Circle your Wagons

source: Pithless Thoughts

When I was working full time for about 12 years, you could say that I was a master compartmentalist. That is to say, I was fantastic passable at keeping my three independent selves going. Which selves?

  1. The Work Self: Looked like a career person. Able to leap hospital buildings in a single bound. In charge. Lifesaver. Organizer extraordinaire. People person. Dressed up as 1950’s nurse for nursing week.
  2. The Church Self: Mother duck to increasing numbers of ducklings all lined up in church clothes. Alto. Organizer of church school classes and nativity play. Festal decorator. Coffee hour cook. Prosphora maker. People person. Perfecting the “smile and keep your mouth shut” demeanor.
  3. The Home Self: Semi-decent housekeeper. Occasional cook. Laundress. Witness to husband’s homeschooling efforts. Wife. Mother. Dresser of dolls. Introvert. Member of extended family. Closet reader. Depending on season of life, also: breastfeeder, pacer, rocker, diaper-changer, pumper.

My three different lives were like the circles in a Venn diagram. The more they failed to intersect, the more I forgot things like asking for major feast days off from work, shopping for things for coffee hour when doing the family grocery shopping, etc. In addition, the more the circles grew (and failed to intersect), the more ground I had to cover. It was hard for me to get more than two circles to overlap at once. I complained and cried about my schizophrenic existence more than once.

Usually, the rule is that when you have too much to do, the public things get the attention and the private ones suffer. I can attest to the truthfulness of this. My home and family got the least of me. They got the tired me, the frazzled me, the least organized me. The me that said “good enough” on a regular basis. [And there can be sanctity in mediocrity, but that’s another topic altogether.] The impatient and short-tempered me. I was never happy with this. The truth of the matter is, it takes a major conscious effort to refocus on the things that “are really important.” This takes saying “NO”. I’m not good at that, but I’ve gotten better. Here is an example:

When I was still working, a few years ago, I was treated to one of the three-day seminars on “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”. I will go on record as saying that this was very generous of the hospital administration to send me, unasked.  Anyway, some of the stuff was, well, bosh, but there were a lot of good things. I tend to follow the rule: “Take the good, Leave the bad” when it comes to classes like this. One thing that I really took to heart was this (paraphrased):

Where are you headed? What is your destination? Make sure you know where you want to go. Everything you do should help you get toward your destination. Avoid doing things that will take you somewhere else.

I thought about that. I realized I wanted to be at home. [Working was a necessity, not a choice, so this was a matter of prayer for many years.] I wanted to raise my children in the church. I wanted to homeschool. I wanted to emulate the saints. I wanted to have a happy, simple life.

At the time I was taking this class, I was also in the early preparatory stages of working on a clinical nurse 3 designation. [Background: at UAB, every nurse starts at stage 1. To advance to stages 2 and 3, you have to submit a portfolio that represents about a year’s worth of work including: committee memberships, a case study, a research study (your own research), letters of recommendation, synopses of classes you’ve taught, proof of continuing education beyond the minimal required, proof of leadership activity (i.e. – charge nurse, preceptor, etc.), and so on. This work is done outside of your regular working hours and is very, very time consuming.] I had already attained a clinical nurse 2 designation and had been pressured into continuing on to three. It’s a feather in the cap of each unit to have advanced nurses working for them, so this is strongly encouraged.  I was not looking forward to another year’s worth of work. After taking the class, it dawned on me to ask why I was doing it? I realized that pride had a lot to do with it. I had family members and old classmates who had gone on to fantastic heights and here I was working at a hospital with a BS degree. I realized I was trying to prove to the naysayers that a mother with five children was not an idiot.

After sitting and thinking about this for quite a while, I talked to Father about simply not going on to the next designation and allowing the other designation to lapse (I forgot to mention that you have to submit a portfolio every year simply to stay at your current level.). He had no problem with it and I suddenly felt a great weight slip from my shoulders. You see, attaining honors at work would not help me reach my destination. All of the time it required, it took from my family. If pride still held sway, I could say to myself that I proved I could do it once, why do it again? I told the educator on my unit of my decision and could tell she thought I was crazy and an idiot. But I didn’t care, because I had my destination firmly in mind now.

I was really in the process of pulling those circles a little more closely together. There are people who live lives in which their home is their church, their workplace is treated like their home, and they work very hard at church (or something like that). Their Venn diagrams look like only one circle. That wasn’t really an option for me at the time, but I was improving on a situation in which my circles were barely on speaking terms with each other.

Since I’ve been home (January of this year), I’ve been able to live a more reasonable life in which there’s more Orthodoxy at home and more of us at church. I’m even doing some work at home (the blankets). I applaud those people who are able to keep that balance even while working (because sometimes women have to work – I’m certainly an example of that…). But I don’t think anyone does it without thinking about it at least a little. It’s really easy to think of your faith as something you pull out of the closet and put on on Sunday morning. It takes a little more effort to incorporate it into your home life. It takes even more effort to take your faith to work with you. And I don’t mean by wearing a huge cross t-shirt or hanging foot-high icons over your desk (although, cool! if you can get away with that). I mean by not gossiping, being kind, being patient, blessing your food before you eat even in the presence of coworkers, being honest, being humble. Taking off for feast days and holy week.

Advent (for some of us) begins next Monday. I always think of advent as a time of circling the wagons, pulling in. Shedding some extraneous things that have gotten in the way and possibly led me astray. Quieting down and thinking more than speaking. You could also think of it as a good time to tighten up your Venn diagram.

6 thoughts on “Circle your Wagons

  1. I am so happy for you to have come to this place in your life. It's funny, my experience is just about the opposite. When my first daughter was born, I quit my job — which had been paying the bills — and we took a chance that the Deacon's business would be able to support us. By God's grace, we've managed that way for nearly 12 years, but it is looking more and more like I will have to get a job again soon. I hate the thought of it. I hate the thought of what would have to change in our family life. I've had my circles pretty tightly together and I don't want them to fly apart.

    Good strength to you, and a good Nativity lent!


  2. Thanks for the reminder… we all need to check the circles in our life regularly – the goal being to keep them as close together as possible! 🙂


  3. This is a wonderful and very helpful post. I thought back to the time a neighbor child told my nine-year-old son, “WE cut OUR grass twice a week!” — a comment on the scraggly state of our yard. Well, ok, I told him, three adults live in their house. Our house was just me with a killing government job, and him. In those days, work got nearly everything, he got the scraps, and church got our presence on Sunday morning, period. Not a good way to live at all.


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