Have you ever struggled to focus on the big picture when God is trying to get your attention? I know I have … and I’m not the only one. Even the apostles had a hard time. The feeding of the 4000 and the feeding of the 5000 were two of the amazing miracles that the apostles were witnesses to. They saw Jesus act in big ways and they still got stuck focusing on the little things. In Mark 8:14-21, Jesus is trying to teach the apostles about some deep spiritual truths-”Beware of the leaven of the pharisees”(Mark 8:15) — and all the apostles can focus on is the fact that they only have one loaf of bread between them.
“Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?”
They said to him, “Twelve.”
“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?”
And they said to him, “Seven.”
And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”(Mark 8:17-21)
Jesus is clearly flabbergasted. Here is Jesus, trying to prepare these men to run His Church and teach His truths, and His apostles can’t focus on what’s important. The apostles lived the miracles and still struggled to figure it out. (When I read that scripture passage, it actually makes me feel a little better about myself!)
(A quick side story: This passage makes me think of my high school AP History teacher, Mrs. Hassey. When people weren’t paying attention she would call on them and they would give her a ridiculous answer to whatever question she would ask. Then she would say, in a very sarcastic voice that I can still hear in my head quite a few years later-cough, cough, ”SLOW LEARNER, how would that make sense?” The class would get a chuckle and the un-attentive student would wear a sheepish grin. So, when I imagine Jesus talking to the apostles in this passage, that “slow learner” label seems to fit the apostles like a glove!)
I recently listened to a Fr. Mike Schmitz homily about hope. (If you haven’t ever heard Fr. Mike, he’s amazing!) One of the interesting things Fr. Mike said was that when you get ‘little hopes’ met in your life, sometimes you can get stuck focusing on how to get more and more little hopes to fill you rather than look at the bigger picture.
That’s just what the apostles are doing. They are missing the bigger picture of who Jesus is and what He’s trying to teach them. Instead, they are focusing on the lesser hope of a full belly and how that could possibly happen for all of them with only one loaf of bread.
I can certainly see this scenario playing out in my own life at times. How many times has God blessed me, and yet I still get stuck in the little details of everyday life instead of entering deeper into who I’m meant to be. How often do I hold on way too tightly to details? Umm … so often! Trust is definitely an area I need work on! Why do I micromanage the details? Maybe because it makes me think that I have control over things. It makes me think that I can avoid pain and create my own happiness. I find I am more controlling when I am less happy, so micromanaging can act as a distraction that keeps me from looking at a real issue or a potential change that God might be trying to show me. Micromanaging keeps me from checking in with my heart and keeps me from being honest with my needs.
Here’s a personal example of what I’m talking about. A couple of years ago, I was working from home, babysitting two to four of my friends’ young children, depending on the day. The kids ranged from infant to 3 years old. My youngest was 4 and doing a half-day preschool program, so babysitting kids in my home allowed me to be home when she was home. I loved the kids I watched, even the difficult baby(!), and I love my friends and didn’t want to let them down, but I was feeling isolated and unhappy.
While this was all going on, my parents had invited us to go to Disney that December after Christmas and I was helping to plan the trip. There are LOTS of details that go into a Disney trip, so it was a great distraction for me. In fact, it became more than a distraction … it was more like a lifeline! Time away was something I “needed” and getting to plan all the details helped me to ignore how unhappy I felt. Distracting myself with micromanaging the trip details kept me from looking at what God was trying to show me … that I was very burned out and needed to make a change. I was depending more on this trip to give me the break I needed than I was on God.
Definitely not a healthy way to deal with my feelings … or, better put, not deal with my feelings!
Well, that trip I micromanaged and relied on for healing my burnout got completely derailed by a stomach bug! Three kids had it before the trip, four during, and one even got it after the trip was over! We managed to all get to Florida, and by then I was completely exhausted as well as burned out. The virus took out family members like a sniper. I will save you the details but it came on in an instant and was 12 hours of horribleness followed by 24 hours of recovery. Almost everyone got it during the night, so I was up multiple times over the course of our vacation all.night.long. Our bedroom became the sick room. The sick person slept on an air mattress with buckets on either side. It was so incredibly stressful. Even on the days everyone felt healthy, I stressed over who the virus would take out next.
The trip was so disappointing in a lot of ways. I did not get the rest or break I had been desperate for and came back home more burned out than when I left!
In my stubbornness, I still mostly ignored my feelings and pushed through until the end of the school year (which ironically ended with yet another stomach virus!!!). Financially, I felt like I had no choice. But, I didn’t even try to consider another way, or look to see if God would open another door.
I can imagine God saying to me, “Why? Why haven’t you learned to trust Me? Why haven’t you learned to let Me take care of your financial and emotional needs? Why can’t you be honest with yourself when you have gone beyond what you can carry? Why won’t you let ME be God? I see you. I see your burnout, your exhaustion, your depression, your hopelessness. But I can’t help you unless you let Me in. I can’t help you unless you let go of control.”
As hard as it was to go through that time, I learned a lot. As disappointing as that trip was, I’m actually grateful that God didn’t allow my micromanaging, unhealthy distraction, and my attempts to give myself the break I needed in my own way, to be successful. Even if that trip had gone perfectly, it would have been like one of those “little hopes” that Fr. Mike talked about. I still would have come back burned out. Maybe not quite as much as before, but it wouldn’t have filled me in the way I really needed to be filled. Then I would have just kept looking for more “little hopes” that I could find myself and it might have taken me a lot longer to accept that I needed to make a bigger change in my life.
Even though I still pushed through to the end of the year with the babysitting, I did start to make changes after that difficult vacation. By February, I had made the decision to enroll in grad school the following fall and stop babysitting. And, even though I finished the year burned out and was very ready for a break from babies, (which is something I had NEVER felt before), I had hope for the future path that God seemed to be opening for me.
I still wish I would have trusted God more in that season … I made things much harder on myself than they needed to be. I was definitely a “slow learner” in that situation! That year was a good learning experience for me, and hopefully, when I’m faced with other times in my life that make me feel overwhelmed, I will turn to God and not distractions to fill me and bring back peace … even if it means making changes.
Is there something you are micromanaging or controlling in your life? Have you brought it to God in prayer? I encourage you to be honest about how you are feeling to yourself and to God. Talk to your spouse, a good friend, a therapist, or a priest honestly and openly about how you are feeling and allow them to offer suggestions that you might be missing.
You just might be trying to hold open a door God is trying to close … and missing out on a new path He’s trying lead you to!
Copyright 2019 Michelle Hamel