Why Am I Looking for More in All the Wrong Places?
Why can’t mail order packages arrive on Saturdays, when my husband is at work and I can open them myself without his audience and his inevitable question, “What did you order this time?”
It’s not as if I keep everything I order online. And I don’t buy expensive items. But if I want pants that are long enough or the ease of searching by size, color, style, and price, I need to order online.
I’m being thrifty. The more I spend, the larger the discount. If I reach a specific price point, I get free shipping. It just makes cents. Dollars, actually. The more I spend, the more I save.
So weekend after weekend, I spend any spare time I have perusing the offerings on the worldwide web, trying to find those magical clothing items that will flatten my stomach and give me hourglass curves. (Which explains the “weekend after weekend” part. No fabric is that magical. Plus I don’t allow myself much free time.)
But what I want more than yoga pants suitable for work or comfy shorts for the weekend is less of me.
This transparent post with a touch of humor is about the ways I search for more in all the wrong places, when what I really need is less of me and more of Jesus.
I Want Less of Me
I’ve gained a few pounds, just enough to make some of my shorts and pants feel a bit snug. What with that great enemy menopause and my “broken” shoulder preventing me from exercising as intensely as I’d like — and slipping from strict adherence to my anti-inflammation diet — I’m larger than I’d like.
One weekend, because my husband was home when a package arrived for me, I modeled every item I’d bought. One was a denim skort, the same size and style as one made in red twill that fit perfectly. The denim version was a bit tighter than I’d feel comfortable wearing, but I modeled it for my husband anyway.
“That’s a bit tight,” he said. “Would you be comfortable wearing that all day?”
“Well, it’s denim, so it will likely stretch,” I said, while thinking that denim also has a tendency to shrink in the laundry. “Besides, I plan to lose some weight.”
“What if you don’t?” he asked. (Why does he always ask the hard questions?)
“I won’t wear them, and I’ll see how this week goes in the weight loss department,” I responded. “I don’t have to return them immediately.”
But though the scale went in the right direction, I returned the skort. And a dress. And a pair of workout shorts.
Why? I realized that what I wanted wasn’t available online or in a store. What I wanted was less of me.
More than 20 years ago, I did Weight Watchers, where I counted points and sought to reach and keep my goal weight. In meetings, the leaders handed out cute pig stickers if we “got rid of weight” (“got rid of” rather than “lose” because we tend to “find” what we “lose”). We’d celebrate everyone’s successes, and at the close of the meeting, the leader would say, “We’ll see less of you next time!”
(As opposed to “We’ll see fewer of you next time.” She wanted an equally large number of members in the meeting, but she wanted each member to weigh less. Our leader was a stickler for English grammar; I totally get that.)
I want to see less of me. Just five pounds ago I felt confident in my own skin, able to wear anything in my closet. Now I have to be more selective.
I Want Less Prep
I also want to spend less time fighting the natural curl in my hair. For years I’ve styled my hair with a blow dryer, sometimes a flat iron, only to walk outside in humidity and watch my hair do whatever it wanted anyway.
Well, thwarted from curling, it mostly frizzed, giving me the occasional curl out of sheer stubbornness. (My husband called me Superman because I had one stubborn curl in the middle of my forehead.)
So I bought the Curly Girl Handbook and read about liberation from shampoo, brushes, combs, blow dryers and flat irons.
“No shampoo? Just condition and drip dry after applying a little gel? Imagine the money and time I’ll save!” I thought to myself. “And I’ll exchange frizz for enviable curls!”
The If You Give a Mouse a Cookie Result…
Of course, it didn’t turn out quite like that. Because I could test my current hair conditioners and gels to see if the ingredients were “Curly Girl Approved.” (Yes! Paste the ingredient list into a box on the “Is it CG?” website, submit, and you get an immediate report.) My current products weren’t “CG.” Sadness. But I could purchase special (expensive!) “No-Poo” to replace my shampoo, and then get the accompanying conditioner and gel.
I wanted to do this right, after all.
My search for naturally — easy-care — curly hair turned into the proverbial If You Give a Mouse a Cookie scenario.
My current hairstyle, of course, was intended for straight hair, so it didn’t exactly work for my curls. I had to break up with my stylist and find a new one, which required researching local stylists and setting up a consultation with one (would she cut my hair while dry? would she let me bring my “curly girl approved” hair products? would she not use a comb or brush? would she cut my hair correctly?).
While she answered the questions correctly at the consultation, I had to guide her through the process when I actually was there for the cut. At one point, she actually said, “Now I’m shaping it like I’d trim a Christmas tree.”
Or a shrub. Whatever.
She recommended I use a blow dryer defuser rather than let my hair dry naturally. So I shopped online to purchase one.
“What did you buy this time?” my husband asked when the large box arrived with a new professional-grade (but inexpensive) blow dryer.
(Since it would cost almost as much to purchase a defuser attachment as it would to buy an entire blow dryer with a defuser, I got the whole shibang. It made sense at the time. It cost dollars.)
Mo’ Time, Mo’ Money? Not So Much
The point is, I haven’t saved money or time, and I don’t particularly love my hair, although I do love not fighting with it. Going natural hasn’t released me from caring for my hair or my appearance. It isn’t the answer to what I’m seeking.
My daughter and I were chatting after church one Sunday, sharing our hearts. I mentioned I was working (hard) at this blog post. At one point, my daughter was talking about her need to stop seeking someone who would give her the answer she wanted to hear.
