Take a Minute

I’m officially overloaded with work obligations and writing tasks.  As I sit at my computer, I become annoyed by my cat, Louie Von Whiskers, who knows the exact moment when I start to type on my keyboard.

This crazy cat believes that my computer work signals his need to nap across the keyboard.  I push him down onto the carpet, and he jumps right back on top of the computer–audacious, insistent, and. . . adorable.

“OK, you kitty,” I say.  I take him in my arms, and he immediately curls up into a soft ball.  Purring loudly, he stays put, and when I try to lean over to type, he actually puts a paw on my arm to restrain me.  So I’m stuck here, holding this ball of fur. 

I do have one hand free.  Can I type with this one hand?  Not really.  But I can reach for my hot cup of tea that I’d forgotten I’d made. 

Here I sit, cup of tea in one hand, purring cat on my lap.  I think God gave me this cat to make me take a minute–a non-productive minute–to do nothing at all. 

I find myself so refreshed that I have to wonder what other non-productive minutes I might take today.  More tea?  More snuggling with animals?  What if I listened to a new song or gazed out the back window?

It can’t all be work in 2011.  Imagine a cat sleeps on your lap and you can’t move at all.  You have no choice but to lean back, drink your tea, and enjoy yourself for a minute. 

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Am I Willing?

Driving through central Pennsylvania, I gaze with wonder at the work of Amish families on their farms.  Through the warmth and convenience of my car, equipped with music and movies, I watch the dance of their laundry on lines between trees; the long pants kick up in the wind, and the crisp white shirts wave as we pass.

A farmer works his field by hand, tilling the soil with pleasure.  Barn cats leap up around a little girl’s feet as she pushes her wheelbarrow through the family’s garden.  A mother collects sticks for her fire.  We have to slow our pace to give a horse and buggy room on the road. 

How inconvenient this all is.  How strange this work. 

As I think about the labor of living in my own very convenient and very comfortable life, I’m suddenly aware of my stubborn heart.  I want ease and comfort.  I want the smoothest way out of work.  But when I look back at my happiest days, the ones full of joy and peace, I realize those were days when I surrendered to the work.

I had a willing spirit.  I submitted to tasks, to people, and to my circumstances with joy.  I got up and worked the way a farmer works a field and wipes a brow.  I worked the kind of work that makes you so hungry you eat with a different pleasure and so tired you relish sleep like it’s a precious gift. 

Will my children know this kind of work in my culture?  

The convenient and the comfortable, the lazy and the entertained life, may seem like pleasure, but it doesn’t satisfy the way work does. 

Lord, give me a willing spirit to do this work.  Let me labor hard and enjoy the tasks before me.  Living with flair means I sweat and wipe my brow.  I meet the tasks assigned with pleasure.  

I want to be willing for my whole life.  As the psalmist writes, “Lord grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.”

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A Tool to Measure Success

Somebody asked me recently what my professional goals are.

I used to be incredibly ambitious.  Now, not so much.  Part of the reason is that, as I age, I realize the things I was ambitious for–money, prestige, fame–don’t retain the same shimmer after too long.   The problem with ambition is that it keeps my focus on some future manifestation. 

I will know I am successful when. . . 

I ask myself, and my students, to find a career that they love so much they’d do it for free.   Today I will add:  love it so much you’d do it for free and for absolutely no recognition. You love it so much you could do it. . . anonymously.  You’ll measure success, in this case, by a completely different standard. 

Imagine! 

It’s hard to talk about these things when we need to earn a good living.  We need to pay the bills, provide for our children, and stock the refrigerator.   We often don’t have the luxury of thinking about the larger questions about our work when we have to pay the electric bill today.  But sometimes it’s good to ask ourselves what motivates us to try so hard all the time.  Beyond the paycheck, what are we really doing? 

With money and prestige out of the picture, what would motivate someone to succeed in a particular line of work?  And how in the world would they define success?    As I think about living with flair, and in particular, working with flair, I wonder what to be ambitious for.  Is it to serve others well, to advance knowledge in my particular field, to love every coworker, to build community in that workplace, to think about a mission to create beauty, order, or healing somewhere?  Is it to fight for injustice or to awaken spirituality?  Is it to provide for my family?  It is to work with excellence, to the best of my ability?  Or is it because I must do it because of a calling–because I’m made to do it–regardless of how my gifts are received or if they do anything?

These things are good and right. 

Another friend asked me what the goal of my blogging adventures are.  A book?  For the first time in a long time, I was able to say that the goal was just to write, everyday, and record special moments that made the day great.  The project is its own reward.   I’m ambitious for living intentionally enough to find joy in the common thing.

When I measure success by a different tool, I’m suddenly free to do what I’m supposed to do–what I’m made to do–and not imprisoned by any other standard.

Living with flair means being ambitious for the right things– for the sorts of things that can’t be measured by dollar signs or followers.

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