Elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Eating elephants

Everyone I know is busy. Some are in school. Many are planning weddings. Others are having babies. And the rest of us are overwhelmed with work and ministry and general family stuff. But “busy” seems to be the standard answer to the “How are you doing?” question we always greet each other with.

Doesn’t it feel like too much sometimes though? Do you ever feel like you have so much to do that you can’t ever accomplish anything? I constantly feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Or like my life is a treadmill and no matter how hard I run I never actually make any real progress. That’s not true, of course. If I were honest with myself I accomplish a lot in a full day, but when I compare it to the rest of the things I need to do (and the unrealistic expectations I put on myself), it never makes much difference.

When I look at the pile of things I need to accomplish in a day, I feel like I’m trying to eat an elephant. And it’s far too much for me. And when I start focusing on how there’s no way I can ever do all that I need to do, I start getting discouraged.

Elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse(s) are Hebrews 6:11-12.

Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance.

This verse is really referring to salvation and how to grow in your faith, but it struck me this morning that it applies to the rest of life too. That’s what I love so much about the Bible. Even when one verse is talking about one thing, oftentimes it’s also talking about something else completely in the subtext.

So much of following Christ on a daily basis is faith. But faith isn’t just some abstract, ethereal feeling you experience on a good day when you hear a beautiful song or watch the sun rise. Faith is a concrete, heart-wrenching choice that you make in the nitty-gritty moments of life. It’s the choice you have to keep making every day, sometimes every hour, to let go of what you’re worrying about and trust God with it. It’s a choice you have to keep making. Over and over and over.

Yes, you choose to follow Christ once. You choose to give Him your heart. You choose to trust Him for salvation. Once and forever. And you’re good to go as far as your eternal soul. But when it comes to living for Him from day-to-day? That’s a little more difficult. That’s a choice you have to make continually. Every morning when you wake up, you have to make the conscious decision that your day is going to be about Him. Not you. And you’ll have to remind yourself of that choice multiple times throughout the course of the next 24 hours.

Faith is one thing. Enduring faith — patient faith — is something else. I’m not good at waiting. I don’t like it. I’m all about action and doing and fixing; waiting and waiting makes me feel lazy. And I think that’s why God makes me do it so often because I learn a lot about Him and about who I am in Him throughout the process of waiting.

Great faith takes strong perseverance. That’s something many Christians won’t tell you, but it’s true. Faith can definitely be about those big miraculous moments; but more often than not, it’s about waiting. And waiting takes patience and perseverance and consistency.

So how does that help us accomplish everything we need to do? How does that get us where we need to be? How is waiting a comfort in situations where we’re so overwhelmed we don’t know what step to take next?

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

It’s the same way you climb a mountain like Mt. Everest. You get as far as you can in one day and you rest. Then you wake up and do it again. And again. And again. And again.  Don’t deviate. Don’t change course. Don’t give up. Just keep going. And eventually you’ll get to the top. (And then, of course, you have to come back down, but that’s another point for another Monday.)

When we’re facing a challenge that’s too big for us, just do the best you can and trust God for the rest. And when it feels like you’re just running on a treadmill, take a moment to look back and see all that you’ve accomplished. Don’t let yourself forget the things you’ve done and the successes you’ve had. And always look at where God has brought you.

God is always working in our lives. He’s always leading us forward, even if it is just one step a day. But one step is better than standing still, and add up all the steps you’ve taken in your life, and you’ll see how far you’ve come.

Be consistent. Be patient. Just keep doing what you’re doing. And something will change.

Hay bales - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Make hay while the sun shines

I have been struggling with my focus recently. I mean, more than normal. Usually my focus leaves something to be desired anyway, but in recent months I haven’t been able to stay grounded on one topic long enough to finish anything. Maybe I’m too busy. Maybe I have too many things going on. Maybe I finally reached the limit of how much multitasking I can actually do, and my brain has given up trying to keep it all straight.

Granted, it’s not like I’m late to work or forgetting about responsibilities or anything like that. I just don’t feel like I’m getting as much done as I should be. And when I sit down to work on a project that’s hanging over my head, I can focus for about five minutes. And then my brain wanders off to something else. And as a result, I don’t finish anything, and I actually start more projects.

What’s wrong with me?

Hay bales - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Hay bales - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 5:16-17.

Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.

It’s easy to forget that we’re on the clock. It’s easy to get trapped in the thinking that life will move forward as it always has. But a day is coming when life is going to change drastically, and when that day comes, we will be out of time to accomplish real things that matter.

I live in the middle of 640 acres of wheat and alfalfa. None of it belongs to me, sadly, but through the 18 years I’ve lived here, I’ve enjoyed learning about how different farm life is from life in the city. In the city, you can procrastinate for extraordinary lengths of time because of all the conveniences. But out here? Not so much. If you have an opportunity to get something done on a specific day, out here, you need to do it. Because if the opportunity passes you by, it may not come again until it’s too late.

Making hay is one of those things. I’m sure many people have heard the idiom, “making hay while the sun shines.” I first heard it in the Laura Ingalls Wilder book, The Long Winter. But the concept of making hay on a sunny day is exactly what this verse is talking about. You can’t make hay when it’s raining. The hay gets moist and hard to handle, and then it molds. You have to make hay while it’s sunny. You have to take the opportunity when it presents itself, and you can’t put it off. Otherwise, you’ll lose it, and it probably won’t come around again.

I have so much to do. I have so many projects on the back burner and not enough time in my lifetime to accomplish them all, and when I get the time to work on them, the load is so overwhelming I don’t even try. Does anyone else understand how that feels? Maybe it’s work. Maybe it’s school. Maybe it’s family or friends. But you have so many responsibilities on you that it seems futile to even try to make any progress because it won’t make a difference. It’s a horrible feeling.

So what do we do? How can make the most of every opportunity and stay sane? I think I’ve tried to take every opportunity that’s come my way, and as a result I’m drowning. I’ve been treading water for years. Maybe that’s why verse 16 is followed by verse 17.

Don’t act thoughtlessly. In the Amplified Version, that means “vague, thoughtless, foolish.”

If you’re going to take an opportunity, know what it’s going to require of you first. Know how much of yourself you’re going to have to invest before you agree to do it. And if you don’t have enough of yourself to give, don’t take it. Because a good opportunity can easily become a distraction.

We can’t just live life without thinking. We can’t just agree to everything that comes our way because eventually we’ll hit a wall, and then all the opportunities we’ve agree to accomplish will lay uselessly on the side of the road waiting for you to finish them when you no longer have any interest in them because you’re so burned out on everything else.

So maybe it’s clear how to avoid jumping into opportunities you don’t have time for. But what do you do when you’re neck-deep in something you can’t give up on?

Well … the verse doesn’t say you have to finish it, I guess. It just says to make the most of it.

Do your best. Prioritize. Step back from the whole mess and sort through everything you want to accomplish and decide what matters most, and then focus on that and let everything else go. Then, when you finish it, move on to the next thing. And when you’re tempted to move to something else? Think about before you start it. Ask yourself if it’s really an opportunity or if it’s just a distraction.

You can eat an elephant, but you have to do it a bite at a time.