It has been five years since my children entered school full time and my "stay at home" status allowed for 35 hours a week of flexible scheduling. In the first few years I dove into philanthropy/ministry head first. I was highly motivated to not only be a good steward of my 'free' time, but also anxious to have a solid answer to the question: "What do you DO all day?" (On bad days, I can still hear this question in the accusatory tone in which I was first asked by a childless male.)
My prideful response was to have a full agenda of 'important' work--multiple Bible studies, ministerial boards, community service, exercise. All good things. There were some amazing gifts from that season--but there was also a recognition that I was giving other people all the best of me and my family was returning home at the end of their day to an exhausted, stressed out Mama who still had hours of work to do in the evenings. I called my profession 'homemaker,' but I was frazzled, impatient and a far cry from the loving, peaceful lady of the house I had envisioned. And I had volunteered for all the extra!
My response to this overwhelm was to swing back the opposite direction...I pulled an effective control+alt+delete of my schedule. I became a bit of a hermit. I redecorated, organized and learned to be quiet, still and much more of a homebody. There were blessings in that season too--but I couldn't help but feel like there was more to give outside of the walls of my home--and that somewhere between these two extremes there must be some sort of balance.
Here in the chapter of 'seeking the right balance' I have found many other Mamas with the same struggle--especially those of us who have more flexible schedules due to not working outside the home. Even when I define 'how much' time to give there is the quandary of where to invest it. After all, shouldn't it be life changing, big important work full of purpose and perfectly in line with our gifts?
The older I get and the busier I become, the more I'm tempted to narrowly define my focus of what I will and won't do with my time. I have noticed this tendency in many of my peers as well. Some call that wisdom--or perhaps a certain obstinance that comes with middle age.
As someone who spent several years in the professional training arena, I have done more than my share of personality assessments. I have completed both secular and spiritual gift inventories. I am fairly aware of my strengths and weaknesses.
And, yet, of all things, it has been my current term as president of our school's parent association that has challenged my perspective on all this a bit. Despite my inventories that say I am gifted and equipped for wisdom, communication and leadership--being a servant leader has left me doing a whole lot of things that no one else will sign up to do. I am learning there are MANY tasks that aren't significant enough for a busy parent to devote their limited free time to--but yet, are necessary to pull off the bigger picture people want to see accomplished.
I could cite many examples just from the first month of school, but it was last Thursday when one planned hour of set up turned into five that the message became clear. Sprawled out in the hallway with muscles burning from manually inflating close to a dozen balls for the school wide kick ball tournament, a simple statement rang loud in my mind & heart: "Somebody has to blow up the kick balls."
It's not glamorous or important.
I am certain there are few people who would list that as a talent or unique ability.
No spiritual gifts assessment or Myers-Briggs will highlight that strength.
It doesn't appear to have any significant spiritual impact.
And, yet, over 100 children were excitedly anticipating this school wide activity.
My own children were beside themselves with anticipation.
I'd seen leadership traits exhibited as they formed teams...
Confidence as they named their teams and chose their colors.
Sportsmanship was developing on the field.
Opportunities for fellowship were being created.
Simple, wholesome memories were being made within our school community.
But somebody had to inflate the kick balls
And set up the tables
And pick up the trash
And make the signs marking the fields
And draw the brackets
And serve the snacks and drinks
Not because they 'love that kind of thing' or because 'it is a gift,' but because in this world there are simply tasks that need to be done as members of the broader community.
I am sure in whatever realm you work and serve currently, you can identify.
Someone has to do the laundry.
Take out the trash.
Wipe the noses.
Volunteer in the nursery.
Man the crosswalk.
Make the phone call.
File the paperwork.
Go to the meeting.
I was talking to a friend recently about the struggle local churches have getting willing volunteers from their congregation amidst this tendency to play up "purpose" and play down "meaningless tasks." I believe it stems from a good place, but when taken too far, leads to self centeredness and self importance, instead of service for the good of the group. I am ALL FOR passionate ministry and seeking your life's work. But, honestly, even in the best of circumstances real life only sees most of us with about 10% of our time spent in our 'sweet spot' and the vast majority working hard at the other 'stuff' that simply must be done.
The answer here, like so much of life, is in the tension of the both/and. It's not a choice between meaningful or menial. It's the beautiful balance of both.
It is doing small things with great love through simple & humble service.
So much of even Jesus' ministry was with people He encountered 'along the way.'
Increasingly, I find there is a lot of meaning in the menial if we slow down to look.
Taking out the trash gives me a chance to breathe in the Fall air and notice the changing trees.
Manning the crosswalk at church allows me to see many people I don't usually get a chance to encounter on Wednesday nights.
A morning full of laundry is great quiet time to listen to books I've felt too guilty to sit and take the time to read.
And inflating those kick balls? Well, it didn't seem too menial to my son who walked by me working in the hall on his way to lunch, puffed up his chest and said proudly to a friend, "MY Mom is getting the kick balls ready for today's big tournament."
My service certainly meant something to my boy and left me with a meaningful lesson I hope I won't soon forget.