It is sunny and 72 degrees in Dallas today -- glorious. This morning I raked leaves in the back yard and John "helped" me by putting a few leaves in the bags. It's much more fun when we can do things together like that instead of just my doing things to him. A couple of days after Thanksgiving, Michael, John and I were all sitting in the living room, each of us reading (or looking at) a book, and I had a sudden moment of recognition. This was what I had imagined having a child would be like! Until that moment I hadn't realized that that had been my mental image of family life, and once I recognized it I realized how naive I'd been. Still, it was nice to have that ideal moment once. And Michael and I are both happy that John enjoys looking at books so much -- he certainly belongs in our family!
A few weeks ago I was raking leaves on a chilly but sunny late morning. Raking leaves hadn't been in my plan for that day, but John had fallen asleep in his car seat on the 5-minute ride home from the gym at 10:30 am, and I knew that if I woke him he wouldn't go back to sleep inside. I couldn't leave him alone and I didn't feel like reading in the car, so I started raking.
Around noon, a neighbor drove by and stopped to say hi. He is 88 years old and has told me a number of times that his wife of 64 years died in June 2005. (I am amazed that he is still alive.) He was on his way to get a sandwich for lunch, he said, and would I mind raking his yard too? I saw that his yard was already leaf-free and laughed and said I'd be happy to!
As he went on his way, I had a weird moment of clarity -- an insight of sorts. I tend to have an underlying nagging suspicion that life is passing me by, that there is really something more important/interesting/better that I should be doing if I only knew what it was. In this moment, though, I felt as if I were doing exactly what I should be doing. I thought, "THIS is the meaning of life -- to have a pleasant word with a neighbor as we go about our inconsequential business." After all, the leaves will never stop falling, so it's hard to think that I've really accomplished anything by raking. But in that moment I felt satisfied by spending my time on the modest achievement of making our home look a little more presentable for a few days and having momentary contact with a fellow human. I realized that I tend to have too high expectations for myself: I always think I am I not doing enough or what I'm doing isn't good enough. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have modest expectations for myself that I could actually achieve?
It occurred to me (not for the first time) that God views my life much differently than I do and has different expectations of me. And he, not I, knows what will be the end result of my life. I think I tend to take for granted that when Jesus was born, various people (shepherds, magi, Simeon) recognized that he was special, Israel's King, Son of God, etc. They knew that only because they'd received a revelation from God. At that time Jesus would have appeared to be an ordinary baby doing ordinary baby things. In fact, most of Jesus' life was not spent on the miraculous or spectacular but on doing ordinary things. So now when I find myself thinking that God must be disappointed with me because I'm not doing anything special with my life, I remind myself that even the Christ living in me spent most of his earthly life modestly. (And I know, bringing up a child is very special . . . it's just hard to keep that in mind when I'm cleaning cereal off the floor or loading the dishwasher or whatever grunt work I'm doing.)