Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: Quit the Circus

It’s really, really dangerous for me to determine what the average person thinks by using myself as an example. Mostly because I’m guessing my mind doesn’t work exactly like everyone else’s (no, I’m not bragging about my brilliant genius-ness – you must not know me).

Ready for some danger? Because that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Based on my own experience, there are two distinct impressions that come to mind when someone mentions the word “circus.”

The first is a bright, colorful picture of fun and excitement. The circus is full to bursting with amazing stunts and feats, laughter, sequined costumes, and loud applause. This series of impressions probably comes from childhood memories of being four feet tall and amazed that the guy in the tights could walk on that wire without falling – what if he sneezes, Mommy?

The second impression is a bit shadier. Circuses can also be seen as overpriced, greasy, temporary, and maybe a little less than reputable. All shine and no substance, like the plastic trinkets they sell as souvenirs.

These two pictures are a lot like overcommitment.

No, really. There are two very different pictures of being involved in as many activities as possible. One is full of glamour, shine, and applause; the other is worn and a bit fake and empty.

Most of the time, though, while we complain about coffee-drenched mornings and schedules packed with obligations, we focus on the first picture of overcommitment. It’s cool to be busy. Everyone around us seems to be shouting boldly, like the font on circus-coming-to-town posters, all with the same message: Join the circus! Join the circus! JOIN THE CIRCUS!

So we do.

Christians seem to be especially guilty of this. In the name of serving the Lord, we can sign up for any cause or committee that passes around a sign-up sheet. Motivated by a desire to do great things for God, use our gifts, or maybe even (if we’re honest) impress those around us, we get to work serving the kingdom. We are busy, and the people we hold up as examples often are too.

As a writer, it can mean trying to constantly produce new manuscripts in a flurry of creative activity. Sometimes there’s a temptation to try to keep up a number of major projects, all the while giving time to other commitments in life. You have to get more publishing credits, push past rejection, produce, produce, produce.

It’s an impressive circus. There are at least three rings of intense activity going on at the same time – for some people, the number is much higher. We try to balance it all, to take it all in at once, and sometimes it works. The performance is flawless and the applause is resounding.

But sometimes the acrobat wobbles or even falls. Sometimes the animals refuse to do tricks. Sometimes a clown misses an entrance. And the ringmaster inside of us tries to direct attention away from the flop and onto another ring, loudly and convincingly. After all, the audience must stay happy. They have to see a show.

But when the show’s over, when night falls and the maintenance crew is sweeping up stale popcorn, what’s really going to matter?

I can’t tell you here what in your life is most important to focus on. I don’t have the space or the wisdom to comment on what it means to be a good steward of your time and talents, what Jesus was asking for when he said, “To whom much has been given, much will be required.” Those are legitimate and difficult concerns that should be prayed over a lot before you make any decisions.

What I’m asking you to do is consider a radical step, something that the Christian culture (and especially the Christian college student culture) doesn’t seem to understand.

Quit the circus.

Last year, after taking a step back and looking at the overcommitment circus again, I saw it differently. I realized that I was too busy to love people in the way I should. And, while I thought about all of the issues I mentioned a few paragraphs above, that simple fact told me that something was very wrong. After all, what’s more important than loving others? Not a show with three acts, starring me.

So I walked away from the circus. That meant a lot of different things for me, not just cutting out activities, although, for me, that was an important part. Ask me about it sometime if you want to know more.

I can’t honestly say I’m there yet, but I’m learning how this is done. It’s quieter out here, past the Big Top. But you can breathe easier. You can hear yourself think, and, more importantly, you can hear God speak. Sometimes, you’ll hear cheering inside and wish it was for you…but only for a little while. Because life outside the circus is real.

Want to join me? It can be hard, quitting the circus. But I promise it’s worth it.

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