Note from Alana: I first came across Emily at prodigalmagazine.com. I was drawn to Emily’s rawness and how she showed her strength through her vulnerability. I’m honored that she would share part of her Story here today.
My Story: The Busiest Person Doesn’t Win
by Emily Maynard
It must have started when they named me.
Emily means “Diligent One,” and I definitely am that. I may not always be the “Focused One” or “Tasks Completed One,” but my life has been full of energy and opportunity. I traveled extensively in high school, worked my way through college in the Midwest, and moved back to my beloved Portlandia. But somewhere along the way, my name got twisted up. Somehow, somewhere, I took on the name of “Does Everything One,” which quickly turned into “Disappointed One,” “Self-Berating One,” “Flakey One,” and “Exhausted One.” And let me tell you, these titles are even less fun in real life than they are on this page. When you’re so tired you can’t even sleep, your body starts to reject certain food groups, and your immune system is on permanent hiatus, it’s probably time to start paying attention. And that’s what it took for me to stop competing and start listening to myself.
I’ve made a lot of changes over the past few years in an attempt to listen better. I’ve seen doctors and taken their advice. I’ve taken many foods out of my diet and taken in yoga and Pilates. I’ve talked with a qualified counselor and trusted friends who have helped me retrace my steps. I’ve prayed and learned new whispers of God’s steady, undemanding love.
Our world, and particularly our popular American faith culture, gives prizes to those of us who are attempting everything. We read books by people who somehow have time to write books while mentoring others, speaking, raising children, getting promotions, decorating homes on a budget, competition in triathlons, fixing cars, completing Bible studies, cooking nutritious meals, dating, being friends, serving ministries, running small businesses, mastering hospitality, coaching soccer teams, maintaining marriages, and keeping up with it all on blogs and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.
Here’s the thing: I do a lot of those and don’t believe there’s anything wrong with it. It’s not all wasted time. It’s not evil. We shouldn’t fear success or promotion or blogging or ministry or Twitter. But what we should fear is losing the ability to listen to our hearts and bodies. This is the very place that God will speak to us, and when we’re so busy, we lose out on the beauty that God promised the Israelites in Exodus: “I will take you as my people and I will be your God.”
The God of the Universe offers us intimate knowing. And we choose to be busy.
C.S. Lewis said this is like kids playing in a scummy pothole and ignoring an all expense paid trip to a luxury resort in Hawaii. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a paraphrase, but still, the image is accurate. We may even fill our days with things that seem close to God and seem to fill us: church events, Bible studies, ministries, successful jobs, raising families, dating “God’s way,” etc. I don’t think that you have to stop doing these things in order to hear God, but we may have to change the why and way we’re doing them.
Like, actually change. Not just write more books and start more ministries and attend more conferences and talk about how to change, but actually do it.
It may mean learning about healthy boundaries and doing the tough work of practicing them. It may mean looking into our own past with a wise counselor, uncovering the shame that is driving us to do so much and be so little. It may look like acknowledging our fears and desire to be in control. It may mean learning to listen to my body and be okay with the fact that it needs more sleep and silence than someone else’s. It may mean giving up opportunities or jobs or relationships that drain us. For me, it’s meant doing all these things and realizing that I have to stop living in competition with other people.
Now, I tell this to myself over and over: Life is not a race.
The writer of Hebrews says that our faith is a race, but I don’t think the writer meant that we’re racing against each other as much as with each other. Maybe it’s just because I don’t particularly enjoy running, but I think life for me is more like a beautiful hike with friends through the Oregon woods or a stroll next to the Pacific.
If you’re so focused on getting somewhere and beating everyone else, you’ll overlook the chirp of that marvelous tiny tree frog or the wave of a friendly dolphin in the water. You may miss the glory of God, right in front of you, right in the way the sun is shining through the leaves or the crest of the wave. If you’re just trying to cross the next life marker ahead of that other person, you’ll eventually hate every step. If you’re so focused on winning the game of life that you created, you won’t experience the beauty of quiet camaraderie shared over a simple meal in an imperfect house that would never make it on Pinterest.
Our work and ministry and lives matter. But not because we’re winning the competition against someone else’s work and ministry and life. They have value because they reflect the freedom and grace and presence we have before God.
He’s taken our self-imposed name of “Busy One” and replaced it with “My Child.”
Emily Maynard is an outgoing introvert from Portland, Oregon. She is a big picture thinker who gets excited about questioning, exploring, and growing alongside great friends. She writes a column called Speaking Up with Prodigal Magazine and loves watching people find their voices. She is not the Emily Maynard from The Bachelorette. You can follow her nonsense and truth on Twitter: @emelina and Tumblr: emilyisspeakingup.