A friend of ours visited from Singapore last month, camping out in our guest room as we retold stories from our college days and snacked on New Year’s Eve charcuterie. He brought us a jigsaw puzzle as a gift, 1,000 pieces designed to form a map of the world.
“Here’s where we are now,” he pointed, all three of our kids leaning over the table to see. “Here’s where I live.”
Maps are magic, giving us long-range vision, new understanding, broader perspective. Boxed puzzles are magic, too, in part because they are never, ever necessary. It’s part of their whimsy and our delight.
Perhaps you, like me, live with most of your moments clearly dedicated toward one purpose or another. There’s work or school, raising kids and folding laundry, sorting the recyclables and shopping for groceries. We are supposed to floss, to exercise, to turn in our library books on time. It’s almost a sister’s birthday and a nephew’s soccer game and a big project deadline.
There is so much to do.
This past week our kids were sick–nothing serious, just non-Covid winter colds–but as soon as I saw the first runny nose I felt the hourglass sand of my week start to slip through my fingers. I do most of my ministry work while they’re in school. When they are home sick, everything needs to shift and compress. My writing projects went to the back burner. Working out got shelved.
I could do what I absolutely needed to do–dispense Tylenol and wipe noses and pour juice and play board games while they were awake, and pastor during naps and after bedtime and during hours stolen from Pixar or Netflix–but not much more. The kids were great. My job got done. But there was no extra time for anything else.
For many parents, this has been the story of the pandemic.
By Thursday, our oldest was healthy and back to class, but the two littles lingered home with me another day. I took them to a deserted park, hoping I could type a few emails in the shade of a tree while they ran laps around each other.
“Mommy,” called the youngest, positioning herself under a slide, “come to our restaurant!”
I took a deep breath. I really did need to send those emails.
I looked into my daughter’s eyes. I could send those emails during naptime.
“Do you have tacos?” I asked. She lit up.
“We have CUPCAKE tacos.”
“Well then, count me in!”
Last Friday I drove to a nearby beach with a new novel and sat, my toes in the sand, my heart racing. Friday is the day my husband and I–pastors both–take as our Sabbath. We’re off the ministry grid, untethered from our phones, desperate by then for a breather.
Ministry is a big lift. Pandemic ministry is another thing altogether. But the more ramped up I get during the course of a week, the harder it is to let myself fall into the grace of Sabbath. It feels so useless to sit still when there is so much work left undone.
For an hour, I sat with my book and listened to the waves and fought with myself.
Then I began to feel the weight of my own exhaustion. I was too tired even for the novel. I closed it and then my eyes. I breathed in and out. I asked for God to break through.
Then I opened my eyes, looked up, and saw a giant squadron of dozens of pelicans flying overhead.
There is much to be done. All we need to do is raise our eyes to our neighbors or turn on the news or look at the laundry baskets spilling out onto the floor to know there is much to be done.
But one of the most beautiful things about how God has created us to live and move in the world is that doing things we don’t have to do is one of the easiest ways to refill our cups.
Sitting at the beach. Eating at the cupcake taco restaurant. Reading the novel. Doing the jigsaw puzzle. Watching the birds. Smelling the flowers. Dancing to the music. Taking the Sabbath.
Each of these things–on its surface–may seem useless. We have nothing to show for the birdwatching but a lift in our soul. We have nothing to show for the Sabbath but invisible faithfulness. We have nothing permanent to hold after reading the novel.
Those cupcake tacos my kids served me tasted like sand. (Spoiler alert: they were mostly sand. Don’t worry, I didn’t actually eat them.)
Are you weary? Frazzled? Burned out? Exhausted?
Lay down your tools. Close the computer. Ignore the laundry.
Take a deep breath.
What delights call to you?
Consider this your permission slip to do something useless just for the joy of it.
Read more about doing useless things in Courtney’s new book Happy Now: Let Playfulness Lift Your Load and Renew Your Spirit (Tyndale House). Would you rather listen to an audiobook? It’s available on Audible, too, where Courtney will read it to you herself!