Discover more from More Beautiful Than Necessary with Tresta Payne
Make Up Your Mind || January 2020
I love the fresh start of January and how genius it is that the new year starts smack in the middle of a long season of dark and cold. That was good planning. But I have been feeling especially anxious because I have a serious attitude problem, leading to serious burn-out, and I wonder if we have that in common?
It's funny (or not) how some prayers are answered right away and some are worn out over years of pacing the floors, waiting for an answer, wondering if God is limited by some defect in my own desire. I have prayed honest prayers for people I love over the whole course of my Christian life and from my point of view, they are still waiting in the queue. I know—nothing waits in God's queue, and there is no backlog of messages waiting for Him. He is always "inbox zero" I suppose. I'm just saying that I don't understand why some answers to requests that seem trivial come right away, and some that are of eternal significance seem to wait.
For two weeks I wrote "attitude" in my planner as a reminder, and I prayed each morning for a change. My prayers for other people are completely dependent on God's work and their response to it, so it makes sense that this prayer for myself is dependent on the same things. God hears and acts according to His will. I respond and change; or I don't.
I've been praying for a change of attitude, and the word that has come up again and again is CONNECTION. The more I read, listen, talk, and interact with people, the greater the number of connections that are happening in the world—as if the whole universe is full of loose threads waiting for us to tie together. Lights go on. Ideas coalesce. People are comforted. Real connections happen in our relationships and our own tiny brains because we engage with people and ideas.
Engaging and connecting are hard sometimes but here's what I notice: everything really is connected, which points to the order and sovereignty of God.
When I take the time to engage with a person,
we tie threads together for one other's lives.
When I engage with a hard thought, conversation, or those people that are hard—connections are made that tie me to something else and something else and something else.
What I'm noticing through this season of the Bad Attitude is that I change when I connect with people—namely, my students. When I pray for them as if they were real people connected to a whole life separate from mine, with a whole being that is affected or not affected by my being, I feel my attitude about tutoring change. I feel more hopeful. I am more open to the rabbit trails and tangents we will inevitably go on in our class time, and I feel a level plane of us rather than a hierarchy of my plans versus their plans.
I was listening to a podcast the other day and was annoyed to hear the host ask a good question, the guest give a long, thoughtful answer, and the host then make absolutely no remarks or offer any thoughts in return. It was as though they were completely disconnected, having two different conversations. The interviewer just moved on to the next question on the agenda without any response to his guest's words; or even worse, abruptly ended the podcast with announcements and advertisements.
I can give the benefit of the doubt and assume that the cut-off happens in the editing phase of the podcast, but who would edit a conversation like that? Why? It's hard to imagine that someone could ask such thoughtful questions and then not give any response or indication that the answer was heard.
The best conversations happen when I let them go where they will, when my agenda is not a list of tasks but just the discussion itself, the forming of minds, the exchange of ideas. When I ask good questions and trust the work of the Spirit in the students, we all are blessed by how the conversation comes back to the topic at hand. We take the long road sometimes, but the responses to the questions lead to other responses and other ideas. We are learning to think together, and that gets me excited. The opposite happens when I try to overly-direct a conversation because I have a goal in mind.
One of the basic tenets of classical Christian education is that all our "subjects" are connected because God is the source of all knowledge. We don't learn science or latin or math in a vacuum. We learn these things through the connections we make to God and to one another, and we see how each subject is dependent on the others.
When I have patience with the conversation going on in my life, my attitude changes, I make connections, I am more interested in people, and every interaction is an opportunity to tie up a loose thread. Or, to notice more threads and search out their ends.
It's often the thing I don't think I want or need that makes the difference in my attitude. What is it, for you? What gets you through your burn-out and bad attitude?
WHAT I READ, LISTENED TO, AND WATCHED
I used to start this section of the newsletter with a link to an Evernote file where I tracked what was happening with my Homeschool MFA. I am a little loosey-goosey with things write now—still writing and reading and researching things that interest me, but I'm not really tracking them in Evernote currently. I'm being less spreadsheet-y and more inspired in my Homeschool MFA plans.
My current plans look like this: lots of reading on the subject of truth, goodness, and beauty; daily writing; tracking ideas in my journal; offering my writing for feedback so I can grow as a writer, even when it hurts. I'm also art journaling and making junk journals, just for the sake of beauty and finished products ; ).
Here's what I've recently read:
Handle with Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry by Lore Ferguson Wilbert
This was one of the books I committed to reading because I knew I already loved the author, even though the topic of the book was not one I thought would speak to me. It did, though. This book on touch opened my eyes to the deep need for connection that is natural in us as humans, and Lore has written it with care and wise biblical insight. Be forewarned: she does cover some uncomfortable topics surrounding touch, but she does it with grace.
Pre-order here before February 4th to get a load of bonuses! I will be giving away a copy of Handle with Care in the next month or so, either on my blog or on Instagram. Stay tuned.
Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton
This is a book on spiritual disciplines (solitude, Scripture, prayer, sabbath, etc.) that will probably be a yearly read for me, as I need reminded of things often. I happened to read it just after The Common Rule by Justin Earley, which was in my last newsletter, and they fit together nicely.
