When I was in college, I thought that I was morally bound to run in circles as hard as I could to please everyone I knew. My teachers, my family, random acquaintances, the hundreds of people I encountered in the hallways each day. So, I tried. If I hadn’t succeeded at the end of the day, I didn’t go to bed until I thought I had exhausted all possible means of fulfilling this “obligation.” It didn’t occur to me until some years had passed that it is impossible to please everyone.
You see, if they aren’t pleased with me and my reasonable attempts at courtesy, they won’t be pleased anyway, no matter how much I bend over backwards, because they have decided to be unhappy. (They might not know it, but that makes it no less fact.) A great weight was lifted off of my psyche when I realized that I don’t have to be afraid of disapproval. God is pleased with me, because I am His beloved child, and He has given me “all that pertains to life and godliness.”
So I took a second look at whom to please. If my teachers were godly, and honorable, and worthy of emulating (and they were), then, yes, I should try to please them, because they were showing me the way down the path of wisdom and making my later life easier by instilling discipline and joy in my profession.
If, on the other hand, my co-workers were trying to manipulate me into wrongdoing or laziness, why worry? A few insults are not going to embarrass me into caving to their pressure. I am a princess; I do what’s right, even if no one else does and I have had to pick up the slack in their wake. If what’s right is hard, it is still right.
I started reading Emilie Barnes’ books after college, and I dearly wished that I had begun to read her writing sooner. She points out the (obvious?!!!!) truth in her book, More Hours in My Day; each of us is only endowed with twenty-four hours in a day. And we cannot stretch those by even a nano-second; they are the gift of God. We must learn to manage them with wisdom, and choose rich and good investments to which we devote our minutes.
Now, I had learned by becoming deathly ill after my frantic-to-please years, that you cannot indefinitely postpone personal sleeping and eating and relaxing hours without suffering sickness and even dying. It is no wisdom to skip all your meals and stay up all night doing homework.
Instead, take a blank piece of notebook paper, count the lines, and mark off twenty-four. Then, insist on devoting seven of them to sleep, preferably rising with the sun, and give yourself the luxury of prayer and hot tea for the first.
As you proceed, write down the four most important things in your life. And realize that you must love yourself in order to love others well. This seems self-explanatory, but I struggled with this for most of my life. (see my post “Do I Love Me?”)
As you fill in the hours of your day on the paper, realize solemnly that balancing those minutes as you invest them into your most cherished hopes will require all of your faculties of wise analysis. Can you combine accomplishments in the same hour? Yes; and you can enjoy that hour more by weaving your priorities together into the threads of a tapestry of time that will impact not only your peace of mind and stability, but also those of future generations. You can listen to a symphony or to your favorite worship music or to a lecture on the newest ground-breaking research in your field, as you clean your kitchen or drive to work or make your bed. Verbal tasks tend to mesh well with non-verbal tasks. For example, it annoys me to try to read a masterful piece of writing about the logic of our government’s founders while I am trying to tune out an argument or a mindless TV program vying for my attention in the background. It is easier to load the dishwasher while I have a conversation than to try to maintain two conversations simultaneously (the one with the person speaking to me and the one with the recipe in front of my eyes. Perhaps this is why I don’t follow recipes!! Aha!! Eureka!!)
Understand also the dynamic effect of beauty around you to calm and soothe you and lift up your mood. Hearing beautiful music, smelling a delicious dinner in the oven, inhaling your roses’ breath, opening a window for fresh air, being surrounded by pretty colors and clean, tidy rooms, tasting a fresh gourmet spinach salad, these can all bubble up in your spirit with inexplicable happiness that buoys you up to accomplish more good things today. Preparing a gift for an appreciative friend, say, a basket with a lovely flowered dishtowel, a mug with some healing tea and a bottle of honey, or a loaf of fresh bread, can all put a secret spring in your step with the delight that the smile on your friend’s face repays you with.
Think too, about the appropriateness of your activity to the time and place you want to put it. If you are full of energy in the morning, it may be the best time to exercise. And if you can exercise out-of-doors, you will reap the double benefit of nature’s beauty and fresh air and higher oxygen for your run, along with vitamin D from the healing sunshine, as opposed to choking and sweating in your basement on your treadmill. If you have a looming deadline that fills your days with underlying nervousness, face it squarely and tell it, “I will conquer you, because I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me,” and neatly put away the most difficult part of it as your first accomplishment of the day. There! brush your hands off and enjoy the rest of the day tying up other loose ends, happy in the knowledge that you are prepared for tomorrow.
“All things by season season’d are, to their right praise and true perfection.” -Shakespeare
Entrust your hours to worthy pursuits that will build a good life rather than destroy it. If you have spent your whole life sitting in front of a television watching people insult each other and perform violent acts, what kind of pleasant vision do you expect to form in your brain? Don’t be afraid to cut out of your life the unproductive hours and wasted efforts. Before allowing commitments to take a place in your list of hours, ask yourself, “what will happen if I skip this? Will I be sorry or relieved?”
Whatever thoughts and images you fill your mind, eyes, mouth and heart with, you will find filling your life and coming to fruition in your latter days. Whatever you esteem and dwell on will be the image of what you are as time goes by. Choose wisely, my friend.
“The beautiful is as useful as the useful. More so, perhaps.” -Victor Hugo