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Feeling Complete

Janine draws on practical examples and passages from the Word to illustrate her quest for peacefulness. She paints an all-to-familiar picture of the obsessive energy of trying to get everything right before the peace and enjoyment in life can be experienced. Is she trying too hard? Is she not trying hard enough? Janine asks herself, she asks the Lord in His Word and the reader is challenged to look at the same questions.

These days I have a thought lodged in the back of my head that goes like this: “Have I experienced this (fill-in-the-blank) enough to feel totally satisfied?” Or maybe it sounds like: “Have my needs been met enough for me to move on from this and meet other people's needs now?” Let me fill this in with some examples. I am out for a walk and I have a fear that if I don't walk long enough I will feel a little cheated of personal time, so as I walk I think, “Is this far enough yet so that I can let it go? Did I get all the exercise I need so I can move on to something else?” In another example, I am eating a meal and I don't want to stop until I feel totally satisfied. I don't want to overeat either, but I just don't want to leave the table at all hungry, because if I do, my mind will be half distracted by feeling hungry instead of having a feeling of completion about the meal and a willingness to move onto the next thing. Getting dressed in the morning, I like to pick the outfit that I really feel good in on that particular day. If I don't get it right, I feel a little out of place in my clothing and my body for the day, so it seems important to take the time to get it right and try things on until I feel comfortable.

The safety cards on airplanes say that if you are traveling with a dependent and there is a crisis situation where you need to put oxygen masks on, you must secure your own mask first before attending to the dependent one traveling with you. It's a simple and logical principle that if your basic needs are not taken care of to a certain extent, you will not have the capability to care for another human being. A certain amount of time and energy must be put into self-care so that we are healthy enough physically, mentally, and emotionally to be able to be of service to others.

But what keeps coming up for me is how much care, time, and attention do I really need? And if I don't get these things met, will I be operating from a compromised place? Will I imperceptibly be building up stress and resentment and letting it go unnoticed until finally I explode or break down or get over-emotional or irrational or maybe even something worse? And don't think these questions are ridiculous either. It seems like a pretty common occurrence to find myself in a place of stress that, at first, mystifies me. However, when I set my mind to thinking up all the little things that may have been out of balance, I can drum up a hefty list to make an explanation for my eventual collapse. Which element or elements of unmet needs tips the balance into some kind of eventual collapse? Is there a line dividing “before-the-breaking-point” and “after-the-breaking-point”? But don't get me wrong, much of the reason I want to make sure my needs are attended to is so that I can take care of my son and be a good wife and friend to my husband, and a good member of society. I just feel like I need to be prepared before I can really do it right and feel stable and grounded while serving them.

The result is an obsessive feeling to get my needs met perfectly and find that sweet number of miles walked and books read so that I can feel full and cared for, light and free. This is a pretty heavy thing to live by.

What really would happen if I let go of this fear of not getting all my needs met perfectly and fully every time, every hour of the day? Is it really a requirement of every day that I feel fulfilled enough in something so that I can serve someone else? What if I took the plunge and totally put the needs of my son and my husband above mine, gave up worry about when my needs would get met, and just lived and waited until the Lord handed me opportunities to do my stuff? What if I went on a walk of any length or no particular length, and had no thought about whether it was long enough? What really would happen if I gave up this calculating? If I didn't ensure that my needs were being met would my fears of being controlled by internal angst and resentment be realized?

If you are thinking, “Wow, it must be really stressful to live inside her head with that much obsessive perfectionism,” I am thinking “Yeah, I agree.” If you are thinking, “Huh, I relate to what you are saying, I have a similar fear of not getting things right and of obsessing over the consequences of my actions in the present,” then I say, “Too bad you are right there with me, but please read on!” And if you are thinking, “Hum, she sounds slightly O.C.D. Does she need some help with that?” Then I say, “Bah! Read on anyway!”

As I reflect on this fear that I am trying to define and turn to the Word for some answers, it occurs to me that what is going on has a really simple solution. Embarrassingly simple actually. If only I can get out of the circles I am running in long enough to gain a little perspective, it becomes clear that I need not hold onto any of this angst.

When my head is running circles calculating what I want and how I can get it, and evaluating if I did, in fact, get what I set out to get, then I am caught in the natural plane of life. It is a fine place to be, it is not a bad place to be, but it is not what I want from life. The Lord leaves me in total freedom to be in this state and to stay in this state, but He knows and I know—when my head is screwed on straight— that it is not deeply and eternally satisfying. So what is the simple solution?

When the Lord tells the parable of Martha and Mary, He is talking about the next level—the Spiritual Level. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). Martha chose to run around serving and Mary chose to instead listen to the Lord and sit at His feet. By choosing to do these things, she was focusing on understanding what the Lord was saying, and taking the time to be truly present with the Lord. And this prioritization the Lord condoned as superior. She was willing to stop and sit at the Lords feet; to appeal to Him for wisdom and guidance instead of rushing and bustling about to fulfill relatively unimportant tasks. Likewise, I hear the Lord telling me that I need to stop and sit at His feet and listen to His wisdom before I plunge into meeting more superficial demands that feel so important and crucial to my happiness and my family's happiness. I guess what I am saying is that when my priorities are in line with the Lord's order, everything else just falls into place. And then the particulars of how I will get things done, how much I will be able to accomplish, and whether or not it feels satisfying enough to energize and fulfill me, become background noise as I plunge into the Lord's plan and find a deeper satisfaction in following His map. Sometimes this requires changing my goals, and sometimes He allows my goals to be totally fulfilled, but not always following the same route I mapped out.

