I am not always great at moving slowly.
When my to-do list goes from manageable to overwhelming, I feel pressure to pick up my already-brisk pace. I go from easy-going to hurricane in a blink of an eye, darting from laundry to email to school supply lists.
I am desperate to reclaim a sense of balance, but in the process I find myself slipping out of a connection with God, the present moment and those around me.
In these moments, my inconsequential but daily crosses stay in the realm of the temporal. I forget that God is there with me as I carry even the smallest of burdens. That he pours forth the grace and strength for me to carry them, just as he did for his own son. And that if he is extending that grace, the least I can do is accept it.
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Despite this, my prayers in these moments of being overwhelmed become ones of greater capacity and higher speeds instead of calm. “Let me rise to this challenge, Lord,” I pray. A prayer of retreat into God’s peace feels out of reach, almost nonsensical.
Occasionally, as if to purposely reveal the error of my ways, God sends me more disruptive crosses. These are not the kind of burdens that fall on to-do lists but rather are life-altering, bring-you-to-your-knees and drop-everything sort of curveballs.
My response to these is, oddly, completely different: I pause. I move slowly. Most importantly, I turn to God. And there, I am still.
Just over a year ago, this response was tested in real time. Weeks into the pandemic, my grandmother fell and injured her back. At age 95, the fall left her unable to walk or even move without significant pain.
Unable to find immediate aid, my family mobilized to my grandmother’s side. To help, I changed my schedule to spend a day caring for Grandma, to help to carry this disruptive cross.
I was happy to do it. My reservoir of patience felt deeper, and I felt more joyful than when I carry out my everyday responsibilities. Though the work was manual and exhausting, practically carrying my grandmother to and from the bathroom, into bed, and dressing and feeding her, I didn’t even consider the other tasks that awaited me at home.
I was fully present, ready to serve and, not surprisingly, more in touch with my grandmother’s suffering. The burden of her care, objectively heavier than my own to-do list, was somehow easier to carry. I rested in an inner stillness, and all, surprisingly, felt well.
Recently, I contrasted this experience to caring for my 3-year-old. The daily tasks, after all, are quite similar: mealtime, dressing, bathroom trips and bedtime. Just as with my grandmother, caring for my son requires rigorous and physical effort, in addition to tender, emotional accompaniment.
One difference, however, stands out. Caring for Grandma was out of the ordinary. There was a bit of shock and mourning at her initial fall and loss of mobility, as well as a deep sense of urgency. And above all, I could clearly hear God’s voice amid it all. “Go, serve,” he said. The need was apparent and the appropriate response was clear. I felt I had the permission to put everything else aside and focus on this one important job. This clarity was almost a luxury.
Caring for my son, however, is a daily thing. It’s routine. Fortunately, there is no mourning or grief (other than that which comes from repeating myself 17 times). But it also happens at the speed of a bullet train, with the demands of writing and research, managing a household and caring for his infant sister all swirling in the background. This means that there is no one single, clear and immediate priority for my attention or energy.
The swirl feels all-consuming and yet far from earth-shattering. I think for these reasons, my mundane daily crosses feel light-years away from God. I should be able to manage them without leaning on him, I reason. These crosses can’t possibly fall into the realm of God’s domain. And so I tell myself to press on, on my own.
A startling realization woke me from this chaos. I found myself often longing for those disruptive moments, where I could just focus on one thing. This is why — no joke — I love labor and childbirth so much. When I am bringing a human into this world, there is no room or time to be thinking about anything else. In that moment, all I have to do is one, hugely important thing. I give myself the permission to focus. I revel in that feeling.
Yet I know I do not need the heavy burdens to tap into God’s grace and to move more slowly. Waiting for the disruptions is ridiculous and a privilege. So many in this world carry heavy crosses that they wish they could put down. I do not need a crisis to find clarity and stillness of heart.
As an experiment in carrying my daily crosses like they’re disruptive ones, I try to see not how much I can do but how little. I push off whatever isn’t necessary until the next day. I practice letting the crosses I do pick up expand into time and space. I pause to feel their weight, rather than rushing off to the next one.
This most recently played out during my move into our new home. Amid the boxes and to-do’s, I resisted the urge to move quickly. Instead, I picked one thing from my swollen list that I felt called to do each day, remembering that God comes to me through the tuggings of my heart.
I pictured him asking me to shoulder that one particular responsibility — unpacking my kitchen, for example — and it gave me all the permission I needed to spend an hour focused there. I wasn’t unpacking and shopping for furniture online and doing laundry and checking email and listening to a podcast through it all. I was just silently unpacking, much like I cared for my grandmother, step by step.
This approach seems counterintuitive at first. Why make a daily task even larger than it is? The answer is simple. I am too quick to downplay the responsibilities that I do shoulder. By downplaying, by literally pushing them down, I am unable to lift them up and bring them to God.
Amid the move, I tried to connect each seemingly small task to something bigger: unpacking the kitchen, for instance, became about breaking bread and exchanging laughs with friends and family. This connection elevated the task from the temporal to the spiritual. I was doing good, meaningful work. And as a result, I felt better able to accept God’s abundant grace and focus on what was at hand.
After all, I know that God cares about it all, whether it’s a small burden or a large one, email or emergency room.