To Live a Life

7:30 AM

Berthe Morisot, Chasing Butterflies
I’ve always been a girl with big ideas. My brain blows up every detail to supersize, turning simple little thoughts into complicated circuses too overweighted to keep their balance. Every interest of mine turns into an elaborate ministry—every single idea gets paired to a staggering million others—everything gets caught up in a race to be the best, the biggest, the most perfect. People who know me know I don’t do little. I don’t do halves. It’s all or nothing.

So it was with my life. I planned it on the grand scale, a life that would cast shadows, cause earthquakes, leave indelible footprints all over posterity. I’d write a bestselling book. I’d go on tour. I’d be sought after. I’d die and be remembered forever. Or I’d marry Martin Luther’s modern equivalent. I’d plan his speaking schedules. I’d edit his bestselling books. He’d die and be remembered forever and people would write me into his biographies: “Mrs. Bailey was his inspiration and joy and a most dutiful and talented wife” (etc.).

Anything I did could not be small or second-rate. I would do big things. I would be big.

I push myself academically, socially, spiritually, because of it: to get ahead. To live the life of a twenty-year-old at age fifteen. To cram as many experiences as possible—as more than possible—into one, swollen, encore life. I forced myself to grow up fast, to taste pain young, to love deep, to study things that made my head swim. Being a child was being undeveloped; I couldn’t afford undevelopment. Perfection, not the journey, was my goal.

Once, at twelve, I read O’Reilly (until my mother, wisely, took it away)—not because I was interested in Republican dogma, but because, literally, I knew that anecdote would look good in my biography. It would make people laugh and shake their heads: “What a girl—she started young.” I wanted to be that far ahead.

Seeing myself pull away fast only deepened my thirst for the race to the top. Sitting down was lazy, I learned. The weeks jam-packed with doing—those were called productive. The days filled with housework and paperwork until I was footsore, headachy and complaining—that was the mature life, the full life, the feet-to-the-asphalt life. Quiet things, like sitting silent next to a sister and just enjoying being bonded—over-spiritual things, like reading the Bible for hours, like listing blessings, like seeking out a corner specifically for prayer—those things were for the immature, who needed tangible, unproductive reminders of God’s presence. I had a drive-thru mentality to life: take life’s problems, life’s joys, life’s God on the go. Don’t stop to smell the roses or dance in the rain. To do so would be to supplant the BIG with the little, with the insignificant. If I associated with the little, with the insignificant, I feared, I would become little. Insignificant.

It clashed with my life goal.

So I set my sights high—big. And I was too afraid to look down.

Then I entered into a quiet place in my life. A still place. I came up with things that couldn’t be worked out on the go, that had to be sat down with by the flapping laundry on the line and prayed through long and hard. I looked down my life’s road and saw it was bleak. Then I looked around, and saw the early morning sunset, and heard the different way friends laugh, and felt my heart warmed when an unexpected sheet of paper found its way through the mail.

Little things.

Insignificant things.

Things that changed the way I viewed my world.

I think, as a writer, there was something inside me that was trained to look for the small things. Small things built the bigger things. I knew that: show, don’t tell. It irked me when authors ignored that principle—when they painted drama big and glossed over huge issues with bold, not-to-be-missed telling. I could only barely tolerate those stories that didn’t mention the click of a seat belt or the bursting fatness of home-grown tomatoes or the netted way a daughter’s hair tangled itself in sun-soaked wind. To me, focusing on those little things painted a bigger picture, a bolder, stronger, realer snapshot of life.

Life in stories was made of little moments.

For a while I was reading nothing but information, getting my hands on the quickest article online that fleshed out the conundrum. It was once I again picked up the superficial, unrealistic, waste-of-my-time novels that I started seeing the things that made up the grander story: the small things that lead up to the climax, the tiny reactions that built up—and tore down—character, the little decisions that took the whole book to unravel.

Looking at my life through the miniature, I realized how unfulfilled, how shallow, my broad aspirations were, like a sketch compared to a high resolution photo. Sure, the outline of a life was there, unmistakably: but what would I do between the greatness, in the cracks of silence and downtime, during the flights to and from speaking engagements, in the rest of my time that wasn’t laid bare to my biographer and the world at large?

I still want to write a book. But not to jumpstart a life I’ll never live. I want to live a life so full of little memories that make me laugh, make me cry, so full of Christ, that it spills over into writing so that I can’t stop. I may go on tour. I’d rather stay home, sitting with a little brother on my knees, trying to convince him at age four that Shakespeare is the greatest author in the world. I want to share God’s gospel, the story of judgment setting the stage for terrible sacrifice and undeserved, never-ending grace—and I also want to sit out by the growing garden, watching the bumblebee uncover the white flower’s nectar, thanking God for the grace in the little things. Perhaps I’ll marry Martin Luther’s equivalent—but more than my husband’s fame and eternal glory this side of heaven, I want him to be a man who will laugh with me over corny Sunday morning comics, who will take my hand to show me the first buds of spring, who goes through life constantly seeing and praising God in everything, little like rain on pavement to big like new life trying out her lungs in daddy’s arms.

We need those grand dreams, those big schemes, to build a framework of life, a general direction. We need the great men to tell us how to live. But we also need the little dreams to fill up the cracks of life so that all is soli Deo gloria—and we need men, and women, people like me, to actually live it.

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6 impressions

  1. Bailey, you are amazing. And inspiring. I really hope you do go on tour - book or no book - because I am dying to hear a full-length, on-location speech.

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  2. Relate to this? Check.

    Laughed at this? Check. Sorry, I just think it's hilarious that you attempted to read O'Reilly. That's a little too far. ;)

    You sound like me, dearest Bayleaf (minus the whole book and tour part...) I have huge goals which sorta are for God's glory. But then I get so caught up...well you know. :)

    *coughs* You being insignificant? (haha, Flops will make sure that never happens.) Looks like you have a fan club. ;)

    *huggies*

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  3. *coughs* That's was your little sister who forgot she was logged in your account. :)

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  4. This is a tough lesson to accept. It's a lesson that I'm still learning and struggling with. Why do we grasp so eagerly for the great, important things in life while ignoring the small? Over and over I have ignored the everyday reminders of God's grace and love, longing for something big.

    I have looked for God in the great and powerful wind. I have looked for Him in the earthquake and fire. He was not there. And instead, I almost missed hearing His still, small voice.

    I struggle with the fact that my sole purpose in life is to know, enjoy, and glorify God-- not to be an amazing Christian mover-and-shaker evangelist who is applauded everywhere she goes. It's a struggle that I won't soon overcome.

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  5. Thanks, Bailey. Your post was recommended to me by my son. You really are a good writer.

    Remember that any talent or ability or path to greatness that you are given comes from the Great One who wants to use you for his glory. He is under no obligation to give us anything and could choose at any moment to take it all away... through a disease, an accident... death...

    As a middle-aged man, I'm learning to confess the pride that is inherent in my aspirations to do something "big" for God. God is showing me that he is under no obligation to use me to do anything for him, and also what a precarious thing it is for me as a fallen, prideful rebel to be used by God at all--after all, it may lead me to think that I'm "something" because I did something for the one who "is not served by human hands as if he needed anything."

    A good motto to live by is that which characterized the life and ministry of John the Baptist: He must increase, I must decrease.

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  6. I love this. I can't wait for you to write a book someday :)

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