How often have you felt like you’re in an idling car in the midst of your own life? Your motor is running, but you’re stuck in Park. And your mind is in the driver’s seat, staring at an empty parking lot, having somehow forgotten how to shift the gear into Drive.
What’s keeping you?
Not long ago I felt that way. I was in a funk, feeling empty but antsy, like I desperately needed to do something productive and purposeful, but everything that came to my mind was too daunting, too impossible to complete. And the never-ending demands of housework and children seemed to stand in the way of anything personally fulfilling I could do. I pulled out a couple of books filled with inspirational quotes and spiritual writing, hoping a passage would motivate me.
No such luck.
But the recesses of my mind were unknowingly at work, calling up the source I craved. And out of nowhere, the thought: I remember carefully choosing the readings at my wedding, and now I can’t even remember them. What were they?
With a sudden sense of urgency, I dug up my wedding DVD. It’s been over ten years since our wedding, but I’ve never watched the video – ever.
I smiled at the first images of the clear blue sky and eager and expectant smiles, and I immediately felt the joy that was so rich on that day. I laughed when minor mishaps occurred – to include the reader not realizing he was supposed to read. But then, there he was, reading the words that I needed to hear over ten years later:
“Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, because it is now that God favors your works. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of the fleeting life that is granted to you under the sun. Anything you can turn your hand to, do with what power you have. Again, I saw under the sun that the race is not won by the swift, nor the battle by the valiant, nor a livelihood by the wise, nor the riches by the shrewd, nor favor by the experts; for a time of calamity comes to all alike.” – Ecclesiastes 9: 7, 9a, 10a, 11.
And here is where I realized what I’d been missing: my own get-up-and-do-it-ness. And what had been keeping me from shifting my gear into Drive? Perfection. The need for immediate perfection.
Let me explain.
I watched my wedding video while reclining on my rather crumply made bed, wearing sweatpants and a flannel shirt. Several haphazard piles of my kids’ folded, outgrown clothes glared at me from my dresser. We’re not going to put ourselves away, they sang wickedly. More dust than is acceptable lined the blades of the ceiling fan. My three-year-old daughter danced around the bed, occasionally blocking my view to strike a pose as if I were taking her picture. When she flopped next to me on her back, sticking her feet under my nose and demanding, “Say pee-yew, Mama! Stinky feet!”, I had to laugh at the utter reality of life, and at the comical juxtaposition of the chaotic scene in my bedroom and my wedding day.
Here I was, watching a day for which every detail had been carefully planned. Every minute had been finely choreographed. Every word had been purposefully spoken. And the day was glorious. But it wasn’t perfect. A cell phone rang during the service. A baby screamed. One of the unity candles was cracked nearly in half, teetering ominously next to the altar. And through what we later learned was a complete miscommunication, the reader didn’t know he was supposed to read. But the day was filled with joy and love and hope.
Sometimes we can’t shift our gear out of Park because we want to get to our destination without driving there. We focus on the outcome – the finish line, the victory,the accomplishment, the reward, the praise – and we’re held back because we’re too afraid (or lazy) to make mistakes on our way there. We make excuses. We resist the stumbles and the detours, the pauses and the restarts. We want the perfect ending swiftly, skillfully, and sometimes we want it handed to us.
But what would we gain by that? What would we learn? And like the reader who forgot to read and my daughter’s stinky feet, what would make us laugh?
My time “under the sun,” like yours, is limited. Time spent expecting perfection or making excuses is time wasted. No matter how perfect we try to make things, they will never be flawless. There will always be a crack, an omission, an interruption. So we can’t aim for perfection. More specifically, we can’t aim for the fulfillment of perfection. But we can aim for the fulfillment of doing.
In the doing, there is purpose. In the doing, there is reward. In the doing, there is the motivation, the inspiration, the drive that you are looking for.
And each one of us has the power to get up and do. And we should get up and do. Ecclesiastes might have added that although the “race is not won by the swift,” it is certainly lost by the idle. And if you consider the lines before it, you might see that, while the finish line is the same “calamity” for all of us, the winning is actually in the running, because it is there that you enjoy life “with a merry heart.”
Ecclesiastes’ words echoed in my heart for the rest of the day. And that funk melted away. Even though sometimes we think of it in the reverse, that funk is often a state of mind, not a state of circumstances. I wondered this to myself, and I ask anyone who is idling: