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There’s nothing like moving to give you concrete evidence of how much stuff you own. We moved from a rental to our own home and were forced to confront our possessions. Not only that, we had to pack it all, hoist it onto a trailer, haul it into another place, take it off the trailer, into the house, unpack and rearrange it. I kept saying: what a waste of time! And yet, what were we going to do? Chuck everything and start over? Debra Rienstra’s insightful post on the new Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, based on Kondo’s best-selling book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up struck a similar chord with me. Debra wrote, “I think, in the end, my inability to watch the whole episode was simply a response to the fact that the middle part, however vital to a healthy life, is hard and boring.” It is tedious and boring to do much of the hard parts of life. For someone who struggles with patience, most of these simple daily tasks are very difficult. The tasks themselves are not necessarily ‘hard’ any more than going for a run outside in January or doing a workout in the gym are ‘hard.’ But the process of designing an excellent syllabus or combing my daughter’s tangled hair with patience is not glamorous or exciting to watch or to do. The end result of a good course or a perfectly executed French braid may be great. The process of getting there is not.
While reading Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre, a particular passage jumped out at me. Jane, an orphan, is well-educated young woman but dependent on others for her welfare. Brontë’s novel, was published in 1847 and set in 1820s England.
It is evening. I have dismissed, with the fee of an orange, the little orphan who serves me as a handmaid. I am sitting alone on the hearth. This morning, the village school opened. I had twenty scholars. But three of the number can read: none write or cipher. Several knit, and a few sew a little. They speak with the broadest accent of the district. At present, they and I have a difficulty in understanding each other’s language. Some of them are unmannered, rough, intractable, as well as ignorant; but others are docile, have a wish to learn, and evince a disposition that pleases me. I must not forget that these coarsely-clad little peasants are of flesh and blood as good as the scions of gentlest genealogy; and that the germs of native excellence, refinement, intelligence, kind feeling, are as likely to exist in their hearts as in those of the best-born. My duty will be to develop these germs: surely I shall find some happiness in discharging that office. Much enjoyment I do not expect in the life opening before me: yet it will, doubtless, if I regulate my mind, and exert my powers as I ought, yield me enough to live on from day to day. (chapter 31)
As an educator, I have some sense of Jane’s frustration as she looks at her students. I feel her pain as I revise and compose new syllabi for courses. But what I appreciate about this passage is a willingness to do the hard boring parts of life: Jane does not expect it will be enjoyable (I never assume a run outside in January will be enjoyable either). And yet, if she works at it, there will be enough enjoyment. How many of us look at the hard and difficult parts of life with that perspective? Too often our cultural voices tells us that everything should be easy! Fun! And make you HAPPY! Too often I hear mantras such as ‘Life is too short to do put up with that’ or ‘life is too short to spend time with someone that does not make you happy.’ Instead, Jane admits that she could be very discouraged about her new reality, but chooses instead to look on the experience as a form of discipline that will yield enjoyment.
Soon after this insight, St John, a fascinating character and cousin to Jane, visits her in her new teaching position and remarks,
It is hard work to control the workings of inclination and turn the bent of nature; but that it may be done, I know from experience. God has given us, in a measure, the power to make our own fate; and when our energies seem to demand a sustenance they cannot get — when our will strains after a path we may not follow — we need neither starve from inanition, nor stand still in despair: we have but to seek another nourishment for the mind, as strong as the forbidden food it longed to taste — and perhaps purer; and to hew out for the adventurous foot a road as direct and broad as the one Fortune has blocked up against us, if rougher than it. (chapter 31)
While I may not agree with much of what St John says in the novel, this statement inspired me. When it comes to walking the path with more than a little resistance and when we walk through the difficult and often tedious parts of life, take heart! The road may be rougher, but nourishing and maybe even enjoyable along the way.
It’s a part of the process of sanctification. Our commitment to serve God may wane when a preferred and comfortable opportunity goes away. It is our obligation to be open to, and to invest in, another opportunity.
Thanks, Rebecca, for a thoughtful article that seems to touch on the subject of sanctification (as George E suggests) for Christians, or simply the betterment of our human selves for those who are not Christian, as Marie Kondo suggests. I like your emphasis, Rebecca, that we can better ourselves with effort, sometimes great effort. There’s an old adage concerning prayer, “pray as though it all depends on God but act as though it all depends on you.” And of course, the effectiveness of such a saying for the Christian and non Christian alike is that it really does depend on you and the effort you put forth. Isn’t that what St John is saying in your quote from Chapter 31? So if you want to see satisfying results in your life, work at it, as tough as that may be and there will be reward. Thanks again, Rebecca, for a thoughtful article.