The naps come every day. Each day’s intermission from mothering brings a spring-loaded decision: how will I use this (precious, coveted) time? I prepare for battle, considering the options queuing up in a rush, bumping each other as they shuffle into preferential order: clean something, write something, read something, visit with someone, watch something, work on something. Most days only one can win, and unless I’m legitimately sick, the winner is some form of work.
I love to work, which has made the first year of staying home with a baby . . . how do I nicely phrase this? Hard. Convicting. Enlightening. Babies are a lot of work but frankly, not the kind I like (though I do love the kid). While everything in me rages to achieve and produce, uninhibited and at lightning speed, one (very nice) baby has been the slow, deep work that feels like lingering much of the time. And as I linger, the contents of my heart seem to simmer unchecked and anxiety bubbles up from my affections into my thoughts. Plop plop PLOP [insert screaming cat emoji]. Ugh. Anxiety. What are you doing here?
Each day’s naptime battle makes one thing clear: I have a really hard time resting alone. I am most comfortable when I am striving with something akin to mental sweat. Creating, cleaning, building, editing, arranging, organizing. These things bring me comfort. I am thankful that God made me a worker because work is good (Gen 1). But when there is not enough to create, clean, build, edit, arrange or organize, I become anxious. It’s as if I can’t stop pursuing these endeavors for fear of . . . well, for fear of . . . wait . . . what am I afraid of?
Fearing to Fail
The truth at the root of my naptime anxiety is that I’m afraid of failure. Not today, not now. But up ahead. If I read a novel and not that counseling book, I won’t be prepared when I get the counselee with cutting issues. If I watch a movie instead of working on that e-blast for our upcoming training, we may not get enough registrants. I feel a compulsion to work all the time because if I’m not drilling forward incessantly, I may not be prepared for tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities. I (or things I care about) might fail.
Gleaning by Faith
In craving the comforts of compulsive work I meet anxiety when I am unable to attain the desired intensity of toil. And you know what this tells me? That I think far, far more highly of myself (and my work) than I ought (Rom 12:3).
In Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, Andy Crouch connects the ability to engage in Sabbath rest to the biblical practice of gleaning. In gleaning, God prescribed that Jewish landowners not harvest their entire crop, but leave the outlying portions for the poor and landless to harvest themselves (Lev 19:9-10). He limited some from pursuing the full toil possible so there would be room for others to take part in the work and therefore, the fruits. This harvest law is a reflection of God’s work in the cosmos in which he allows us to participate in harvesting what he has sown through the work that he has laid out in advance for us to do on this earth (Eph 2:10). We are all gleaners. Consequently, we can rest by faith in the real, actual Sower.**
My work is not the axis along which the kingdom of God advances or falters. When I allow anxiety to rule my heart rather than resting by faith regarding my toil, I am believing that everything I want depends on me. When I view my work this way I am perceiving that I am the sower, not the mercy-fed gleaner.
The work of the Lord is his and in that truth, I can rest and work by faith.
Dorsey Swindall is a biblical counselor with One-Eighty Counseling and Education in Louisville, Kentucky. She and her husband have two children.
**Crouch Andy, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (pp. 251)