabric of society…and yes, even more so than the word “like.” Success comes from hard work, and busy people must be working hard. So, the logical choice is to busily strive for success.
There are people who might misunderstand where I am coming from, so I want to clarify before I continue to the point. There is nothing wrong with having a good work ethic; I think to obtain such a thing is noble and admirable. Do I think people should strive for success, achieve their dreams, and enjoy happiness? Of course I do. However, I think the discrepancy is found in the definition of success. You may have a different definition than mine.
My definition of success is much like a hot sword being formed by a blacksmith. I am constantly hammering out impurities, inconsistencies, and cooling it down by re-evaluating my take on the issue. Here is the conclusion I have come to over the past two months: success is not found in cramming your schedule with “good and noble” tasks. In fact, when someone overcompensates with good intentions, it creates an auto-immune moral void with endless boundaries. If your life goal is to be as good as you can be, and show it by all of the well-intentioned things you do, than you will end life as an overly-stressed person who lacks sincere self-confidence and self-worth. There will always be that one thing you could not achieve, one rock left unturned, one opportunity left unapproached.
Try choosing one thing, and do it well. Learn it inside and out, learn how he functions, learn her personality traits, expose the silver lining that no one else sees, think outside the box and bring the conclusion back to a concrete level. Be intentional AND authentic, don’t put on a Dudley Do-Right morality show for everyone to wonder in awe about. Besides, no one believes you anyway. Why you ask? If people can not see the struggle and raw process in your life, why should they believe that what you have is real?
The mistake I have made is a combination of these ideas, hence the label of “blunder.” I have managed to find genuine struggle, apathy, and pure exhaustion by cramming my plate full of good, healthy, well-intentioned things. I beg you to not learn this lesson by following my example. The choice to say no feels incredibly unattractive, disheartening, and unfulfilling. Say it anyway. Find the time to give intentional and authentic effort to the things that you need to work through and deal with, and trim away the fluff. Don’t let guilt trips from “good people” make you lose sight of what is really important in life: cleaning your plate. Is your plate overflowing? Put some things back on the platter, and don’t worry about them. Life is too short to let the term “commitment” take the place of “fulfillment.”
One last thing to note before closing: don’t let ministry and your witness become an obligation. Do not let yourself be overworked and stretched too thin because it’s the “right thing to do.” Believe it or not, church staff positions do have job descriptions and hours…you don’t have to live there and constantly worry about everything and everyone. Crazy huh? Christ did not sacrifice His life so that we could do a bunch of good things 24/7. God could care less about how much your donation to the Boys and Girls Club was last year, or how many Bible Studies you attended in your life. What He cares about is the stability, integrity, and condition of your heart in pursuit after the example of His Son. So follow His example, but don’t try to be a savior. You will fail.
Mom and Dad were right, cleaning your plate is good for you. Just make sure your plate is not a pig trough.