How I do love to make myself useful. In fact, that instruction still rings gently in my ears from my mother, frustrated that I had too much time on my hands with nothing to do. “Go make yourself useful,” she’d say good-naturedly. And I would go and be about some other twaddling as a teen without a care in the world.
Mom could then continue her chores, unhampered by the reminder that other people had free time on their hands. Busy hands are happy hands, would have been her motto. She was happy in her doing. As I grew older, I learned to be happy in my doing, too.
But the best of our doing can catch us up in the whirlpool of planning, preparation and performance. It can demand such attention that we set much aside for later, but later doesn’t come for many items on the list. They scroll down, or in my case, they get copied to next week’s list, then the next and the next, until they fall off the radar, as I finally admit they won’t get done.
Oh, perhaps those ‘secondary’ things will wait for a while until we finish up a big project or tie up loose ends. But what if we don’t finish? What if we keep on waiting for a sign we should stop or a firm endpoint that never comes? What if we’re the type to plow on through?
No matter, we might say. We are doing important things that need doing. That’s enough.
But all things, even very important things, have a stopping point. It may not be a staying point, but it is always there for us to stop and look around. Where are we? Who are we? What are we doing here?
When we look around, are we satisfied with our surroundings? Have we been attending to what we should? Or, while we have been “making ourselves useful,” have we been neglecting things that would have been beneficial to another? Have we been missing opportunities to be more than useful?
And that’s the fallacy of being of use. People never tire of asking a busy person to do a little bit more. And busy people are prone to agree to it, because what’s one more thing? Except that thing takes the place of something we never saw, perhaps never even considered. It squeezed out the writing of that note that might have been such a blessing to my neighbor had I gotten to it in a timely fashion. Or it rushed me from saying that one phrase my child had been waiting to hear, or seeing that one glorious sunrise that was meant to inject joy into my day.
Yes, the lesson of stopping, even if you haven’t planned on staying, is the space it creates. It may last only a moment, or it may drag on all night, all week, all month, all year. What if we took that moment in our hands and really cuddled it close like our favorite pillow or a beloved stuffed teddy bear and offered it honestly…
“Lord, I thought this was what I was meant to do.
I just wanted to be useful.
But instead of useful, I feel frustrated and exhausted.
What do I have that anyone wants?
I know you want me. You love me.
I want to be of use to You.”
What if we allowed that moment to make space for Him to do more?
To make room for what He has planned for us?
What might we discover in that room?
The greatest testimony of all, beyond the life of our Lord, is our own life as we live it.
- We can castigate bullies, but if we are one, that means nothing.
- We can warn against the dangers of texting and driving, but if we do it, it means nothing.
- We can champion self-respect, but if we have none, it means nothing.
- We can caution against failing to set healthy boundaries, but it we fail to, it means nothing.
We, the wise, older set, who have lived life and have something to say, are resounding gongs and clanging symbols in the lives of those we love if we say one thing and do another. We become noise-makers, adding additional volume but no more meaning.
This, I believe, is why the biblical Paul so passionately begins his plea to the people of Corinth this way:
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
This precedes the beautiful “love chapter” of the Bible often read at weddings. Of the love that is patient and kind and doesn’t envy or boast. The love that’s not self-seeking, isn’t prideful or easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. That perfect love which never fails.
That’s the love we can never quite live up to but which sets an example to reach for in our lives with another, and with all others, including ourselves.
First, we have to let that love come alive and be real in us, before we try to pawn it off on someone else. Otherwise, our hypocrisy is telling, and they will probably waste no time telling us! When we say one thing, but do another, it’s our unloving that’s showing.
We have to start with love, both for ourselves and the other – not an easy task. It requires perspective beyond ourselves to set a right course for our intentions and priorities. When we invite an honest look at the lives we are leading, we can align our thoughts, words and actions with the love God intends.
When we start with love, what we say and do makes a whole lot more sense.