Heather Caliri is a beautiful writer, and I think her One Small Change post came at the perfect time. In the midst of a week when so many of us have been sorting through our “on-fire” pasts, remembering the feelings of never being quite good enough…never quite passionate enough for God, Heather offers words of grace. I hope you love this post as much as I do.
I have saved the world many times. Or—at least—I have tried.
I switched to organic vegetables, I subscribed to a CSA. I tried being vegetarian for a week–and ate a double bacon cheeseburger on day seven. I made all my Christmas gifts one year. I have volunteered for hospice and signed up for high school ministry. I have grown my own tomatoes. I have built houses in Mexico and considered going on staff with a Christian organization and inquired about volunteering in a slum and sent letters and pictures to a sponsored child. I have wrapped glass bottles in cardboard boxes; I have gone without a car. I have used cloth diapers, and even dried them on the line.
You can expend a lot of effort—and feel like you’re make very little difference—this way. You can search for the perfect cause and always come away feeling empty. You might start to avoid the news headlines because they expose your helplessness every morning.
I have tried to do more many times. Believe me, I admire those who seem to do more effectively.
But lately, I have been trying a different approach.
I am trying to keep still.
I am trying to do one less thing.
It isn’t easy. My children long to do sundry lessons during the week; there’s a playgroup we could commit to on Mondays. I could join a Bible Study or go back to volunteering with hospice. There’s a book club and my husband’s soccer league, and going to church each week. There’s school, and writing, and supporting our family business. There’s making all our clothes and food from scratch to avoid supporting the Corporate Behemoth. There are all those causes I know I should be helping.
None of these things are bad. Surely the activities in your life are worthwhile, too.
But at the end of all that doing, when we meet a new friend, I will have to tell them that three Thursdays from now, we’re available from 6:30 to 8:15, as long as there’s no traffic.
The world keeps telling me there’s no way to contribute unless I’m frantic with effort. That there are so many issues to worry about; so many worthy causes. The truth is, I want to do something, dammit.
Until I sit with a new friend at coffee—the coffee I almost told her I was too busy for—and hear her say how she has spent years feeling that no one had time to be friends.
Until I find that being available at the last minute means I am able to help a friend going through a family crisis or to pinch-hit childcare for a newly single mom, or to say hello to the homeless woman we see at the library every week.
A while ago, I heard about a study that gripped me. Researchers had forty seminarians fill out a religious questionnaire, then told them they needed to go across the campus where they were to give a talk. Some of them were asked to speak about the Good Samaritan. Some of them were told they were late.
On the way to the talk, each of them passed a huddled figure who cried out in pain.
Those who were in a hurry were much more likely to pass the person in need without helping.
It helped me sympathize with the Levite and the priest on that Jericho road. How many times have I passed a person holding a cardboard sign on an off-ramp because I’m rushing? How many times have I missed the chance to help a friend because I’m not available?
Let me be clear: I don’t think being still can happen if we’re feeling crappy about the life we’re really leading right now: overfull or half-empty, busy or languorous, working for justice or just dreaming of it.
No: stillness is staying put, right where we are, and choosing to notice where we are, and who is around us. Still is choosing to not do, in order to be available.
Now that I’m slowing down, putting my effort into stillness, I’m much more aware of how I could be helpful. I’m paying attention to people, instead of issues. I have more time to think. To pray, before I get carried away with some new scheme. To develop a relationship, to gain trust, to have energy for the long haul.
In the lack of effort, in the time and emptiness I was working so hard to fill before, I am trying to breathe. I am trying to remember Who it is that heals, changes things, and makes all things new.
One moment of stillness a day. Or one less thing a week. One less ongoing commitment. One more hour I consent to feeling bored, or helpless, or—with practice—expectant. One more moment to be whole, just as I am. One more chance to hear my phone ring and be present, now, with someone in need.
Heather Caliri is a writer and mom from San Diego. Two years ago, she started saying little yeses to faith, art and life. The results were life-changing. Get her free e-book, Dancing Back to Jesus: Post-pefectionist Faith in Five Easy Verbs (http://www.heathercaliri.com/free-e-book/) on her blog, A Little Yes (http://www.heathercaliri.com).