While reading the New Testament in the last few weeks I came across an abundance of passages that tie in beautifully to this subject.

Luke 9:25 says, “For what advantage is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?” The way I read this verse, the Lord is not saying that I can't focus on gaining the world and getting natural circumstances “right.” I'm totally allowed to stress over this and work hard and harder to get it constantly in perfect balance. But it will not be of advantage to me in the end. And maybe it is valid and justifiable to think of myself first, but what will I get if I do? Apparently not a spiritual reward. This is what I actually want: a spiritually fulfilling life, not just a naturally fulfilling one.

In John 6:27 He says, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life....” I see this as a clear message to always have a spiritual end in mind. The natural world is not lasting and we must look past it to higher things if we want a truly happy and blessed life. He even tells us specifically how to labor for the food which endures.

In Luke 10:25-28, a lawyer asks,

“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
When I am wondering how to make decisions about how to live each day and where to put my energy and attention, this passage helps to clarify a few things. Unless I am loving the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and my neighbor as myself, I don't think I will get much satisfaction out of anything I am doing. But if I work on these first, then I will have life. I will feel alive. I will feel fulfilled. I will feel blessed and FULL. All my needs will be met. This doesn't necessarily mean that my to-do list will be completely ticked off. Rather, the list's importance will decrease as I prioritize what is really important; I will see the To-Do's in a new light and hold them more lightly, and I will be grateful for whatever does get done or not get done, because I will trust that the Lord used my time perfectly. This sounds much better and much less stressful to me.

In Mark the Lord says to the Pharisees and scribes,

“This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” And He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.” (7:6-9)
It is uncomfortable how literally this applies to me. He has identified something I struggle with putting aside every day: the DISHES. Sometimes it feels as if nothing else matters more than getting the dishes done. Not my child's emotional well being, not honoring my commitment to being on time for an appointment, not stopping to give my husband some attention. How many times in a week do I pass up an opportunity to honor the commandment of God, loving the Lord and loving my neighbor, for the sake of washing the dishes?  

I like the message I heard from the “feeding the multitude” story. Luke 9:12-13 says,

When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.” But He said to them, “You give them something to eat.”
To me, it seems as though the twelve were wisely looking out for the natural needs of the people around them. They weren't just thinking about themselves either. They were requesting that the Lord send the people away so the people could take care of their own natural needs. And the Lord's response was, “You give them something to eat.” You take care of these people. You put service first. You fulfill these people's needs. Even though you do not have a plan of how to feed them, you take the first step in caring for them, and then the Lord will step in and make sure all the needs are met and all is provided for. You stop trying to micromanage needs and start doing direct service. Dig deeper and focus on the loving action just like Mary did. Don't fall into the Martha self-righteousness attitude of prioritizing your natural agenda instead of the Lord's spiritual agenda.&

My quandary about how much time is valid to invest in myself so that I can better care for others and do my duties seems as if it can be resolved through a perspective shift. I think the Lord wants me to move away from the particulars of how much time, how much energy, and how much effort to devote to my agenda and my self-care, and instead look at a wider picture of why I want to accomplish these things. I can ask myself what the spiritual end-in-view is, and if it TRULY is spiritual, I think that I will be able to let go of the particulars of what gets done. I think the Lord will rid me of my obsessive feelings to get things “right” and “perfect” on the natural plane. I think that however many miles I walk can feel like good exercise, like whatever amount of food I eat can be the perfect amount, and whatever outfit I wear can bring out the beauty that is within. I laugh that it seems like on the days I put the least effort into my appearance, it is those days my husband tells me I look beautiful. That confirms to me that beauty does come from within, that it is my inward being shining out—my attitude and outlook on life—that gives me energy and helps me find true fulfillment.

Janine Smith

For my job I take care of a 2 1/2 year old boy. It is fun and challenging but it feels like real life and that is always good even when it is hard. I really like to run and do yoga and creative projects when I have time. And I love to cook. I also like to try to simplify my life and find ways to make life feel peaceful instead of stressful. Life is good.

Reader Comments (4)

Thanks, Janine. This was very helpful to me.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThane

I feel spiritually well-fed after reading this. Thank you so much!

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChelsea

Hi Janine,

I can completely relate to what you're saying. I'm doing the "Rise Above It" program and week one was focusing on false gods. I realized that recently (I don't know how long it's been going on) I've tended to make getting exactly the right amount of time for myself into a false god. I think it comes from a fear of becoming a workaholic, but I've gone too far the other direction, to the point where I get annoyed if my free time is impinged on - even if I know I could get by on less time to recharge than I have.

April 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterColeman


I enjoyed this. Thank you. I happen to be in a particularly busy time at the moment and I've found that if I don't take care of myself in a really disciplined way I fall apart. I find it interesting that I'm taking better care of myself now when I absolutely have to because the consequences are too great if I get sick or fall down emotionally. It's like when one parent is sick the other parent knows it's not okay to be sick and manages to last until the sick one is on the mend. We seem to have that use-based care mechanism (at least sometimes).

What has struck me this week while my wife was quite sick, was how my self care was helpful to the extent that I was not anxious about it. I had one bad day -- on my day off, ironically, when I should have been much more relaxed. It was bad because I got worried about something more than I should and then I got worried about my not taking care of myself, and so it went. So for me it goes back to the attitude with which I hold the time I take for myself (like you said). "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you." If I have time for myself in a way that invites the Lord in I will enjoy it to the fullest and I will be most ready to serve when I'm called on to do so. That's what you brought up for me. Thanks.

April 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErik
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