I sit mulling over my to-do list for the day.
- Wash two loads of laundry.
- Hem daughter’s dress pants for her internship.
- Buy gift for nephew’s birthday and
- teleport back two days ago to get it in the mail to him on time.
The usual stuff.
My pen is still poised over the paper when my husband pokes his head around the corner to ask me if I’d give him a hand with something. As I’m prone to do, I drop my pen to the desk with a sigh and close my eyes in frustration.
My husband sees and immediately tells me to forget it. He doesn’t want me to be put out by his request, as if he’s a burden. Then he disappears out the door.
My reluctance is a long-standing source of contention. My husband asks not only out of need for assistance, but also out of relationship—the chance to connect during a busy day and partner in getting things done. I see it as an interruption. An addition to what is already a full plate.
My reaction is often the same when my kids come to me in need of something. I’m distracted, annoyed, even frustrated.
In short, I am not a cheerful helper. I’m not proud of this. In fact, I generally make a point of asking my family for forgiveness after I have reacted harshly to their genuine need for me. My poor response doesn’t make sense. I love my family. And I want to take care of them. I want to be different. I pray to be different.
But nothing happens. I’m stuck in a pattern of being less than who I know God desires me to be. And I wonder why he won’t change me.
In the meantime, I map out long-term goals for career growth and self-improvement. I set up strategies to maximize the use of my time. Exercise early in the day and get to bed at the same time every night. Schedule writing sessions during the school day, and spend evenings responding to editors. Hold housework for the weekend.
The publishing credits roll in. Dozens of articles, myriads of magazines. One book manuscript completed, then another.
But I’m still grumpy with my family. Still peeved at their interruptions and put upon by their demands. Still praying for God to change me, transform me into a patient, attentive wife and mom.
Then one day I give up. I’m suddenly all too aware of how exhausting, unsatisfying, and frustrating the life I’m trying to lead is for me and those I love.
Instead, I hear God calling me to be available. To my children. To my husband. To my friends.
In that moment I realize how much my aspirations have made me unavailable. Keeping up with a busy household, a part-time job, and volunteer responsibilities while trying to build a freelance writing career left little margin. I couldn’t afford to have a sick child or a flat tire. I didn’t have room for error. And I didn’t have space to be interrupted by other people’s last-minute needs. If it wasn’t scheduled, it didn’t work.
Which led to grousing at my husband and children when they wanted something from me.
I have a choice to make and it’s unsettling. Either continue as I am, “succeeding” but not enjoying success. Or be daring enough to just stop and see what happens.
I choose to stop.
And so, in giving up and being available, I get less done. I write loose “to-do” lists of essential chores, dabble occasionally on social media for fun, and stop writing professionally altogether. My goals stretch only as far as one week out.
One year goes by. Then two. No writing. No ambition. No consuming my days with endless projects and objectives.
Instead of giving a half-hearted, “mmm hmm,” when one of my daughters interrupts me, I can stop and give her my full attention. I can listen to stories about what happened at school, or complaints about misunderstandings with friends.
Two years becomes three, then four.
When I need to pause a chore or project to take a child shopping or find a lost shoe, I no longer count how many minutes it consumes or how much less I will accomplish for the day. When my husband calls out for me to give him a hand, I’m able to set aside what is in front of me and go to his aid.
My weekly planner is emptier, but my days are fuller.
I see myself becoming more of who I had prayed for God to make me. My previous lack of transformation hadn’t been a prayer issue or lack of trying hard enough. Rather, it was about whose plan I was focused on. It was a matter of returning control of my life to God and letting him determine the direction of my days.
It has been a handful of years since I surrendered my ambitions. Not only has my attitude toward my family’s needs changed (although I do still gripe about interruptions from time to time), so has my perspective. I no longer feel the need to cram as much work into my days. Nor do I require applause or a daily sense of accomplishment—transformations I hadn’t been aware of needing.
All from the audacious decision to be available. To put God back on the throne in my life.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25, New International Version).