And so it begins…
The week before I had to go back to school, I had a one day training. It took most of the day and then I met with my co-teacher for a few hours to plan out the beginning of the year. Both the training and the planning were beneficial, but to say the least, my summer brain was shot. I left planning just in time to grab a bite to eat and get to church. It was Wednesday. My drive was about 15 minutes and the longer I was in the car by myself, the more stressed I became. The day had not been bad, but it had been school. And teachers know that there is nothing simple about school.
At one point I even thought about teachers from the 1800’s. I thought, I know why they weren’t allowed to marry. People back then understood it was impossible to have a family AND be a teacher. The two jobs are just too much for one person.
Talking to my husband about my school stress (yes, even before the school year had begun), I made the comment “I feel like I can be a good mom or I can be a good teacher, but I can’t be good at both.”
My husband walked out of the room at that point, probably shaking his head – but the conversations was not over. The Holy Spirit instantly spoke to me. Jesus said, “I didn’t call you to be a good mother or a good teacher. I called you to be a good follower.”
The end. Nothing more. In good Jesus fashion, that is what he left me with. Direction clear as mud. Oh yes, I knew exactly what he meant. I just had no clue how to do it. I mean, I know what the Bible says. Don’t we all – but we are all definitely not living out what the Bible says. This is the 21st century. This is real life. How do I do that – today, in this world?
Well, needless to say, I have been thinking about that a lot. And as school started back just a few days later, the phrase “good follower” plays over and over in my head, pondering and praying about what that really looks like. How does that really reflect who I am as a mother and teacher, and every other role in between?
So even though I tried my best to write this week’s blog post on a different topic, the Holy Spirit continues to lead me here. And it’s funny how much just 10 minutes of Bible reading can teach you when you finally heed the Spirit.
So here is what God is revealing to me about being a good follower:
One, I need to choose my focus wisely.
The Israelites – God’s chosen people – were one stubborn bunch. They witnessed the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea but then whined as soon got to the wilderness. I look at them and I just wonder – How could they not see God working for them? How could they not see all the good God wanted for them?
Well, I know exactly how. When they were in the wilderness, I am sure they began to focus on all they didn’t have, on all the comforts they left back in Egypt. They failed to focus on the bonds of slavery that God freed them from or on any of the miracles God performed on their behalf. When they focused on what they did not have, then their faith wavered and their priorities got all mixed up.
When Moses summed up the ten commandments, he told the people, “You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you possess” (Exodus 5:32-33). Moses knew their tendencies to lose focus, to get distracted. He told them, don’t look left or right. Just focus on God and His commands.
Isn’t it funny that when we lose focus, we are just like the Israelites. I focused on all the ways I didn’t measure up as a mother and as a teacher. But even then, whose standards did I use to measure myself? Not God’s. I let the world and my flesh tell me I wouldn’t or couldn’t measure up in these areas. And see the trick there. Wanting to be a good mother is not a bad thing. Wanting to be a good teacher is not a bad thing. I thought being a good Christian meant I tried really hard in both of those areas, but really God wants my focus somewhere else.
I was looking to the right and to the left and he just wanted me looking up. See, if I focus on God, and God alone, I know he will help me be a great mother and a great teacher (and maybe a decent blogger). The Spirit will guide me to prioritize the thoughts and actions that will matter the most, that will affect ALL the children I love the most, and that will set the biggest example. God will reveal all of that to me and I won’t have to worry (I will probably try and then the Holy Spirit will have to grab my attention again…) God will show me what activities deserve my time and attention and what activities are really not that important, or maybe even what activities will take care of themselves. When I focus on God and being a good follower first, then God will take care of the rest.
Second, I need to pay attention to who I am listening to.
Facebook, Instagram, and social media in general can be really great, but your hundreds and hundreds of “friends” can be pretty distracting, especially when they are all taking at once. We are inundated with thousands of opinions and beliefs and reactions and thoughts, some Biblically aligned and some not so much. When we scroll through all that, it is hard not to listen. And that doesn’t even count the media and all the information they put out. Whether you realize it or not, the pressure of all those voices telling you how to live can be extremely overwhelming.
