About a year after becoming a mother, I went to a meeting for young mums. As an ice-breaker, the leader asked us to answer the question, “What is the minimum you have to do in the morning before you will go out?”
As we went around the circle, I became more and more surprised by the wide variety of answers. Some mothers barely did more than get dressed before going out. While others wouldn’t venture out until they had put on a load of washing, mopped the kitchen floor and completed numerous other chores. I felt my own answer was quite adequate. I said, “washing the dishes and making the bed.”
However, I came away from the meeting thinking, who’s making up the rules here? Why did some mothers feel they had to do all these jobs first thing in the morning while others felt no such obligation? And who told me that I had to wash the dishes and make the bed before I could leave the house?
We put a lot of expectations on ourselves. They come from our culture, our upbringing and our own standards. Often, we have lived so long with the expectations that we have put on ourselves, that we don’t even question them. We even assume that others are living with the same expectations and it’s not until we listen to others that we discover they aren’t.
We may feel a sense of guilt that we aren't doing enough. Other people seem to get so much more done in a day. Some have a full-time job, cook home-made meals, have clean and tidy houses, well-behaved children and don’t even look tired. While others of us, feel tired just thinking about all that needs to be done. Some parents have a schedule for their children to make sure the physical and social needs of their children are met and would never pass on a birthday invitation. Whereas others are less worried and let their children make their own entertainment, but which is the better parenting style? Will a 6-year-old really be damaged if they miss a social engagement?
Some people clean their whole house in an hour, while others take all day. Some writers churn out a couple of books a year, while others take several years to write one. Some preachers write a sermon in an afternoon, others take a couple of days.
Spiritually, we may not feel like we are doing enough. Some people manage to read through the Bible every year, while others may not have read it once. Some may regularly get up early for extended prayer times, others may remember to pray before falling asleep. Some volunteer every time the church door is open, others may come irregularly on Sundays. But can we measure spirituality by activity?
The time given to these activities is often determined by our situation in life. Whether we have demands on our time from children, parents or special needs people in our lives. Whether we have to begin the day dealing with a series of health issues or whether we bound out of bed with lots of energy. We can’t assume people are less spiritually mature because they don’t fulfil a quota of external requirements. Spirituality isn’t measured by what we do.
The God perspective
Long ago, God told Samuel, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel chapter 16 verse 7).
God has always been more interested in our attitude than our activities. He is more interested in our motives than our accomplishments. So we don’t need to work to impress God, others, or even ourselves. We don’t need to compare ourself or copy other people’s experiences. God made us unique and wants a unique relationship with each one of us. It isn’t God’s intention to burden us with a list of things to do, but rather he wants us to live from a place of peace and joy.
So I no longer try to work out if I’ve prayed enough, read the Bible enough or achieved enough in a day. The Christian life isn’t about counting, measuring or evaluating. It is about a relationship where I know I am loved and accepted. I can relax in the love and grace of God.
And these days I may even go out without doing the dishes or making my bed.
Susan Barnes has been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty years with her husband, Ross. They are now semi-retired and enjoy supporting a number of churches in north-east Victoria. You can find more of Susan’s articles at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/susan-barnes.html