Friday, January 25, 2013

A Time Management Perspective for Marthas

Being a classic Martha myself, I'm fascinated by time-management techniques used by successful people. These are the folks who accomplish so much it makes me dizzy. People who approach each day with purpose. Good stewards of their time.

I never see these people curl up into a fetal position when faced with multiple goals and challenges or wave their fists at the sky when something unexpected pops up. (Now you know my secret. How embarrassing.)

At one time, I hoped to write an article on time management techniques, and I interviewed a retired businessman, a military man, and a busy housewife and mother, all the while hoping to find the perfect organizational tool. They brought to light many practical suggestions about the use of lists and goal-planning--have a separate errand list, keep a calendar on the refrigerator, don't add to the list until something is crossed off--but it wasn't until I overheard a chance comment at Bible Study that I thought I might have found my mentor.

"If I don't get something done, I don't worry about it."

What peace! What bravery! What insanity!! I wanted to know this woman's secret (I'll call her Mary), so I immediately scheduled an interview.

Many of her suggestions were similar to what I'd used before. But then things got weird.

"How many goals do you set for the day?"


One? One??? The military man limited himself to five, and I thought that was a daunting challenge. But Mary didn't stop there.

I don't plan my menus in advance. I take it one day at a time to allow for cravings--mine or another family member's. 

I usually load up on sale items and then try to force them into an often unpalatable menu. I have buy-one-get-one-free kale rotting in my refrigerator because I don't know what to do with it. (But buy-one-get-one-free deals are too good to pass up, right? Right?)

The interview almost came to an end when  I caught Mary in a possible falsehood.   Instead of answering every call for help from volunteer committees and then grumbling later, Mary realizes that her family is her ministry! They come first.

I threw down my pen and cried out, "What gives? You're messing with me, right? I know you get a zillion things done. You have a family. You have work. You have school. You have extracurricular activities. And you're not walking around like a zombie. You're happy!"

And then came her super-duper secret. Are you ready?


How could God be happy with my fragmented day filled with half-started projects and too many to-do items?

She advised me that interruptions can be His way of giving us a break, or taking us someplace else He needs us to be.

Pause and think about that one.  Then think about it again. I'm sure you didn't get it the first time. I know I didn't.

So, when I'm inflicted by 21st Century ADD--squirrel--that thing that caught my attention, that person who phoned while I'm writing this blog, that last minute errand I suddenly remembered right after I put the laundry in could all be part of God's plan?

Could my failures, my incompletes, and my frustrations be His way of teaching me humility, perseverance, or patience? You mean there's VALUE in not being perfect???

Jesus told Martha that paying attention to Him was more important than making sure the linen napkins were ironed. (My paraphrase.)

I might have a literal fit if I try to limit myself to one goal per day, at least at first, but by being present, I can do ONE thing at a time so that my mind is exactly where it needs to be when He has something He wants done.

Because God's to-do list is the only one that matters. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Authentic Prayer: The Good, Bad and Ugly

When I first returned to the Catholic Church, I hadn't prayed in a very long time. My conversations with God were limited to quick please for help in dire situations--when I wasn't busy trying to handle them myself.

I'd been through the gambit, from simply lazy to outright defiance. I made comments like, "When you look up to God, all I see is the ceiling."  Very clever. It's a wonder my guardian angel didn't give me a swift kick in the rear.

I even tried the ol' pantheism route via Star Wars, because it's always a good idea to base your concept of God on a science fiction film.

So when I finally wised up and understood that God wanted a relationship with me, even with all my faults and past insults, prayer became an integral part of my day. But how exactly does one pray?  The Catholic Church has many beautiful prayers for thanksgiving, petition, and many other situations, and these are all good, but the real meat comes from actual conversations. After all, you wouldn't limit your daily exchanges with your spouse to recitals from a book of poems, would you?

At first, I sounded like an excerpt from The Ten Commandments. 

Oh God, Who gives me everything, all praise belongs to thee. Or is it thou? Very stilted, and while it expresses the right sentiments, the delivery isn't natural.

