If you don't take advantage of every single opportunity within reach, you may miss out on a few things. You won't, however, miss out on everything.
I live a very full life. I'm constantly on-the-go, over-planning, over-committing, over-doing, over-producing. Basically, I tend to be over-the-top in just about every way. That must have been more than apparent when a priest I'd never met told me I needed to learn how to relax before he gave me my penance. "During the day, go into your room, light a candle and just stop. Stop," he said.
Stop? I'm not sure I know how. The combination of my nature and upbringing has often expressed itself in a restless and relentless drive to reach, succeed, and achieve. That isn't all bad. But it isn't all good either. It comes, as all things do, at a cost and with unintended side effects. Usually stress, exhaustion, and anxiety.
In my quest to grow up before I grow old, I'm starting to figure a few things out:
1. Overextending yourself is not a virtue. Even if you manage to make good on your promises, killing yourself to do that doesn't earn you extra points. It just tires you out and makes you less able to be present and loving to the people around you.
2. If you don't take advantage of every single opportunity within reach, you may miss out on a few things. You won't, however, miss out on everything. If you do try to work every advantage and every opportunity, you may find that peaceful living is always beyond your reach.
3. There are times to squeeze every last drop of water out of life's sponge. Those times aren't every day. They are few and far between. The problem with squeezing is that the squeezer gets squeezed too. The result is often discontent and dissatisfaction.
4. You are already loved. You don't have to prove anything. You are already enough. Who you are is both more and other than what you do. You will only experience those truths when you are still long enough to realize that the next thing you do is a choice.
5. It is possible to manage your emotions, even if your feelings are often at high tide. Most emotional tsunamis are the result of fear, anger, or exhaustion. In the end analysis, there is nothing to fear and little to be angry about. The trick is to meet the surge with a greater-than-or-equal-to dose of rational thinking aimed at answering one question: Is it worth it?
6. St. Francis of Assisi had it right. It's better to love than to be loved. Loving doesn't hurt. What does hurt are the disappointments we experience when we expect to be loved. Those kinds of expectations reinforce our selfishness and ultimately destroy our freedom.
7. Our faith doesn't ask us to be superheroes. Over-the-top spiritual practices that aren't sustainable aren't spiritual.
God knows I am not a poster child for living within my means. But this Lent I can look at the resources I have -- time, talent, and treasure -- as what they are, rather than what more they can do. I can work, but also rest. I can eat, but also fast. I can move forward without throwing myself into the next step with full force. I can choose not to overfill the glass. And I can trust God to take care of me as he always has, to do for me and in me what I cannot.
So, the next time I start feeling like I'm getting on a high-speed train, I'll take a step backward onto the platform, and let it leave the station without me. I'll head down the hall to my room and light that candle. And stop.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.
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