One windy morning recently while walking to work, I had an “ah ha” moment that I hope will make a difference in the rest of my life.
I am by nature a fairly driven individual, striving always for the next challenge and constantly on the lookout for ways to improve. My boss’s motto of “constant improvement” really resonates with me. This makes me a valuable employee or committee member, but a little hard to live with sometimes due to the stress I put on myself and those around me. Even when I take a walk I am trying to make the best time and get the most beneficial exercise from each step. I am focused on the goal and seldom break stride.
This particular morning as I was marching along, chest out and arms pumping to my inner metronome, a sudden whirlwind erupted from an alleyway just ahead of me. My established rhythm was leading me into the midst of swirling dirt and leaves. In the nano seconds it takes such thoughts to occur I could see a clear choice: I could accept this new challenge, forge ahead at a steady pace and spend the work day picking twigs and grit out of my ears, I could try to veer around the maelstrom, or I could just stop and see if the wind would die down. For once, atypically, I chose to pause and give in to the circumstances. In a matter of moments the dust settled and I proceeded on my way to work.
As I walked, the scenarios that might have resulted from my other options played in my head and I realized how foolish it would have been to take any of the other actions I had considered.
When presented with a short-term obstacle the logical step is to stop and see what will happen next. By pausing for a moment of reflection and evaluation I was able to continue along my chosen path with only a slight delay. I had avoided the coating of dirt I would have acquired from striding into the dust devil, as well as whatever calamity might have befallen me if I’d chosen to dash into the street to avoid it.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a lesson to apply to more of my life than just my walking style.
Working in the field of education in California right now is very stressful, and like most people, I have areas of anxiety in my personal life, as well. Perhaps my goal of “constant improvement” under the circumstances is just as foolish as marching headlong into a dust storm. Just maybe it is time to stop and assess the situation. Constant tension is detrimental to one’s health. Poor health is too high a price to pay for constant improvement.
I see a parallel in women’s ministries. Women in leadership roles tend to be a lot like me, always looking for ways to improve our groups and our ministries.
We come back from conferences every year charged up and ready to lead, push, pull or drive our women into constant improvement. We all get caught up in the initial enthusiasm and excitement in the possibilities. Eventually, especially if we don’t see immediate results in community appreciation or increased attendance, our women begin to feel stressed and discouraged. This is not the time to prod them into keeping up the pace. Perhaps what is needed is a time to stop, wait, reassess and rest.
In my life I see that I need to formally schedule these times and I think our women’s groups need them, too. Not “retreat” weekends with loads of work in preparation and high expectations, but regular times to shore up the women with rest, reassessment and nurture.
Our hectic, overly ambitious, overly scheduled culture is desperate for such breaks and so am I.
My new motto to replace constant improvement is going to be “hurry up and wait!”