When I was in high school, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series was in its heyday, and some of my friends and I were just as obsessed as you’d expect a group of high school girls to be. What I loved most about those books, though, was that the characters were progressing through life at the same pace I was. When Lena was falling in love for the first time, so was I. When they graduated from high school, so did I. Each book was released with just perfect timing.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I didn’t enjoy Cather in the Rye: I didn’t read it until almost the end of college, and all my angst and rebellion and wanderlust were pretty much worked out. I couldn’t relate to Holden Caufield. I simply missed my window of opportunity to truly get that book.
When I met Emily Freeman at the Writer’s Barn last fall (a full year ago, now!), I teared up as I [very awkwardly] tried to thank her for what her writing has meant to me, the way it has changed my walk with Jesus and subsequently the whole of my life. Grace for the Good Girl and A Million Little Ways were each released with near perfect timing: they spoke to exactly what I was struggling with in that season and helped me uncover how sin manifests itself in my life. They helped me invite Jesus further in to the process of becoming more the person He made me to be. Emily’s writing has helped me learn to be more fully myself in the presence of others, and she’s helped me to embrace all the disparate parts of my life–interests and ambitions and responsibilities–and bring them all into the presence of Christ.
And now, once more, her new book, Simply Tuesday, is out, and the timing seems perfect.
I have been struggling with my smallness lately. I’ve been pretty open about the fact that leaving my job at the church (which had felt significant, life-giving, and kingdom-building) has been hard for me, as has moving away from our friends and community. No one expected it to be easy, right? But what I didn’t see coming was the ugly stuff in my heart and mind that this process would reveal, and a large part of the challenge has been confessing and recognizing that along the way. Moving and leaving my job revealed that I was carrying around an awful lot of pride.
The truth is, I like feeling known, significant, and influential. The prideful part of my heart took some pleasure in knowing that it mattered whether or not I showed up to church on a Sunday morning, not simply because I have value as a child of God or member of the community, but because my job description said so. My friend Eddie recently Tweeted, “One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned about myself is that being insanely busy has way more to do with ego than with time management.” That’s true for me as well. I like feeling important. It’s not pretty, it sounds arrogant, and I know it. But it’s the truth.
Now, stripped of the job title, I find myself looking for worth in a million different ways and spending a lot of my mental energy thinking about what I’m going to do next, instead of perhaps asking, “Who is God asking me to become? What does this small moment hold for me?”
In Simply Tuesday, Emily shares the stories and discoveries that have helped her embrace “small-moment living in a fast-moving world.” Part of that transformation happened when her husband left his job as a youth pastor, and while I’ve been following that journey through Emily’s blog the past few years, I hadn’t made the connection to my own journey until picking up the book. Emily writes about that, about her own journey as a writer and mom and friend and Jesus-follower, and each page felt like looking into a mirror.
My life feels small right now. I don’t have deadlines to meet or an overflowing e-mail inbox. No one is waiting for me to tell them where and when they need to show up or asking my opinion on curriculum. And I hate admitting it but the truth is, I have felt like something was missing and that I was less valuable without it. (And this is just when it comes to vocation and work…I could go on and on about motherhood and community and social media and all the other ways this is manifesting itself.)
“I know the pain of inefficiency, the addiction of ambition, the longing to build something important, and the disappointment that comes when the outcome looks different than I thought.”
Simply Tuesday is helping me remember that Jesus always chose the smaller, simpler way. “He came as a baby, small among men. He began to build his kingdom in the womb of young Mary. Jesus himself arrived small on earth, but he was not insufficient or lacking in significance. Simply, he did not hold on to his own glory.” When Jesus talked about faith, he talked about small things: salt, yeast, and mustard seeds. He distanced himself from the crowds, and asked his friends not to talk about his miracles, and built the kingdom but without seeking glory for himself. It’s the strangest of paradoxes, but it makes me love him all the more.
I have felt what Emily calls “the pain of smallness,” because I have been striving to build a life and manufacture influence: dismissing “small” as a negative thing, though it was subconscious most of the time. Instead, I’m now learning to embrace small, to accept the life that Christ is building within me.
“I’m figuring out how to walk with Christ into my day, into Target, into church, into the kitchen, and most importantly, into the lives of other people. Christ doesn’t stop being relevant just because I’m standing at my sink, cleaning out my closet, meeting or coffee, driving to the bank…Sometimes, that’s what prayer is. Simply inviting God to join us where we actually are, not because he isn’t already here but because inviting him reminds us that it’s true.”
I have underlined almost the entire book. It is dog-eared and sticky-noted and has been pulled off the bookshelf a million times. I cried my way through certain chapters and paragraphs, and when I read the prayers at the end of each section, I actually had to stop and put the book down and close my eyes and say, “Amen,” because I knew how profoundly true Emily’s words were and needed to be in my life.
Truthfully, I feel more healed and whole, and I didn’t know I needed healing before I set out. I’m more grateful for the job I held, the team I led, the ministry I was a part of. I’m also no longer resentful of the small in my life, and as Emily writes, “small is my new free.”