“That’s it! That’s exactly it!” I said. “We’re seeking fulfillment, satisfaction, something to meet our needs and wants. But what we need is less of us and more of Him. Jesus!”
(And from the pictures I’ve seen, I’m pretty sure he had naturally curly hair, too.)
OK. That’s not where I was going with this train of thought.
Basically, my pastor has been teaching the parables of Jesus, and they are ripping my heart from its comfort zone. Surprising, because these are old stories I’ve heard again and again — with messages I thought I’d mastered.
I’ll Give You the Dirt
One was the Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13:1-13) with its four soils. The short story is that the generous, rich sower throws seed everywhere. It lands on the path where the birds immediately eat it. It lands on rocky soil, and the seed quickly sprouts and quickly dies, as the soil is too shallow to support the deep roots necessary for growth.
The sower throws seed among thorns, and though the seed grows, the thorns do too, choking the growth of the plant. Finally, the sower throws seed on the good soil, where the seed grows and produces multiples upon multiples of itself.
Jesus explains what he means by the soils, and I know the thorny soil is too close to representing my own life.
“The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”Matthew 13:22, NIV
I don’t know if magical pants or well-behaved naturally curly hair could be listed among “the worries of this life” or, perhaps, online shopping to find those solutions is simply the epitome of “the deceitfulness of wealth,” but I can see how those two concerns alone sap my time and energy (and money) and thwart my wholehearted pursuit of God.
That’s just two things. I’m sure I could list many more.
What hurts more than these thorns that threaten to choke the life out of me, however, is the realization that I have been struggling with these thorns since I was a teenager.
Way back in 1983, God used Mark 4 — the parable of the Sower and the Seed — to draw me into a right relationship with him. Recognizing that I needed to put Jesus on the throne of my life and bow down in worship before him — daily — I made changes.
Yet a few (cough) years later, I still see myself as thorny soil.
What I notice, however, is this. The thorny soil is good soil. After all, the seed grows as it should. It’s just that the thorns grow alongside the plants and threaten to choke the plants’ growth and prevent them from producing fruit.
Too Close to Home
This summer, I spent a number of weekends pulling wandering Jew — an invasive species of weed — from an area of ferns in my yard. The weeds had overtaken the ferns and were choking them to death. By the time I finished removing the weeds, the fern patch was fairly desolate. Bare patches throughout made it easy to walk through the two- to three-foot-high ferns that survived.
But every couple of weeks after the major weed-out was complete, I’d make my way through the area, removing any trace of wandering Jew I found. And as I did, I saw new ferns sprouting, reclaiming their territory. Three months later, the ferns are lush and full.
I didn’t change the soil. I just got rid of the invasive weeds. Ruthlessly. Meticulously. Thoroughly. Now I revisit the area, wearing tall boots and carrying a big stick to lift the plants, looking under each fern to find even a single sprig of wandering Jew so that I can prevent an infestation from returning.
How can I do that in my own life?
If I am the thorny soil, as the parable might suggest, I am not the gardener, able to grasp thorny weeds and yank them away. Could I seek to make my soil better? Fertilize my soul with the Word of God, prayer, communion with other believers?
And request the Sower, the gardener, to pluck away these cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, these thorns that so distract me?
Maybe I’ll Become a Fast Woman
A few weeks ago, a missionary came to speak at church. He urged us to make a regular habit of fasting and rest.
Because if you fast, he said, you don’t have to worry about meal preparation (or grocery shopping or dish washing) — and so you have the time to rest.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”Isaiah 30:15 NLT
It might be worth not shopping to have a more time to rest.
It might be worth letting my hair go curly just to have more time to rest.
It might be worth fasting just to have a couple of extra hours to rest. (It might be worth fasting just to lose a couple of pounds, too!)
[You know what Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy… and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28; I might have left out a word.)]
Fewer Thorns, Less of Me
So I did return those items I’d purchased online to a brick and mortar store in the mall. Immediately after I made the return, I started to head into the women’s section. To shop. For nothing I needed except the happy sensation or numbing power of getting a good deal. Or purchasing hope.
I caught myself, turned around, and determined that I would take time to reflect and write instead.
Maybe I nipped that thorn in the bud, but I find so many others that threaten to choke me. For instance, I keep looking for snack foods that will allow me to stress eat without consuming too many calories or foods that cause inflammation. (I’m fairly certain I made it through college snacking on gummy bears and peanut M&Ms.)
Yesterday, I saw a colleague sipping something from a tumbler shaped suspiciously like a wine glass.
“Are you drinking wine?” I asked, not because I felt affronted that someone might be drinking wine at nine at work, mind you, but because I wouldn’t have minded a glass myself at that moment. (Plus “wine at nine” has a nice ring to it, even with an a.m. following it.)
It was that kind of day. A day when the thorns of life felt especially choking, where the cares of this world so turned my head toward them that my eyes failed to see Jesus. Where I might have shed a tear or wished I could punch someone in anger and frustration instead of taking it to the Lord in prayer.
John the Baptist said of Jesus to his own disciples, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:6).
I need less of me — fitting into my pants, fussing with my hair, finding no-fault snacks to get me through stress — and more of Jesus. I need less of my perspective and more of His. I need to embrace that “the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” I need more of Him.
The YouVersion Bible app‘s verse for today seems an appropriate, succinct way to conclude this post. Quite simply:
“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”Romans 8:6 ESV
Goodbye me. Hello more. Life and peace, here I come!