Posted by: donnatallman | November 5, 2011

Opting Out

“Let’s see, I need to take Bob’s uniform to the cleaners, the dog to the vet, the car to the dealer to fix the squeak that’s bugging me, pick up a loaner car and drop by the home store to get a wedding gift, and meet the girls for lunch. If I finish lunch by 1:30, I can swing by the house to pick up Steven’s soccer uniform he forgot this morning. Then I’ll drive by the grocery store to pick up snacks for his game, and get everything to the school before the bus leaves at 3:00 to take him to the game. Somewhere in there I need to mail Philip’s college application and stop in at the phone store to find out why my smart phone won’t play Angry Birds…”

A life in motion. Living by the list.

We all have them – those lists of things we need to do today, this week, or someday. Lists are paper tyrants; they obligate me. They steal me from Jesus. Lists are tangible reminders of things I don’t want to do. I figure if I really wanted to do them, I’d be so excited I wouldn’t need to write them down to remind myself. Alas, lists are also necessary evils of life – right up there with root canals and photo shoots at the DMV. There are errands we must run, places we must go, and people we must see.

So how do we find balance between doing and being?

Shortly after our youngest left home for college, or maybe it was before that when my elderly mother-in-law moved in with us, I began to opt out of busyness. Because I was caring for a sick parent, I couldn’t keep pace with the normal obligations I had as a high school mom. I didn’t have a choice; I had to pare the “extras” from my schedule. My life’s unexpected shift demanded that I reevaluate why I was doing what I was doing and reprioritize. In the process, I learned that I had unconsciously filled my days with lots of things I really didn’t need to be doing.

So, I quit. I quit doing and I opted out.

Jesus opted out. Instead of healing the people in His hometown in Matthew 13:58, Jesus refrained because of their unbelief. John 5:13 recounts an episode when the people intended to take Jesus by force and make Him king of Israel. Instead, Jesus withdrew to a mountain by Himself to get away from their expectations. My all-time favorite opt out moment of Jesus, however, is in John, chapter 11.

Jesus is preaching and healing the masses when He receives a dispatched S.O.S. from Martha and Mary of Bethany. Their brother, Lazarus, is sick and they want Jesus to come immediately and heal him. Jesus loves Lazarus and his sisters, but He opts out of the situation. Jesus doesn’t come. He is a no show in their greatest hour of need. Listen to what it says Jesus did in John 11:6, “So when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.”

Not only did Jesus not come, He stayed away two days longer just to make the point. If I had been Martha or Mary, I would have been angry with Jesus. Here is their good friend who loves them and their brother who has now died because of Jesus’ delay. They have fed Jesus, provided Him with shelter and protection, and have asked nothing in return. Now, when they do need Him, this man who has the power to heal, seems to have ignored them. Jesus chose not to go when they called. He chose not heal their beloved brother. Jesus chose to let Lazarus die.

Why would Jesus do that?

Because of the two-day delay, Jesus positioned Himself for one of the greatest miracles recorded in the New Testament. Jesus opted out of doing something great (like healing) so He could do something greater – raise a man from the dead, which brought God even more glory. His intentional delay had a larger context, even though Martha and Mary couldn’t see it.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21)

That’s true, but if Jesus had been there Martha and Mary wouldn’t have come to understand the larger context of Lazarus’ resurrection. It had something to do with Jesus’ own death. Yes, Jesus truly loved Lazarus and even wept with his sisters in the midst of their sorrow, but Jesus’ delay provided tangible hope for a lot more people than just Martha and Mary.

“Lazarus, come forth!” Jesus called.

With these words, Jesus summoned His friend back from the dead foreshadowing His own death and resurrection that was just around the corner. Within weeks, Jesus would be crucified on a cross, buried in a borrowed tomb, and sealed inside by a huge rock. His violent execution would devastate all those who loved Him, but they would not be left without hope. Lazarus was alive. How Jesus’ disciples and His followers would need the hope Lazarus’ resurrection proclaimed!

I don’t know what’s on your list of things to do today, this weekend, or in the weeks leading up to Christmas. My list looks horrendous because we are moving at the end of the month, so I’ve stopped this morning to reevaluate my priorities.

How will I find the balance between doing and being during this chaotic time?

I do know that when I opt out of the unnecessary, life becomes simple again. Jesus draws near because there’s more “space” for Him in my world. Decisions are easier, time seems to move slower, and relationships have more meaning. They aren’t cluttered by obligation.

Because I wasn’t tearing around conquering a “to do” list while I cared for my mother-in-law, I was free to enjoy her…and I did. Now, three years after she passed away, I still miss her. We spent hours roaming through antique stores, playing bridge, listening to Tennessee Ernie Ford, Alan Jackson, and talking about her life in Saginaw during World War II. She talked about Papa, who died nine years before she, and about her boys – Bob and Mike. She talked about her grandkids and missed the ones who were far away. Kate talked about dying and she talked about Jesus. She talked about heaven and talked about hope.

I’m so very glad we got to walk together to the finish line. There wasn’t a thing on any of my lists that was worth missing that!

So, how do you find the balance between doing and being?

©Copyright, 2011 by Donna Tallman.

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Responses

  1. Wow Donna!!! Beautifully written and so very timely. Thank you for sharing your gift and more importantly for being Gods mouth piece. I needed to hear that- I’m such a list writer. But now . . . . I plannon changing that! 😉 Bless you!!

    • Thanks, Jocelyn! It’s hard to find the balance between making the most of our time and allowing time to be our master, isn’t it?! Peace for your journey! Hugs to the fam.

  2. Hey Donna! What a blessing to be able to read this in the place I’m at now in college. I find myself doing a lot of unnecessary things and staying up late, and sometimes I lose my time to have with the Lord and not only that but I forget just to live in the present enjoying the relationships around me and seeing what God is doing in me. It’s not like I need to spent a certain amount of time with God every day, but feeling bound by unnecessary obligations is hindering my desire to just be Christ to someone, and allow Him to inspire me through that. You’re such a great friend, and i can’t wait to see you when I come home. I hope all is very well in the Tallman house.

    • Oh, college is one of the most challenging places to maintain focus. There’s so much going on! I’ll be praying that God will help you sort through what’s important and what can just fall away. It’s not easy! See you soon!

  3. Thank you for sharing the details of Kate. Since moving to Georgia, life has been on a similar path. My last day at the office was Tuesday, feeling a little lost but grateful for the time to be available for family. Our home group from church (most of them in with pre-school to teenage kids) is working through a study about organizing priorities and spending quite time with Jesus. They haven’t arrived at the “opt out” option yet, but trust the Lord will get them there.

    Blessings, dear lady, with priortizing for the move. Less is always more.


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