It wasn't until I was extremely frustrated and cried out something along the lines of, "What the hell? This isn't fair! And it sucks, too!" that I stumbled upon authentic prayer.

God wants us as we are. It's not as if we're going to hide anything from Him. Selfish? He already knows. Whiny? Not a surprise. Lazy? He's on to it. This is freedom at it's best.  He loves us just as we are. We don't need to be "in the right mood", nor do we need to watch our phrasing. It's not like a visit to your in-laws.

Next time I'll let you in on another exciting secret I discovered: Prayer is a two-way street!

Do you go to God angry? Sad? Frustrated? Or do you save your prayers up until you're "fit for company?"

Friday, January 11, 2013

How Long Did Jesus Have to Wait for Couscous?

Imagine the scene. Jesus has had a long day preaching the Word of God and curing the sick in the hot sun. The Lord is dusty, tired, and completely famished. Fortunately,  He's been invited for dinner at Martha's house, where he can rest and take nourishment. He's looking forward to it.

"Just a minute, Lord. I'm not happy with the consistency of the last batch of couscous. I've thrown out the pot and I'm starting over."

"No need, Martha. I'm sure it's fine." (Big eye roll. Besides being fully God, He was fully man.)

"Too late. Oh, and I need some parsley so I can plate it perfectly. There's some in the next valley. I'll be back in a couple of hours. Just hang in there. There's a few grapes on the table you can munch on if you're hungry."

Jesus might have been tempted to perform a lesser known miracle--the multiplication of the grapes and the changing of last night's bread crusts into a full meal.

Perfectionism is a burden, not just to those of us who labor under the delusion that we'll actually attain it but to the loved ones we subject to our unhealthy preoccupation. How often have we turned a simple task into a complex project worthy of NASA? How much more could we accomplish if we did a decent job and moved on to the next task?

Here's a perfect example. (No humor intended.) The hubby wanted a soft case for his iPhone so he could toss it in his backpack and not worry about scratches. After selecting a fabric, I decided bias tape would make the edges perfect. This is a product I haven't used since high school. I would hand-sew this baby, because hand-sewn looks nicer. And I'd use embroidery floss for extra strength.

The embroidery needle kept sticking in the fabric. It was difficult to catch both sides of the tape along the edges of the quilted fabric. Hubby kept asking, "Will it be done by Friday???"  I finally ditched the tape, pulled out my sewing machine, and whipped the case together. I couldn't have gotten good money for the results, but Hubby was delighted. It took 10 minutes to make two.

I'm not encouraging anyone to do a half-baked job, but there's a distinct difference between "I couldn't care less" and "Will I get a prize for the results?" The latter approach holds us back and annoys those nearest and dearest.

Here are some perfection-challenged situations I regularly run into:

* Late fees from bills because I want to get the perfect system in place for paying bills on time.  (Yes. I see the irony.)
* Last minute fast-food dinners because I couldn't come up with a new, exciting recipe using the ingredients on hand.
* Empty blog-free stretches because I have to A. Work out the perfect schedule B. Get it into a shiny new calendar, which I will lose because I have too many calendars C. Come up with a topic no one's ever conceived  let alone attempted to write about.

And you can see how my inaction carries over to loved ones. Late fees cost the entire family money. Hubby is subjected to those bad dinners. People who might enjoy the blogs get cricket chirps instead.

Do you have a problem with perfection? Is there something you've been meaning to do but you're afraid the results won't meet Martha Stewart standards?  Ask Jesus to help you let go of your expectations. Take a shot at just getting it done. How do you feel? Relief? Like you've won an all expense paid vacation to Normal Land?

And if you're still super worried about offering Jesus anything but perfection, consider this story. A man wanted to offer a king a gift, but all he had was a skimpy bunch of grapes. He gave them to the king's mother, and she arranged them on a beautiful gold plate and presented them to her son. The grapes looked good on the plate. They came to the king from the hand of the mother he loved. The skimpy grapes became an awfully nice gift.

We can offer our gifts to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She makes everything perfect. She can't help it. It's a side effect of being the new Arc of the Covenant.

So, what are you going to get off your to-do list today by simply getting it done?