Sometimes, at the end of the day, the to-do lists are twice as long as when the day started. And it doesn’t help that our busy-busy-busy culture leaves us feeling less productive than we really are.
Often times, we compare ourselves to other people and, therefore, try to accomplish more. Other times, we give ourselves unrealistic expectations that no human being can live up to.
Too long to-do list, not enough hours in the day, lofty goals to accomplish, never-ending cleaning, monthly bills, committing to too many obligations, stretching the grocery money… It doesn’t matter the reason, at the end of the day most people feel frazzled and spent – but, conversely, they feel like they didn’t get anything done either.
Recently, I read a bit on “The Conversion Diary” by Jennifer Fulwiler. She was writing about The Secret to Not Being Overwhelmed. How can you not click on the link and read more?!
In her post, Jennifer was explaining how she wrote to a priest friend of hers asking a very interesting question:
“So I asked Fr. Langford: What did Mother Teresa do when it seemed that there was more work than she could possibly handle? His response was simple and wise, and it marked a turning point in my life. In his reply to my email, he wrote: The [work she could not get to] she did not think twice about, nor should you or I, since God is not asking you to do what He does not give you the time (or health, or resources) to do. So be at peace.”
Mother Teresa is such a good example to us on so many levels. I can only imagine if I was running the show in Mother Teresa’s place. I’d be constantly stressed about how many poor and suffering people we were NOT helping. I’d try to do too many things in one day, day after day, eventually getting burned out. I’d sacrifice prayer and my own needs because “there was too much to do”. The work would become more about “getting things done” then about love.
We can imitate Mother Teresa in our own lives no matter how different the two seem to be. We might not be doing anything remotely close to what she did, but we are still called to live out our own particular vocation in whatever form that may be.
Mother Teresa never sacrificed prayer time. She and her sisters spent countless hours in prayer before the Lord. It is evident by her actions that she knew the importance of first being filled with the love of God before you can share it with others.
I really appreciated that Jennifer shared those words because it has also given me a lot of peace. God is not expecting me to be super-human. He does not want me to do great things at the expense of my mental health. No, He is only asking me to do small things with great love.
This spiritual attitude reminded of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and one of his insightful, relevant analogies. He wrote multiple sermons on “The Song of Songs” a book in the Bible. One particular part has stuck with me since reading it in college.
He says: Be a reservoir, not a river. "If, then, you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir than a canal. For a canal spreads abroad water as it receives it, but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, and then communicates, without loss to itself, its superabundant water…"
In his correlation, St. Bernard writes about how one must first be filled, because you cannot give what you do not already have. He advises not to be like a river that is constantly outpouring. Instead, be like a reservoir that fills to the brim before it overflows. A river will run dry during droughts and dry-spells. A reservoir has resources to last through any trial.
St. Bernard writes:
“[Also] learn not to attempt to give forth except out of a full [heart and mind], nor to desire to be more liberal than God. Let the reservoir imitate its source, for that does not flow into a river, nor spread itself into a lake, until it is brimming over with its own waters.”
Don’t get caught up in the old English. His message is profound. Those words remind me that I must first take care of myself – not in a selfish, egotistical way – but in a practical way. In order to be a useful instrument in the hands of God, I have to first let myself be filled with His love. I can do nothing without His love.
The overflow of love within a soul is service. Service without love is imprisonment.
I will be a better person, friend, servant, and teacher, if I give myself permission to take care of my needs.
If I first give time to God in prayer and allow Him to fill me with His love, I will be able to do what He wants me to do. Then at the end of the day, I can be at peace because I know that God gave me the grace to do those things. And tomorrow, He’ll do the same.