The Israelites may not have had social media but they just as easily forgot who they needed to listen to. Moses warned the Israelites not to take up the gods of the countries they conquered. He didn’t want them to start looking around and say “Hey, looks like these people had it pretty good. Maybe we need to do what they are doing…” and he knew their tendencies to lose focus. Moses said, “ You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:4) Again, he knew they needed to focus on God and His voice, because as soon as they started paying attention to things around them, they would no longer be a good follower.
Two key phrases in this verse will help ensure we are listening to God, as opposed to outside influences. The end of the verse says, “hold fast to him.” Hold fast to God. I know we have all had time in our lives where we may have felt like we were holding on to God for dear life. We knew if we let go, we had no hope. But what about the everyday? Do you hold fast to God in the everyday? I know I don’t. I know once my day gets started and the responsibilities pile up, I seem to think my hands are too full to hold fast to God. And when I lose my grasp of Him, I can’t hear Him as well.
Which leads me to the second key phrase in the verse, “Obey his voice.” I love that it says voice here, not His word or commandments. His Voice. We can hear God’s voice many ways in our lives. He made sure I heard him while making my supper, standing in the kitchen. But, we have to make sure that we are listening. Sometimes I think we find it a lot easier to listen to social media. The media. Society’s expectations. Friends and Co-workers. Family, even. All of these are not bad, but they are not God. And if we are not careful, through listening to them instead of listening to God, we have allowed their voices to become idols in our lives.
I mean think about that. When I was so concerned about being a good mother and a good teacher, I was allowing that desire to become an idol in my life. I was putting it in front of my desire to be a good follower. My lack of trust dominoed into idolization because I let my good intentions of being a good mother and teacher take priority over being a good follower. Thankfully, I was where I could hear God’s voice before I went to far down that road. But, if we don’t live our daily lives in a listening position, then we will miss all His directions. And then where will be?
Finally, I need to stop trying to do it all alone.
As I drove home that Wednesday evening, I was thinking about all that – I – needed to do. All MY responsibilities that were piling up. If I am honest (and this is usually where the trouble comes), all the focus was on me. Not God and not any of my support system around me. But in Deuteronomy 31: 8 Moses told Joshua, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
Think about that. The Lord goes before you. I can think of so many times in my life where the Lord went before me. Where he aligned things in my life and the lives of those around me so that we could and would be in His will. I mean, now that I think about it, my current teaching position was aligned to the fact that my dad had recently changed churches. By putting him in a new church, I reconnected with a former teacher, who knew of teaching position opening in December and I was able to step right in. God totally went before me.
Yes, he goes before us in the big things, but don’t think he leaves your daily life to chance. He is going before you in every little choice and and task. Take advantage of that. Don’t try to do it alone. When we recognize he is there, going before us, in even the small things, we don’t have to do it alone.
But we also need to recognize that God uses all the people around us too. When we have a support system that is also trying to be good followers (or sometimes even when they are not), he is setting them up to help us in the same way we can help them. My husband is always willing to help with duties that I see as motherly. No, he doesn’t always see them, but men are just made different. Anything I ask him to do in the evening, he does. I just have to take the focus off of me and remember God did not intend for me to do this alone. I also have a great group of friends and co-workers that never fail to help me out. That never fail to encourage me. I think about the fact that so many times I get swallowed by all my duties, I forget I should be focusing on being a good follower, and I leave my friends behind. I don’t put myself in a position to be supported by them or to provide support for them. I let my responsibilities cut me off from them. And that is the exact opposite of what God designed.
Think about it. He wants us to be good followers, not leaders. He wants others right there with us. Not for His benefit, but for ours. And when we put the focus on Him and the fact that He is with us, then we can start to see all the other help around us.
I know this will be a daily struggle. I will have to keep reminding myself that my priority is to be a good follower and not a good (fill in the blank – mother, teacher…). When I focus on God first and listen to His voice, He will go before me and work all the details out. He will free up my schedule, stretch my minutes, boost my energy level, give me help, whatever it takes. He can do it. But I have to be a good follower first, and stop trying to lead in all the wrong areas.