In my local public library there are rows and rows of books referenced as Easy Readers. This is not generally the first place I go to seek personal revelation, but God’s word to me shows up in some pretty interesting places. He actually has spoken to me from one of those large print little book with pictures on every page. Who would think that God would deliver an important message using one and two syllable words with short and long vowels sounds only, but He did. Years ago I brought home an I Can Read book from the library for one of my children. It was called Owl at Home. It is a collection of five stories written by Arnold Lobel. I’m sure my child has no memory of the book, but I never forgot it, because one of the tales was about me, or at least about an aspect of myself that needed some work, and still does. It hit the nail on the head, my head, but delivered its message in a very sweet way. The message was simply, “Nannette, there is no life in the middle. You have to choose!”
Now that is not a quote from the book. You will not find God’s message to me in the text. That is the wonder of doing anything with God at your ear. If He thinks you might be paying attention He will use just about anything to speak His mind to your’s. In the story Upstairs and Downstairs, Owl finds himself in a bit of a loop. He desperately wants to know how his whole house is doing at all times, but he has an upstairs and a downstairs. “I’m always missing one place or the other,” he says. When he is checking the upstairs he feels sad because he does not know how the downstairs is doing, and when he is downstairs he can’t bear the fact that he does not know how the upstairs is getting along. “‘There must be a way’ said Owl, ‘to be upstairs and to be downstairs at the same time.’” In his great need to be two places at one time he determines that if he can somehow run up and down the stairs fast enough he might accomplish his desire. So, one day, he applies the “if I just move faster” solution, all day long and into the evening.
After an entire day of chasing himself up and down the stairs, hoping that the next time he will achieve his goal he finds that the only thing he has actually achieved is exhaustion! Finally, overwhelmed by the frantic pace he has tried to keep hour upon hour, he simply quits and sits down on the middle step of his staircase—being neither up nor down, just someplace in the middle.
I am a bit like Mister Owl. Maybe you are too. I think many of us struggle with wanting to be all places at all times, and be all things to all people. We don’t want to miss out on anything! So, we move faster and faster and check our Facebook and Instagram pages more often, trying to make this a reality. But what actually settles over me, as I race up and down the stairs trying to connect with everything and everyone, is a great weariness and a sense of never being fully satisfied. Why? Because I am neither here nor there. I am not fully present with the people and the circumstances and opportunities that are right before my eyes, because in my mind, I’m already running up the stairs to check on the people and the circumstances and opportunities that are figuratively in another room. I’m so far off kilter about being everywhere, that I am nowhere at all. I spend too much time sitting on the middle stair.
Sometimes this is very literally the case in my life. For example, most Sunday evenings my children and grandchildren gather at my house for dinner. After everyone’s tummies are full, the adults sit around and visit, play games, or do puzzles. The little ones watch a movie, or drag all the toys out of the closet, or play in the dress-ups, or organize talent extravaganzas. Let’s just say there is always a lot going on. But where am I? Where should I be? Often I can’t figure it out.
When there are several conversations going on in the living room, I want to hear them all. There have even been times when I have situated my after dinner chair so I could try to participate in two family chats at one time, never being really a part of either. Then there are the evenings when my mind wanders back to the olden days when every Sunday night without exception, all us little kids and our mom and dad watched Lassie and a Disney movie together, and with that thought, part of me wants to settle down in the family room with the grandchildren and watch the kid movie. There have been times when I have actually placed myself in the kitchen between the family room and the living room and done the dishes just so I could catch a bit of the movie and the fun the grands were having and at the same time pick up a bit of the chit-chat between my adult children. And if you think that’s crazy you should see me when all the places I want to be are not within the four walls of my own house, when they are in different parts of the city, the state, the country, or the world. Oh, if you could only see the mess in my mind when I have to choose to give help or support to one person and leaving the rest behind!
Have I described my struggle clearly? By now I know that some of you can completely relate to what I’m talking about and some of you think I am stark-raving mad. That’s OK! For those of you who can relate, I want to say that there is an answer to this dilemma. I have discovered a way to think and a way to live that brings me peace, that enables me to have a life full of loving meaningful relationships. It’s a remedy that gets me off the middle stair, where there is no life, and into real life, and I want to share it with you. There are three elements to the prescription:
First I have to recognize that my desire for unending connection is born largely out of love for people, and love for life, and that those are good things. But, I also have to admit that sitting on the middle step is not fulfilling my passion for either. Though my motivation may be pure, the fear that I will miss out, actually causes me to miss out.
Second, I must accept the truth that moving faster and continually bouncing between here and there is not the answer either. I have to make a choice. In the eternities there may be a day or ten thousand days when I have the capacity to be more than one place at a time and to enjoy and serve more than one person at a time, but this is earth life. I have to choose. I have to pick one place or the other and really be there. I have to place my attention fully in the here and now. But even as I place these words on this page my spirit cries out, “I can’t!”
Lately, in the world of personal development, there is voluminous material dedicated to the universal need for people to “live in the moment,” to be “fully present,” to “focus on the one,” to “take time to smell the roses,” to be “mindful” etc. We read it in articles, hear it in Ted talks, pay to be taught it in seminars, seek to find it in meditations, and therapy. Everyone seem to be saying it. No one argues about our need for it, and practically no one can do it! It’s a great idea if anyone can actually pull it off. And that brings me to the most important fact I know. “I” really can’t do it!
The final thing I have to realize is that by myself I cannot break the cycle that causes me to run to the point of total weariness and to join my Owl friend much too often on the middle stair. I know that I absolutely cannot break this cycle without divine assistance. Think about it. If there is one thing our Savior understands it is the desire to bless the lives of all the people He loves, all in the same moment. He alone knows the supreme exhaustion and pain required to fulfil such a desire. And He is the only One who has actually done it and continues to do it every day.
In order to break this frantic, unproductive cycle we must practice believing every minute of our lives that where we cannot be, there He is. He is continually loving, understanding, and blessing the lives of the people we love in ways we cannot even imagine. We do not have to run up the stairs if He is there. We can take our time with the ones we are privileged to be with. We can trust that He is in all the places where we are not. We can remember that there is no life in the middle. We can practice one day at a time, one hour at a time, being fully present at the bottom of the stairs, and trusting all the people and the activities that are being carried on without us in the upstairs, to the Lord of us all.