We had a little fun in worship yesterday when I asked for a few volunteers to see how many multi-colored plastic Easter eggs they could hold in their hands and arms before dropping them. Our high score was 22, but I managed to pile a few more on top of that!
(For the full audio version, click here.)
Wayne Muller, in his book “a life of being, having, and doing enough” (yes, there are no capital letters in the title), uses the metaphor of holding eggs to talk about all the things we try to do in our lives. The eggs symbolize our relationships, dreams, work, passions, hobbies, tasks, children, love, and more. We start collecting eggs when we’re children, and as we grow we collect more and more eggs. What we seem to have a problem coming to grips with is the fact that we can only hold a finite number of eggs before we’re going to drop one, or more.
I googled “limitations” and the quote that came up most often was “Know your limitations and defy them.” That’s exactly the mentality of our society. We believe we have to keep pushing to do it all, and then some. It feels like failure or weakness to say “no” to a request. We don’t want to accept that we can’t hold more eggs, and we’re disappointed in ourselves and others when we refuse to pick up one more.
The reality is that living and loving require us to make difficult choices every day. Love, friendships, good and productive work, play, hobbies, home, kids, kindness, goodness… all require time and effort. And more than that, they require our full, unhurried, undistracted attention. But we have a finite number of hours in the day. We don’t like to admit it, but we can’t do it all. We convince ourselves that we can take on just one more thing, one more task, one more friendship, one more whatever, but sometimes that one more ends up being the one that brings down another egg… if not the whole pile.
Even if we don’t completely drop any eggs, the more we try to do, and the thinner we try to spread ourselves, the less nourishing those relationships or things become. And on top of that we need rest! We need down time to regroup, relax, renew ourselves.
Even Jesus knew the value of this. When his disciples were exhausted and hadn’t even had time to eat, he sent them away by themselves to rest and eat. Over and over again, after teaching and ministering to crowds of people, he went off by himself to pray, center and regain his energy. And he only had a small group of people that he was close enough to call “friends.”
Here’s the bottom line: the spiritual life is about balance – body, mind and spirit. Trying to hold too many eggs throws off our balance, ensures we do nothing as well as we should, and results in our relationships being more superficial than deep and meaningful.
If we ignore our limitations for too long we’ll end up stressed out and burnt out. We’re trying to give that which we don’t have to give and we’re depleting our energy and putting ourselves at risk of physical illness and emotional depression and anxiety.
There are many causes of stress, and some of them simply can’t be avoided. Sometimes we have to carry the eggs as best we can, knowing we won’t have to carry them forever, but finding ways to make it easier. Share your egg with someone else occasionally. Talk to someone about how hard it is to carry so many eggs. Set a few eggs down for a bit.
Wee have basic limits to our energy and we are not a failure, or weak, or not good enough, if we acknowledge those limits and seek to live by them. In fact, the opposite is true. Understanding the limits of our time and energy helps us to give our best to the relationships and things that are the most important to us, including time for ourselves, our health, our souls.
Love & Light!