It was 11 years ago this month that I was diagnosed with preeclampsia. I was not due to deliver my first child until April of that year, and we were not yet two full months into the semester at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Within a month’s time I would begin bed rest at home followed by bed rest in the hospital. I would suspend seminary coursework and focus all of my energy on resting and waiting as many days as I could to deliver a small but healthy baby boy at 36 weeks.
Thus began my first life lesson on the limitations of energy and choosing wisely when the stakes are high. I cannot do all the things all at once. I certainly cannot do all the things and do them with excellence.
This is the essence of the quote by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, often attributed to Oscar Romero: “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.” These words hang in my office, staring me in the face every day as if to say, “You cannot do everything, Elizabeth, so be blessed in your choosing as you determine the one thing you can do very well.” Particularly in this critical time as a nation, how do we choose where our energy will go when everything is charged and so many tasks seem equally vital?
For me, the answer is wrapped up in calling. I am shaped for relationships and community, and I am tasked with the call of a parish pastor. I can choose to expend all of the limited energy I have on anger, fear, Facebook posts and Twitter retweets. I can spout off about real news and fake news and alternative facts. But if I want to do something and to do it very well, then I choose to save my precious, limited energy for the good of the world and the work of the kingdom of God.
One of the criticisms of the past few months is that Americans live in bubbles and do not know people who are different from themselves. Living in or moving beyond these bubbles of similarity then limits or expands our worldview. The result of limitation is more fear, isolation and misinformation. The result of expansion is friendship, trust and hope. I choose to save my limited energy for expansive relationships that shape my worldview, and right now that work feels radical and subversive. I am being energized, encouraged and shaped for my work in the world by the neighbors I meet for breakfast, lunch, afternoon coffee and dinner.
At the close of this week, I am bone tired in a soul-satisfying way because I have talked and listened for hours. Though you may see me posting on social media, my real life is filled by as many conversations as I can schedule with Jewish, Muslim, African-American and female clergy and community organizers. We are talking about our values, our hopes, our fears and the work that burns within us for the good of the world. We are finding ways to partner and connect, naming the intersections of what we hold in common, and listening for any and every opportunity to partner. We are also discovering that sharing our limited energy mysteriously multiplies it because we can do more together than on our own. We need each other.
You have the same finite time and finite energy I have, and the needs before us are many. How will you respond to the world before you? Will you give your energy away talking about what you might do if you could do something? Or will you give your energy to actually chasing an idea and seeing it through? The world needs your best and truest self right now. Choose friendships that expand your worldview. Choose conversations that resist fear, cynicism and anger. Give yourself instead to multiplying love, hope and kindness with your words. Choose soul-satisfying “on earth as it is in heaven” partnerships with neighbors. You cannot do everything, but you can do something and do it very well. You get to choose who you will be and how you will move in the days before you. Choose well.