A Light So Lovely by Sarah Arthur
One of the perks of sharing my Evernote file of Homeschool MFA plans via this newsletter was that Kortney saw this book on my book list and gifted it to me last summer. It is probably my favorite read of 2019, both because it is well written and also because it's about Madeleine L'Engle.
I'll admit to not actually having read any of L'Engle's fiction yet. Her nonfiction has been wonderful though, and her thoughts on faith and writing stir my imagination. She is one of the writers who make me want to write. Sarah Arthur does a wonderful job of examining L'Engle in light of all her flaws, not sugar-coating the quirks of her faith or personality, but showing us the spiritual legacy of a woman who embraced paradox.
"Indeed, the imagination plays a vital role in spiritual formation. Without it, we can't visualize the ancient world of the Scriptures; we can't grasp the metaphors of Jesus' parables; we can't practice empathy by seeing things from somenone else's perspective, nor picture the people we're interceding for in prayer. We can't trace a pattern of meaning in the events of our lives, and we can't dream a better dream for the future God has in store. Someone might give us all the knowledge and information there is to know about Jesus, but it takes the Holy Spirit at work in the imagination to connect the dots to our real lives on the ground."
The title is based on this quote from L'Engle, which I love: "We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it."
"The problem is no one manages your input. The boss never cares about your input. The boss doesn’t care about what books you read. Your boss doesn’t ask you what newspapers you read. The boss doesn’t ask you what movies you saw or what TV shows or what ideas you consume." [quoting Ted Gioia]
Listening to My Life by Kortney Garrison
Kortney, my friend-who-gifts-books, spent the month of November detailing how she approaches her Homeschool MFA. It was brilliant—28 short and sweet posts that inspire you to learn and give you ideas. If you love art and writing and poetry and learning, check out her series. So, so good.
TO WATCH:: Why Beauty Matters by the late Roger Scruton
I was not aware of Scruton before I heard of his death early in January, but I'm so thankful for what he's left behind. Be forewarned: this video does contain examples of art that is decidedly un-beautiful.
A few months ago I joined Jonathan Rogers' community of writers, The Habit. It's a paid membership site, and while there is an abundance of writing help available online for free, I find that investing money in something ups my commitment level. It feels small, supportive, encouraging, and like a gathering of like-minded people who are invested in one another. If you're looking for a book club, thoughtful discussion, answers to your writing questions, grammar help, and excellent feedback on your writing, join us! In February Jonathan is hosting a class called Writing Through the Wardrobe for writers who love Narnia.
Being Beautifully Un-useful to God from Matthew Clark's One Thousand Words podcast
Wholeheartedness, Contemplative Spirituality, and Narcissism with Chuck DeGroat on Cultivated podcast, with Mike Cosper.
WHAT I WROTE
In December I was invited to join the writers and artists at The Cultivating Project, an honor that feels way out of my league. Lancia Smith has created a place for us to rest, reflect, and be filled with hope for all that's good in the world—great writing from thoughtful men and women, smart interviews, lovely recipes, and aesthetics to knock your socks off. I know you'll find something lovely there. My first article is here.
When Will I Ever Use This? "We need to admit the difference between not understanding something, and simply wanting to complaining about it."
Creating an Outline for Good Things to Run Wild "...here I am, changing my mind again about busy seasons and slow seasons (they feed into one another) and faithfully getting back to words, creating an outline for good things to run wild."
What "Much Ado About Nothing" Teaches Us About the Benefit of the Doubt "Though my senses and perceptions can deceive me, and though I tend to believe what I want to believe and hear what I want to hear, a little investigation goes a long way towards learning the truth. So does a little history, a remembrance of the past."
Joyful Life Magazine—the Treasure issue of Joyful Life Magazine holds a foggy picture of my (almost) daily walk in the woods, and an article I wrote on this stage of being present but not too present in the lives of my children. It's a lovely, quarterly print magazine that just keeps getting better ; ).
I learned how to play Gin Rummy and am currently the house champion.
I learned that my own advice about re-reading books is pretty good, and also applies to a good podcast and a thoughtful movie. I get so much more each time I read, watch, or listen to something.
I learned that I need to prioritize my top three tasks for the day, and that prayerfully considering what those are and putting the check box next to each one is supremely satisfying. (Check out the Monk Manual.)
I learned a basic economic principle: the value of something is not how much it costs, it's how much I'm willing to pay for it.
I learned how to be persistent with people.
I learned how to make a simple junk journal out of a paper bag and that may sound nutty but I absolutely love it!
Ultimately, most of the lessons we learn are things we've heard a hundred times in our lives and then, one day, they are finally accessible to us and they sink in. (This is good news for parents.)
Here's to February; to learning; to having our eyes opened to the Spirit of gentle grace Who is ever patient and persistent with us as we keep learning.
Thanks for reading, friends.
You can reply to this email or find me on Instagram and tell me what you're reading, watching, listening to, and enjoying. What are you learning about simplifying in this particular season?
I love to hear your ideas.