"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

12 April 2005

Of Shoelaces and Square Pegs

I am bemused by the types of shoelaces I’ve encountered lately. What’s this stretchy stuff that elongates a bit more each time I draw it up until its ends finally slap the floor as I walk? And this slick material that slithers undone no matter how tightly I pull the knot, threatening me with bruising falls in the stairwell? Whatever happened to plain serviceable cotton? Stretchy is for hairbands, not shoelaces; slick is for silk blouses.

How many times have others tried to force me into a mold I wasn’t designed for? I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to serve in various nurseries merely because I’m a mom. True, some women love to take care of children, any children, any number of children, any time, any place. I loved taking care of my own. That never meant, however, that I was eager to add others’ to their number. That’s stretching me way too thin.

Someone once told me that I should be writing about a certain political issue for our local papers. I asked why. “Well, you’re a writer, aren’t you?” Well, yes, I am. But it does not follow that I should write about every issue which happens to be of concern to anyone around me. My rhetorical knots will slither quickly loose in subjects not my strength.

We tend far too often to expect others to be of the same material we are – or perhaps of material that we are not and happen to need at the moment. I am always frustrated by demands for workers for various church programs: if not enough people desire to serve in a program, if not enough people have the gifts and the interest for it, would it not be better to drop the program than to guilt-trip people into squandering their energy in ministry they are not designed for?

Of course there are lazy people and people who lack confidence who need to be pushed or encouraged into using their gifts. But this is not, as a general rule, what I see. I do not see people trying to get to know others and their interests, their gifts, their abilities, and helping them find the right use for their particular cloth. Rather, they are told to do something, anything, and never mind if they become stretched too thin or fall apart in the process. Someone’s got to do it, so why not whoever hasn’t yet learned how to avoid spiritual manipulation?

This squandering of gifts and energies is shameful enough. But as others try to define me, force my cloth to fit their own desired needs, I resist. And if my focus becomes resistance, I may stop listening altogether. I may well miss the beauty of God’s design as, in my rebellion against man’s demands, I begin to claim the right to define myself in my own terms, to determine for myself what cut of cloth I am to be.

But just as others do not have the right to define us, we do not have the right to define ourselves. God defines us. He has done so from eternity past, and we must listen to Him. Sometimes, indeed, He will call us to do that which is uncomfortable and not to our liking; the called life is not always the pleasant life. But it is always satisfying, because He does not call us to that for which He has not designed us. He knows our cloth, and we must find our definition in His design.

And it would really help to get out of His way in the lives of others so they can hear Him. Those bruises from tripping in the stairwell cause an agonizing ache throughout the entire Body.


amelia ruth said...

Oh I hope that someday through experience and training I can become as good a writer as you.

I think that I could be termed a spiritual manipulator. My "gift" is, I think, getting things done--if something needs doing and I can feel useful in doing it, then I will be more than happy doing it. And so I assume, often, that other people's failure to get involved is indicative of at least spiritual if not physical laziness.

One thing I've learned this semester as--realizing how grossly overcommitted I had become--I dropped three or four weekly commitments, is that being busy, even busy with good things, does not make us holy. Deciding priorities and using our time wisely is far more "holy" than just doing everything because we can't say no. And this realization has enabled me to understand better those people who don't commit to everything. Those people who have enough self-perception to know their own gifts and enough self-confidence to be able to say no without guilt.

Anyway, those are just my thoughts on the topic (trust me to have abundant thoughts on every possible topic).

I do look forward to the next installment!

Pamela said...

Thank you for this piece. You say things so well, describing and capturing the essence.

You said, "[T]hey are told to do something, anything, and never mind if they become stretched too thin or fall apart in the process. Someone’s got to do it, so why not whoever hasn’t yet learned how to avoid spiritual manipulation?" Like you said, resistance then becomes our focus. I figure out various routes back to my room or make it a point to know when so-and-so will be out of the way. How do we know when to yield? How do I come to the place where I can not only say "The need is not the call," but I can truly live it--live it so as not be broken by everyone who would have me help?
Because after a while, I don't bend back so easily or "unstretch". Then, when someone I ask has the backbone to say "no" or "not now," it is so difficult to accept.
Oh, for an outpouring of gumption (and grace to make allowances for each other!).

alaiyo said...

Amy and Pamela, thanks for the kind words. It's a privilege to hear and see how you are growing, and to be challenged to keep on myself. You know, of course, that mostly all of my writing is trying to convince myself of truth I need to know and live . . . All I know to say about how to live this way is to learn to live IN Him. And I am so far from this . . .