Yesterday I woke up to a lengthy list of items that needed to be accomplished: four loads of laundry to wash, fold and put away, grocery shopping requiring loading groceries into the cart, onto the belt, into the shopping cart, into the car, into the house and finally…into the pantry (when you’re pregnant every step counts), cleaning and organizing the pantry and refrigerator, meeting the maintenance man to change the air filter, grating soap to make laundry detergent, endless diaper changes, sweeping and vacuuming, cooking dinner, packing a lunch and preparing Tom’s work uniforms for the week, bills to pay and paperwork to catch up on.
On top of everything I had a little one coming down with a cold (her second – third? – this winter. A consequence of the fact that she LICKS EVERYTHING. Ugh) who needed extra time and attention and sometimes who just needed mama to stop and hold her.
Somewhere in the middle of the day, in the midst of many blocked goals and limited accomplishments, I re-read my life quote;
“To make bread or love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger—these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone. In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life” (From An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor).
In that moment I was reminded (by the Holy Spirit of God….because I definitely did not have the resources to remind myself) that life is not measured by the amount we accomplish but by the attitude in which we do it. Times where sacrifice is required present us so many opportunities to cultivate a spirit that resonates embodied grace to others and to ourselves. That, that is the holy, transformational role of sacrifice that is available to us if we open ourselves to it.
There are many roles and opportunities in life to sacrifice beyond what you feel you have capability to give. A lot of what I write is drawn from the context I am currently immersed in, mothering, a present tense, action verb that’s ever-evolving in definition and ever-deepening in opportunity for sacrifice.
Evie’s sleep was interrupted often last night. She went to bed at 7 and woke up at 9, 11, 1 and 5. At 1:27 a.m I sat with her on the edge of the bathtub with the shower on its highest setting. The steam filled our small bathroom and swirled in the glow of the nightlight. Evie’s forehead was pressed into my shoulder and her small arms were wrapped firmly around my neck. She breathed in the steam and I felt her little body relax in the warmth of the room and the warmth of knowing mama was present for her.
In that moment I realized I had a choice (again, through Holy Spirit grace).
I could begrudge her repeated need of me through the night; caring for her physically but being emotionally distant. Sometimes I think that’s ok; the amount of sacrifices required of a mother mean that each one will likely be met with a varying level of emotional attentiveness. Mothers are human too.
Yet, in that moment I knew I had more to give her than physical care, something that would also be a gift to myself in the work it would do to transform my own eternal spirit. By grace I gave her the gift of emotional presence in her need. I engaged my senses with hers, put myself in her shoes (err, sleeper-clad feet) and allowed myself to soak in the beauty of her trust without wishing for a different set of circumstances (particularly a set of circumstances that had me still asleep in bed).
Emotional presence is what renders the same situation either mundane and forgettable or eternally transformative. Emotional presence is what opens our eyes to the deeper realities of our everyday situations and the significance they could have to our eternal souls should we allow it.
We each have every ingredient we need to live a sacrificial life. To be changed by the ingredients of our lives right now, today.
The key is what we do with the painful, unexpected and altogether mundane aspects of our lives.
The building blocks of trials, difficult circumstances, low-income seasons, relational disappoints, job loss, miscarriage, transitions, loss through death, children leaving, loved ones making choices you don’t agree with (to name just a few) are present in some way and degree in each of our lives. Each of those larger difficulties, and the hundreds of small inconveniences that fill our days, are composed of a thousand, little chances to be emotionally present in the pain, trial or annoyance.
The chance to be transformed just a little more through the sacrifice being asked of you. Of me.
My day rarely holds news-worthy stories of change. I haven’t been called on for any groundbreaking political contributions, made any life-changing medical discoveries, published anything that has changed the world or single-handedly altered the course of a third-world village.
Yet, every single day I have the chance to communicate tiny lessons of grace and responsibility to a little woman-in-training. I have the change to cool a meal, wash a dish, make the bed, say “I love you” and whisper a prayer in a way that communicates the innate value of the people I am serving and the eternal weight and transformational value of each seemingly mundane task.
I can be changed for a little more eternal good on this rainy, cold sick day in early December. So can you.
Sanctification, transformation, is not a separate mission from our earthly responsibilities. Those simple, everyday tasks are how we can be changed into His likeness – should we emotionally present to the wealth of opportunities they hold.
God, grant us eyes to see and the courage to be emotionally present in both the mundane and the groundbreaking moments of our lives.