I sat at the kitchen counter, twirling a pen, my calendar open before me. I was determined to find a way to create some more order to my time and my life. In the early days of finally having all six of my children in school, I had already noticed that rather than more time, I had less. Adding new jobs, more volunteer hours, more driving — it was straining me and I couldn’t ignore the effects. On me, for sure, but also on the kids.
So I took a red marker and blocked out the hours from 3 – 9 pm on my weekday schedule, every day. I wrote across each evening: BE AVAILABLE.
I had gotten in the habit of trying to squeeze in one last email or an extra half-hour of work after getting home from with the kids. Dropping bags and backpacks, I’d head right into the office to check a few more items off the ever-present ‘to-do’ list. Or I’d listen to a podcast while starting dinner, turning up the volume so I could hear over the commotion in the house.
Just when they needed me the most: hungry, tired, full of stories from their day and questions about their homework, I was not always available. I was there physically, but I was not really there.
Not anymore, I resolved. I would make good use of my time when they were gone, and then try to turn off all other thoughts and distractions when we were home. I would cultivate a spirit of availability.
I would be there to listen, to direct or redirect, to be interested in their thoughts and their activities, to answer their questions. Sometimes, it could be as simple as exchanging a look — catching their eye and sharing a smile.
It didn’t mean I wouldn’t be busy. Dinner still needed to be made; uniforms would need to be washed, mail sorted, lunches packed. But while my hands worked, I’d be as mentally and emotionally available to engage with the kids as I could.
It made a big difference when I did it, and I felt more peaceful. No one was interrupting me, because this time was for them. If something ‘got done’ that was a bonus. What was checked off the list now was simply ‘be there.’ And that was the highest priority of all.
Then I became more aware of my availability and receptivity to God, too. Turning off the podcast or radio, even when I was home alone, opened up new channels for Him to speak into my daily life. Driving in silence, sitting still and quiet with that second cup of coffee, giving Him a share in that rare quiet moment without extraneous words or actions — not checking Facebook or email, not reading a blog post or skimming the headlines. In order to hear Him, I have to be listening and ready. How often do we beg God to hear us but then don’t wait around for His answer?
It might take a long time for the breeze with His Word to blow into that silent space. But it will come. And I want to be receptive to it when it does. I want to be the one who responds to God’s invitation, “Who shall I send?” even if it is whispered. I want to be detached enough to drop my nets immediately, follow Him, and say, “Here I am, send me.” (Is 6:8) and “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord.” (LK 1:38)
Fulton Sheen said in his autobiography Treasure in Clay that he wanted to be like a “dog at the master’s door, ready in case He called me.” That is radical availability.
There is a saying that “God doesn’t want our ability, He wants our availability.” Which is true in the sense that our abilities, gifts, talents — all of those He can give and take freely to us or to anyone. But He will never trespass on our freedom. And when we say yes with open arms and open hearts, then all of our gifts come with us. And we will experience a fruitfulness we have never known.
And that is something different than having all of our to-dos crossed off the list — those will fade with time, but this fruit will endure. So will my children. And so, with His grace, I will give to God, and to them, my first fruits –– and the gift of my availability.
Copyright 2018 Claire Dwyer